Some of the U.S.’s closest European allies are threatening to follow Sweden and unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state if steps aren’t quickly taken to revive the Middle East peace process.
This emerging European position is placing the Obama administration in a diplomatic bind due to its own strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the breakdown this spring of U.S.-led talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Washington’s stated policy is that a Palestinian state can only be established through a negotiated agreement reached between the two sides. American and European officials worry a failure to resume direct talks soon could only fuel violence that has gripped Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip recently.
Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian and Arab leaders in recent days to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and the state of the peace process, according to U.S. officials.
Washington and European states have also deliberated on the growing push at the United Nations to accommodate the Palestinians’ call for the establishment of an independent state, potentially through a vote at the Security Council.
“We’re not going to wait forever,” said a senior European official, referring to his country’s potential move to recognize Palestine. “Other European countries are poised to follow Sweden.”
Stockholm’s government last month became the first European Union member country to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. The parliaments of France and the U.K. have also introduced legislation recently to take similar steps.
Top European officials, including French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, have also said their governments would eventually recognize Palestine if the peace process stalls.
Successive U.S. administrations have vetoed any efforts to use the U.N. Security Council to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state. Obama administration officials have said there is no shift in the American stance on this issue. But they’ve also said their ability to get Mr. Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to re-embrace the peace process is limited.
Strains in Washington’s relationship with Israel are complicating the U.S.’s ability to push back against the European pressure, according to U.S. and European officials. The fragile relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu was illuminated by an article last month in The Atlantic in which senior administration officials are quoted making disparaging comments about the Israeli leader and his leadership style.
Members of Mr. Netanyahu’s government, meanwhile, have become increasingly critical of U.S. negotiations with Iran that are aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear program. Israeli officials acknowledge their relationship with Washington will be further tested if the U.S. and Iran reach an agreement by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline.