Spain’s PM: Israel’s ‘disproportionate response’ in Gaza could destabilize the world

Pedro Sanchez tells Spanish lawmakers that recognition of a Palestinian state is ‘in Europe’s geopolitical interests’

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addresses parliament at the Spanish lower house, Congress of Deputies, in Madrid on April 10, 2024. (Thomas Coex/AFP)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addresses parliament at the Spanish lower house, Congress of Deputies, in Madrid on April 10, 2024. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday that what he termed Israel’s “disproportionate response” in the Gaza war with Hamas risks “destabilizing the Middle East, and as a consequence, the entire world.”

Sanchez also insisted that the recognition of a Palestinian state, long resisted by Israel and its key allies, is “in Europe’s geopolitical interests.”

Sanchez had already raised the subject of statehood during a visit last week to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, when he told reporters that Spain could recognize Palestine as a nation by the end of June.

“The international community cannot help the Palestinian state if it does not recognize its existence,” Sanchez told lawmakers Wednesday.

Since the start of the war in Gaza more than six months ago, sparked by the October 7 onslaught by Hamas, the socialist Spanish premier has pushed for Europe to accord such recognition.

Some 1,200 people were killed and 253 people taken captive during the devastating attack by Hamas, leading Israel to declare war with the stated aims of toppling the Gaza-based terror group and securing the release of the hostages, half of whom are still held captive.

Israeli demonstrators call on the government to secure the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas during a rally marking six months since the outbreak of war against the terror group, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Speaking on Wednesday, Sanchez said Israel’s “absolutely disproportionate response” had “overturned decades of humanitarian law and threatened to destabilize the Middle East and, as a consequence, the whole world.”

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and does not differentiate between civilians and fighters. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. The IDF has lost 260 soldiers since the start of the ground offensive in Gaza.

Ongoing criticism

Sanchez’s criticism of the Gaza war has raised tensions with Israel.

In late March, Sanchez signed a joint statement alongside his Irish, Maltese and Slovenian counterparts on the sidelines of an EU summit announcing they were ready “to recognize Palestine” when “the circumstances are right” if that could help bring about a resolution to the conflict.

In February, Sanchez and his Irish counterpart at the time, Leo Varadkar, asked the European Union to “urgently” examine whether Israel was complying with its human rights obligations in Gaza as laid out in a key accord that links rights to trade ties.

Pro-Palestinian protesters attend a rally in Barcelona on January 20, 2024 (LLUIS GENE / AFP)

And in November, Israel recalled its Madrid envoy for consultations after expressing fury over Sanchez’s “outrageous remarks” in an television interview in which he expressed “serious doubts” over the legality of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

His remarks were denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “shameful,” though the Israeli ambassador Rodica Radian-Gordon returned to Madrid in January.

Israel was also angered by statements in October and November by radical left-wing ministers in Sanchez’s coalition government calling for sanctions and an embargo on arms sales to Israel.

Like many other global leaders, Sanchez has called for the implementation of the two-state solution, but has also pressed for the world to recognize a Palestinian state, breaking with other Western powers who say this should come only as part of a negotiated peace with Israel.

Starting Thursday, Sanchez is due to visit Poland, Norway and Ireland before welcoming Portugal’s leader to again discuss the issue, Spanish government spokeswoman Pilar Alegria said Tuesday.

Potential ‘meaningful player’

In an opinion piece for Madrid’s Real Instituto Elcano think tank, former Israeli ambassador Alon Liel said Spain’s move to recognize a Palestinian state could “ignite the momentum that might lead to overall European and UN recognition.”

If so, “Spain would become a meaningful player towards a new diplomatic momentum for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” wrote Liel, a former director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry.

Displaced children pose standing at their tent on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on April 10, 2024 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

In 2014, the Spanish parliament had called on the right-wing government at the time to recognize a Palestinian state, just a few weeks after Sweden became the first EU member in western Europe to do so.

Sweden’s recognition mirrored earlier moves by six other European countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

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