JERUSALEM // Argentina and Uruguay have announced that they would recognise a Palestinian state based on the borders that existed before the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, during which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The announcements, which followed a similar move by Brazil on Friday, come as peace negotiations have faltered.
While visiting Turkey on Monday, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, expressed "pride" at the announcements.
One hundred and four countries now recognise a Palestinian state, according to the Palestinian diplomatic mission at the United Nations.
Israel and the United States yesterday both criticised the decisions.
The US called them "premature" while Israel's foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, yesterday said Argentina's decision was "highly regrettable", and that it was "damaging because they were in fact shattering the foundation of the peace process".
He reiterated Israeli claims that such recognitions contravened existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. The Argentine declaration would not benefit the Palestinians since it would bring them no closer to reconciling their differences with Israel, he added.
"Negotiations are the pathway for the parties to see the realisation of their aspirations - for the Israelis, security; for the Palestinians an independent, viable and sovereign state of their own," a State Department official said. "We are working intensely with the parties to make that happen."
On Monday Argentina’s president, Cristina Kirchner, announced in a letter to Mr Abbas that her “government recognises Palestine as a free and independent state within the borders defined in 1967”.
Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timerman, hinted that the decision had come from his country’s frustration over the foundering peace process. He described the announcement as coming from a “deep desire to see a definitive advance in the negotiation process leading to the establishment of a just and durable peace in the Middle East”.
Also on Monday, Roberto Conde, Uruguay’s foreign minister, said his country would formally recognise a Palestinian state next year, pledging that it would “surely follow the same path as Argentina”.
“We are working toward opening a diplomatic representation in Palestine, most likely in Ramallah,” he said, referring to the defacto West Bank capital.
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay now join Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, other Latin American countries that have already recognised a Palestinian state.
Since Mr Abbas suspended his participation in the peace talks, he has sent his diplomats on an offensive to court international support for Palestinian independence.
His foreign minister, Riad al Malki, suggested that this effort was starting to pay off, and that Palestinians could now expect Paraguay and other Latin American countries to follow suit.
“It is really symbolic but it is important because the more countries that recognise the Palestinian state, the more pressure this will put on countries that are hesitant and on the peace process,” he said on Monday.
“If Israel keeps refusing to recognise the Palestinian state when other countries do, this will make a difference,”
After Brazil’s announcement, Israel’s foreign ministry issued a lengthy statement detailing how unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state violates accords previously thrashed out between Israelis and Palestinians.
It also said such moves violated the principles of the 2003 Middle East roadmap for peace, a plan proposed by the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN to resolve the conflict.
“Every attempt to bypass this process and to decide in advance in a unilateral manner about important issues which are disputed, only harms trust between the sides, and hurts their commitment to the agreed framework of negotiating towards peace,” the foreign ministry statement said.
Several US politicians expressed similar concerns.
“Brazil is sending a message to the Palestinians that they need not make peace to gain recognition as a sovereign state,” Eliot Engel, a Democratic representative who co-chair of the US Congress’s Brazil Caucus, said on Friday.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, criticised Brazil for not waiting to recognise a Palestinian state until after Palestinian leaders had returned to talks and acknowledged Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state”.
Saleh Jawad, a professor of political science at Birzeit University, said that until there is support from the US, achieving Palestinian independence would be all but impossible.
“The Latin American countries’ support is nice, it’s good, but it’s symbolic and it will not affect the situation, because what we need is recognition mainly from the United States, secondly from Europe, and then, maybe, China and India,” he said.
Without this, he added, efforts by the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to ready Palestinian institutions for statehood by August would likely come to naught.
Mr Abbas has recently warned of the stress that the stalled negotiations have taken on his government, hinting during an interview on Palestine TV on Friday that the situation could force him to dissolve the PA.
He suspended his participation in the talks, which were restarted at the beginning of September, following Israel’s refusal to extend a partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. Efforts by US officials to convince Israel to re-impose the freeze – involving diplomatic support and the sale of subsided military equipment – have so far failed.
* With additional reporting by Omar Karmi in Washington