French lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state, following similar moves in Britain and Spain as European countries try to restart the stalled Middle East peace process.
The highly symbolic vote in the lower house National Assembly is not binding on French government policy but sparked criticism from Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned it would be a “grave mistake.”
“Israel believes the vote in the National Assembly, which supports recognition of the state of Palestine, will only distance the chances of reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” said the spokesperson of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Emmanuel Nahshon.
“Such decisions will only make the Palestinian positions more extreme and sends the wrong message to the leaders and peoples of this region,” he said. A solution to the conflict will only be found through direct negotiations between the two parties and not through unilateral actions, Nahshon added.
MPs voted 339 to 151 in favor of the motion, which invites Paris to recognize the state of Palestine “as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict.”
“France today chose the wrong partner and I fear repercussions in relations with Israel, the only democracy in the region,” said Meyer Habib, a center-right lawmaker who also holds Israeli citizenship and is close to Netanyahu. “While radical jihad killed citizens of France and other parts of the free world, legitimization is given to the establishment of a state run my corrupt people and terrorists,” he said in a statement published minutes after the vote.
Palestinians are seeking to achieve statehood in Gaza and the Israeli-held West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. With little progress on reaching a settlement, they have been lobbying foreign powers for international recognition.
During a debate on the issue Friday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stressed that Paris would recognize Palestine if diplomatic efforts failed again and urged a resolution to the Middle East conflict within two years.
France is spearheading a drive at the United Nations to unfreeze the moribund peace process, and the Palestinian envoy to the UN said earlier Tuesday a draft resolution could be submitted to the Security Council by mid-December.
Riyad Mansour told AFP the text was set to lay out a time-frame for negotiations on a final peace deal and possibly a deadline for Palestinian statehood.
It would also pave the way for a last-ditch international conference that France has offered to host.
This European initiative was expected to be discussed in Brussels when US Secretary of State John Kerry holds talks with European ministers during a NATO meeting.
“If these efforts fail. If this last attempt at a negotiated settlement does not work, then France will have to do its duty and recognize the state of Palestine without delay and we are ready to do that,” Fabius told MPs on Friday.
‘Momentum will grow’
The French vote came hot on the heels of near unanimous votes in favor of recognizing Palestine in the British and Spanish parliaments, as Europeans seek alternative ways to push forward efforts toward peace.
Sweden’s government went even further, officially recognizing Palestine as a state in a controversial move that prompted Israel to recall its ambassador.
At a pan-European level, the European Parliament is expected to hold a vote later this month on recognizing Palestine and EU foreign policy supremo Federica Mogherini is also pushing for the creation of a Palestine state.
“Governments and parliaments are taking action. That momentum will grow,” said United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon last month.
However, lawmakers in Paris were more divided on the issue than their British and Spanish counterparts, reflecting the sensitivity of the debate in France, which is home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities.
Senior UMP lawmaker Christian Jacob told MPs ahead of the vote: “Who are we kidding? We are kidding the French people if we think that the parliament will have any influence at all” on the peace process.
France was the scene of several pro-Palestinian demonstrations during this summer’s 50-day offensive by the Israeli army in Gaza that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, according to Hamas figures, and dozens of Israelis.
Some of these turned violent with looters in July destroying Jewish businesses 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 said in September that more Jews had left France for Israel than from any other country in 2014, blaming a “climate of anti-Semitism.”
The Palestinian Authority estimates that 135 countries have now recognized Palestine as a state, although that number is disputed and several recognitions by EU member states date back to the Soviet era.