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Analysis: Why Recognition of Palestinian State Could Fuel Mideast Fire

Image: Members of French parliament, applause after the vote for the recognition of the Palestinian State.

Members of French parliament, applause after the vote for the recognition of the Palestinian state in Paris on Tuesday. Michel Euler / AP

France is poised to do it. Belgium is likely to follow. Australia will almost certainly join them soon. They are the latest countries to jump aboard a global bandwagon to recognize a Palestinian state.

It’s a push that Israel has been powerless to stop, in spite of its repeated warnings that such moves will only make it harder to reach a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

But a compromise between those sides seems as far away as ever, and parliaments and governments around the world have had enough. Faced with the failure of U.S.-backed efforts to forge a two-state deal, parliaments have taken Middle Eastern matters into their own hands.

On Tuesday, France’s lower parliament, the National Assembly, voted to urge the government to recognize Palestine in order to “reinforce our country’s diplomatic action … and contribute to peace.”

It was a largely symbolic move, as the vote doesn’t bind the government and the French have made it clear they will wait for agreement between Israel and the Palestinians before changing their national line. But it was the fifth such move in two months. Britain’s House of Commons passed a similar non-binding vote in October, along with the Irish.

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The Swedes went a step further becoming the first European Union country to fully recognize Palestine. Belgium is set to become the second, after all four parties that make up the government reached agreement.

However, the French vote carries huge significance. France is the country with the largest Jewish and Muslim population in Europe and the tensions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Gaza were echoed in violence on its streets this summer.

Even if some French lawmakers are playing to their numerous Muslim voters, the vote to recognize Palestine in Paris — the city where Yasser Arafat died — is of far greater global significance than a vote in Dublin or even Madrid.

"Governments and parliaments are taking action. That momentum will grow"

Jewish leaders in Europe have played down the significance of such votes, and one Israeli minister resorted to ridicule. The European Jewish Congress called the French vote “toothless.. pushing the Palestinians to abandon the negotiating table.”

But the momentum is not with Israel on this issue. The ball began to roll at the United Nations in November 2012 when the General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine to non-member observer state.

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In total, 135 out of 193 member states of the United Nations now recognize the Palestinians. Next in line to recognize Palestine will be the European Parliament, at its Strasbourg session on December 15. The vote will almost certainly pass, not least because attitudes towards Israel have hardened after the attack on Gaza and the continued building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land occupied by Israel in 1967.

“Governments and parliaments are taking action. That momentum will grow,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said recently.

The dark spume on this European wave is the twin growth of anti-Semitism and militant Islam in Europe. There are worries that Jihadis returning from Syria and Iraq may attack Europe’s Jewish population, as a French ISIS fighter did in May this year when he killed four people at Belgium’s main Jewish museum.

There are also worries that recognizing Palestine may pour fuel on the fire of deadly conflict in Israel, leading to a third Intifada, or uprising.

Several Palestinians in recent months have driven vehicles into crowds. One drove a meat cleaver into the bodies of Jews praying at a Jerusalem synagogue, another stabbed shoppers at a supermarket on Wednesday. Israel is heading towards a March election that could result in a more conservative, nationalist and ultra-Orthodox government. It’s likely to be led by present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is pushing for a vote that would recognize Israel as a Jewish state and relegate Arab-Israelis to the rank of second-class citizens. That could be further destabilize the delicate balance between Israel and the Palestinians.

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For now, all eyes are on Paris which is spearheading a drive at the U.N. to revive the peace process and which hopes to host an international conference.

“If these efforts fail, if this last attempt at a negotiated settlement does not work, then France will have to ... recognize the state of Palestine without delay and we are ready to do that," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week.

The bandwagon has a long way yet to roll.