France’s National Assembly voted on Tuesday, December 2nd to recognize the State of Palestine, thus bringing into question the contested sovereignty of the Palestinian people. The decision, determined on a vote of 339 MPs in favor and 151 dissenting, is just one of many throughout Europe in recent weeks. In conjunction with other nations that have given greater credence to the Palestinian people, France is undoubtedly shaping the future of European-Middle Eastern relations in a groundbreaking fashion.
The history of global recognition for Palestine’s statehood is certainly lengthy and complicated. The United Nations General Assembly officially recognized Palestine on November 29, 2012 when it gave Palestine the status of a non-member observer state. While the vote was not unanimous, with strong dissension from Israel and the United States, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the decision a “birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine.” Today, over 65 years after the recognition of the state of Israel in 1948, 135 of 193 member states in the United Nations recognize Palestine. Indeed, as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon remarked recently, “Governments and parliaments are taking action. That momentum [for recognition of Palestinian statehood]will grow.”
Within Europe, recognition of Palestine is growing at a rapid rate as well. Even before they entered the European Union, nations such as Malta and Cyprus had acknowledged the Palestinian people’s right for statehood. Denmark, Greece, Finland, Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Italy all ratified the United Nations’ vote in 2012 and show enormous potential to recognize Palestine in the coming weeks. Moreover, in October of this year, Sweden became the first major country in Western Europe to formally recognize Palestine as a sovereign state. Other nations have followed suit as parliamentary votes in Britain, Spain, and Ireland have produced non-binding, symbolic recognitions of Palestine during the past six weeks.
These nations have expressed many reasons justifying their decisions, though a common trend appears to be the growing dissatisfaction with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As recent diplomatic talks have stalled, more and more countries are deciding that they will not wait and rely for a solely Middle-Eastern solution that never comes. Both the Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed similar beliefs in the weeks prior to their nations’ parliamentary votes.
France’s legislative body released its official opinion after Tuesday’s vote, stating that the decision will “reinforce our country’s diplomatic action…and contribute to peace.” Other members of the French parliament noted the nation’s eventual goal, saying they “recognize the state of Palestine in view of reaching a definitive settlement to the conflict.” Still, one must remember that France’s vote is non-binding, and Paris has explained that it will wait for Israel and Palestine to reach an agreement before changing the national policy.
The aforementioned vote is not without implications, however, and will surely influence domestic religious and ethnic relations. Being the European country with the highest population of both Jews and Muslims, both appreciation and disillusionment with the vote will flare public opinion. Much of France’s Muslim population, mostly immigrants from North Africa, supports the decision on grounds of defending their religious kin’s sovereignty. Jews, many of whom support Israel, have decried the decision and its implications for Israeli security in the Middle East.
Moreover, growing tensions between Jews and Muslims throughout Europe only exacerbate the potential for violence within France. This summer saw a growth in jihadi violence as soldiers returning from ISIS training in Iraq and Syria attacked Jews across the continent. Of course, such actions in no way represent the positions of the overwhelming majority of France’s or Europe’s Muslims, but the potential for violence on either side of the aisle – Jewish or Muslim- should not be underestimated.
The international consequences of France’s decision are clear as well. Increasingly, the United States and Israel have opposed unilateral recognition of Palestine, stating that it undermines the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and encourages Palestine to bypass negotiations. In fact, the European Jewish Congress called France’s vote “toothless, pushing the Palestinians to abandon the negotiating table.” International relations between Israel, France, and the United States may deteriorate on this premise, and with upcoming Israeli elections set for March, ones which will likely lead to a more ultra-Orthodox, nationalist opinion, the peace process only appears more complicated.
In the end, the French parliamentary vote to accept Palestinian statehood is only symbolic and non-binding. Nevertheless, its significance rests in that it indicates a growing trend of Western European nations deciding to abandon their acceptance of the past status quo in favor of policies that support the generally disenfranchised Palestinian people. A hypothetical unilateral European recognition of Palestine, however, will never hold as much importance as whatever comes out of the latter’s negotiations with Israel. Ultimately, the conflict’s resolution will be found not in European parliaments, but rather in ongoing peace talks within the Middle East.
Rachel Rodgers and Aonghus O Cochlain contributed.