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Recently, according to a BBC article, Norway, Spain and Ireland have recognised Palestine as a state:

Ireland, Norway, and Spain have announced they will formally recognise a Palestinian state from 28 May.

Spain and Ireland said the decision was not against Israel nor in favour of Hamas, but rather in support of peace.

The motivation is stated to be "in support of peace". The only recent change I can think of is the gradual turn of public opinion against Israel due to the continued war. What more factors are affecting the timing of this decision? Why didn't this decision occur in 2021, for example, or why wasn't this decision delayed later than now or even postponed?

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    Do note that this is political recognition (e.g. usage of ambassadors, formal diplomacy, etc.). This likely, will not have any real effects. For example, the US officially does not recognize Taiwan as an independent, sovereign state (See One China policy), but it still treats Taiwan as if it was its own country without recognition in regards to trade, etc. But notably, not diplomacy. In fact, after the 2016 election, the then president-elect Donald Trump took a congratulatory phone call from the Taiwanese president, which was considered a political error.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented May 23 at 0:47
  • @uberhaxed For the Taiwan example I remember that during the last visit that the Taiwan leader to the US, the visit is specially designed, like local officers not participating, naming the visit 'personal' etc. That the US is trying to show the recognition of the One China Policy.
    – Limina102
    Commented May 25 at 14:10

7 Answers 7

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It's likely due to the recent UN vote backing Palestinian state recognition

UNITED NATIONS, May 10 (Reuters) - The United Nations General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly backed a Palestinian bid to become a full U.N. member by recognizing it as qualified to join and recommending the U.N. Security Council "reconsider the matter favorably."

The vote by the 193-member General Assembly was a global survey of support for the Palestinian bid to become a full U.N. member - a move that would effectively recognize a Palestinian state - after the United States vetoed it in the U.N. Security Council last month.

The assembly adopted a resolution with 143 votes in favor and nine against - including the U.S. and Israel - while 25 countries abstained. It does not give the Palestinians full U.N. membership, but simply recognizes them as qualified to join.

You'll note that the vote is merely to back their recognition by the UN, not an actual recognition as a state.

The Irish Taoiseach(PM) cited this in his speech stating why they took this action

On 10 May, 143 out of 193 UN Member States – 80% of those present and voting – voted to determine that the State of Palestine is qualified for membership in the United Nations in accordance with the Charter of the UN.

Our step today, taken with Norway and Spain, is further recognition of the legitimate right to statehood.

Note that Spain has been talking about this since Apr 2024. The Irish PM is likely ignoring that to show solidarity.

The US formally opposed such a measure without negotiations first, which is why it hasn't gone any further at the UN.

Our vote does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood; we have been very clear that we support it and seek to advance it meaningfully. Instead, it is an acknowledgement that statehood will come only from a process that involves direct negotiations between the parties.

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  • The US position link seems broken and gives a 502 (also true when googling text and finding the same link that way). Same wording appears @ Reuters reuters.com/world/middle-east/… Commented May 22 at 16:52
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Might be a geoblock of some sort. Page takes a long time to load, but does load for me in the US.
    – Machavity
    Commented May 22 at 16:58
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Why didn't this decision occur in 2021, for example

According to themselves:

It is a statement of unequivocal support for a two-State solution - the only credible path to peace and security for Israel, for Palestine and for their peoples.

We have previously said that recognition is a step that we would ideally have taken as part of a process towards that goal.

However, we are three decades after the Oslo process and perhaps further than ever from a just, sustainable and comprehensive peace settlement.

Our decision to recognise Palestine should not have to wait indefinitely, especially when it is the right thing to do. [...]

But we cannot ignore the fact that we are taking it as Palestinians in Gaza are enduring the most appalling suffering, hardship and starvation. A humanitarian catastrophe, unimaginable to most of us and unconscionable to all, is unfolding in real time. [...]

Recognising the statehood of Palestine sends a message that there is a viable alternative to the nihilism of Hamas. [...] There is also no future in the extremist version of Zionism that fuels settler violence and illegal appropriation of land in the West Bank.

