Palestine gets a rare recognition from West
REYKJAVIK / JERUSALEM
Palestinian FM Riyadh Malki (L) and his Icelandic counterpart, Oessur Skarphedinsson, are seen in this photo. AFP photoIceland formally recognized the Palestinian state at a ceremony in Reykjavik on yesterday, becoming one of the first Western European countries to do so.
“This is the day I formally submit to you the declaration of Palestinian independence in accordance to the will of the Icelandic parliament,” Icelandic Foreign Minister Oessur Skarphedinsson said, addressing his Palestinian counterpart Riad Malki at a news conference.
At least 112 countries around the world have formally recognized Palestine as a state, stretching from Africa to Asia and Europe to Latin America. In Latin America, Uruguay and Peru joined the growing ranks of countries which recognized Palestine this year. With 12 out of the region’s 13 countries formally recognizing it as a state, only Colombia, a key ally of the United States in the region, has not followed that path.
In Central America, the Palestinian state has been recognized by Cuba, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. Arab countries have also recognized Palestine, including Syria in July of this year. In Europe, Iceland has become the latest country to recognize Palestine, joining the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta and Poland.
Around 150 countries maintain diplomatic relations with the Palestinians in one form or another. Palestine currently has “observer” status at the United Nations, but in September, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas formally asked the U.N. for full state membership. In October, Palestine was granted full membership at the U.N. cultural organization, UNESCO, in a diplomatic victory won despite stiff resistance from the U.S. and Israel.
Earlier this week, Abbas urged the European Union to support their U.N. membership bid after the Palestinian flag was raised over the UNESCO’s headquarters for the first time. Figures published by the Palestine Liberation Organization indicate that 130 countries have recognized Palestine.
2nd stage of prisoner swap
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv has published a list of a further 550 Palestinian prisoners who will be freed in the coming days to complete a swap deal under which captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was earlier released. Unlike the group of 477 prisoners freed on Oct. 18 in exchange for Shalit, Palestinian sources said there were no senior militants on the list and inmates were to be released on the evening of Dec. 18.
On the list is French-Palestinian national Salah Hamuri, who was convicted of trying to assassinate a Jewish religious leader and had been due to complete his seven-year sentence in March. The earlier group had included hundreds of Palestinians who were serving life for deadly attacks, with the names chosen by the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza and which signed the swap deal with Israel.
The latest group of 544 men and six women were selected by Israel and does not include any members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad. None of the prisoners had “blood on their hands,” an Israeli official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity. “The names were chosen by Israel alone,” he said, adding that priority was given to members of the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel’s prison service, which published the list on its website on Dec. 14, said the public had 48 hours in which to file any objections and provided the number of a Justice Ministry hotline set up for that purpose. It said 40 of those to be freed would be returned to their homes in the Gaza Strip, two to Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, two to Jordan and the remainder to the occupied West Bank.
Under the October deal, Israel agreed to free a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Shalit, who had been held in Hamas captivity in Gaza for more than five years. It was the first time in 26 years that a captured soldier has been returned to Israel alive.