Spanish Government Threatens to Break Ranks With EU and Unilaterally Recognise Palestine. What Gives?

If Pedro Sánchez were to actually deliver on his word (which is a pretty big “IF”), Spain would become only the second country to recognise Palestinian statehood while being an EU Member State.

During a tour of Israel and Palestine last week, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez did something that most EU leaders dare not: he criticised Israel for its indiscriminate bombing of Gaza. At a press conference on Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt, Sánchez described the mass killing of civilians, “including women and children,” as “unacceptable.” He also raised the possibility of Spain unilaterally recognising Palestine as a state if Spain’s EU partners do not commit to collective recognition.

“The time has come for the international community and especially the EU to make a decision on the recognition of the Palestinian State. It would be worth it and it would be important for us to do it together,” Sánchez said, adding that if that does not happen, Spain will make its own decision on the matter. As Euro News notes, while a number of EU Members do recognise Palestinean statehood, they do not include any of the larger states or economies, meaning that Spain could become a pioneer if Sánchez were to deliver on his word.

Of course, Sánchez’s talk of the need for the “international community” to recognise Palestine as a state is absurd given that 138 of the world’s 193 countries — representing over three-quarters of the global population — had already done so as of December 31, 2019. The map below illustrates just how out of sync the international community of which Sánchez speaks — i.e. NATO & friends — is with the rest of the world on this issue.

By the end of 2019, nine G20 countries had recognised Palestine : Brazil, China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Argentina (all current or prospective BRICS members, though Argentina may leave before it joins), Turkey and Indonesia. Ten G20 countries hadn’t, six of them NATO members (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and three, major non-NATO allies (Australia, South Korea and Japan). The other, Mexico, this year reclassified the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic mission in Mexico City from special delegation to embassy, despite huge pressure from the US State Department.

One more big caveat before we continue: a two-state solution may well be unworkable by this point anyway, as Yves argued in her preamble to yesterday’s cross-post, A Ceasefire Is Far from Lasting Peace – A National Security Expert on the Israel-Hamas Deal:

John Mearsheimer has stated a two-state solution is impossible and everyone advocating it ought to know that….which would seem to suggest their motives for touting  it are cynical. One insurmountable obstacle is that a Palestinian state would have its own military, something Israel would never tolerate. A second issue is the way  Israel has balkanize the area between Gaza and the West Bank, making any integration or even, say, land bridge very hard to implement. Third is what to do with the settlers They ought to be expelled, again something Israel would never accept.

Yet More “Terrorism Supporters”

Sánchez said in his speech that while the temporary ceasefire declared last Friday may be a step in the right direction, something more permanent is needed. He also called on Israel to comply with its obligations under international law.

These comments may seem like weak tea given the scale of destruction and death visited upon Gaza over the past seven weeks, but they still represent one of the strongest critiques of Israel’s actions by an EU leader to date. What’s more, Sánchez currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the European Council, which he will soon be handing over to Belgian Premier (and, incidentally, alum of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders program) Alexander De Croo.

De Croo accompanied Sánchez on his tour of Israel, Palestine and Egypt. During his address at Rafah, De Croo called for an immediate end to civilian casualties in Gaza and described the ongoing destruction of the enclave as “unacceptable.”

The Israeli government responded in time-honoured fashion by accusing the two prime ministers of supporting terrorism. Tel Aviv’s rapidly growing list of “terrorist” national leaders includes the presidents of Colombia, Chile, Honduras, Bolivia, Turkey, Ireland and now Spain and Belgium.

“We condemn the false statements made by the leaders of Spain and Belgium, who support terrorism,” said Israel’s Foreign Minister Cohen. “Israel is acting in accordance with international law and is fighting a murderous terrorist organisation worse than ISIS that is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The diplomatic crisis continues to grow. On Saturday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of Spain and Belgium for a stern reprimand over the statements made by their respective prime ministers. Shortly afterwards, the head of Spanish diplomacy, José Manuel Albares, responded in kind by summoning “the Israeli ambassador in Madrid to give explanations for the unacceptable and false accusations” emanating from Tel Aviv. Netanyahu himself gave Sánchez and De Croo a dark warning:

“What is a democracy supposed to do about this? If we accept and do not enter [Gaza] because civilians will die, we lose. You lose. Spain loses. Belgium loses. Because this is going to spread and you are going to see it very soon. Terrorism is not going to stop. If they win here, they intend to finish off the Middle East and then they will go to Europe. I am not exaggerating… Thousands and thousands and thousands of bombs falling on Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Brussels, Antwerp or any other European city.”

