Spain gives voice to Palestinian cause in EU

AFP , Thursday 23 Nov 2023

Spain has said it will push the European Union to adopt policies to support the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited Israel on Thursday.

PM Sanchez
Spain s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez talks during a Parliamentary debate on the eve of a vote to elect Spain s next premier, at the Congress of Deputies in Madrid on November 15, 2023. AFP


"It is in Israel's interest to work for peace. And today peace means the establishment of the Palestine state," the Spanish premier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Sanchez stressed that he backed Israel's "right" to defend itself, he said the number of Palestinians killed by Israel's military response "is truly unbearable".

According to the Gaza health ministry, more than 14,100 people, many of them women and children, have been killed in Israel's military invasion of the Palestinian territory.

Sanchez, who is also to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, has repeatedly endorsed the two-state solution -- a Palestinian state established in territory that Israel illegally occupied in 1967 -- since the Israeli aggression began.

As he was sworn in for a new term this month, Sanchez said his foreign policy priority would be to "work in Europe and in Spain to recognise the Palestinian state".

Sanchez will on Friday travel to Egypt. He is accompanied on his trip to the Middle East by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, whose country will take over the EU presidency on January 1.

'Ripple effect'

Sanchez hopes his stance will have a "ripple effect" in the rest of Europe, at a time when many in the Arab world say that western countries are being too friendly to Israel, Isaias Barrenada, an international relations professor at Madrid's Complutense University, told AFP.

Spain's parliament voted in 2014 in favour of a resolution calling for recognition of Palestine as a state.

Similarly, Sweden and Malta have already recognised the State of Palestine but so far no major EU member has taken this step.

In October Israel's embassy to Spain accused some of Sanchez's ministers of aligning themselves with Hamas after a cabinet minister called Israel's military invasion in Gaza "a genocide".

'Different sensitivities'

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, a former foreign minister in Sanchez's government, said in an interview published Monday in Spanish daily El Pais that Spain forms part of a group of nations with "clearer sympathy for the Arab world".

The country only established official ties with Israel in 1986.

In a mediation role, Spain hosted a 1991 peace conference attended by all Arab parties in direct conflict with Israel -- the Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians and Lebanese -- a historically unprecedented event.

Despite the perceived failure of the talks, the Madrid conference is credited by some to have helped pave the way to the Oslo Accords and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, both signed in the early 1990s.

However, given the divergences within the EU "it is hard to imagine that Spain has the capacity to reorient the European position" but "it can help show there are different sensitivites within the EU," said Barrenada.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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