PARIS, France (AFP) — French lawmakers were debating a motion on Friday urging the government to recognize Palestine as a state, amid growing European frustration at the moribund Middle East peace process.
The symbolic motion is expected to pass comfortably on December 2 when the lower house of parliament votes on the text proposed by the ruling Socialists.
The vote comes hot on the heels of a similar resolution approved by British lawmakers on October 13, Spanish MPs on November 18 and the formal recognition by Sweden on October 30.
The text “invites the French government to use the recognition of the state of Palestine as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict.”
It is non-binding on the government, although Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told AFP in a recent interview that France would “obviously at a certain moment recognize the Palestinian state.”
The Socialist MP who drafted the text, Elisabeth Guigou, told AFP the aim was to “reaffirm that the two-state solution is the best guarantee for peace.”
“If we do not act now, there is a risk of entering into an irreversible cycle of violence and transforming this territorial conflict into a regional conflict,” added Guigou. “Nothing would be worse for the region and for Europe.”
Guigou stressed that France — which has Europe’s largest Muslim population and largest Jewish community — had good relations with both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
“We are not going to tip the balance by voting for this motion. On the contrary, we reaffirm several times the need for mutual and reciprocal recognition and the need for security guarantees for Israel,” she said.
Fabius has insisted that any resolution “must be useful for efforts to break the deadlock and contribute to a final resolution of the conflict,” warning against a purely symbolic gesture.
“If it’s a state on paper that doesn’t exist in reality, that will offer nothing to the Palestinians,” he told French radio.
Reflecting the sensitivity of the subject in France, parliament is expected to be divided, with the right-wing opposition UMP party seen voting against the motion.
Former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, who is staging a return to politics, on Tuesday urged UMP members to oppose the resolution to recognize the state of Palestine.
“I will fight for the Palestinians to have their state. But unilateral recognition a few days after a deadly attack and when there is no peace process? No!” he said at a political rally, in reference to the attack at a Jerusalem synagogue which left four rabbis and a policeman dead.
Ahead of the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned France it would be making a “grave mistake” if it recognized Palestine as a state.
“Do they have nothing better to do at a time of beheadings across the Middle East, including that of a French citizen?” he told reporters in Jerusalem on November 23, referring to hiker Herve Gourdel who was executed by his jihadist captors in Algeria in September.
“Recognition of a Palestinian state by France would be a grave mistake,” Netanyahu said.
The Palestinian Authority estimates that 134 countries have now recognized Palestine as a state, although the number is disputed and several recognitions by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.
An AFP count puts the number of states that recognize Palestine at 112.
France was among 14 EU nations that voted in favor of granting Palestinian territories observer status at the United Nations in November 2012.
On the eve of the parliamentary debate, President Francois Hollande told French media he wanted to host an international conference “to find a solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He did not say when such a gathering might take place or who would be invited.
France was the scene of several pro-Palestinian demonstrations against Israel during this summer’s 50-day war with Hamas in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Some of these turned violent, with looters in July destroying Jewish business and shouting anti-Israel obscenities in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles — sometimes known as “Little Jerusalem” for its large community of Sephardic Jews.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, an advocacy group, said in September that more Jews had left France for Israel than from any other country in 2014, blaming a “climate of anti-Semitism.”