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VOICES

The Palestine Question Should recognition come before or after peace?

Dr Gëzim Visoka examines the long road to peace in the Middle East and the potential role of recognition of a Palestinian state.

THE LATEST AND most brutal episode in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which started in October 2023 with Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians, has had far-reaching implications.

Since then, it is estimated that 1,139 Israelis and over 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, and many more injured, kidnapped, and arrested. It has led to a confrontation between Israel and Iran and their regional proxies. Internationally, the war on Gaza has exposed the hypocrisies and instrumentalisation of international security and judicial institutions and the selective application of international law, including genocide and the criminal prosecution of state leaders for grave international crimes.

However, one area in which the case of Palestine might have a positive impact is the wider international community’s realisation that recognition should not be held hostage to stalled peace talks and must be a precondition for durable peace—regardless of how challenging it may be.

Peace-before-recognition

For decades, Israel and its allies have successfully used the stalled Middle East Peace Process to delay and derail the recognition of Palestine as an independent and sovereign state and, with that, the prospects for a two-state solution in accordance with the UN resolutions.

In the meantime, Israel has used the status quo to undermine the peace process through the expansion of illegal settlements, installing an apartheid system, and trying to undermine Palestine’s international standing. In turn, Palestinian groups short of recognised statehood have combined peaceful and armed resistance, as well as reverted to terrorist methods to achieve their political goals.

However, the peace-before-recognition paradigm is not unique to the case of Israel and Palestine. Serbia, for over a decade, has tried to hijack the EU-facilitated dialogue to prevent and reverse the international recognition of Kosovo. It has partially succeeded in creating a stalemate, thanks to the EU’s lack of joint position on Kosovo’s independence and the US’s appeasement and stability-seeking policy in the Western Balkans.

Similarly, Morocco, with the backing of France and the US, has hijacked the UN-led process for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara. So, the peace-before-recognition paradigm has aggravated more violence and enabled counter-peace to flourish. It has empowered one side in the conflict to the detriment of the other. It has produced stalemated conflict with multiple episodes of protracted violence.

Recognition-before-peace

Until recently, the peace-before-recognition paradigm has enjoyed broader international support, mainly for security and geopolitical interests. However, the Hamas attacks in October 2023 and Israel’s disproportional retaliation in Gaza have brought into question the viability of this paradigm. We are gradually witnessing a shift towards realising that the survival of the Palestinian people and the prospects for peace can only happen if the State of Palestine is recognised as a sovereign and independent state with the same rights and responsibilities as other states under international law.

The pursuit of the recognition-before-peace paradigm has occurred in two variants. First, through an attempt to admit Palestine as a full member of the United Nations Organisations, which was blocked by the US in early May, 2024. Second, through coordinated bilateral recognition, as we have seen in the case of Ireland, Norway, and Spain, announced on 22 May, earlier this week.

A decade ago, Sweden recognised Palestine, considering recognition as a precondition for lasting peace in the Middle East. In their justification, Norway maintained, “By recognising a Palestinian state, we are supporting the Arab peace plan, which has been further developed by key actors in the region in the wake of 7 October.”

Ireland, on the other hand, highlighted that their “decision to recognise Palestine is taken to help create a peaceful future, a two-state solution as the only way out of the generational cycles of violence, retaliation and resentment where so many wrongs can never make a right”.

While the recognition of Palestine is seen as a precondition for peace centred on a two-state solution, the prospects of achieving peace through diplomatic recognition remain grim at the moment unless Israel ends its war on Gaza and the control of occupied Palestinian territories.

With the anti-peace Israeli factions in power, it is unlikely that Israel will agree to a two-state solution any time soon.

In light of this, it seems that both the global support for UN membership and the coordinated recognition of the State of Palestine represent compensatory forms of the international community’s inability to enact its responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians. It is a moral recognition of Palestine’s remedial right to statehood after South Africa’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) case for genocide, the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s arrest warrants against the Israeli and Hamas leadership, and Israel’s unwillingness to accept the UN-backed ceasefire and allow humanitarian access to Gaza.

In this regard, we are witnessing the leveraging of recognition for advancing – at least symbolically, the cause of peace, justice, and the rule of law. It is a recognition that for peace to occur, both sides should be recognised as equal stakeholders.

More broadly, the Palestine case may trigger a much-needed shift from perceiving state recognition as a discretionary right to duty toward other claimant and aspirant states, especially if they meet the objective and extended criteria of statehood and have a remedial case for self-determination.

However, the duty to recognise should not be applied selectively, as it undermines its purpose. For example, there is a danger that countries such as Spain, by recognising Palestine and not Kosovo, end up reproducing the double standards that the US and many other European states have shown by treating Russia’s aggression against Ukraine differently from Israel’s war on Gaza. Otherwise, a selective approach to diplomatic recognition undermines international stability, weakens further the normative legal order, and bolsters global and regional tensions.

Dr Gëzim Visoka is an Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Dublin City University, Ireland. He is the author of the forthcoming book ‘The Derecognition of States’ and co-editor of ‘Routledge Handbook of State Recognition’.

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