Spain’s decision to recognize Palestinian state marks potential turning point for Europe

Madrid — Spain’s announcement this week that it will recognize a Palestinian sovereign state by July could mark a major turning point with other European states poised to follow Madrid’s lead, analysts say.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Spanish media Tuesday Spain would recognize Palestine diplomatically by July.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares confirmed the plan, saying it would help an independent Palestine’s entry into the United Nations.

Ignacio Molina, a specialist on Spanish foreign affairs at the Real Elcano Institute, a Madrid research group, said both domestic political and foreign policy reasons had led Spain to say it would recognize Palestinian sovereignty.

The catalyst was the attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy Tuesday by Israeli forces in which seven aid workers were killed, sparking outrage in Spain.

Prime Minister Sanchez Wednesday branded as “insufficient” and “unacceptable” the response from Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Israeli forces had “unintentionally” killed the aid workers. The NGO that employed them is run by Spanish-American celebrity chef José Andrés.

“In terms of domestic politics, Spain’s government is composed of a left-wing coalition government which has been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause,” Molina told VOA.

“The far-left Podemos and now Sumar parties in the coalition had not been involved in foreign policy until now but the Spanish government has been more vocal on the issue of Gaza.”

In terms of foreign policy, Spain wants to demonstrate leadership on the international stage by encouraging other EU states to recognize an independent Palestinian state, Molina said.

“Palestine is one of the few issues in which Spain can make progressive foreign policy. It gives Spain a leadership role in the EU. Spain has a peculiar position internationally with links between the Arab and Latin America which gives it a certain moral authority on this issue,” he said.

Madrid did not recognize Israel diplomatically until 1986, after Spain joined the EU.

The role of history

Spain’s position on Israel has been linked to the events of the 20th century.

During the long dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco from 1939 until 1975, Spain maintained close links to Arab nations.

“Spain did not take part in the Second World War, so it did not have the same moral obligations over the Holocaust as other Western countries to recognize Israel and for domestic reasons, Madrid wanted good relations with Arab countries to supply petroleum,” Molina said.

But Spanish policy has also been influenced by centuries of history.

In 1492, under the Alhambra Decree, Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered Jews to leave Spain or convert to Christianity.

More than 500 years later, in 2015, Madrid sought to make amends with an apology and offered Sephardic Jews Spanish citizenship.

Today Spain has a small Jewish community of about 50,000 people, compared with the 500,000 who live in France. Meanwhile, about 2.3 million Muslims, many of Moroccan origin, live in Spain according to figures from the Spanish statistics institute.

In 2014, under the then-ruling conservative People’s Party, the Spanish parliament approved a symbolic motion in favor of the Palestinian state.

Since the October attack by Hamas on Israel and the subsequent war, marches in support of the Palestinian people have been held in Spanish cities on a regular basis.

Compared to other nations in Western Europe, there have been far fewer pro-Israel demonstrations.

A survey by Simple Logica published in January by, a left-leaning news site, found 60.7% of Spaniards condemned the Israeli offensive in Gaza and 57.9% agreed with the Spanish government’s call for a cease-fire.

Separatist sympathies

Within Spanish society, there is sympathy for the Palestinian cause because Basques and Catalans see their own struggle for nationhood against Spain as similar to the Palestinian fight against Israeli occupation.

“I think of myself as a Basque person rather than Spanish. We have always identified with the Palestinians as they have been oppressed by the Israelis as we were oppressed by the Spanish,” Igor Otxoa, of the Guernica Palestine organization, told VOA.

“If Spain recognizes Palestine, it is a start, but it does not mean that it will break off relations with Israel. Spanish companies are still selling arms to Israel and other goods.”

Spain’s Jewish community criticized the government’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood.

“We consider that the recognition of the Palestinian state should be reached from a consensus between all members of the EU. … Talking of two states, when one wants to push you into the sea, is difficult,” the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain told VOA in a statement.

Last month, Spain, along with Ireland, Malta and Slovenia, issued a joint statement saying they were “ready to recognize Palestine.”

Vanessa Frazier, the current president of the U.N. Security Council and Malta’s ambassador to the U.N., said this week that she has received a letter from the Palestinian Authority asking to be recognized as a full member of the United Nations and that the letter has been circulated to Security Council members.

Nine out of the 27 EU member states recognize a sovereign Palestine.

In 2014, Sweden became the first member of the bloc to recognize a Palestinian state. Malta and Cyprus did so before they joined the EU. Some Eastern European states did so when they were members of the Soviet Union, but Hungary and the Czech Republic have since emerged as close allies of Israel.

Apart from Spain, domestic political reasons may prevent Ireland and Belgium from formally recognizing the Palestinian state in the short term, observers said.

Ireland faces a general election next year and Belgium has a coalition government that is not united on the issue.

Malta and Slovenia are more likely to follow Madrid’s example.

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