Spain, Ireland, Norway will recognise the State of Palestine

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 23rd May 2024.

Three European states – Spain, Ireland and Norway – have announced they will formally recognise the Palestinian state, seven months after the Gaza war broke out. The highly symbolic move was coordinated between the three nations yesterday, following months of negotiations between a group of European countries willing to take the step.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez – who had vowed to recognise Palestine by June – announced Spain would recognise the State of Palestine next Tuesday, May 28. “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.”

Sánchez and his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Simon Harris, have been at the forefront of efforts to build a coalition of like-minded EU member states on the Palestinian question. “This is a historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine,” said Harris in Dublin. Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin announced on social media platform X that Dublin’s recognition would be official from May 28 as the country moves in tandem with Spain.

Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Stoere also announced his country will formally recognise Palestine as a state on Wednesday. “There can’t be peace without a Palestinian state,” Stoere told reporters in Oslo. According to Euronews sources, Norway is likely to imitate both Spain and Ireland in making the official recognition effective from 28 May.

Three other EU members likely to follow suit shortly. European Union member states Malta and Slovenia have also indicated in recent weeks that they may recognise Palestinian statehood, claiming it is vital to bring peace to the region. In March, both EU member states signed a joint declaration saying they stand ready to recognise Palestine with their Spanish and Irish counterparts on the margins of a summit in Brussels.

Belgium is also likely to follow suit soon, but refrained from signing the March declaration of intent as it currently holds the six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, responsible for overseeing its work and therefore likely restricted from signing such declarations. Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Vincent Van Peteghem said on Wednesday that Belgium “must also” recognise the state of Palestine.

Palestinian statehood has been recognised by 139 out of 193 UN member states to date. Nine of the EU’s 27 member states currently recognise Palestinians’ right to a state according to the so-called 1967 borders, which include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. They include eastern states such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, as well as the island states of Malta and Cyprus. They also include Sweden, which became the first member state to unilaterally recognise Palestinians’ right to statehood while a member of the EU in 2014. But many of these countries made this recognition in 1988 and have since shifted their positions towards a staunch pro-Israeli stance, most notably Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Borrell urges ‘common EU position’ on Palestinian statehood

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has urged the 27-member bloc to find common ground after Spain and Ireland joined Norway in announcing they would recognise Palestinian statehood. “Within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, I will relentlessly work with all Member States to promote a common EU position based on a two-state solution,” Borrell writes on X about the move that has angered Israel.

Israel vows ‘severe consequences’

The move is opposed by Israel, which has claimed it will “fuel instability” in the Middle East. Israel Katz, the country’s foreign affairs minister, has recalled Israel’s ambassadors to Ireland and Norway for consultations and has warned Spain that similar steps will be taken. “I’m sending a clear and unequivocal message to Ireland and Norway: Israel will not remain silent in the face of those undermining its sovereignty and endangering its security,” he wrote in a statement shared on X. “Today’s decision sends a message to the Palestinians and the world: Terrorism pays,” he also wrote, adding: “Israel will not remain silent – there will be further severe consequences.”

It comes against a backdrop of continued protests in support of the Palestinians in Gaza and mounting global condemnation of Israel’s harsh military offensive. The International Criminal Court on Monday said it was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as several Hamas leaders, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Netanyahu and Israel’s principal ally, the US, slammed the ICC move, with President Joe Biden calling it “outrageous”.

US opposes ‘unilateral’ Palestine recognition

The White House said yesterday it opposed “unilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state after Ireland, Norway and Spain announced they would establish relations but warned Israel against withholding funds in retaliation. President Joe Biden “has been on the record supporting a two-state solution” his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, told reporters. “He has been equally emphatic on the record that that two-state solution should be brought about through direct negotiations through the parties, not through unilateral recognition,” he said. He stopped short of criticising the decision to formally recognise the State of Palestine by the three European countries, all close allies of the United States.

France says conditions not right to recognise Palestinian state

France has said conditions were not right to officially recognise a Palestinian state and that such a decision must be more than just symbolic or political posturing. “France does not consider that the conditions have yet been met for this decision to have a real impact on this process,” Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said after talks in Paris with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

Sunak announces surprise election on July 4

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a surprise general election for the United Kingdom on July 4 – six months earlier than scheduled – in a speech made outside Downing Street. The announcement followed speculation that began after Sunak pushed a Cabinet meeting to Wednesday afternoon instead of the usual time on Tuesday. In his speech, Sunak referred to the British economy and his own government’s ability to govern.

The announcement came the same day official figures showed inflation in the UK had fallen to 2.3 per cent – its lowest level in nearly three years, on the back of big declines in domestic bills. Sunak emphasised this in his speech, claiming “economic stability is the bedrock of any success”. He acknowledged that “things are not easy” for members of the British public but insisted that his government had a clear plan ahead.

The election comes with Sunak’s Conservatives trailing the Labour Party by about 20 points in the polls. Labour leader Keir Starmer said the election meant an “opportunity for change”. “A vote for Labour is a vote for stability, economic and political; a politics that treads more lightly on all our lives; a vote to stop the chaos,” Starmer told supporters. “It’s time for change.”

Main EU election candidates to answer public questions in live debate

The stage is set for the big debate on the European elections. The main candidates will confront their ideas on the future of Europe and the policies to be pursued, in a debate organised by the European Broadcasting Union. Euronews will broadcast the debate live today, Thursday, at 3 pm Malta time, featuring five prominent candidates for the European Commission presidency.

