Reporter's notebook'Where would Israel be without world recognition in 1948?'

In Ramallah, Palestinians welcome recognition by 3 countries with cautious optimism

Residents celebrate diplomatic achievement but say that more pressure is needed on Israel to realize a two-state solution, whether from the US, Arab states or international courts

Gianluca Pacchiani

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A view from Basher al-Barghouthi square, Ramallah, May 23, 2024 (Gianluca Pacchiani/Times of Israel)
A view from Basher al-Barghouthi square, Ramallah, May 23, 2024 (Gianluca Pacchiani/Times of Israel)

RAMALLAH — The day after Norway, Spain and Ireland announced their recognition of a State of Palestine, some Ramallah residents on Thursday acknowledged the development as a positive, albeit small, step to realize their goal of an independent state.

“This is what Israel doesn’t want,” said Nidal Foqaha, director of the Palestinian Peace Coalition, a partner organization of the Tel Aviv-based Geneva Initiative, noting that the Israeli reaction to the announcement — recalling its ambassadors from Oslo, Dublin and Madrid — indicated that it had been affected by the diplomatic pressure.

“Definitely [the recognition] will not make the reality tomorrow completely different,” Foqaha told The Times of Israel in his Ramallah office, “but we need all such small steps and we need more recognition by the world countries in order to achieve an endgame settlement for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

The wave that was set in motion by the three European countries on Wednesday is likely to generate a ripple effect. Other EU member states, including Slovenia, Malta, Belgium and possibly France, have announced they may follow in their footsteps in the near future. Foqaha predicted that they will be joined by countries in the Far East, such as Japan and South Korea, and opined that the broad diplomatic front in support of Palestinian statehood will definitely have an impact on US policy.

Palestinians on the street, however, appeared to be divided on the long-term impact of Wednesday’s diplomatic breakthrough. Their testimonies are reported anonymously.

A Ramallah taxi driver spoke of the diplomatic achievement as “huge,” arguing that Israel and the US keep on depicting Palestinians as terrorists, “but in reality we are people who love life.”

The real change, however, will only materialize when the US takes the step of recognizing Palestinian statehood, he said, positing that Israel only responds to pressure by Washington.

“Israel is basically an American state,” he argued.

Nidal Foqaha, director of the Palestinian Peace Coalition, a partner organization of the Tel Aviv-based Geneva Initiative, and co-chair of the Two State Solution Coalition, in his Ramallah office, May 23, 2024 (Gianluca Pacchiani/Times of Israel)

Lower costs and higher benefits

Activist Foqaha is the co-chair of the Two State Solution Coalition, an association of 22 Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations. He said the diplomatic pressure on Israel is an opportunity not to be squandered and noted that action on the diplomatic front presents “lower costs and higher benefits” for Palestinians than engaging Israel militarily.

“Such diplomatic moves are a viable alternative to what the extreme forces are proposing today here in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip,” Foqaha said, “while the Israeli government is trying to impose a reality in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that will destroy future chances of a two-state solution.”

Foqaha claimed that the idea of seeking international support for diplomatic recognition has been gaining ground among his people, in the absence of direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah and in the face of the unwillingness of the Israeli government to make any concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

“Let’s not forget that without the recognition of the countries of the world in 1948, probably the State of Israel would not be the way it is today,” said Foqaha.

“There are more and more Palestinians who believe in the role of the international community and in this diplomatic track, whether the one at the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice or the United Nations, and the individual recognitions, as a way forward,” he added, referencing legal procedures launched against Israeli leaders at the ICC, and the genocide case put forward by South Africa at the World Court.

A member of Palestinian security forces posing behind the grave of deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the Yasser Arafat Museum in Ramallah, May 23, 2024 (Gianluca Pacchiani/Times of Israel)

Lack of trust on both sides

Foqaha maintained that Palestinians have no trust in negotiations with the Israeli government, which he said has been attempting to “drive them to bankruptcy” through decisions by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to cut off the transfer of tax funds to the Palestinian Authority. “That is our money, not their money.”

“The current Israeli government wants to transfer the model of the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. The more there will be incursions, poverty and unemployment, and the more settlers there will be in the West Bank, the more reactions there will be from the side of the Palestinians. More extremism,” said Foqaha.

Another local man claimed that nothing will change in the Palestinian territories as a consequence of Wednesday’s diplomatic breakthrough, but it may lead to significant developments abroad, with Israel increasingly being called to account for its policies in international forums and tribunals.

“The real pressure, however, must be exerted by Arab states,” the Ramallah resident added. “So many have been forging ties with Israel, overtly or under the table, and have demanded nothing in return. Israel has become accustomed to getting everything without having to make any concessions.”

From left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-US president Donald Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, sit during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington, September 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Another man who lives between Ramallah and Jerusalem also dismissed the diplomatic move as a relatively minor achievement as long as the occupation of the West Bank and the war in Gaza continue.

“The real problem is the injustice,” the man said. “I don’t have a problem with Jews,” he continued, noting that he works with Israelis in Jerusalem, “but the real issue is extremist Zionists, who steal Palestinians’ lands, harass them and destroy their livelihood.”

He didn’t see a possible diplomatic solution to the Palestinian cause coming from the international community, saying that the fate of his people is in the hands of “our Lord.”

The young manager of a popular restaurant in a trendy area of Ramallah, said that the decision by the three European countries is “a pressure tool on Israel to make it stop the war” and that it will lead the way for an eventual recognition by all of the European Union countries, causing Israel to be concerned about its “bad reputation.”

“We Palestinians have paid a lot of sacrifices in Gaza or in Jenin,” the man said, referring to the military operation waged by the IDF in the northern West Bank city earlier in the week, in which 12 people were reportedly killed, many of them claimed by terror groups as members. “Let’s hope that [the Israelis] will change their attitude towards us. Let’s hope that Spain, Norway, and Ireland will lead other peoples to recognize us also.”

A restaurant in the upscale Ramallah neighborhood of Al-Tireh, May 23, 2024 (Gianluca Pacchiani/Times of Israel)

Peace activist Foqaha echoed the young restaurant manager’s aspiration that international pressure will eventually damage Israel’s international standing.

“It’s up to Israelis to decide. If they want to take back their representation [i.e., ambassador] from every country that recognizes the state of Palestine, they will end with zero representation,” Foqaha said.

“You know, the world, the world is changing. And the reality today, when it comes to how the world is looking at the Palestinians, they see we do exist, and we deserve a state of our own.”

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