Israel has recalled its ambassador from Spain over remarks made by the Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, on the country’s television. In an interview, Sánchez expressed “serious doubts that Israel is complying with international humanitarian law” concerning the significant number of civilians, especially Palestinian children, killed in Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Israel’s response came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu instructed Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to invite the Spanish ambassador to Israel, Ana Salomón Pérez, for a reprimanding conversation following the shameful declaration made by the Spanish Prime Minister,” according to the statement released by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office.
These words follow the Spanish president’s meeting with the Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Belgium a week ago. These events strongly resemble the diplomatic crisis Israel faced with the Colombian government a few weeks ago after President Gustavo Petro made statements similar to those now made by the Spanish leader.
Strained relations since October
Diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel have been challenging since the start of the war against Palestine, and tension has been escalating since Sánchez’s visit to Israeli territory and Gaza. During this event, the Spanish leader stated that “the killing of civilians in Gaza is unacceptable” and hinted at the potential recognition of the Palestinian state by his country.
“I firmly believe that we must urge Israel to comply with its obligations under international law,” Pedro Sánchez stated on November 23 from the European capital, Brussels (Belgium), a sentiment echoed by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Israel’s diplomatic response was swift, accusing the Spanish head of government, as they did with the Colombian president, of “supporting Hamas terrorism.”
The left-wing, part of the coalition government led by Pedro Sánchez in Spain, went further and accused Netanyahu’s government of committing “war crimes” in Gaza. This prompted Israel’s ambassador to Spain, Rodica Radian-Gordon, to release a statement condemning “the immoral statements made by certain members of the Spanish Government,” aligning them, as in this case with Sánchez, with the terrorist group Hamas.
The latest chapter of these disagreements unfolded in an interview Pedro Sánchez recently granted to Spanish television, where the Spanish president said, “We must tell Israel that it must base its actions on humanitarian law. With the images we are seeing and the growing number of victims, especially children dying, I have serious doubts that they are doing so.”
Israel describes the Spanish president’s words as “outrageous”
Immediately, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, responded to Pedro Sánchez’s remarks, labeling them on social media as “outrageous” and “unfounded accusations.”
“Following the scandalous statements of the Spanish government president, who once again repeated baseless accusations, I decided to summon our ambassador in Spain for consultations in Jerusalem. Israel is acting and will continue to act in accordance with international law and will continue the war until all hostages are returned and Hamas is eliminated from Gaza. A single entity is responsible for the massacre of October 7th and the current situation in the Gaza Strip: the terrorist organization Hamas. Hamas is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against Israeli citizens as well as Gaza Strip residents,” stated Minister Cohen.
In practice, it may imply an indefinite departure from Spain. The ambassador returns to Israel, and it remains to be seen if she will be sent back to Spain. Should a withdrawal occur, diplomatic relations between both countries could be severed. This comes after Pedro Sánchez’s recent statements that have outraged the Israeli government. Yesterday, the Spanish head of government continued to criticize Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
Following the diplomatic confrontation, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares spoke with Cohen, who reiterated his country’s right to defend itself, always respecting humanitarian law. Albares also expressed his desire to maintain good relations between the two countries.
In other statements, the Spanish president affirmed that “condemning Hamas terrorist attacks and, at the same time, condemning the death of Palestinian civilians is not a matter of parties or ideologies. It’s about humanity.”
“To those who oppose everything all the time, I don’t ask them to be with the Government; I ask them to stand for human rights,” added Sánchez, in a clear reference to the conservative opposition in his country.
Spain supports the two-state solution
Spanish diplomacy has maintained that Spain supports the two-state solution: Israel and Palestine. For the Iberian country, the peaceful coexistence of the two states is the best solution to the conflict. This is the same stance defended by Colombian President Gustavo Petro a few weeks ago, who also faced Israel’s diplomatic ire, including threats of political and commercial relationship ruptures.
It is worth noting that in 1991, Madrid, the Spanish capital, hosted the peace summit that preceded the Oslo Accords two years later. At that summit in Madrid, sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union, concrete agreements were not reached, but it paved the way for US geopolitical dominance, amid the imminent collapse of the USSR. It also opened a direct dialogue channel between Israeli diplomacy and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), then led by the legendary Yasser Arafat.
In the significant Oslo Accords, now 30 years ago, the creation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was agreed upon, the first real political autonomy that Israel granted to the Palestinian territories, marking the first bilateral agreement in history between Israelis and Palestinians. Today, the PNA governs in the West Bank, a territory increasingly populated with illegal Jewish settlements. The other territory with Palestinian autonomy, the Gaza Strip, currently experiencing warlike actions, is governed by the Hamas terrorist group, a paramilitary political organization that declares itself nationalist and, unlike the secular OLP, Islamist, and whose stated aim is the annihilation of Israel.