French lawmakers voted Tuesday to urge their government to recognize the Palestinian state, joining similar moves elsewhere in Europe — and underscoring growing frustration among European Union members at the stalled Middle East peace process.
The motion, proposed by the ruling Socialists and backed by left-wing parties and some conservatives, asks the government to “use the recognition of a Palestinian state with the aim of resolving the conflict definitively.” As expected, it sailed through France's lower house, the National Assembly, which is dominated by the left. The vote was 339-151.
While most developing countries recognize Palestine as a state, most Western European countries do not, supporting the Israeli and U.S. position that an independent Palestinian state should emerge from negotiations with Israel.
But European countries have grown frustrated with Israel, which since the collapse of the latest U.S.-sponsored talks in April has pressed on with building settlements in territory the Palestinians want for their state.
Palestinians say negotiations have failed and they have no choice but to pursue independence unilaterally.
Parliaments in Britain, Ireland and Spain have also voted symbolically in favor of a Palestinian state, and Sweden has become the first EU country to officially recognize the state of Palestine.
But the votes have proved controversial. Israel has strongly opposed all such moves, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the French vote a “grave mistake.”
Speaking to parliament ahead of the vote, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the government would not be bound by it. However, he said, the status quo is unacceptable and France will recognize an independent Palestine without a negotiated settlement if a final diplomatic push fails.
He backed a two-year timeframe to relaunch and conclude negotiations. Paris is working with Britain and Germany on a text that could be accelerated if a separate resolution drafted by Palestinians is put forward.
Christian Jacob, whose main opposition UMP party voted against the measure, said the vote only poured oil on the Middle East fire. Symbolically recognizing Palestine does not resolve anything, he said, and only increases tensions.
France is home to western Europe's largest populations of Jews and Muslims. Thousands of protesters demonstrated across the country over the summer against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
French analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges said Tuesday's assembly vote ulitimately would have no practical impact — and was even puzzling.
"Of course it is meaningful, but it is in a way very contradictory because today the French National Assembly is roughly pro-Israeli, and this vote will be received in Israel as an anti-Israeli vote," he said. "That is why it is a very strange vote."
The votes in France and elsewhere resonate for other reasons. The European Union is Israel's biggest trading partner. Visiting Gaza last month, new EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini also threw her support behind an eventual Palestinian state.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.