The United States cuts UNESCO funding after the UN body accepts Palestine as its newest member state.
|Malki, left, and Skarphedinsson announced the forming of diplomatic relations between Iceland and Palestine [AFP]|
Iceland has become the first west European country to formally recognise a Palestinian state, three months after the Palestinians began to seek full membership of the United Nations with peace talks with Israel frozen indefinitely.
“Iceland didn’t only talk the talk, we walked the walk,” Icelandic Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson said on Thursday at a news conference in Reykjavik.
“We stood by our word, we have supported the Palestinian cause and today will not be the end of that, we will continue to do so,” he added.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said: “[This] will surely have positive influence on other states to follow the same steps.”
The two also announced the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Nordic island nation and the Palestinians.
“There will be an ambassador from Iceland that will present his credentials to the Palestinians, a non-resident, and … we are contemplating the possibility of appointing an honorary consul, an Icelander, here for the time being,” Malki said.
Thursday’s ceremony at the Reykjavik Culture House follows two years of preparations and a vote in the Icelandic parliament, or Allthingi, on November 29 in favour of recognising the Palestinian state on the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.
The move comes two days after the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time above the UNESCO headquarters in Paris to mark Palestine’s admission to the education, science and culture body.
Admission to UNESCO has however had no impact on the Palestinians’ bid for full UN membership. They would need nine votes out of 15 in the Security Council, but the US has made clear that it would veto the bid if needed.
“It was quite important for them [the Palestinians] at this point in time,” Skarphedinsson told the AFP news agency.
“They have had setbacks in the Security Council and that is why we thought it would be right not to wait, but to go ahead now and I hope it will put some wind in their sails,” he added, pointing out that “it is very symbolic for them that a western European nation, which is also in NATO, should at this moment step forward and recognise the sovereignty of Palestine”.
“The timing was perfect,” Malki agreed, pointing out that “it comes after a dry season” in terms of new recognitions of the Palestinian state.
More than 100 countries around the world have recognised the Palestinian state, according to the Palestinian officials.
Within the European Union, of which Iceland is not yet a member, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Malta have officially recognised Palestine.
Israel and the US have opposed any recognition of a Palestinian state not based on the outcome of negotiations. Washington’s major west European allies echo this position.
While stressing that “for the time being there is no peace process,” the Palestinian foreign minister said he hoped the recognition would help put pressure on Israel to “rethink again how to approach the peace process in a very positive manner this time”.
Skarphedinsson meanwhile said he was sure Iceland’s decision carried weight. “I noted that Iceland’s vote and Iceland’s determination on Palestine’s admittance to UNESCO mattered in a few places, so I’d like to hope that this will help,” he told AFP.