Slovenia’s plan to recognize a Palestinian state is already being met with resistance from the Israeli government, with lobbying taking place behind the scenes in order to convince as many Slovenian parliament members as possible to vote against the measure, even though success is unlikely. When the decision is made to go forward tomorrow, first through the foreign affairs committee and then moving on to a full vote in the parliament, it will likely be heavily criticized and met with censure by Israel’s government, perhaps in the form of a dressing down of the Slovenian ambassador in Tel Aviv and a routine tirade by right-wing politicians about the perfidy and deep-seated hostility of the Europeans toward the Jewish state. Such displays, of course, will be mostly for show and domestic consumption; the recognition train has already left the station, but the embattled coalition in the Knesset cannot pass up an opportunity to shore up support from their base by falling back on old habits that target external and internal critics. That Slovenia’s nearly quarter-century relationship with Israel has seldom been controversial will not stop the political right from finding some way to condemn its actions as beyond the pale.
This reaction, however predictable given the makeup of the of the current coalition, is also somewhat disappointing. Despite protestations to the contrary, piecemeal recognition of Palestine by individual states — particularly those in the West who make up what’s often known as a “moral majority,” and have a record of avoiding knee-jerk anti-Israel measures against the state in international forums — should not necessarily be seen as a negative development. In the wake of the P.L.O.’s falling out with the Trump administration over recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there is a genuine fear the current Israeli coalition has become emboldened and given carte blanche to pursue whatever policies it so chooses. While this is likely an incorrect assessment of the situation, as even this administration may very well have its limits on what it deems acceptable behavior, it is also unlikely President Donald Trump or the members of his peace negotiations team will be accepted as fair interlocutors for the remainder of this term. Despite the slew of rumors circulating detailing an agreement well short of Palestinian aspirations for a state within the 1967 borders and the administration’s accompanying denials made that no such plan exists, we have yet to see a concrete program emerge. However, if indeed the Palestinians’ worst fears are realized and the Trump Administration’s policy does in fact stipulate a “state-minus” as envisioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, negotiations might very well be dead on arrival — if they are ever launched at all.
His recent outbursts condemning the Trump Administration notwithstanding, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas realizes, or is coming to realize, that there is, for the time being, no single party currently capable of replacing the US as the “go-to address” for final status negotiations between the two sides. His announcement that he would be willing to accept the U.S. as a partner in a multilateral process is likely an attempt to climb down from his previous insistence the Americans be completely excluded from negotiations going forward. While he received assurances of support and a continued adherence to the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini was quick to rule out unilateral recognition of a State of Palestine outside of the framework of a negotiated settlement. Nonetheless, this decision has not precluded its individual member states from taking action on their own and filling the void left by the Americans.
Possible recognition is not limited solely to Slovenia: Ireland, Belgium, and Luxembourg are also considering taking similar action, and France is considering pushing for an upgrade in relations with the P.L.O., along the lines of the Association Agreement between Israel and the EU. Those familiar with the history of Israel-EU and bilateral relations between Israel and individual members should not be surprised that a number of the countries in question have considered moving ahead in this endeavor. As a state born from the collapse of a multinational entity (the former Yugoslavia), Slovenia has long been sympathetic to states in the making seeking recognition. Similarly, Ireland’s history vis-à-vis the British and the Troubles in Northern Ireland have greatly impacted the manner in which it views the conflict, making it a leading voice in the EU for the defense of Palestinian rights and the creation of a Palestinian state.
These recognitions have come to be viewed through the prism of a zero-sum game in which any support given to the Palestinians both symbolic and material, can only lead by design to the former’s delegitimization — as the Israeli right is want to see them. However, in both the short and long term, recognition has net positive results that Israeli politicians (and Israel-watchers more broadly) too easily dismiss. Israeli skeptics of an independent Palestine are quick to predict that the nascent state would be a failing entity that would quickly pose an existential threat to its neighbor, while often doing everything in their power to stifle economic and political development necessary to the state’s success. While it is fair to point out endemic problems of corruption that have long-plagued the Palestinian Authority, and the glimmers of authoritarianism creeping into Abbas’ rule, the truth is also that a future Palestinian’s state’s ability to function has been advanced and is dependent on its ability to, bit by bit, establish and build upon its foundations. Like successful attempts to join a number of international organizations in the last few years and its granting of non-member observer state status at the UN, individual recognition of Palestine will help build the P.L.O.’s credibility with states as a responsible actor capable of maintaining and handling the day-to-day affairs of a full-fledged member of the international community. The scaffolding of a state cannot begin following the first day of independence, and so it is imperative that time prior to this period be taken advantage of to allow Palestinians the smoothest transition possible into statehood if and when, in the future, it becomes a reality.
The second reason for optimism should be more obvious, and is, ultimately, a guarantor of Israel’s future survival. Recognition should be seen in the same light as 2013’s Horizons 2020 agreement, the recent ENI CBB Med agreement signed off by Netanyahu, and a bill passed just days ago in the Danish Parliament stipulating all future agreements with Israel exclude settlements. Ostensibly, these developments may be viewed as a form of punishment or a warning towards Israel against future action in bolstering settlement activity. Conversely, they should also be seen as the ultimate form of Israel’s legitimization within its current borders. Despite nearly a decade of creeping annexation, erosion of democratic norms within Israel, and repeated attempts by successive Israeli governments to poison its citizens against the creation of two states, the international consensus for resolution of the conflict remains a partition of the land and the recognition of both communities’ national aspirations. Unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state or strict demarcations of where the State of Israel begins and ends simply acts as a normalization of that accepted reality. Of course, those members of the government ideologically committed to the idea of a Greater Israel cannot help but be disturbed by any and all attempts to maintain the existence of the Green Line, when they have worked so assiduously to erase it.
These recognitions, provided they go forward, are unlikely to act as an immediate catalyst; action carried out by a few small European states will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back of international recognition and leads to a sea change in the West’s relationship with the Palestinians. Thus, it should be seen as an overall positive contribution to the realization of a Palestinian state as it keeps the idea of partition on the table as a mainstream and universally accepted solution to the conflict, and as a path towards Palestinian state-building. Those Israelis who continue to push for a change in the accepted paradigm are lulling themselves into a false reality in which the international community’s desire for partition will be replaced by an abandoning of the Palestinian cause. To paraphrase an Israeli journalist commenting on a wave of non-binding recognitions a number of years ago, better a Palestinian embassy in London next to an Israeli one, rather than a Palestinian embassy instead of an Israeli one.