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Should a Palestinian state be recognized in response to the war in Gaza?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

During Israel's war against Hamas, some European nations have extended official recognition to a Palestinian state. Israel, which rejects Palestinian statehood, called that a reward to Hamas for the October 7 attack on Israel. Europe's own history casts a shadow over this question. NPR's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY, BYLINE: A silver-haired lawyer with a large goatee shows me into his office.

GHAITH AL-OMARI: To the right here.

SOCOLOVSKY: Ghaith al-Omari was a Palestinian negotiator in the '90s and early 2000s. There's a framed picture on his bookshelf.

AL-OMARI: This is just a conversation with President Bush in the context of some meeting or another.

SOCOLOVSKY: That's you? You...

AL-OMARI: Yeah. That's me when I actually had black hair and some hair on my head.

SOCOLOVSKY: With hindsight, he explains why he thinks those talks collapsed.

AL-OMARI: Both leaders, Arafat and Rabin, and after him, Netanyahu in the 1990s, focused more on pleasing their, let's say, rejectionist constituencies than they did on promoting the spirit of peace.

SOCOLOVSKY: The goal of that process was to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. One of the European countries sponsoring the talks was Norway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JONAS GAHR STORE: (Speaking Norwegian).

SOCOLOVSKY: That's Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store announcing in May that his country, along with Spain and Ireland, would recognize an independent Palestine in the hope of reviving the peace process. Cecilia Pellosniemi is with the Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation in Finland, which advises the EU on foreign policy. She says Israel's occupation and settlement construction in the West Bank have made negotiations more complicated, and Europeans increasingly see Israel's relative strength as the obstacle to a two-state solution.

CECILIA PELLOSNIEMI: It's time to take courageous steps that will change the status quo and also give a little bit more weight behind the Palestinian side.

SOCOLOVSKY: Creating a Palestinian state is the only way to end the conflict, according to the United States, as well as EU powers like France and Germany. But they all still believe a state should be the result of negotiations. The European Union itself is a peace project. Its predecessor, the European coal and steel community, was built on the ashes of World War II and the murder of 6 million Jews, and it was based partly on the belief that statecraft could calm centuries of hatred. But in the early '90s, the EU failed to prevent conflicts that left more than 100,000 people dead in its own backyard in the Balkans.

PELLOSNIEMI: In Yugoslavia, yes, there was a bloody war, but most of the states are actually on a pathway to EU membership, and things are going relatively well.

SOCOLOVSKY: That view of the war's outcome is not unanimously accepted.

SUSAN WOODWARD: My name is Susan Woodward. I'm a professor of political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. My last book was called "The Ideology Of Failed States."

SOCOLOVSKY: She says the Balkans are still reeling from the missteps of outside powers. During the Yugoslav conflict, Woodward was an advisor to the head of a U.N. peacekeeping force there. She says the EU's early recognition of Croatia and Slovenia underestimated the problem of ethnic minorities.

WOODWARD: One of the main mistakes, if not, in my view, the main mistake, that outsiders made was that in recognizing these two Republics as independent states, they had to negotiate peacefully the borders, and they did not do that. They left it to war.

SOCOLOVSKY: While no two conflicts are the same, she says one lesson is that international recognition is not a panacea.

AL-OMARI: Somewhere, I think I have a whole stack of photos.

SOCOLOVSKY: Back in his office in Washington, D.C., al-Omari shows me another photo on his bookshelf.

AL-OMARI: This one that I actually like. This was in a summit that held President Bush with Condi Rice and Colin Powell.

SOCOLOVSKY: Al-Omari now works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and he still believes in statehood for his people.

AL-OMARI: But I do believe as well that to get a Palestinian state, there has to be the right kind of reality on the ground. And today, we're not there.

SOCOLOVSKY: He says the Palestinian Authority is too weak and widely viewed as corrupt, and he worries about the challenge from its rival, Hamas, which is backed by Iran. The last thing anyone needs, he says, is a failed state.

Jerome Socolovsky, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Jerome Socolovsky is the Audio Storytelling Specialist for NPR Training. He has been a reporter and editor for more than two decades, mostly overseas. Socolovsky filed stories for NPR on bullfighting, bullet trains, the Madrid bombings and much more from Spain between 2002 and 2010. He has also been a foreign and international justice correspondent for The Associated Press, religion reporter for the Voice of America and editor-in-chief of Religion News Service. He won the Religion News Association's TV reporting award in 2013 and 2014 and an honorable mention from the Association of International Broadcasters in 2011. Socolovsky speaks five languages in addition to his native Spanish and English. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and graduate degrees from Hebrew University and the Harvard Kennedy School. He's also a sculler and a home DIY nut.