Broad Support for Two-State Solution

Sánchez was reappointed for a second four-year term little more than two weeks ago, and only after making significant concessions to Catalonia’s pro-independence parties, which has sparked significant complaints and protests among many segments of society and key pillars of the establishment, including the judiciary and the Guardia Civil. But his proposal to recognise Palestinian statehood enjoys broad albeit not quite universal support among his coalition partners.

One obvious outlier is the Catalan pro-independence party Junts per Catalunya, whose leader in exile, Carles Puigdemont, has previously drawn parallels between Catalonia and Israel, describing them as “two nations [that have been] persecuted for protecting their language and fighting against empires that seek to neutralise them.”

But most of his other coalition partners would like nothing better than for Spain to recognise Palestine as a state. Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, of the left-wing Sumar party, reminded Sánchez that recognition of Palestine was a key commitment in recent negotiations to form a new government:

“It has been a firm commitment in the government agreement. It is a matter of justice to do it now. We must move from words to actions.”

Spain has long had close close ties with Palestine and the broader Arab world. In 1979, Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez was the first Western European leader to host a visit from PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. In 1991, Madrid was chosen as the venue for the Madrid Conference that would open the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. In 2014, the Spanish parliament approved a non-binding motion calling on the then-Rajoy government to recognise the State of Palestine with 319 votes in favour and 2 against. That did not happen.

The motion was supported by all political parties. Today, that is not the case. Both the People’s Party (PP) and the far-right grouping Vox have blasted Sánchez for taking a unilateral position on the conflict without consulting parliament, much as he did last year when he announced his support for Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, becoming an autonomous region within Morocco, in the process unilaterally breaking with 47 years of political consensus on the issue. The President of the PP, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has even suggested that the European Union is also not comfortable with Sánchez’s position while highlighting Hamas’ enthusiastic response to Sanchez’ speech.

The left-of-centre Podemos party, now a much-diminished force in Spain, has been the strongest critic of Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. On Friday, the party’s general secretary, Ione Belarra, who was recently relieved of her duties as minister of social rights and Agenda 2030, welcomed the fact that the government had summoned the Israeli ambassador. But she called on Sánchez to go “one definitive step” further by breaking off relations with Israel until a lasting ceasefire is established. She has also called for economic sanctions against Netanyahu and his political cronies, “as the EU did with Putin”, an immediate arms embargo, and a boycott of all companies that collaborate with Israel, such as French supermarket group Carrefour.

A Historic Move?

If the Sánchez government were to actually deliver on his word (which is, I believe, still a big “IF”), it would be a historic move. Spain would become only the second country to recognise Palestine while being an EU Member State, after Sweden was the first to do so in 2014. In total, just nine of the EU’s 27  member states currently recognise the State of Palestine. Malta and Cyprus did so before joining the EU, as did the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria during the late 1980s, when they were still part of the Warsaw Pact.

Sanchez’ threat to unilaterally recognise Palestine comes as the EU is inflicting ever-increasing damage on its already tattered reputation in the rest of the world, as a result of its (until now) unfettered support for Israel. As even the BBC’s Diplomatic Editor James Lansdale recently noted, many governments are accusing the US, the UK and the EU of double standards:

You preach international law and yet you ignore the criticisms that are made against Israel. You are saying civilians need to be defended in Ukraine, but they seem to be less well defended in Gaza. Those arguments are being made against the West now,  and I think the West now is beginning to feel that.

The move by Sánchez also comes as divisions within the EU are on the rise over Israel-Palestine. In recent weeks, EU Member States have largely split into two camps, with Spain, France and Portugal backing a ceasefire in Gaza, while Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary say that such a step would contravene Israel’s apparently unlimited right to defend itself. As we reported a few weeks ago, in Are the Walls Finally Closing in On Ursula von der Leyen?, the European Commission President’s support for Israel’s military onslaught against Gaza was so unbridled that it elicited a barrage of internal criticism.

A letter signed by 842 staff members of EU institutions accused VdL of giving “a free hand to the acceleration and the legitimacy of a war crime in the Gaza Strip” while also warning that the EU is “losing all credibility” as well as its status “as a fair, equitable and humanist broker.” That loss of credibility was on full display in a recent Al Jazeera interview of the EU’s chief diplomat-cum-head gardener, Josep Borrell:

Until now, Macron’s government has been all over the place on the Israel-Hamas conflict, with one French diplomat recently summarising the French position as “one day pro-Israeli” and “the next [day] pro-Palestinian.” Germany’s government’s position does not appear to have changed much: Israel must be allowed “to protect and defend itself” following the “terrible, brutal attack that Hamas carried out,” even if that means annihilating Gaza. But Sánchez and De Croo’s statements from Rafah suggest that opinion may finally be solidifying against Israel’s “Gazacide” in certain EU capitals.

