PARIS - French lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of recognising Palestine as a state, following similar moves in Britain and Spain as European countries try to restart the stalled Middle East peace process.
The highly symbolic vote in the lower house National Assembly is not binding on French government policy but is likely to spark fury in Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned it would be a “grave mistake.”
MPs voted 339 to 151 in favour of a motion that invites Paris to recognise the state of Palestine “as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict.”
Palestinians are seeking to achieve statehood in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank with east Jerusalem as the capital. With little progress on reaching a settlement, they have been lobbying foreign powers for international recognition.
During a debate on the issue Friday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stressed that Paris would recognise Palestine if diplomatic efforts failed again and urged a resolution to the Middle East conflict within two years.
France is spearheading a drive at the United Nations to unfreeze the moribund peace process and the Palestinian envoy to the UN said earlier Tuesday a draft resolution could be submitted to the Security Council by mid-December.
Riyad Mansour told AFP the text was set to lay out a timeframe for negotiations on a final peace deal and possibly a deadline for Palestinian statehood.
It would also pave the way for a last-ditch international conference that France has offered to host. This European initiative was expected to be discussed in Brussels when US Secretary of State John Kerry holds talks with European ministers during a NATO meeting. “If these efforts fail, if this last attempt at a negotiated settlement does not work, then France will have to do its duty and recognise the state of Palestine without delay and we are ready to do that,” Fabius told MPs on Friday. The French vote came hot on the heels of a near unanimous vote in favour of recognising Palestine in the British and Spanish parliaments, as Europeans seek alternative ways to push forward efforts towards peace.
Sweden’s government went even further, officially recognising Palestine as a state in a controversial move that prompted Israel to recall its ambassador.
At a pan-European level, the European Parliament is expected to hold a vote later this month on recognising Palestine and EU foreign policy supremo Federica Mogherini is also pushing for the creation of a Palestine state.
“Governments and parliaments are taking action. That momentum will grow,” said United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon last month.
However, lawmakers in Paris were more divided on the issue than their British and Spanish counterparts, reflecting the sensitivity of the debate in France, which is home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities.
Senior UMP lawmaker Christian Jacob told MPs ahead of the vote: “Who are we kidding? We are kidding the French people if we think that the parliament will have any influence at all” on the peace process.
France was the scene of several pro-Palestinian demonstrations during this summer’s 50-day offensive by the Israeli army in Gaza that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis. Some of these turned violent with looters in July destroying Jewish businesses and shouting anti-Israel obscenities in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles — sometimes known as “Little Jerusalem” for its large community of Sephardic Jews.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, an advocacy group, said in September that more Jews had left France for Israel than from any other country in 2014, blaming a “climate of anti-Semitism.”
The Palestinian Authority estimates that 135 countries have now recognised Palestine as a state, although that number is disputed and several recognitions by EU member states date back to the Soviet era.
The French parliament’s vote in favour of recognising Palestine as a state will harm the peace process and is the wrong message to send to the region, Israel warned.
“Israel believes that the vote in the National Assembly... will reduce the possibility of achieving a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Israeli embassy in Paris said in a statement.
“Decisions of this nature harden the Palestinian position and send the wrong message to the people and the leaders of the region,” added the embassy.
A solution to the conflict will be achieved “only with honest and direct talks between the parties and not by unilateral measures taken by one of the parties or by third parties,” stressed the embassy. French MPs earlier voted in favour of a motion urging the government to recognise Palestine as a state, a non-binding but highly symbolic act that followed similar votes in Britain and Spain.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last month it would be a “grave mistake” for France to recognise Palestine.