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EU-Israel relations plummet as Spain, Ireland prepare to recognise a Palestinian state

EU-Israel relations plummet as Spain, Ireland prepare to recognise a Palestinian state
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Relations between the European Union and Israel took a nosedive on Monday, the eve of the diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state by EU members Ireland and Spain, with Madrid insisting that sanctions should be considered against Israel for its continued deadly attacks in southern Gaza’s city of Rafah.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Spain that its consulate in Jerusalem will not be allowed to help Palestinians.

At the same time, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell threw his weight to support the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including leaders of the Hamas militant group.

“The prosecutor of the court has been strongly intimidated and accused of antisemitism – as always when anybody, anyone does something that Netanyahu’s government does not like,” Borrell said. “The word antisemitic, it’s too heavy. It’s too important.”

While dozens of countries have recognised a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so, and it is unclear how much of a difference the move by Ireland, Spain and non-EU member Norway might make on the ground.

The recognition, however, is a significant accomplishment for the Palestinians, who believe it confers international legitimacy on their struggle.

Angry words abounded, with Katz accusing Spain of “rewarding terror” by recognising a Palestinian state, and saying that “the days of the Inquisition are over”.

He referred to the infamous Spanish institution started in the 15th century to maintain Roman Catholic orthodoxy that forced Jews and Muslims to flee, convert to Catholicism or, in some instances, face death.

“No one will force us to convert our religion or threaten our existence. Those who harm us, we will harm in return,” said Katz.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares slammed the comments, and said his colleagues from Ireland and Norway were “also receiving absolutely unjustified and absolutely reprehensible provocations from our Israeli colleague” because of their plans to recognise Palestine.

“In the face of those who want to divide us with any type of intimidating propaganda, the unity of Europeans is essential to send a very powerful message,” he said.




Also on Monday, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Robert Golob said his government will decide on the recognition of a Palestinian state on Thursday and forward its decision to parliament for final approval.

Slovenia launched the recognition procedure earlier this month, and Golob has been under pressure to speed up the process since Spain, Norway and Ireland announced they would go ahead with recognition.

Borrell said the actions of the Israeli government, including plans to stop transferring tax revenue earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, could no longer be reconciled with the idea he had about the state of Israel.

“From now on, I will never again say ‘Israel,’ (but) will say ‘Netanyahu government’ because it is this government who is taking these decisions,” Borrell said.

Even though the EU and its member nations have been steadfast in condemning the Hamas-led attack on October 7 in which militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage, the bloc has been equally critical of Israel’s ensuing offensive that has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

The latest attacks have centred on Rafah, where Palestinian health workers said Israeli air strikes killed at least 45 people Sunday, hit tents for displaced people and left “numerous” others trapped in flaming debris.

Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said such strikes will have long-standing repercussions. “Israel with this choice is spreading hatred, rooting hatred that will involve their children and grandchildren. I would have preferred another decision,″ he told SKY TG24.

Palestinians inspect their destroyed tents after an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza on Monday. Photo: dpa

The strikes came after the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday demanded that Israel immediately halt its offensive on Rafah, even if it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire for the Gaza enclave.

Albares said Spain and other countries asked Borrell “to provide a list of what measures the European Union could apply” to make Israel heed the ICJ’s ruling and explain what the EU has done in the past in similar circumstances “when there has been a flagrant violation of international law”.

The joint announcement by Spain, Ireland and Norway last week triggered an angry response from Israeli authorities, which summoned the countries’ ambassadors in Tel Aviv to the Foreign Ministry, where they were filmed while being shown videos of the October 7 Hamas attack and abductions.

Albares criticised the treatment of the European ambassadors in Israel. “We reject something that is not within diplomatic courtesy and the customs of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” he said.

“But at the same time we have also agreed that we are not going to fall for any provocation that distances us from our goal,” he added. “Our aim is to recognise the state of Palestine tomorrow, make all possible efforts to achieve a permanent ceasefire as soon as possible and also, in the end, to achieve that definitive peace.”

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