Middle East CrisisSpain, Norway and Ireland Recognize a Palestinian State, a Blow to Israel

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Middle East CrisisSpain, Norway and Ireland Recognize a Palestinian State, a Blow to Israel

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  1. Palestinian women walking in a deserted refugee camp in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.Eyad AL-Baba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  2. A paramedic helps a wounded Palestinian man during clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Jenin.Leo Correa/Associated Press
  3. In Tel Aviv, a woman views pictures of hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7.Marko Djurica/Reuters
  4. Palestinian girls wait to collect water in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.Mohammed Salem/Reuters
  5. Clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces in Jenin.Zain Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  6. A mosque that was destroyed in a strike in Khan Younis.Mohammed Salem/Reuters

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The European nations joined scores of others that recognize Palestinian statehood, which Israel has long opposed.

Recognitions of Palestinian statehood are a rebuke to Israel, if a largely symbolic one.

A man in a dark blue suit at a lectern in front of a blue backdrop that reads, “Norway.”
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store of Norway announcing on Wednesday that his country would recognize Palestine as an independent state.Credit…Erik Flaaris Johansen/NTB, via Reuters

Spain, Norway and Ireland said on Wednesday that they would recognize an independent Palestinian state, a rebuke to Israel that, though largely symbolic, reflected dwindling international patience with its military offensive in Gaza and its decades of occupation of Palestinian territories.

Scores of countries have recognized Palestinian statehood, but the closely coordinated announcements by the three nations carried added weight amid the growing toll of the war in Gaza, and because most Western European countries, and the United States, have resisted taking such a step out of solidarity with Israel.

The moves will likely have little immediate effect on conditions for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank or in Gaza, where health authorities say that more than 35,000 people have been killed in over seven months of Israeli bombardment and ground combat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the moves “a prize for terrorism” and said that it would “not stop us from reaching a victory over Hamas.”

The White House flatly rejected unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood, with National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson saying that President Biden “believes a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties.”

But the announcements made clear the view in a growing number of capitals that Palestinian sovereignty cannot wait for a permanent peace deal with Israel, whose right-wing government largely opposes a Palestinian state.

“Palestinians have a fundamental, independent right to an independent state,” Jonas Gahr Store, the prime minister of Norway, said at a news conference in Oslo announcing the decision, which will go into effect on Tuesday.

Spain’s decision will take effect the same day, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said, adding that Spain had been forced to act because Mr. Netanyahu did not have a plan for long-term peace with the Palestinians.

“The two-state solution is in danger,” Mr. Sanchez said in remarks to Parliament, referring to a proposed framework for establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. “It’s time to move from words to action — to tell millions of innocent Palestinians who are suffering that we are with them, that there is hope,” he added.

Prime Minister Simon Harris of Ireland said at a news conference that he was confident that other countries would soon join them in recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, an expert on Israeli-European relations, said the announcements highlighted the erosion of the global support Israel saw immediately after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks that touched off the war in Gaza.

“It proves again to us, as Israelis, the extent to which we are ever more isolated,” said Ms. Sion-Tzidkiyahu, an analyst at Mitvim, an Israeli foreign policy research group.

A boy sitting on someone’s shoulders in a crowd, waving a large Palestinian flag.
A protest in support of the Palestinians and a cease-fire in Gaza, in Barcelona in January.Credit…Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

More than 140 countries and the Holy See have recognized a Palestinian state, but most Western European countries and the United States have not. The longstanding U.S. position is that recognition should be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and that while it supports a two-state solution, unilateral measures by third parties will not advance that goal.

Israel strongly opposes international recognition of a Palestinian state — Mr. Netanyahu has called the establishment of such a state an “existential danger” — and maintains that Israel needs to negotiate directly with Palestinian leaders on a permanent solution.

