Knesset votes resoundingly against unilateral Palestinian state recognition

99 MKs back adoption of symbolic declaration championed by PM; despite voting in favor, Lapid calls measure a distraction, says unilateral recognition not a threat

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a plenum session at the Knesset on February 19, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a plenum session at the Knesset on February 19, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset voted on Wednesday to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration opposing any “unilateral” recognition of a Palestinian state, as international calls grow for the revival of efforts to reach a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict.

Issued amid the war in Gaza between Israel and the Hamas terror group, the symbolic declaration also received backing from members of the opposition, with 99 of 120 lawmakers voting in support, the Knesset spokesperson said.

The Israeli position says that any permanent accord with the Palestinians must be reached through direct negotiations between the sides and not by international dictates.

“The Knesset came together in an overwhelming majority against the attempt to impose on us the establishment of a Palestinian state, which would not only fail to bring peace but would endanger the State of Israel,” said Netanyahu.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who voted for the resolution, told lawmakers that despite his support he does not believe that there was any intent on the American side to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.

“As you know, my connections with the Americans are better than yours, so I checked. There’s no such thing. You invented a threat that doesn’t exist. What are we talking about? There is not one official in the world that suggested unilateral recognition of the Palestinians,” he said.

Lapid characterized the debate as a distraction so the Knesset would not discuss contentious legislation backed by the government.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset on February 19, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The vote drew condemnation from the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry, which accused Israel of holding the rights of the Palestinian people hostage by controlling territories where Palestinians seek to establish a state.

“The ministry reaffirms that the State of Palestine’s full membership in the United Nations and its recognition by other nations does not require permission from Netanyahu,” it said in a statement.

Netanyahu brought the vote to the Knesset in the wake of reports that the US and several Arab partners were preparing a detailed plan for a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that includes a “firm timeline” for a Palestinian state.

A cabinet motion Sunday characterized such a move as a “reward to terrorism” in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 massacre of southern communities, which sparked the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2-L) heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew later downplayed talk of such a move by the Biden administration, instead calling for an “over-the-horizon process that includes a vision for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

“Now is a moment in time when there is a real possibility that by engaging in normalization and negotiations with Saudi Arabia” along with reforms in the Palestinian Authority, “there can be a demilitarized Palestinian state. But Israel will have to make that choice,” Lew said.

Netanyahu has in the past spoken out against the creation of a Palestinian state and others have also pushed back against comments from Washington and elsewhere suggesting that talks on ending fighting in Gaza sparked by Hamas’s brutal rampage through southern Israel on October 7 be used to jumpstart long-moribund efforts to reach a two-state solution.

While some international actors believe the violence only underlines the need for a peace deal, Israeli leaders argue the attack highlighted the extreme danger of an autonomous Palestinian entity near its population centers. And amid soaring support for Hamas among Palestinians in the wake of the atrocities, there appears to be little appetite in the Israeli public for peace efforts.

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