And so yes, the war appears to have been somewhat of a catalyst, in statements at least:

"The time to move from words to action has come," Sánchez told the Spanish House of Representatives. "To tell the millions of Palestinians that are suffering that we stand with them, that there's hope, and that despite the walls that are erected, the villages that are bombed and the illegal settlements that are built, the land and the identity of the Palestinians still exist."

Likewise, Norway's statement:

Recognition of Palestine is a means of supporting the moderate forces which have been losing ground in this protracted and brutal conflict. [...]

Since the Oslo Accords of roughly 30 years ago, Norway and many other countries have pursued a strategy in which recognition would follow a peace agreement. This has not been successful.

‘In the absence of a peace process and a political solution to the conflict, developments have gone in the wrong direction. Neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli people can live their lives in security. That is why we need to think differently and act accordingly. We can no longer wait for the conflict to be resolved before we recognise the state of Palestine,’ said Mr Støre.

That document even has a section titled:

Several reasons to recognise now

There are several reasons why this is the right time to recognise Palestine as a state.

‘The ongoing war in Gaza has made it abundantly clear that achieving peace and stability must be predicated on resolving the Palestinian question. The war is the lowest point in the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The situation in the Middle East has not been this grave for many years,’ said Mr Støre.

The UN General Assembly recently adopted a resolution stating that Palestine is fully qualified for membership of the United Nations, with an overwhelming majority of 143 countries voting in favour.

‘Norway is cooperating closely with Saudi Arabia and is taking active steps to mobilise European support for the Arab peace vision. Norway and Saudi Arabia recently hosted a high-level meeting of foreign ministers in Riyadh to discuss this initiative. In a few days, Norway will be chairing an international partner meeting about Palestine in Brussels, where the new Palestinian Prime Minister and Government will be presenting their reform plans. We are hoping to make some major progress there,’ said Mr Eide.

You are also correct that opinion of Israel has dipped in many (possibly most) countries, after more than half a year of war. So, on the declarative level at least, it's a combination of that and being 'fed up' with the lack of 'day after' plans from Israel that's not just more occupation.

Of course, Israel's government disagrees and says that those countries are just "rewarding terrorism".

“The intention of several European countries to recognize a Palestinian state is a reward for terrorism,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

“This would be a terrorist state. It would try to carry out the October 7 massacre again and again – and that, we shall not agree to,” he said.

“Rewarding terrorism will not bring peace and neither will it stop us from defeating Hamas.”

And Israel recalled their ambassadors from those 3 countries.


There is a somewhat interesting interview with Norway's FM in The Times of Israel containing some challenging Qs, and among them, at least one related to the timing/context:

[Q:] You paint this as a reaction to policies of the Netanyahu government. But President [Isaac] Herzog said in Davos that no Israeli in his right mind is thinking about a Palestinian state right now. [Opposition Leader Yair] Lapid doesn’t support a Palestinian state right now. [War cabinet minister Benny] Gantz doesn’t. I don’t know anyone on the Zionist political spectrum who is pushing for a Palestinian state right now. It seems like you’re going against the wishes of the Israeli public writ large, and not against this government.

[A:] Well, there was a vision back in the time of [Shimon] Peres and [Yitzhak] Rabin, of course, which then was upheld by several successive Israeli governments later.

I am fully aware of the situation right now, and I have to say that I have a lot of empathy for the psychological mood in Israel now after the horrible terrorist events on October 7. The most important thing now is to get the hostages out, which we totally support, by the way.

But I also think, as [some Israelis] have been saying, that maybe somebody has to help [them] think right now because [they] are so captured by the moment. [...]

But what we really have been reminded of is that there is no alternative to a political solution. And somebody needs to think of that.

What we’re doing now with other European countries and the Arab countries is to suggest that there is an alternative to this endless cycle of violence, and that because the endless cycle of violence ends up strengthening the more extreme forces, you see in the radicalization or the move to the right in Israel and to less believe in this, as you correctly say. But you also see the strengthening of Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthis and other Iranian agents.

And we work with people who want to limit the influence of Iran in the region, which is exactly also what the Netanyahu government wants.