Relations between those EU countries and Israel will have soured even further after Israel pulled out of an EU-Med summit in Barcelona on Monday that was meant to discuss the fallout of the Israel-Gaza war and its consequences for the region. EU-Med summits are held periodically to bring together foreign ministers from the EU as well as Middle Eastern and North African states to discuss issues of common interest. At the event, even Borrell said that the best security guarantee for Israel is a functional Palestinian state.

It remains to be seen whether Sánchez’s government will deliver on its threat to unilaterally recognise Palestine if the EU fails to do so collectively. An expose published this past weekend by El Salto suggests it may have more cynical motives. The article reveals that on Friday November 24, the very same day Sánchez gave his barnstorming speech in Rafah, Spain’s Ministry of Defence finalised a contract for 1,680 Spike LR2 missiles — the very same missiles “being used by elite units in the extermination campaign initiated by the IDF” — from Pap Tecnos, a Spanish subsidiary of Israeli arms manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.


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  1. The Rev Kev

    ‘The map below illustrates just how out of sync the international community of which Sánchez speaks — i.e. NATO & friends — is with the rest of the world on this issue.’

    Starting to see this map more and more and when you look at it, the grey areas are mostly what is known as the Collective West.” British journalist James Landale is right. The reputational damage to the West will be huge and will leave it more and more isolated from the rest of the world. But like Israel, the biggest damage being caused is by their own self goals. So when EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says that Hamas’s attack was a war crime but refused to say the same of Israel’s attacks because he is not a lawyer, you cannot spin that in any way that makes the EU look good.

    If Sánchez is thinking of recognizing Palestine, then it must be time for Ursula von der Leyen to break out some of her “tools”. Of course if Spain does go ahead and recognize Palestine, then this will be a huge crack in the European Union. Ursula might say that Spain cannot do this as EU foreign policy is up to Josep Borrell in his role as foreign policy chief. But then Sánchez can point out that if this was so, then why was she giving total EU support to Israel and setting EU policy and not Borrell a few weeks ago? A lot of people have not forgiven her this high-handed seizure of power. Considering the fact that he only retained power by making a deal with the Catalans, you would think that he was on thin ice here. But it could be possible that that was part of that of Catalan deal – that he was required to recognize Palestine. Pretty sure that the people in Catalonia would now what it is like to live under a repressive government.

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      The veil has been lifted … and not everyone is charmed by the hideous caricature beneath it. I can’t help but think that some people are beginning to hear Martin Niemöller’s words echoing in the depths of their consciences (via

    2. Mikel

      “Starting to see this map more and more and when you look at it, the grey areas are mostly what is known as the Collective West.”

      Maybe The West’s Collective is a more accurate term.
      Whatever the terminolgy, for now, may as well go ahead put India in grey.
      Maybe make Saudi Arabia and Turkey green and gray striped. Parts of South and Central America…maybe light green?

      1. Mikel

        To add: I’d probably just put a big question mark on most of Africa…maybe make South Africa light green or green and grey striped.

        And I’m not basing my color scheme on a single issue.
        For clarification.

    3. fjallstrom

      When Sweden recognised Palestine in 2014 no tumbscrews from EU were applied or even hinted at. The right wing opposition (now in power) were against, but the Left party and the Green party had managed to move the Social Democrats before the election and recognising Palestine was one of the first actions of the new government.

      In the current governing coalition the far right Sweden Democrats and the Liberals wants to recall the recognition. The conservative Moderate party that has the PM and FM positions says that recognising Palestine without broad unity was wrong, but so would recalling it be.

  2. Joe Well

    >>Mexico, this year reclassified the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic mission in Mexico City from special delegation to embassy, despite huge pressure from the US State Department.

    Once again showing Latin America is far more independent of the US than the EU. Or maybe I should say, Latin America is far more independent of the legacy of European imperialism than the US.

    IIRC, 70% of Mexico’s exports now go to the US. So the leverage is certainly there, but that works both ways.

  3. john

    He described the bombings as “unacceptable”…such a worthless word…he should have used what he really felt…disgusting, shamefull, inhuman, criminal…

  4. Gregorio

    Sorry, Bibi, you can’t claim to be a democracy when you are denying the rights of millions of people.

  5. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Nick.

