Recognizing Palestine is a symbolic act. As long as they cannot exercise their right to self-determination and be sovereign in their own territory, the Palestinians will not have a state.

Still, more than 140 countries, including the Holy See, believe that a symbolic recognition of the state of Palestine is an act of justice because it vindicates the fundamental right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. What’s more, these countries, which are now joined by Norway, Ireland and Spain, consider it a great contribution to peace. They believe that the negotiating table has always been too tilted in favor of Israel and that is why all efforts to reach a permanent solution to the conflict have failed. By recognizing Palestine as a state, the table is rebalanced. It is not the same, say the supporters of this path, to negotiate from state to state than to do so as a territory subject to military occupation.

The reality on the ground, in any case, is not changed with a diplomatic gesture, no matter how loaded with reasons it may be. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and has no intention of withdrawing from Gaza. Gaza explains the recognition. Without the war, Norway, Ireland and Spain likely would not have taken the step. The gesture, therefore, is a blow to Israel, a very clear criticism of its military strategy in the strip.

These three countries recognize Israel’s right to self-defense, but deplore the impact it has had on the civilian population in Gaza. They also fear that this war will be the final blow to a two-state solution. After all, the ultranationalist coalition that governs Israel opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and works to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Two states as a permanent solution is what the United States, Japan, South Korea and almost all of Western Europe defend, countries that have not recognized Palestine. They believe that recognition should only occur when Israelis and Palestinians have reached an agreement to live in peace. They consider that doing so before hinders the dialogue since it does not provide any real advantage to the Palestinians. In some way, they also believe that doing so at this time supports Hamas’s armed resistance.

The PLO accepted the two-state solution in 1988, although it meant giving up 78% of historic Palestine. Hamas’s ambition is to control the entire territory, that is, to eliminate Israel and do so by force. The Palestinian Authority, however, wants to establish a state alongside Israel in 100% of the remaining 22% of Palestine, that is, in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The Oslo agreements went in this direction. They were negotiated in secret in the Norwegian capital and signed in the White House in 1993. The main reason for their failure is that the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people was not proposed as the final goal. There was no state on the horizon and all efforts to create viable Palestinian self-government were of no avail because Israel always believed that the only way to guarantee its security was to maintain troops in the occupied territories.

Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River live seven million Palestinians and seven million Jews. Of this population as a whole, the five million Palestinians who live in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza have no political rights, very few civil rights and very limited access to social and economic rights such as healthcare. They are not content with self-government. They want to exercise their right to self-determination.

Norway, with the authority conferred by its long mediation effort, maintains that this goal can only be achieved through moderation in Israel and Palestine. Recognizing the Palestinian state is, from her point of view, giving a voice to the moderates, to the battered field of peace.

The gesture of Norwegian diplomacy, also of Spain and Ireland, requires, however, the push of the United States. Only the United States can reopen the negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. The October 7 massacre has shown that Israel needs US protection more than ever. Without its military assistance it will not restore the necessary deterrence against its enemies, especially Iran.

The White House should take advantage of Israeli dependence to reopen negotiations with the Palestinians. However, it is very difficult for him to do so now, six months before the presidential elections. Even if Biden wins a second term, it will not be until next year that the new administration will have the strength necessary to undertake another peace process.

Only then, under American leadership, will the symbolic recognition of the Palestinian state have a practical effect on the long and difficult path towards a definitive solution to the ethnic and territorial conflict that has confronted Israelis and Palestinians for a century.