Ireland is considering early recognition of Palestinian statehood as a possible tactic for kick-starting Middle East peace talks, the foreign minister declared Wednesday as he offered conditional support for an idea bitterly opposed by Israel.
Charlie Flanagan spoke as Ireland became the latest European Union member to approve a non-binding parliamentary motion seeking recognition of Palestinian statehood. Lawmakers in Britain, France and Spain already have passed similar motions calling on their governments to follow Sweden, which on Oct. 30 ignited debate by becoming the first western EU member to recognize Palestinian statehood officially.
Flanagan said Ireland's government was considering the move. He credited Sweden with inspiring the entire 28-nation EU to open talks Nov. 26 in Brussels seeking a possible alliance-wide endorsement of Palestinian statehood. But he said Ireland still hoped to make the move as part of a wider Israeli-Palestinian accord, not before it or unilaterally in advance of achieving an EU consensus.
"Achieving and recognizing a Palestinian state has always been the objective of the Irish government. Everything we do in the Middle East is directed towards that aim," Flanagan told a virtually empty parliamentary chamber, with barely a dozen lawmakers present in the 166-seat chamber. Most represented the opposition Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist party with strong Palestinian links. The Palestinian ambassador to Ireland, Ahmad Abdelrazek, watched the debate from the visitors' gallery above.
"While successive governments have always seen recognition coming as part of an agreed peace, I've made it clear that I've absolutely no difficulty in principle with the idea of early recognition, if I believe it can contribute to achieving a settlement of the conflict. The present stalemate is not acceptable to me," Flanagan said.
But he stopped short of promising that the government would fulfill the parliamentary motion's call to recognize Palestine ahead of any EU consensus. "First our priority goal is to work to begin or, indeed, resume a process of real negotiations between the parties," he said. "Despite previous failures and consequent deep frustration, our own experience tells us that this is the only way that conflict can be resolved, and a fully functioning Palestinian state on all of its territory established."
That didn't stop Sinn Fein, which authored the motion, from fueling misleading reports that Ireland's government had recognized Palestinian statehood. "Long live Palestine!" tweeted Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who visited the region last week and was stopped by Israel from entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Adams is a reputed former commander of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which had close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel argues that nations which confer full diplomatic legitimacy on the Palestinian Authority discourage their enemies from engaging in direct talks. Sweden became the 135th of the world's 193 nations to recognize Palestine, but most of the West does not.