But serious negotiations on a two-state solution haven’t been held for over a decade. And some observers argue that by not recognizing a Palestinian state, the West has enabled a far-right Israeli agenda opposed to its existence. It “gives leverage to Israel to keep encroaching on the land and resources and the people of the other state,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to Britain, said in a recent interview.

Palestinian leaders based in the West Bank welcomed the announcements. “We believe it will help preserve the two-state solution and give Palestinians hope that they will have their own state side by side with Israel in peace and security,” Ziad Abu Amr, a senior Palestinian official, said in an interview.

A uniformed officer waving a car through a checkpoint surrounded by blast walls.
An Israeli officer directing traffic at the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Jerusalem, in December.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Wednesday’s announcements were the latest blow to Israel on the international stage, and came days after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Mr. Netanyahu and Israel’s defense minister, along with leaders of Hamas, on war crimes charges stemming from the Oct. 7 attacks and the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Spain, Ireland and Norway have all strongly criticized Israel’s conduct of the war and have historically been strong supporters of the Palestinians. Irelands support for Palestinians has deep roots; in Spain, Mr. Sanchez has been a leading voice in Europe for the protection of Palestinian rights.

Norway has historically cast itself as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. In 1993, it hosted the clandestine meetings that led to the Oslo Accords, the framework that came close to resolving the conflict, but ultimately failed.

The announcements by these countries on their own do not pose a major diplomatic problem for Israel, said Ms. Sion-Tzidkiyahu, the analyst. But the picture could change if more powerful states like Germany or France felt pressure to make similar declarations, she added.

“For now, we can live with it, because it does not have any real meaning,” she said. “It has no effect on the ground.”

Henrik Pryser Libell, Adam Rasgon, Victoria Kim and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

— Emma Bubola and Aaron BoxermanShow more

Israel’s finance minister says he will withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority.

Bezalel Smotrich, in a suit jacket and wearing a skullcap, looks at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as they sit at a table with a microphone in front of two Israeli flags.
The Israeli finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel will no longer send tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.Credit…Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Israel will not transfer much-needed funds to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the decision by three European countries to recognize a Palestinian state, the country’s finance minister said on Wednesday, as its foreign minister denounced the European moves as giving “a gold medal to Hamas terrorists.”

The decision by the finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right leader who opposes Palestinian sovereignty, threatened to push the Palestinian government into a deeper fiscal crisis. He said in a statement that he had informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would no longer send tax revenues to the authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank in close cooperation with Israel.

Mr. Smotrich’s office signaled that the decision was at least partly a response to Spain, Norway and Ireland recognizing Palestinian statehood, and that the Palestinian leadership bore responsibility for campaigning for the move.

“They are acting against Israel legally, diplomatically and for unilateral recognition,” said Eytan Fuld, a spokesman for Mr. Smotrich, referring to the authority. “When they act against the state of Israel, there must be a response.”

Mohammad Mustafa, the recently inaugurated Palestinian Authority prime minister, warned that the dire fiscal situation was contributing to a “very serious moment” in the West Bank, which has faced increasing unrest since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

He said that he was set to meet top diplomats from countries that have traditionally provided funding for the authority next week in Brussels. “We go through an extremely difficult time trying to deliver services to our people on the ground, and they’re already under military action,” Mr. Mustafa said in a video distributed by his office. “And on top of that, we cannot pay them to do the basic things. This is war.”

Israel also recalled its ambassadors from Spain, Ireland and Norway for consultations on Wednesday morning. Israel Katz, the Israeli foreign minister, said he had summoned the countries’ envoys to Israel for a “severe scolding” following “their governments’ decision to award a gold medal to Hamas terrorists.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. Smotrich’s statement.

Under decades-old agreements, Israel collects customs and import taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Those revenues constitute most of the Palestinian budget, particularly as international aid has declined. But Mr. Smotrich — who has labeled the Palestinian Authority “an enemy” — had already delayed transferring the latest tranche of funds before the announcements on Wednesday, said Mr. Fuld and a Palestinian official. The Palestinian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is already in a severe financial crisis following tightened Israeli restrictions on its funding and a depressed West Bank economy stemming from the war. This month, it managed to pay only 50 percent of the salaries of tens of thousands of civil servants.