But I think it’s better to do that with the Palestinians, the moderate Palestinians and the Arabs, than against them.


Regarding Spain's 'pandering' for Algerian gas [this way]... IMHO it's a somewhat plausible part of the story, but not too clear if it's likely to be successful as such. Sanchez had a fallout first with Morocco, and to 'fix' that he endorsed Morocco's plan for Western Sahara. Which in turn enraged Algeria, making them cust most of their ties with Spain, but not gas supply, reportedly due to arbitration provisions in the contracts. OTOH (despite some Spanish attempts at 'pandering' by extraditing an Islamist/dissident, who was then promptly sentenced to death) Alegeria still retaliated on the gas front by increasing exports to Italy instead! The present day result of this saga being that Spain is importing more Russian gas (LNG) than they ever did before. (OTOH this is only part of the picture, because Spain is also re-exporting said Russian gas.)

Perhaps there is something to this angle though because on 10 April 2024, "Algeria restores envoy to Madrid after two years of diplomatic dispute". (The Spanish intention to recognize Palestine had been annouced some months in advance. It was made more firm in terms of a timeline at least as early as April 2, but possibly before--I didn't do a more thorough search.)

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TLDR: Ireland, Norway and Spain have decided not to wait for negotiations based on Oslo accords to conclude before recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Generally speaking, Western nations have demurred on recognizing Palestine as they preferred to give Israel the lead in deciding when the time was right, as part of the Oslo negotiations process.

A desire to work strictly within the confines of the Oslo process – which marginalises international law and defers recognition of Palestinian statehood, pending the outcome of negotiations – has given the EU and European governments little appetite to take steps that help to anchor Palestinian sovereignty. Instead, they talk about the need to support state-building efforts, pending a negotiated agreement with Israel.

(this is the negative-on-Oslo view in the cited article)

A more neutral statement:

Many countries that do not recognize Palestine as a state, such as the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and Canada, support a two-state solution. However, their recognition of a Palestinian state is conditioned on direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.

The US holds the same position, that statehood for Palestine needs to be a result of the Oslo negotiation process, with Israeli agreement.

For example, US response to May 10 UN vote:

"Our vote does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood; we have been very clear that we support it and seek to advance it meaningfully. Instead, it is an acknowledgement that statehood will only come from a process that involves direct negotiations between the parties," he said.

That Ireland, Norway and Spain are recognizing Palestine now seems to more or less indicate that they've come to the conclusion that predicating recognition on Israeli acceptance, especially with the current PM, Netanyahu, having long been on the record opposing a Palestinian state, doesn't make much sense.

It's a bit like waiting for hell to freeze over:

(this is an LA Times article I found looked for the official US position on Oslo-vs-Palestine, but it works through the drawbacks of waiting for Oslo pretty well)

The root cause of Oslo’s failure — other than the ill will of those who never wanted to see it succeed, of whom there are many — is its basic structure. Although intended as an interim agreement that would last no more than five years, its expiration was premised on “permanent status negotiations” that would resolve issues including “Jerusalem, settlements, [Israeli] military locations, Palestinian refugees, borders, foreign relations and Israelis” in Palestinian territory. None of those issues has been resolved. One key reason for this is the fundamental imbalance between Israel’s status as a nation-state that gets to decide its own aims and actions, and the PLO’s status as the representative of an occupied people with little capacity beyond day-to-day governance of a shrinking territory.

To correct this imbalance and set the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on course, a fundamental paradigm shift is needed. The U.S. should recognize Palestinian statehood and endorse a Palestinian membership application in the United Nations Security Council. This change would set the ground for permanent status negotiations between Israel and Palestine, not as a set of concessions between the occupier and the occupied, but between two entities that are equal in the eyes of international law.

But as challenging as this route may be, it is clear that the current strategy is not working. For as long as Palestinian statehood is conditional on metrics — such as those set in the Oslo accords for Israeli military withdrawal based on “the assumption of responsibility for public order and internal security by the Palestinian police force” — whose achievement is subject to the judgment of the Israeli government, and for as long as Israel can set the terms and shape the realities on the ground within the West Bank and Gaza, the existing political process will never be capable of delivering a just and lasting peace.

