Ambassador in Israel confirms parliamentary vote is imminent

Slovenian minister confirms his country poised to recognize Palestine

Speaking after meeting Abbas on sidelines of EU address, FM Karl Erjavec says move would ‘strengthen Palestine’s negotiation in the Middle East peace process’

Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec in Bucharest, Romania for talks on for talks on NATO and the European Union, November 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec in Bucharest, Romania for talks on for talks on NATO and the European Union, November 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The Slovenian government hopes its lawmakers will vote to recognize a Palestinian state, Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec confirmed Monday, a day after Israeli media reported the planned move.

“Everybody [other EU member states] backs such a Slovenian step that will happen if parliament green lights the proposal for recognizing the Palestinian state,” Erjavec told the local Slovenian channel POP TV.

The minister was speaking from Brussels, where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met European foreign ministers, who he urged to recognize Palestine. Erjavec and Abbas had a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the address.

Of the 28 EU member states, Sweden was the first — and so far only one — to officially recognize the Palestinian state as an EU member, in 2014. Eight other countries took the step before entering the EU: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta and Cyprus.

Slovenia’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee will meet in Ljubljana on January 31 to approve the proposal before sending it to parliament, which could vote on the issue in a session in March or April, according to Slovenian RTV public television.

“By recognizing it, (Slovenia) would strengthen Palestine’s negotiation in the Middle East peace process. We have an independent foreign policy, we do not need any other state to cover our back,” Erjavec said.

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)

Following a US decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Palestinian leadership declared that Washington could no longer fulfill the historic and central role in the peace process it has held for over two decades.

Instead, Abbas is seeking a new international framework through which the Palestinians can win an independent state. The main players in that arena, from his point of view, are the EU, the UN, Russia and China.

“We truly consider the European Union as a true partner and friend, and therefore we call its member states to swiftly recognize the state of Palestine and we confirm that there is no contradiction between recognition and the resumption of negotiations,” Abbas said in an address to EU foreign ministers Monday in Brussels.

The Palestinian leader argued that such a move “would encourage the Palestinian people to keep hoping for peace, and to wait until peace is brought about. It will open the doors to peace and it will encourage the Palestinian people to keep on abiding by the culture of peace that has disseminated through it for generations.”

The Israeli government has argued in the past that unilateral recognition of the state of Palestine will toughen the Palestinian stance and make it harder to reach a final peace deal between the two sides.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference prior to attending a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Trump said his Jerusalem 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 roiled the Muslim world and was panned by the United Nations, the European Union, and many European countries.

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 ambassador in Tel Aviv, Barbara Sušnik, told The Times of Israel Sunday 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)

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.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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