Diplomats and analysts have warned that the Palestinian government’s deepening financial problems could lead to even more unrest in the West Bank. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in the territory, many in clashes with Israeli forces, since the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 prompted Israel to go to war in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.

Palestinians have faced tightening Israeli restrictions since Oct. 7. Over 100,000 Palestinians who worked in Israel were barred from entering, creating mass unemployment overnight. Near-nightly raids, Israeli road closures, and stricter checkpoints have further choked the Palestinian economy.

The Palestinian Authority traditionally disburses some of the tax funds collected by Israel to Gaza. After the war broke out in October, Mr. Smotrich said he would withhold that part from the amount it transfers to the authority. Palestinian officials refused to accept the reduced payments at all in protest.

After a monthslong standoff over the issue, Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to a deal stipulating that Norway would hold some of the revenues in trust until Israel agreed they could be sent to the Palestinians. The Palestinians agreed to receive the reduced payments in the meantime.

On Wednesday, Mr. Smotrich called for the government to immediately annul that agreement as well.

Top Israeli officials, including Mr. Netanyahu, have repeatedly excoriated international recognition of a Palestinian state as a “prize for terrorism” after the Oct. 7 attack.

Most of the current hard-line Israeli government rejects the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, practically ruling out peace talks to end Israel’s decades-long occupation.

President Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken have said that after the war, Gaza should be unified with the West Bank under a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority. Israel has remained vehemently opposed to that idea. The authority in its current form is also unpopular among Palestinians, who view it as complicit in Israel’s occupation.

Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, said he agreed with Mr. Netanyahu that the three countries’ decisions were “disgraceful.” But he also called it “an unprecedented diplomatic failure” for Israel in a statement on social media, an implicit reproach of Mr. Netanyahu.

— Aaron Boxerman reporting from JerusalemShow more

What does it mean to recognize a Palestinian state?

A crowd of people, one with a large Palestinian flag, in front of a stately building.
A pro-Palestinian demonstration in front of the Parliament building in Oslo on Sunday.Credit…Berit Roald/NTB, via Associated Press

The decision by three European countries — Ireland, Norway and Spain — to recognize a Palestinian state fits into a long-term goal of Palestinian leaders to secure diplomatic acceptance, but it appears that the immediate practical impact will be limited.

Broadly speaking, recognizing a state means declaring that it meets the conditions of statehood under international law. It typically opens a path to setting up diplomatic relations and an embassy there. But the European countries appeared to be mostly concerned with expressing support for Palestinians and sending a message to Israel at a time of deepening international concern about its conduct of the war.

The foreign minister of Norway, Espen Barth Eide, told a news conference that the country’s representative office to the Palestinian Authority, which was opened in the West Bank in 1999, would become an embassy. He gave no date for this change but said it would enable Norway to enter into bilateral agreements.

Recognition would also have some “domestic legal effects in Norway in areas where issues related to the state of Palestine arise,” he said.

Statements by the leaders of Ireland and Spain focused on the need for peace in Gaza and the importance of a two-state solution, but did not mention embassies or other immediate changes.

“Recognition of Palestine is not the end of a process, it is the beginning,” said Simon Harris, the taoiseach, or prime minister, of Ireland. He said that Ireland was recognizing the right of a Palestinian state to exist in peace and security within internationally agreed borders, and said that to do so sent a message “that there is a viable alternative to the nihilism of Hamas.”

Mr. Harris said he would travel to Brussels on Sunday to meet more than 40 partners from the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere “to discuss how recognition can make a concrete, practical impact to ending this horrible conflict and implementing a two-state solution.”

To date, around 140 countries, mainly outside Western Europe, have recognized a Palestinian state, according to the Palestinian Authority’s website. These do not include the United States, Israel’s most significant ally, or Britain, France or Germany.

