‘Reward for terror’: PM condemns move by 3 countries to recognize Palestinian state

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich calls to punish Palestinian Authority by withholding transfer of tax funds, drawing reprimand from senior White House aide

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a statement against the decision of three European countries to recognize a Palestinian state on May 22, 2024. (Screen capture);
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a statement against the decision of three European countries to recognize a Palestinian state on May 22, 2024. (Screen capture);

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Spain, Ireland, and Norway’s plans to recognize a Palestinian state are akin to handing out “a reward for terrorism.”

“Eighty percent of the Palestinians in [the West Bank] support the terrible massacre of October 7,” he said in a video statement, citing a poll from shortly after the terror onslaught.

“This evil must not be given a country. It will be a terror state. It will try to repeat the October 7 massacre, and we will not agree to that,” he said. “A reward for terrorism will not bring peace, and it will not stop us from defeating Hamas either.”

Condemnation for the European nations’ decision also came from far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who called on Netanyahu to respond by imposing harsh punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority, including cutting off Ramallah financially.

“At the last cabinet meeting, many ministers, including myself, raised an unequivocal demand for harsh punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority for its unilateral actions against Israel, including its pursuit of unilateral recognition,” Smotrich wrote to Netanyahu in a letter.

The letter added that, despite the moves recognizing a Palestinian state, officials in the National Security Council have pushed back against measures to punish Ramallah.

Smotrich informed the prime minister that he intends to take immediate action to cut off the transfer of funds to the Palestinian administrative body, adding that he will not extend the indemnity given to the Israeli banks that transfer funds to banks in the West Bank.

He also called for voiding a mechanism set up with Norway to facilitate the transfer of salaries to PA employees in Gaza and demanded that Israel approve thousands of new settlement homes in retaliation.

While the US rejected the decision by Ireland, Norway, and Spain, saying that any two-state solution must come about through negotiations, a senior White House official criticized Smotrich’s intentions.

“I think it’s wrong. I think it’s wrong on a strategic basis because withholding funds destabilizes the West Bank, it undermines the search for security and prosperity for the Palestinian people, which is in Israel’s interests,” said US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday.

“I think it’s wrong to withhold funds that provide basic goods and services to the Palestinian people. From our perspective, those funds should continue to go — with all of the necessary safeguards — but they should continue to flow,” Sullivan added.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz also responded angrily to the announcements, recalling the Israeli ambassadors from Ireland, Spain, and Norway for immediate consultations.

“I am sending an unequivocal message… Israel will not let this go quietly,” Katz said.

He also summoned the envoys of the three countries in Israel for “severe reprimands,” and said they would be shown footage of the kidnapping of five female Israeli soldiers on October 7 during Hamas’s shock assault, which was made public Wednesday evening, after it was cleared by the families of those hostages.

The footage will “underscore to them what a twisted decision their governments made,” Katz said in a statement. “Their step will have severe consequences.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz (left) meets with his French counterpart Stephane Sejourne, in Paris, France, on May 22, 2024. (Foreign Ministry)

Meanwhile, Katz met with his French counterpart, Stephane Sejourne, in Paris on Thursday, and commended the French foreign minister for disavowing unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

According to a press release from the ministry, Sejourne also said in the meeting that France opposes the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and criticized the equivalency that the court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, drew between Israeli leadership and the leaders of the terror organization Hamas.

Israel has argued that unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state now would be viewed as a reward for the October 7 Hamas onslaught. Israel’s military campaign to rid the Gaza Strip of the Hamas terror group has sparked worldwide sympathy for the Palestinians and galvanized support for recognizing statehood in some capitals.

Earlier this month, Slovenia initiated the procedure for the recognition of a Palestinian state as a form of leverage to end the conflict in Gaza. Prime Minister Robert Golob said June 13 is the latest his country would recognize a Palestinian state.

Around 144 out of 193 member-states of the United Nations already recognize a Palestinian state, including most of the global south, Russia, China and India, but only eight EU members have so far done so: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and Slovakia. Malta recognizes the concept of one and has indicated it may soon recognize a state, along with Slovenia.

People take part in a demonstration in support of the Palestinian people in Madrid, Spain, on May 11, 2024. (Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP)

Sweden is the only country that recognized a Palestinian state when it was already an EU member, with the rest having done so while part of the Soviet bloc.

The moves by the individual countries do not affect EU recognition of a Palestinian state, as that decision must be made unanimously by all member states.

The United States has long opposed Palestinian efforts to unilaterally secure statehood status, arguing that the goal should be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel.

Washington has also said that the Palestinian Authority needs to undergo significant reforms before it is recognized as a state. Ramallah has long been marred by allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but is closely aligned, and is a member of the European Economic Area.

Sam Sokol, Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.

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