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Spain, Norway and Ireland Recognize Palestinian State, Further Isolating Israel

WorldMiddle EastSpain, Norway and Ireland Recognize Palestinian State, Further Isolating Israel

Spain, Norway and Ireland said on Wednesday that they would recognize an independent Palestinian state, delivering a diplomatic blow to Israel that showed the country’s growing isolation on the world stage more than seven months into its devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

In closely coordinated announcements, the leaders of the three countries said that Palestinian independence cannot wait for a negotiated peace deal with Israel’s right-wing government, which largely opposes a two-state solution, has been expanding settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and is continuing to bombard Gaza without either toppling Hamas or bringing home all its hostages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has also frustrated world leaders — and two members of his war cabinet — with his refusal to establish a postwar plan to govern Gaza, where the health authorities say that more than 35,000 people have been killed.

Simon Harris, the Irish prime minister, linked his government’s decision to Ireland’s quest for independence from Britain. “From our own history, we know what it means: Recognition is an act of powerful political and symbolic value,” he said at a news briefing.

The announcements by all three countries came just days after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Mr. Netanyahu and Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, on suspicion of war crimes. He also sought warrants for three top leaders of Hamas.

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank welcomed the recognition by the three countries as an important symbolic gesture. Serious negotiations on a two-state solution have not 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.

“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 in the West Bank, said in an interview.

More than 140 countries have recognized Palestinian statehood. But most countries in Western Europe and the United States have not, arguing that statehood can come only through a negotiated agreement with Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu, who has said that the establishment of a Palestinian state would pose an “existential danger” to Israel, denounced the moves on Wednesday, calling them “a prize for terrorism.” He said that they would “not stop us from reaching a victory over Hamas.”

Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister, said he had summoned the ambassadors of Spain, Norway and Ireland for a “severe scolding” after their governments decided “to award a gold medal to Hamas terrorists.”

In a statement on social media, Mr. Katz said he would show the ambassadors “a video of the brutal and cruel kidnapping of our daughters by Hamas terrorists, to emphasize the distorted decision their governments have made.”

In the video, which was not independently verified by The New York Times, Palestinian fighters, some wearing Hamas headbands, can be seen binding the hands of five Israeli female hostages who served as lookouts at Nahal Oz, a military base near the Gaza border. At least two of the hostages’ faces are bloodied. The militants repeatedly threaten the soldiers.

The families said they hoped the footage would pressure the Israeli government to revive apparently stalled cease-fire talks that could pave the way for the release of the hostages still being held in Gaza.

“I’m asking you, please, show this clip every day, open your broadcasts with it — until somebody wakes up, the nation wakes up, and realizes that they’ve been abandoned there for 229 days,” Eli Albag, whose daughter Liri can be seen in the video, told Israel’s Channel 12.

Talks to secure the release of the more than 125 living and dead hostages have been at a standstill since Israel began its assault on the southern city of Rafah in early May. Israeli forces operating in northern Gaza recently retrieved the bodies of four Israelis abducted on Oct. 7, heightening fears for the remaining captives.

In an interview on Wednesday, Jonas Gahr Store, the prime minister of Norway, said that by offering support to Palestinians who favor democracy and a sovereign Palestine alongside Israel, Norway was hoping to break what he sees as “a downward spiral, with militant groups like Hamas setting the agenda on the Palestinian side” and the Israeli government “establishing hundreds of thousands of settlers” on occupied land.

Norway’s support for Palestinian statehood carried particular significance because it hosted the clandestine talks that led to the Oslo Accords, the 1993 framework for peace that many hoped would resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration reiterated its view that Palestinian statehood must come through negotiations with the Israelis.

“The president is a strong supporter of a two-state solution and has been throughout his career,” said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “He believes a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties, not through unilateral recognition.”

Acting at least partly in response to Norway, Spain and Ireland, Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister, said that Israel would cease transferring key funding to the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank. A spokesman for his office blamed the authority’s leaders for campaigning for Palestinian recognition in Europe.

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

The authority’s finances were already in disarray because of tightened Israeli restrictions on its funding and a depressed West Bank economy stemming from the war in Gaza. This month, the authority managed to pay only 50 percent of the salaries of tens of thousands of civil servants.

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, called Mr. Smotrich’s decision to withhold funds for the Palestinian Authority “wrong on a strategic basis.”

“It undermines the search for security and prosperity for the Palestinian people, which is in Israel’s interest,” he said. “And I think it’s wrong to withhold funds that provide basic goods and services to innocent people.”

Mohammad Mustafa, the recently inaugurated Palestinian Authority prime minister, said that the dire fiscal situation was contributing to a “very serious moment” in the West Bank, where more than 500 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, many in clashes with Israeli forces, according to the authority’s Health Ministry.

“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.”

On Wednesday, Israeli forces extended a military raid into the West Bank city of Jenin, where Palestinian officials said that at least 11 people, including two high school students, a doctor and a teacher, had been killed in recent days. Israeli officials have said that the soldiers were carrying out counterterrorism operations.

Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s parliamentary opposition, said that he agreed with Mr. Netanyahu that the decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland were “disgraceful.” But he also called it “an unprecedented diplomatic failure” for Israel, an implicit rebuke of Mr. Netanyahu.

Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, an expert on Israeli-European relations at Mitvim, an Israeli foreign policy research group, said the announcements reflected how much global support Israel has lost since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks killed 1,200 people in Israel and led to the abduction of more than 200 others, according to the Israeli authorities.

“It proves again to us, as Israelis, the extent to which we are ever more isolated,” she said.

Spain, Ireland and Norway have all strongly criticized Israel’s prosecution of the war and have historically been strong supporters of the Palestinians. As a result, their announcements may not exert much pressure on Israel, Ms. Sion-Tzidkiyahu said. If Germany or France, which are more closely allied with Israel, were to embrace Palestinian statehood, it would carry more weight, she said.

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

Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Henrik Pryser Libell, Adam Rasgon, Victoria Kim, Raja Abdulrahim, Megan Specia and Michael D. Shear.

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