Denmark set to vote on Palestine recognition

Danish assembly will debate measure in December, vote in January; proponents not confident of majority

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Skyline of Copenhagen, Denmark (Paul Burani/Wikimedia Commons)
Skyline of Copenhagen, Denmark (Paul Burani/Wikimedia Commons)

Following the lead of other European nations, Denmark will vote on a resolution instructing the government to recognize the State of Palestine and establish diplomatic relations.

The Danish parliament will hold the first debate on December 11, then vote in early January, according to the EU Observer.

“The parliament directs the government to recognize Palestine as an independent and sovereign state within pre-1967 borders and, by extension, provide the state of Palestine with full diplomatic rights,” says the draft text.

Three small left-wing parties — the Socialist People’s Party, the Red-Green Alliance, and Greenland’s Inuit Ataqatigiit — introduced the proposal.

Denmark’s foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, said the timing was not right.

“The positions of member states are evolving. This, in my view, makes sense as the peace process is not showing any progress,” he said. “Denmark will also come to recognize Palestine, but the timing has to be right.”

Instead, said Lidegaard, the EU should punish Israel for settlement construction.

“Israel continues to, unacceptably, expand the illegal settlements and thus de facto undermines the possibilities for a two-state solution,” he charged. “The chances of bringing together the EU and actually influencing the conflict would be greater if we consider further action against the settlements.”

One of the sponsors, Socialist Holger Nielsen, is not optimistic about his measure’s chances.

“I don’t think we’ll get a majority, but at least we’ll have a good discussion,” he said.

The former foreign minister also said he was inspired by Sweden’s vote to recognize Palestine.

A spokeswoman at Israel’s EU embassy told EUobserver that recognition pushes the sides further apart, and sends the message that “negotiations are futile.”

In addition, she said, the move damages the image of the EU in the eyes of Israelis.

The news came as a growing number of European leaders and lawmakers are calling for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

On Wednesday, new EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, as the European Parliament debated whether to recognize a Palestinian state.

“The sense of urgency is getting higher and higher in the absence of a political context,” Mogherini told lawmakers at the start of what she said was a “timely” debate. “There has to be a direct dialogue.”

In Wednesday’s debate, European Parliament members appeared sharply divided on what policy to endorse. One lawmaker branded Israel “a state of child killers and land robbers,” while another likened a Palestinian state to the Islamic State terrorist group.

A vote, originally expected Thursday, was put off until December.

On October 30, Sweden’s government became the first Western European nation in the EU to recognize Palestinian statehood. Since then, lawmakers in Britain, Spain and Ireland have approved non-binding motions urging recognition. French legislators are scheduled to debate a similar measure on Friday.

The trend in favor of recognition has aroused both alarm and approval in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned that it would encourage the Palestinians to “harden their positions” and make peace harder to achieve.

Other Israelis said the Europeans’ actions, and the snowball effect they might have, could force their country back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians for substantive talks.

“Without European pressure, nothing here will budge,” said Alon Liel, a former director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Germany, Israel’s closest European ally and the EU’s most powerful member, is a leading opponent of recognizing Palestinian statehood before Israel does. To do so, German officials say, would do more harm than good.

The British Parliament’s motion in favor of recognition was adopted 274-12 with support from both major parties, though Prime Minister David Cameron and other government leaders abstained. Lawmakers said they hoped the vote would help kick-start the peace process.

Without debate, Ireland’s upper legislative chamber adopted its resolution after Sen. Averil Power of the center-right Fianna Fail party called for a clear sign of support for the Palestinian people “in the aftermath of Israel’s latest assault on Gaza.”

Rosa Balfour, director for the Europe in the World program at the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank, said Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister, appears to have made a personal commitment to trying to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

“Both she and the EU see that conflict as being at the heart of European foreign policy,” said Balfour.

Brokered by the US, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks restarted in July 2013 but collapsed in April, with tensions and violence mounting again dramatically in recent weeks.

There has been international alarm over a spate of deadly terror attacks carried out by Palestinians inside Israel along with rioting in East Jerusalem and the deadlock over peace talks that are fueling fear of another flareup after the Israel-Hamas war earlier this year.

AP, AFP, and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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