The favourite for the post is the current President of the European Commission, German MEP Ursula von der Leyen of the European People’s Party. Also present will be the current European Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit of the Social Democratic Party, Sandro Gozi MEP of Renew Europe, Terry Reintke MEP and co-chair of the Green group and Walter Baier President of the European Left. In the Chamber, which has been turned into a television studio for the occasion, an audience of 900 people will be present.

“The idea is that the candidates will have the opportunity to share with the public what their ideas and solutions are on the key issues around them: climate change, employment and the economy, migration, whatever,” explains one of the debate’s presenters, Belgian journalist Annelies Beck.

Her colleague and fellow presenter, Czech journalist Martin Řezezníček, says the debate is “by Europeans for Europeans”. There will be questions from citizens via social networks or from young people voting for the first time. “Europeans should have a say in this debate,” says Řezníček. In addition, the candidates will face a three-minute one-on-one interview to find out about their policies in detail.

No representatives of the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) or the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) will take part in the event. The European Free Alliance (EFA) candidate Maylis Roßberg will also be absent. In the case of the first two parties, the EBU said in a statement that “they have refused to nominate a leading candidate and therefore cannot take part in this debate”.

But one of the ID MEPs believes there is a political motivation behind it. “I see it more as political censorship to exclude 20-25 percent of the European electorate,” says Anders Vistisen. “In these elections, no party follows all the rules of the leading candidates,” he says. In the case of EFA, the EBU argues that each group represented in the European Parliament was asked to propose a lead candidate. “The parties in those groups made the selection of the lead candidate. For the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, the lead candidate proposed was Terry Reintke of the European Greens party,” the EBU told Euronews in a statement.

€440k frozen in Italy over suspect scam by fake farmers

Italian authorities have issued a freezing order against group of farmers alleging EU farming subsidies were claimed for gardeners. Three people connected to Italian businesses allegedly made bogus claims more than €375,000 in EU agricultural funds between 2020 and 2023, of which €65,000 have already been drawn from Italy’s payment agency.

The 368 hectares of farmland they claimed to own in order to receive the subsidies were not actually theirs, however, according to the authorities, belonging instead to the naval air station of Sigonella, for which the three suspects used to simply cut the grass. “That is why they were not allowed to use it for agricultural activities, but only to carry out the grass mowing service,” said the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) which requested the seizure issued by the judge for preliminary investigations of the Court of Catania yesterday.

This is the third large case involving freezing orders requested by EPPO – which investigates, prosecutes, and brings to judgment perpetrators of criminal offences harming the EU budget – involving Italy this year, leading to more than €3.7milion assets being frozen in the past three months. In 2023, a third of the open investigations related to fraud in the EU farming budget involved Italy, according to EPPO figures.

Turbulence-hit Singapore Airlines flight: 20 still in intensive care

Twenty people were still in intensive care in Bangkok hospitals today after a terrifying high-altitude plunge on a flight from London during which an elderly passenger – a 73-year-old Biton – died and more than 100 people were injured. A hospital in Bangkok said its staff were either treating or had treated 85 of those injured, including 20 people taken to intensive care units. The 20 were from Australia, Britain, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the Philippines, Samitivej Hospital said, without specifying how many were passengers or crew. A relief flight carrying 131 passengers and 12 crew landed at Singapore’s Changi Airport on Wednesday morning. Relatives greeted the arrivals with hugs, but all were too shaken to talk to waiting reporters.

Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 hit “sudden extreme turbulence” over Myanmar 10 hours into its journey to Singapore on Tuesday, abruptly rising and plunging several times. One passenger said people were thrown around the cabin so violently they put dents in the ceiling during the drama at 11,300 metres, leaving dozens with head injuries. Photos from inside the plane show the cabin in chaos, strewn with food, drinks bottles and luggage, and with oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling.

Nikki Haley says she would vote for Trump

Nikki Haley said Wednesday that she will be voting for Donald Trump in the general election – a notable show of support given their intense and often personal rivalry during the Republican primary calendar. But Haley also made it clear that she feels Trump has work to do to win over voters who supported her during the course of the primary campaign and continue to cast votes for her in ongoing primary contests.

“I will be voting for Trump,” Haley, Trump’s former UN ambassador, said during an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “Having said that, I stand by what I said in my suspension speech,” Haley added. “Trump would be smart to reach out to the millions of people who voted for me and continue to support me and not assume that they’re just going to be with him. And I genuinely hope he does that.”

24 dead in Israeli raids on Gaza

Sixteen people, including 10 children, died and several others were injured in an Israeli shelling that hit the central Daraj neighbourhood of Gaza city last night, Palestinian news agency Wafa reports.

Wafa says eight other people died and several others were injured in an Israeli bombardment that hit a house in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip last evening. Most of the victims are women and children, Wafa specifies. Since October 7, there have been at least 35,709 deaths and 79,990 injuries in the Palestinian enclave, according to the hamas-run Ministry of Health.

Europa League final: Lookman nets hat-trick as Atalanta stun Leverkusen

Ademola Lookman scored a stunning hat-trick as Atalanta beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 in the Europa League final last night to win just the second major trophy in their 117-year history and end the German champions’ remarkable unbeaten streak. Lookman, who struggled to establish himself in the English Premier League with Everton, Fulham and Leicester City before reviving his career in Italy under Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini, struck twice inside the first 26 minutes before sealing the win 15 minutes from the final whistle.

The victory ended Gasperini’s own two-decade long pursuit of major silverware as his side totally outplayed Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen ― or Neverlusen as they had been dubbed after going an incredible 51 games unbeaten. But just as they did against Premier League heavyweights Liverpool and three-times finalists Olympique Marseille in the previous two rounds, Atalanta didn’t give their opponents a sniff to mark their first European final with a famous victory.

Photo: Emilio Morenatti / Associated Press

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