Certainly, the recent UN vote gives some "cover" for having this change of heart now, but you only need to look at a map of which states recognize Palestine to see that the international sentiment expressed in that vote was already the norm, outside of the West, beforehand. All three had been making noises in that direction before the May 10 vote:

(APRIL 3, 2024) Spain

Albares said the change in Spain’s position was directly linked to the high number of civilian casualties since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the launch of Israel’s military operations in Gaza, as well as to the lack of progress in securing peace by other methods. He added that recognizing Palestinian statehood was key to ending the conflict in the region.

(April 12, 2024) Ireland

Spain and Ireland, long champions of Palestinian rights, last month announced alongside Malta and Slovenia that they would jointly work toward the recognition of a Palestinian state. The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel's offensive to rout out Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region. "Let me this evening say our assessment is that that point is coming much closer and we would like to move together in doing so," Harris said after meeting Sanchez, the first premier to visit Dublin since Harris became prime minister this week. "When we move forward, we would like to do so with as many others as possible to lend weight to the decision and to send the strongest message. The people of Israel deserve a secure and peaceful future, so do the people of Palestine. Equal sovereignty, equal respect."

(November 16, 2023) Norway

Passed with an overwhelming majority in parliament, it said the assembly "asks the government to be ready to recognise Palestine as an independent state when recognition could have a positive impact on the peace process, without making a final peace accord a condition."

On the other hand, with Israel coming under increasing criticism in Western countries as a result of its operations in Gaza, those three probably feel that their Western peers will not push back overmuch.

Unfortunately, it might have been better to reach that conclusion before 10/7, as now, regardless of the pros and cons of this approach, some will argue that granting Palestinians anything now is a "reward to Hamas for 10/7":

Israel told the four EU countries that committed to moving towards Palestinian recognition that their initiative would amount to a "prize for terrorism" that would reduce the chances of a negotiated resolution to the generations-old conflict.

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    Ironically, Hamas thinks that last bit, or at least wants to take credit, claiming that the recognition is a direct result of the resistance of the Palestinian people or some such, presumably referring to the 07/10/2023 attacks, among other things. Of course, the recognition is clearly a result of the Palestinian death toll at the hands of the Israeli military over the last few months, so the implications for Hamas implying any "direct responsibility" would be...less than favorable to them.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented May 22 at 16:46
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    Why did they decide now? No earlier and no later? There are already 143 nations recognizing Palestinian state, including some western nations.
    – Morisco
    Commented May 22 at 17:19
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    @Obie2.0 Of course Hamas would take credit. I don't think the "implications" are a big issue for them, unless it causes Gazans to revolt. Commented May 22 at 17:27
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    @Obie2.0 For Hamas, the civilian population is just a resource that can be martyred to reach its aims, namely the destruction of Israel, and massacring all Jews, infidels, and heretics. They are not even trying to hide it and publically say that every dead civilian is a martyr for their cause.
    – Colombo
    Commented May 22 at 22:06
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    @Colombo With most other groups that'd be a little over the top, but... this is Hamas and 10/7 did show they are a lot more Al-Qaeda/ISIS-like than most other liberation-movement terrorists/freedom fighters so it is hard to overstate how nasty they are. Commented May 23 at 23:00
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The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 12 in favor, the United States opposed and two abstentions, from the United Kingdom and Switzerland. U.S. allies France, Japan and South Korea supported the resolution.

The strong support the Palestinians received reflects not only the growing number of countries recognizing their statehood but almost certainly the global support for Palestinians facing a humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Gaza, now in its seventh month.

https://apnews.com/article/un-vote-palestinian-membership-us-veto-8d8ad60d8576b5ab9e70d2f8bf7e2881

There's international pressure to recognize Palestine as a member state; therefore, in order to maintain good relationship with the vast majority of countries that want Palestine to become a member state, these countries decided to recognize Palestine as a state. Also, America's diminishing influence, or perceived decline, in the world is partly to blame.

