As part of Spain´s six month presidency of the European Union, which also coincided with his first international trip after being sworn in as Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez visited Israel, the Palestine Territories and Egypt last week.
The trip which underlines Spain´s interest in the region following the war triggered by the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas in Israel on 7 October however has not gone down well with many.
Speaking at a joint press conference with the Belgian Prime Minister, at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza on Friday, Sánchez said the time had come for the international community and the European Union to once and for all recognize a Palestinian state. He said it would be better if the EU did it together, “but if this is not the case … Spain will take their own decisions.”
Spain currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU and will hand the baton to Belgium in January.
Earlier he held cordial meetings with the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, and the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and where the Spanish Prime Minister was able to convey his condolences and condemnation of the terrorist attacks.
In a press release issued by his office, the Spanish government demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international law and international humanitarian law.
Pedro Sánchez stressed both points during the two meetings and conveyed to the Israeli president and prime minister his concern about the terrible situation in Gaza. “The response must not involve the death of innocent people in Gaza, including thousands of children,” said the president, who also defended the two-state solution as “the best way to defeat terrorism and guarantee Israel’s security”.
However, Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen responded that Sanchez had made “false claims” that “give terrorism a boost” and said he had summoned the ambassadors of Spain to explain the comments.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also weighed in, saying the two European leaders had failed to spotlight what he called crimes against humanity committed by Palestinian militants of Hamas.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu strongly condemns the remarks made by the Belgian and Spanish prime ministers for not placing the full responsibility of the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas, who massacred our citizens and who use the Palestinians as human shields,” a statement by Netanyahu’s office said.
Shortly after Netanyahu’s comments, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said in a video statement that “the accusations of the Israeli government are false and unacceptable. We categorically reject them”.
He also said on state television that he had summoned the Israeli ambassador in Madrid to explain the Israeli government’s accusations.
A number of Spanish nationals were killed during the 7th October attacks and several still missing believe to be held hostage by the Hamas terrorists.