The announcements on Wednesday fit into a broader Palestinian drive for diplomatic recognition, though the advances so far have had little immediate impact on the lives of people in the West Bank and Gaza.

The United Nations voted in 1947 to create an independent Arab state alongside a Jewish one, but the plan was rejected by neighboring Arab governments and Palestinian Arabs, and the state of Israel was founded amid a war the following year. In the decades since, plans for a two-state solution have repeatedly been stymied.

This month, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution declaring that Palestinians qualify for full membership status at the United Nations. The Assembly can only grant full membership with the approval of the Security Council, and the United States would almost inevitably wield its veto power to kill such a measure, as it did last month.

Even though a majority in the General Assembly supports Palestinian statehood, the resolution was the first time the body had voted on the issue of full membership, reflecting solidarity with Palestinians that appears to have deepened in some nations as a result of the war in Gaza.

Palestine became a member of UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, in 2011 but a bid for full U.N. membership failed. The next year, Palestine was granted the lesser status of observer at the United Nations, a level shared by the Holy See.

Observers can participate in U.N. General Assembly sessions but are not allowed to vote. They also can join the International Court of Justice, which is currently hearing a case on the legality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, on Monday requested arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Hamas leaders on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel does not recognize the court, but Palestine has been a member of the court since 2015.

Palestine is also party to a number of treaties, and became a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2018.

Henrik Pryser Libell contributed reporting.

— Matthew Mpoke BiggShow more

Health officials report that the death toll has risen to eight in Israel’s raid of Jenin.

Flames and dark smoke rise from piles on an urban street, obscuring buildings in the background.
A military raid by Israeli forces into the town of Jenin in the West Bank extended into a second day on Wednesday.Credit…Leo Correa/Associated Press

Israeli forces extended a military raid into a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank into a second day, and Palestinian officials said at least eight civilians, including two high school students, a doctor and a teacher, had been killed so far.

Dozens have also been injured since the Israeli military entered the Palestinian town of Jenin started on Tuesday morning, in the latest in a series of raids that Israeli officials have described as counterterrorism operations. Israel’s forces have trapped residents in their homes, torn up roads with heavy machinery and tanks, and destroyed vehicles in the streets, according to residents, local officials and the health ministry.

“No one can leave their homes; the military’s snipers are spread out over the roofs of the homes they took over, preventing anyone from moving in the streets,” said Nidal Naghnaghieh, a resident of Jenin.

Israel has increased its West Bank incursions in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel, carrying out near-nightly military raids into Palestinian cities and neighborhoods. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed, according to health officials.

Many of the raids have been in Jenin camp, a more than 70-year-old refugee community within the larger city of Jenin that is populated mainly by Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were expelled or fled from their homes in present-day Israel during the war that surrounded the creation of the state of Israel.

Jenin has long been known as a bastion of armed resistance to the Israeli occupation and was the target of frequent military raids even before the war in Gaza.

The Israeli military did not respond to questions about the raid.

“The situation in the camp for the second day of their raid is really difficult, they have blown up several homes,” said Mr. Naghnaghieh, who was outside when the raid began and has not been able to return home for two days. His family is stuck inside their home, he said.

Many men and boys in the camp have been detained by the Israeli forces, he said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli forces shot at one of their ambulances on Tuesday while it was trying to rescue the wounded, but it gave little detail.

“There are martyrs and people don’t know the fate of those who have been wounded,” said Mohammad Al-Sayid, a member of the Jenin city council.

— Raja Abdulrahim reporting from JerusalemShow more

Norway’s recognition carries significance because of its role in 1993 talks.

The three leaders standing behind a table. Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat shake hands as Mr. Clinton extends his arms behind the two of them.
Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin of Israel, President Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, at the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington in 1993. Norway hosted the clandestine meetings that led to the signing that year.Credit…J. David Ake/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Scores of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, but Norway’s announcement on Wedn

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