Norway supports Palestinian state

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre confirmed over the weekend that Norway will support the Palestinians’ request for full membership in the United Nations and is “ready” to recognize a Palestinian state. As the UN’s 66th General Assembly gets underway in New York this week, Norway faces an important but difficult role in the Palestinians’ ongoing conflict between Israel.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (left) with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last summer. PHOTO: Foreign Ministry/Frode Overland Andersen

Norway has long been involved in efforts to broker peace in the Middle East and currently leads the international group of donor nations providing support to the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. Støre said after a meeting of the donor group on Sunday that the authority had done a “remarkable” job in building up the institutions needed for Palestinian statehood.

Before that, Støre had used an informal social media site to signal Norway’s support for Abbas, who clearly has lost patience over the failure to negotiate borders and peace with the Israelis. After writing on his Facebook page that he’d finally had his “first day off” in a long time and gone jogging in the forest before preparing for an intense week at the UN, Støre referred to the Palestinians’ status and called it “the main diplomatic issue” this fall.

“Only negotiations can resolve issues between Israel and the Palestinians,” Støre wrote. “They should start soon.” But the Palestinians have the right to go to the United Nations (to request full membership), he added.

“Norway will support this, and we are ready to recognize a Palestinian state,” Støre wrote.

Norway’s position comes as no surprise because the government already has backed the Palestinians’ desire for UN recognition and has repeatedly claimed that the Palestinians deserve and need a state just as the Israelis do. With tensions rising again over the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, Norway wants to avoid more violence and recognize the Palestinian progress that Støre views as worthy of praise.

His government’s support for UN membership puts Norway squarely between what one Norwegian foreign policy expert called the equivalent of a rock and a hard place, though. “On the one side we’ve contributed towards building up a functioning (Palestinian) state,” Hilde Henriksen Waage of the peace research institute PRIO in Oslo told news bureau NTB. “On the other side, our allies in the US are the biggest opponents of recognizing Palestine in the UN.” Conservative politicians in the US continue to support Israel over the Palestinians, and US President Barack Obama, despite his own sympathy for the Palestinians situation, will likely be forced to veto the Palestinians’ plea in the UN Security Council, once again appeasing Israel.

Abbas is due to speak at the UN on Friday and his government colleagues don’t think they have much to lose. “There are many threats against us but the price is worth paying,” goverment minister Siham Barghouti told newspaper Dagsavisen during a visit to Oslo last week. Even though Israel is warning “hard and serious consequences” to the Palestinians’ request for UN membership, and some US politicians are threatening to cut off donations to the Palestinian authority, Barghouti said the price “doesn’t compare” to the price Palestinians have paid “every day for many years under occupation.”

“If they stop us now, we will try again and again,” she told Dagsavisen. “This is our struggle.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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