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The long-term explanation is as follows.

Episode 1: Israel is created as the Jewish state right after WW2. Many Holocaust survivors lost their families and their homes, and they understandably feel that Israel should become a strong country where Jews can defend themselves. At this time, half the world was still colonized by European countries and many US states still had Apartheid laws, so the "leaders of the free world" were used to turning a blind eye on injustice. Moreover the Western countries had massively failed to protect Jews during WW2, so probably their guilt also made it easier for Israel to be accepted. So the "international community" was ready to let Israel have the largest and best part of the land in Palestine, but they still assumed that the rest was for a future state of Palestine.

Episode 2: Understandably feeling that their land was being stolen, surrounding Arab states immediately vowed to fight and destroy Israel. During a long time, Israel was fighting for its survival. Israel won every war and it progressively became clear that the country was solid, but during several decades Israel was seen as the underdog, the peaceful victim of cruel attacks, constantly at risk of annihilation. Moreover, Israel was able to convey a positive image: for example, the idea that the displacement of Arabs from their homes (the Nakba) had been mostly voluntary (it involved a lot of violence actually). Finally, racism in Western countries would also bias Western public opinion in favor of Israel.

Episode 3: When eventually a serious attempt was made at a peace process, Israel had already conquered large parts of the land intended for Palestine, and was in control of the full territory, including of course Jerusalem. It was now obvious that Israel was not only able to defend itself, it was able to colonize more land. Settlers' colonies are still progressively taking the land from Arabs, usually using violence and more and more often unofficially assisted by the IDF. Moreover, since he came to power in 2008, Netanyahu refuses any kind of peace discussion with Palestinians (he actually said that Hamas was a good thing for Israel, since it gave Israel a good excuse not to negotiate anything). Finally, a lot of Israeli official now openly support the idea that Israeli should finish the conquest of the West Bank, essentially taking the whole territory. And there are now very serious accusations of genocide, the ultimate crime a country could do. To sum up: Israel has become the villain.

Western countries traditionally support Israel because of episode 2, and because they tend to follow their ally (and protector) the US. In this view, Israel is an innocent victim of unreasonable Palestinians. But in episode 3, Israel becomes the bully who selfishly takes everything by force, making Palestinian the victims.

Moreover, in the 75 years since the conflict started, the world has changed in several ways that make Israel look bad: colonization is not acceptable anymore; taking land by force is not acceptable anymore; apartheid laws and religious discrimination are not acceptable anymore.

These changes have been brewing for a very long time: the international community still recognizes the 1967 borders and officially supports the two-state solution. At some point, a choice has to be made between accepting the de-facto dominance of Israel over the whole territory of Palestine by force, and preserving a little hope of justice by acknowledging officially that Palestinians are entitled to self-determination, like the rest of the world. Norway, Ireland and Spain just made their choice.

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    he actually said that Hamas was a good thing for Israel, since it gave Israel a good excuse not to negotiate anything Quite possibly true, but a sourced quote seems necessary to substantiate this claim. Commented May 23 at 23:02
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    Understandably feeling that their land was being stolen, surrounding Arab states immediately vowed to fight and destroy Israel. - Land of the "surrounding Arab states" was not stolen, rather they wanted to appropriate the Palestinian land for themselves. Though they did cover it by a religious/nationalist discourse that no part of Muslim/Arab land can be ever given to Jews. Many of these Arab states were also results of colonialist policies, created without regard for the wishes and interests of their people - the only difference is that they were given to an Arab Emir/King/dictator.
    – Morisco
    Commented May 24 at 7:59
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You might well ask why every state in the world hasn't recognised Palestine since at least the intifada of the 1980s.

That's the moral question every western country has been pushing to one side for decades.

In Ireland's case two factors triggered it:

  1. The more pro-active foreign policy adopted by Mr Martin, lately foreign minister and sometime taoiseach of Ireland.

  2. The terrible state of affairs in Gaza since last October.

I can't speak for the evolution of opinion in Norway and Spain but their foreign diplomats must have been engaging with the Irish ones. For reasons of strength through solidarity, the three states decided to act together - perhaps lest they be isolated within the EU by bigger yet slower-to-act countries. Due credit must be paid to Spain for joining with smaller countries on this potentially controversial initiative: as a 40 million + population with significant economic and social dependency on the EU, they had a riskier decision to make.

It is in large measure a case of seizing the moment afforded by events to declare what most people have felt for a long time.

Palestine's statehood is "an idea whose time has come", to paraphrase minority leader, Senator Ev Dirksen, when explaining his volte face on the US Civil Rights Act passage through the U.S. Senate.

It is to the credit of these three EU countries that they have seized the present public mood to - belatedly - face up to the moral necessity in this matter.

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The motivation is stated to be "in support of peace". The only recent change I can think of is the gradual turn of public opinion against Israel due to the continued war. What more factors are affecting the timing of this decision? Why didn't this decision occur in 2021, for example, or why wasn't this decision delayed later than now or even postponed?

Indeed, as per Wikipedia:

As of May 2024, Palestine is recognized as a sovereign state by 143 out of 193 member states of the United Nations.

So it is natural to ask: what is special about these three countries that prevented them to recognize Palestine up to now (alongside the 140 countries that had already done so), but suddenly changed since October 7?

The background to this is the political parties in power seeking to score points with their constituents. E.g., in Norway the parties forming a right-ish government lost their majority in 2021 elections, and were replaced by a left-wing minority government, with the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2025. Likewise in Spain the parliamentary elections are scheduled for July 2023, and Pedro Sánchez needs support of Catalans and Basques, who care for the Palestinian cause due to their own independence issues.

In Ireland the new prime minister has just entered the office on April 9, so the recognition is making good on one of the issues that helped him to rise to this office, and which contributed to toppling his predecessor (who openly condemned October 7 attacks and expresses skepticism about the ICJ genocide case against Israel.)

As outlined in an answer to a related question, this recognition will have little impact on either Israel or Palestinians - both in political terms (Israel has announced beforehand that it opposes such "dictats") and in terms of altering the realities on the ground, which likely exclude possibility of a viable Palestinian state in the nearest future. Sadly, there is very little genuine concern for the Palestinians here - the main motivation is punishing Israel/Jews.

Update
In the case of Spain it is worth also pointing out the possible economic interests involved. Indeed, Spain has long-standing economic relationships with Qatar (the main backer of Hamas) - with over 1 billion yearly trade volume and multi-billion Qatari investment in Spanish technology and environmental projects. Spain is Qatar's second largest European trading partner (after Belgium, which is also on the verge of recognizing Palestinian state.)

Furthermore, Spain is a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) importer and transportation hub, with significant part of its imports coming from the Middle East and North Africa region: enter image description here Notably, Algeria, the Spain's main partner, is known to be one of the most hardline Arab states vis-à-vis Israel.

Finally, Spain's roles as the main European LNG hub, dictates keeping an eye on the future developments in Gas industry - recognition of Palestinian state may facilitate cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (or even Hamas) in developing Gaza gas fields.

See also: Barcelona reveal details of sponsorship agreement with Qatar Airways
enter image description here

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    Are you stating that Norway and Spain's motivation is punishing Israel/Jews? Also, you didn't mention Ireland's involvement. Commented May 22 at 13:24
  • Now that I've read Machavity's reference to the UN's vote on recognition of Palestine, why haven't you mentioned this? I'm looking for full answers here, not cherry-picked component parts... Commented May 22 at 13:27
  • @AhmedTawfik the intention to recognize Palestine was stated by either of the countries well before the vote. Also, Palestine is recognized as a sovereign state by 143 out of 193 UN members - why would Spain, Norway and Ireland specifically wait for this vote?
    – Morisco
    Commented May 22 at 13:43
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    This seems to a barely coded way of endorsing the Israeli position that those countries are "rewarding terrorism". Commented May 22 at 19:59
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    @againstverylongusernames non-sequitur But indeed it looks like Hamas is the main beneficiary of this recognition.
    – Morisco
    Commented May 23 at 7:11

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