Ambassador in Israel confirms parliamentary vote is imminent

Slovenia to recognize Palestinian state next month — TV report

Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium also reportedly gearing up to follow suit, while French is said to be pushing for EU free trade deal with PA

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on December 14, 2017 (AP Photo/ Olivier Matthys)
Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on December 14, 2017 (AP Photo/ Olivier Matthys)

Slovenia is planning to recognize Palestine as an independent state next month, and three other European countries — Luxembourg, Ireland and Belgium — are thinking of following suit, Channel 10 news reported Sunday.

France, meanwhile, is working behind the scenes to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status at the European Union, the report said.

The moves follow US President Donald Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plan to move the US Embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

Trump said his declaration reflected reality on the ground, and was not intended to prejudge any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the disputed city, though he later said it had taken Jerusalem off the table. Welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders across most of the Israeli political spectrum, the move caused an uproar throughout the Muslim world and was panned by the United Nations, the European Union, and many European countries.

US President Donald Trump signing a proclamation that the US government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, December 6, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

Last month, Slovenian Parliament Speaker Milan Brglez told Palestinian Ambassador Salah Abdel-Shafi that Slovenia’s recognition of a Palestinian state was “not in doubt,” but just a question of timing.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said at the time that although all three Slovenian coalition parties had voted in favor of recognition, his country should wait until a group of EU member states decided to act together.

The Slovenian government decided to move ahead on plans to recognize a Palestinian state a week ago, the Channel 10 report said. It said that a vote on recognition was expected to be held by the Slovenian parliament’s foreign affairs committee on January 31, followed by a vote of the full parliament in February.

The Slovenian ambassador in Tel Aviv, Barbara Sušnik, told The Times of Israel that the issue of recognizing Palestinian statehood has been pending in the country’s parliament since 2014, and is only now coming to a vote.

President Reuven Rivlin with the Ambassador of Slovenia, Barbara Susnik, November 2015 (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

She confirmed that the foreign affairs committee will vote on the matter on January 31. If the committee votes in favor of recognizing Palestine, the issue will be brought to a vote in the full plenary of the Parliament.

As opposed to many other Western democracies, it is Slovenia’s legislative branch, not its executive, which has the last word on foreign policy matters such as recognizing states.

Sušnik said it was difficult to predict how the parliamentarians would vote, but hinted that there was a good chance they would seek to assert the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

“The elected representatives of the people will decide the way they decide. It’s their decision,” she said. “For the people of Slovenia, the principle of self-determination of nations is very important, because that is how Slovenia became independent 26 years ago, when we exercised the right to self-determination. All nations have the right to self-determination.”

Sušnik stressed that a possible recognition of Palestine should not be seen as a move hostile to Israel. “We established friendly relations with Israel more than 25 years ago, and we appreciate them a lot,” she said. “We’re committed to good relations with Israel. Our embassy in Tel Aviv was opened in the summer of 1994, right after diplomatic relations were established. Unfortunately, Israel never opened an embassy in Slovenia.”

The Channel 10 report said that Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been trying to recruit Slovenian lawmakers to oppose the move, although expectations are low that the process can be stopped.

According to the report, Luxembourg’s foreign minister called several days ago for a group of European countries to come together and recognize a Palestinian state, and is reportedly trying to convince France to lead the initiative. Ireland’s foreign minister, who recently visited Israel, conveyed at the time that his country was seriously considering recognizing a state of Palestine, the report said. It also named Ireland and Belgium as countries that could soon recognize Palestinian statehood.

Palestinians protest against the US for withholding $65 million from Palestinian aid programs, in front of the UN Relief and Works Agency offices in the Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, January 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Channel 10 quoted a senior Israeli official as saying, “Our position is that recognition of a Palestinian state, which is not within the framework of an agreement, harms the chance of achieving peace and even pushes it further away.”

The French newspaper Le Monde, meanwhile, reported on Sunday that France is trying to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status at the European Union, stopping short of full recognition of a Palestinian state.

The French are reportedly pushing for an EU free trade agreement with the Palestinians, similar to the one signed with Israel.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to arrive in Brussels on Monday, where he will meet with the foreign ministers of the Union’s 28 countries. The issue of recognition of a Palestinian state is expected to be at the top of the agenda for the talks.

After Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, the Palestinian leadership declared Washington could no longer fulfill the historic and central role in the peace process it has held for over two decades.

Last week, the Central Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PCC) — the second-highest decision-making body for Palestinians — ratified that the US had “lost its eligibility to function as a mediator and sponsor of the peace process” until it reverses the Jerusalem decision.

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)

Sweden was the first western European country to recognize Palestine, in October 2014.

In December 2014, in a symbolic move not binding on government policy, French lawmakers voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state, following similar moves in Britain and Spain, as European countries tried to restart the stalled Middle East peace process. Italy followed suit in 2015.

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