    The X excerpt regarding the BBC’s James Landale is interesting. He’s a Tory and knows the new Foreign Secretary David Cameron from Eton. One wonders if a message is getting out.

    Cameron has links to the City and Hong Kong. At the recent Mansion House event that featured the PM’s foreign policy speech, the business establishment, especially from the firms with links to the former colonies, were staggered by what Sunak uttered. This could be their way of getting some sense into discussions.

  6. nippersdad

    “…. Because this is going to spread and you are going to see it very soon. Terrorism is not going to stop. If they win here, they intend to finish off the Middle East and then they will go to Europe. I am not exaggerating… Thousands and thousands and thousands of bombs falling on Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Brussels, Antwerp or any other European city.”

    Bibi does have a point here. No one can fully envision the awesome power of the air forces deployed in the tunnels beneath the Al Shifa hospital, and the ability of Hamas to build uniquely anti-semitic bunker buster bombs down there is non-pareil. If Hamas is left to their own devices it will just be a continent-wide Anschluss, with B-52 bombers boiling out of the tunnel entrances like ants and flattening everything.

    It must be true because I just saw it on the internet. On the other hand, maybe he is just insane and anyone holding onto his coat tails when he implodes is not going to get off unscathed.

    Tough call.

  7. ciroc

    It is sad that Catalans equate themselves with Israelis. It is the Palestinians who are suffering under fascist oppression.

    1. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Not all Catalans by any means, just one of the two main pro-independence parties, the pro-business Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia). The other main party, Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left), has reiterated its support for the cause of the Palestinian people and their right to liberation and self-determination. Also, at the beginning of this year the Mayor of Barcelona City Council Ada Colau severed the city’s ties with Israel and dissolved the long-standing twin city pact between Barcelona and Tel Aviv. When Colau lost the elections in Spring, her successor Jaume Carbonell, of the Catalan branch of Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’Party (PSOE), reinstated ties with Israel. But that did not last long: last week the city council agreed to once again suspend institutional relations with Tel Aviv “until a definitive ceasefire in Gaza is declared and the basic rights of the Palestinian people and compliance with United Nations resolutions are guaranteed,” which is unlikely to happen any time soon.

      1. Candide

        Thanks Nick, for that important verification
        that awareness and responsible public policy
        can survive the tides of evolving events.

  8. Concerned Celtiberian

    Context! Sánchez owes his current position to the EU. He has been able to “win” the election (no, he didn’t actually win) because during 2023 he was able to hold together the economic data with duct tape. He got away with that thanks to the EU looking the other way to “creative” macroeconomic accounting and the EU not auditing the management of EU grants (like the infamous Next Gen fund) – unlike what happened with Italy’s Meloni.
    So if Sánchez goes over there to Gaza and confronts Israel, you can bet that he did that because at least a faction inside the EU told him to, in order to put pressure on this issue. The fact that the Belgian PM also went there is further proof of that.
    Sánchez’ act might have been ordered by the “realists” in the EU Blob to counter Ursula’s previous disaster move.

    And pleaaaase… Catalans are not living under a repressive government. You know, we in Spain are not living in an Ernest Hemingway novel. If you want to understand more about the reality of the current Catalan conflict you might want to have a look at my humble blog:

    1. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Concerned Celtiberian,

      You raise some relevant points in your first paragraph but then in the second one you accuse me of arguing that Catalans are living under a repressive government, which you then follow up with your snide remark that “we in Spain are not living in an Ernest Hemmingway novel.” At no point in this article do I suggest that Catalonia is living under a repressive government. In fact, the only time I mention Catalan-Spanish relations is when I quote Carles Puigdemont’s description of Israel and Catalonia as “two nations [that have been] persecuted for protecting their language and fighting against empires that seek to neutralise them.”

      Those are not my words; they are a direct quote. I understand your desire to promote your own “humble” blog but that doesn’t allow you to put words in my mouth. Making stuff up is against this site’s moderation policies, particularly if it is for crude marketing purposes. Please try to be more civil in future.

    2. Yves Smith

      Link whoring is a violation of our written site Policies. as in straw manning.

      The comment should not have been approved, but since it somehow got through, I removed your self promotional link and have blacklisted your site.

      Have a nice life.

      1. Keith Newman

        “Link whoring”!! I’d never heard that one before.
        Naked Capitalism comes through with another great expression I’d never heard. And not for the first time.

  9. Johnny Conspiranoid

    The West is suffering reputational damage, according to James Landale, but where is the evidence that the West enjoys a reputation for following international law, protecting civilians etc. outside of the West itself? It has no such reputation.
    Its reputation is for double standards because that’s what it does all the time.

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