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Recognition of the state of Palestine

Published on December 1, 2014
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to France Inter
Paris, November 25, 2014


Q. – At the National Assembly on Friday, an important debate is going to take place which concerns French diplomacy: the deputies are going to debate recognition of the state of Palestine. Is that a good initiative?

THE MINISTER – The initiative is legal because, by virtue of the changes that have taken place in the constitution, Parliament can debate this.
But it must be very clear – and it is, for everyone – that just as Parliament, in this case the National Assembly, can vote on invitations to something, so the decision is up to the government and the President, and them alone.

Q. – The text of the resolution is: “We invite the government to recognize the state of Palestine”.

THE MINISTER – Yes, so there’s no obligation; let’s be crystal clear on that. Having said that, why has there been the same move in several countries – the UK, Spain, Sweden etc.? It’s because the situation over there is tragic and in complete deadlock. So there’s debate among the public and in parliaments.

I’ll be speaking on the government’s behalf on Friday morning. On the principle of recognition of a Palestinian state, France’s position has always, including since 1947, been that there must be two states. As soon as there are two states – we’ve recognized Israel – Palestine will have to be recognized. So the issue doesn’t concern the principle but the practicalities. A whole series of discussions is under way, and I’ll have the opportunity to say what France’s position is.

Q. – What do you mean by practicalities? A question of timing? Is it the right moment, is it…?

THE MINISTER – No, practicalities. Until now, it’s always been said: “When the time comes, there will be recognition in the framework of negotiations.” That’s very understandable, because in order for recognition to be a reality, there must be a number of elements on the Israeli side. But as the negotiations are not taking place, we’re in a kind of buffer zone, a dead end.

France, along with other partners, is trying to act on three fronts. Firstly, at the United Nations to see if we can’t find a resolution enabling everyone to come together. Secondly, we favour the idea of an international conference, because we see see that the parties – i.e. Israel and Palestine – are talking, but when they reach the end of the discussions they’ve never managed to agree; so there must be international support, and recognition can come in this framework, when the time comes.

I’ll have the opportunity to explain all this but – I repeat so that there’s no ambiguity – it’s up to the government and the President to take the decision when the time comes.

Q. – When the time comes: that doesn’t necessarily mean in the days or weeks which follow, which would follow, the French Parliament’s vote on a resolution.

THE MINISTER – No, of course, not necessarily at all: it’s a matter of political timing.

Q. – But today, on the ground, in reality, many facts show that a Palestinian state is no longer possible. Israeli settlement activity has made the situation irreversible, with 380,000 settlers in the Palestinian territories…

THE MINISTER – That’s one of the reasons why settlement activity, which is deemed illegal under international law, is criticized and even condemned by the international community. The solution is that of two states, but when there’s a progression of settlement activity on the ground, the time comes – and that time may be approaching – when it’s increasingly difficult in practice. So if we really want peace, we need the two states, and if we need the two states, the practical conditions must be met.

Q. – And will you vote for this resolution, as a deputy?

THE MINISTER – A few years ago, when I was a member of parliament, I presented a bill that was very similar. But I already knew then, because I know the constitution, that it’s up to the government and the President to take the decision. I stress that. (…)

Q. – You said last Saturday that France will recognize the Palestinian state, because it’s obvious. The question is, when and how? This recognition must support efforts to overcome the deadlock and help definitively resolve the conflict.

Given the rising tension on the ground – car attacks, announcements of new [settlement] construction, the bloody attack in a synagogue in Jerusalem and more hardline statements by political leaders – and with the conflict increasingly being imported into France in recent months, what would unilateral recognition of the Palestinian state by France change on the ground, in practice?

THE MINISTER – On the principle of recognition of the two states, this principle has existed since 1947 and is a steadfast element of French policy. We don’t want this recognition to be virtual: it must be real. Until now, it’s been in the framework of negotiation, and negotiation is desirable.

Q. – What’s the difference between virtual and real?

THE MINISTER – If it’s a state on paper that doesn’t exist in fact, it won’t give the Palestinians anything.

Q. – Would France not recognize Palestine if there’s nothing concrete on the ground?

THE MINISTER – No, that’s a theoretical discussion. If we say today that we recognize the state of Palestine on the ground, it won’t change anything at all. But the Palestinians are rightly fighting to have a state, and Israel’s friends must also want there to be a Palestinian state, to enable security.

Q. – Let’s imagine that Benoît Hamon’s proposal to ask the government to recognize the Palestinian state is voted on and gains a majority in the Assembly. What will the government do the following morning?

THE MINISTER – It’s a political sign about what those who have voted would like, but the government isn’t bound – that’s clear.

Q. – I quite understand, but what are you going to do? Recognize or wait?

THE MINISTER – We’ll do three things: continue trying to secure a unanimous resolution at the UN enabling the parameters of the negotiation to be defined. We’re prepared to host an international conference with the Arabs, Europeans, Americans and Jordanians. And thirdly, it’s desirable for there to be recognition. (…)./.

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