EU parliament backs Palestinian state ‘in principle’
Israel has been hammered by a series of diplomatic rebuffs across Europe after the European parliament voted overwhelmingly for qualified recognition of the Palestinian state.
The vote on Wednesday came on the same day as a meeting of signatories to the Geneva conventions warned that Israel must respect international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The rare international meeting in Switzerland of the high contracting parties to the Geneva conventions was boycotted by Israel, the US, Canada and Australia.
In a further upset for Israel, the EU’s second-highest court ordered the removal of Hamas from a terrorist blacklist, citing legal problems with the listing, though it added that the Islamist group’s assets would remain frozen for three months pending an almost certain appeal.
The day of swirling diplomacy and politics in Europe preceded the expected tabling of a resolution at the UN security council that seeks to push forward the case of Palestinian statehood and call for an end to Israeli occupation. The Guardian understands the text to be a compromise between Jordanian and French resolutions.
Israel’s prime minister said the moves in Europe were an example of “staggering hypocrisy”. Speaking before a meeting with the US senator, Joni Ernst, Binyamin Netanyahu invoked the Holocaust: “In Geneva they call for the investigation of Israel for war crimes, while in Luxembourg the EU court removed Hamas from the terror list … It seems that too many in Europe, on whose soil 6 million Jews were slaughtered, have learned nothing.”
The vote in the European parliament, on a watered-down motion that was passed by an overwhelming majority of MEPs, follows symbolic votes in recent months by several national parliaments – including the UK, Sweden, Ireland and France – to recognise a Palestinian state. Luxembourg joined that group on Wednesday, passing two motions to parliament.
After a deal among the main parties in the parliament, the motion, carried by 498 votes to 88, stated: “The European parliament supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced.”
Leftwing MEPs had originally wanted to urge the EU’s 28 member states to recognise Palestine without conditions.
The latest moves have emerged out of a growing sense of frustration in Europe over continued settlement building by Israel and a lack of progress in the peace process.
France, in particular, has put itself forward in efforts to internationalise the moribund peace process, suggesting an international conference and taking the lead in drafting a resolution at the UN.
“For 25 years, the peace process has been a failure due to the internal constraints of the two parties [the Israelis and Palestinians]. We must find a new approach,” a French diplomatic source said.
For its part, the Geneva conference – requested by the Palestinians and attended by 126 states – focused largely on the prohibition on colonising occupied land, issuing a 10-point declaration calling on Israel to “fully and effectively” respect the fourth Geneva convention to protect civilians during times of war, including in East Jerusalem and other occupied territories. The declaration is legally binding.
Most damagingly, Israel failed in its attempts to persuade major European countries to boycott the conference, claiming that the talks “politicised” human rights law.
In Israel, however, most attention was focused on the coincidence of the European parliament vote and the ruling by the general court of the EU – the political bloc’s second highest court – that the listing of Hamas as a terrorist group was legally flawed as it was based on procedural and evidentiary shortcomings.
The court’s decision followed an appeal filed by Hamas against its inclusion on the EU’s blacklist. Later European officials and states – including the UK – scrambled to explain that despite the court’s ruling they still regard Hamas as a terror group and planned “remedial action”.
The recent flurry of moves on the European stage follows warnings by US and European diplomats that Israel risks international isolation over its policies, with the issue of settlement building of particular concern.
News of the moves came as the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, confirmed that an Arab-backed draft on ending Israel’s occupation of lands captured in 1967 would be submitted on Wednesday to the security council.
However, Malki said the vote on the resolution could be put off, suggesting a compromise was being considered to avoid a clash in the council.
The Jordanian-backed draft, which the US is almost certain to veto, sets a November 2016 deadline for an Israeli withdrawal. Malki told the Voice of Palestine radio station there would be further negotiations on the wording.