London, Asharq Al-Awsat – After the Israeli – Palestinian negotiations broke down over the issue of an Israeli settlement freeze, the Palestinian side have taken another track, attempting to gain international recognition of a Palestinian state. Indeed, the Palestinian side has achieved successes in this regard, particularly in Latin America, with Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia officially recognizing an independent state of Palestine along its 1967 borders, and Ecuador, Uruguay, and Paraguay expected to officially recognize a state of Palestine within the next year. There have also been successes in Europe, with France, Portugal, and Norway increasing the diplomatic status of Palestine.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Palestinian National Authority Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki about the diplomatic effort being exerted by the Palestinians to gain international recognition for the state of Palestine. Al-Maliki attributed the successes mentioned above to “collective effort and cumulative work, in which everyone participated, from the President, through to the government, and ending with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our embassies. This was not something new, but rather a continued effort which has been carried out for a significant period.”
Al-Maliki added “so far, we have succeeded in convincing France, Spain and Portugal, in terms of countries from the European Union [to increase our diplomatic status], and then last week there was the Norwegian initiative, which has been strongly attacked by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.”
Al-Maliki also revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “we have, for a long period of time, been pursuing the subject of raising the level of Palestinian [diplomatic] representation with EU countries where we do not have [official diplomatic] embassies. You know that we already have longstanding [diplomatic] relations on an embassy level with Eastern European members of the EU…and these embassies still exist, and nothing has changed in that regard. Therefore we do not have a problem with them, and here I am referring to Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Outside of the EU, there is also Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with other countries where we are represented at embassy level. We do not have a problem with these countries.”
As for the EU member-states where there is no Palestinian embassy, al-Maliki said that “we have discussed this issue with the foreign ministries of these countries, who have promised to look into it, despite arguing in the past that there were legal obstacles preventing this. We explained to them that the Palestinian situation has nothing to do with legal interpretations, but rather political ones. Therefore we have succeeded in the sense that France, Spain, and Portugal are now examples of where there has been an increase in the level of Palestinian [diplomatic] representation. We hope that other countries will follow, and we expect that Sweden will soon follow the example of its neighbor Norway, as it has promised to do. Cyprus is also waiting to announce that it is raising the level of Palestinian [diplomatic] representation, and it has promised to do this during my visit to the country on 28 January 2011.”
Al-Maliki also confirmed that “we are also in talks with Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Austria, and other European Union countries, which have not yet undertaken this step, and we expect them to raise the level of Palestinian [diplomatic] representation in the coming weeks and months.”
Al-Maliki also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinians were scheduled to meet with the Italian Council of Ministers on 14 December 2010 but that the recent political controversy in Italy over the presidency of Silvio Berlusconi had delayed this meeting and that it is now expected to take place in February 2011. He said “I expect Italy to raise the level of [Palestinian] diplomatic representation at this meeting.”
Al-Maliki also said that he believes that the EU states “are looking into this matter for themselves and have contacted the states that have already raised the level of the Palestinian diplomatic representation [to their countries] to enquire about what steps are required and what procedures must be undertaken.” He added that “we are optimistic that these countries will follow in the footsteps of France, Spain, Portugal and Norway.”
As for Britain, al-Maliki told Asharq Al-Awsat that he had “raised the issue with British Foreign Minister William Hague during his visit to the Palestinian Territories a few weeks ago, and for his part, he promised to look into this. I clearly expressed our surprise regarding Britain’s failure to undertake these steps. Britain used to lead the way with regards to Palestinian representation…yet it is amongst the last states to raise the level of [diplomatic] representation. We told him that Britain should act quickly because of its role in the region, and Mr. Hague promised to look into this issue.” He added that “Hague highlighted the existence of some legal problems, and we are working to overcome this.”
In light of this, the British Foreign Office has confirmed that it is considering a proposal to raise the level of representation for the Palestinian diplomatic mission, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. This would pave the way for similar steps to be taken by other EU countries however this would also increase Israel’s fears that Britain has moved a step closer towards recognizing a Palestinian state.
Al-Maliki also told Asharq Al-Awsat “I was in Spain at the weekend, where I met with new Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez. I discussed with her how Spain – along with other countries – could help to speed up these steps, and the issue of Spain recognizing the state of Palestine. The Minister expected the rest of the EU states to recognize [Palestine] within the next year, when the Palestinian Government will have finished its preparations to become a sovereign nation.” This would be within the timeframe of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year state-building plan which he announced in August 2009.
Al-Maliki also revealed that “President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Brazil early next year, to attend the inauguration of the new Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, and also to thank Brazil for its recognition of Palestine. All the South and Central American heads of state will be present at this occasion.”
The Brazilian Government has donated a plot of land for the construction of a Palestinian Embassy. Last Monday, the Palestinian Ambassador to Brazil Ibrahim al-Zaben was presented with the deed to the land, which is valued at $14 million, and covers an area of 16 dunams. A further 6 dunams have been provided as a designated green zone. This land is located in a distinguished area of the Brazilian capital close to other national embassies.
Abbas’s visit to Brazil, according to al-Maliki, will be an opportunity to urge the heads of other states such as Ecuador, Uruguay, and Paraguay, to recognize the Palestinian state. Regarding this, al-Maliki told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Uruguay has promised to announce its recognition [of Palestine] at the beginning of next year. As for Paraguay, a non-resident ambassador is working there with the Minster of Foreign Affairs to finalize a declaration of recognition.”
In response to a question regarding the reason behind this [Palestinian] interest in Latin America, over other areas, al-Maliki said: “There has been great interest in this continent over the past years, in addition to the fact that this continent conducts its foreign policies in accordance with its interpretation of international law, and its respect for those laws. This makes to easier to obtain recognition from states such as these.”
He added “Last year we signed two agreements on the recognition of a Palestinian state, with Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, and we established relations at embassy level. This made us very optimistic, and accordingly we decided to intensify our campaign with the rest of the South American countries, which will have a positive knock-on effect in other areas. We believe that this method has already been successful, because there are strong echoes in other continents, especially Western Europe. For this reason, we believe that the reaction of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and its move to restrain these successes will be unable to stop this process, because it has already begun in earnest, and will continue.”
Al-Maliki stressed that the international campaign launched by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and which is particularly targeting EU countries, will be doomed to failure, because it has come too late. He said “we begun acting according to a specific plan…now you can see that we are harvesting the fruits of our labor. Therefore, it is not possible for any Israeli action, at this moment, to stem this tide which has generated belief in all these countries that Palestine needs to be recognized, in order to activate the peace process. They have also come to the belief that the task of ending the occupation and establishing the state of Palestine cannot be left to Israel alone, which is the occupying country, and wishes to maintain the status quo. A lot of world leaders support this belief, which is why we have seen the world hold Israel responsible for the failure of the peace process. States around the world have moved quickly to recognize Palestine as such recognition has a positive influence upon the peace process.”
Al-Maliki told Asharq Al-Awsat that he is very optimistic about the possibility of the EU states recognizing the Palestinian state on schedule, in accordance with the Palestinian Government’s plan to be prepared for sovereignty by next August. He said “I am able to say that when we arrive at this date, which must be clear and specific, the countries of the world will be ready to take the historic step towards full recognition [of the state of Palestine]. Personally, from what i have heard from European foreign ministers whom i have met with in recent weeks…I am optimistic!”