Why Ireland is recognising the state of Palestine, how it happened and what it means for Irish-Israeli relations

Ireland’s move does not recognise a specific government in the area and is based on various UN resolutions

What exactly has Ireland recognised?

Ireland is going to recognise the state of Palestine based on 1967 borders, which means the borders are based on the situation before the Israeli occupation of parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The rationale for this stems from a range of United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

Does this mean Ireland is recognising a particular government?

Recognition is given to states rather than to governments. The Palestinian Authority (PA), the Fatah-led secular government which controls areas of the West Bank, is acknowledged as the governing authority in the state and that will be the case for Ireland’s recognition, even though the PA doesn’t have full authority within its area. In peacetime, Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, while Israel controls East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank.

How did we get here?

Senior officials, as well as Taoiseach Simon Harris and Tánaiste Micheál Martin, have been working in the background for some time, with meetings and discussions since December around each Foreign Affairs Council. Mr Martin, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, was engaged in shuttle diplomacy for months, going back to a dinner he hosted with like-minded countries to discuss the possibility of recognition on January 21st.

That was followed by a round of calls and meetings with the UAE, Jordan, Norway, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt and Spain across March, before more back channelling with Slovenia and Norway in April and May.


His Middle East trip in April was also pointed to by allies as important – before a final call with the Palestinian prime minister last night. The Department of Foreign Affairs also flagged the plan with the US, EU countries and Israel as part of a no-surprises strategy. It’s understood that the US administration didn’t send anything back that gave cause to pull up the handbrake, but sources in Dublin admit that it wouldn’t have been Washington’s first course of action.

When does this all kick in?

The decision by Ireland, Spain and Norway to formally recognise Palestine takes effect on May 28th. The three countries have different processes to go through and by that date, all governments will have completed their respective steps needed.

Is there any recognition for Hamas?

No. Ireland recognises the PA as the legitimate governing authority across the occupied Palestinian territories and, along with the EU, considers Hamas a terrorist organisation. Hamas has welcomed the step, seen in Dublin as an unfortunate if unsurprising development.

What about Israeli settlers?

Ireland’s position remains that these are illegal settlements under international law, regardless of whether Palestine is recognised as a state.

Is there a government decision needed here?

It wasn’t flagged in advance, but there was in fact a formal government decision on Tuesday to recognise the state of Palestine and for coalition leaders to announce that at an appropriate time. There may be another decision next week to mark the recognition date. There has been some talk of a Dáil debate, even if one is not technically needed.

What does this mean for the diplomatic missions in Ramallah and Dublin?

Both will be upgraded to embassy status rather than the current diplomatic/representative missions. Feilim McLaughlin, currently head of mission in Ramallah will become Irish Ambassador to Palestine, and Dr Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid, currently ambassador/head of mission in Dublin will become Ambassador of the state of Palestine.

What’s the wider context for this?

Norway, Spain and Ireland argue that the step is part of a wider effort to get back on a political path to a two-state solution which recognises Palestinian rights to self-determination and their statehood. Ireland believes there has now been a fundamental change in the dynamic necessitating recognition now, while it had previously been envisaged under the Oslo accords that recognition for Palestine would come towards the end of a wider two state solution peace process and negotiations resulting in settlement and agreement. Ireland, Spain and Norway believe that this will enable progress to be made with both states seen as equally legitimate.

Another important context is the Arab Peace Vision being worked on by Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Palestine have been working on in recent months. It was presented to the US side and will be presented formally for the first time to European countries foreign ministers on Sunday in Brussels.

That vision, which Ireland views as the only game in town for getting to the end of the current conflict and towards a two-state solution, and ultimately build pressure for a political solution, asks European countries to recognise Palestine as a core part of pulling together a two state solution.

What does it do for Irish-Israeli relations?

Not a whole lot positive, it must be said. Officials in Dublin are insistent that this recognises the sovereignty and equal aspirations of both countries and is conceived of as a move towards a peaceful two state solution and is not a hostile move against Israel. It is clearly not an explanation that is accepted in Israel, where the Irish ambassador will be summoned for a severe démarche (diplomatic dressing down) by the government in Jerusalem.

Reports in Israel suggest that Ireland, Norway and Spain will be diplomatically “isolated” there – not summoned to briefings, not given updates and requests will be delayed. Meanwhile, the Israeli ambassadors here, in Oslo and Madrid have been temporarily recalled – a step Ireland had expected and one which would be seen as at the lower end of potential backlash. Dublin doesn’t expect fallout for Irish citizens in Israel or for the small number of Defence Forces personnel in Israel. Ireland has no plans to recall our ambassador to Israel.

Is that all we can expect?

A range of scenarios have been sketched out by officials in Iveagh House. In 2014, when Sweden recognised Palestine, there were no political visits for a long period, very limited contact between political leaders, and obstacles were put in Sweden’s way in respect of access to Gaza. However, Ireland believes it is difficult to be precise about what exactly might happen. Moves that could restrict Ireland’s operations and development programmes in Palestine are seen as possible. Contingency planning and work on mitigating actions are under way in Dublin to address what may come next, with a hope that the joint action with Spain and Norway may give Israel a pause for thought on potential sanctions.

What happens next?

The Arab Peace Vision mentioned above will be presented to European leaders on Sunday, and on Monday, the Council of Foreign Ministers will meet. However, any movement on an EU level is not expected as the bloc remains split over the issue. Ireland is expected to keep up multilateral and bilateral efforts to convince other like-minded countries to recognise Palestine, with Slovenia seen as a matter of time after its government approved the decision, and Malta also seen as more likely to move. Belgium has also been mentioned in dispatches. Ireland will also remain in contact with the Saudis, the US and Palestinians on the peace vision front in the hope a step-by-step process will emerge.

What happens if the borders change?

Officials believe that recognising Palestine doesn’t run contrary to the idea that borders may change in land swaps agreed arising from any culmination of the two-state solution process, arguing you can recognise a country without final definition of its borders and that Ireland recognised Israel when it did not have internationally recognised borders.