Foreign Minister Össur Skarphéðinsson, at a speech he delivered at the United Nations yesterday, expressed the support of the Icelandic government of the proposal to grant Palestine statehood.
In the speech, Össur cited Iceland’s tradition of reaching out to small countries, comparing the Palestinian struggle to the one the Baltic countries went through in the early 90s.
I am often asked if a country like Iceland, that is not small – but admittedly with a bit fewer people than most – can have any say on issues of global concern, be it in Rio or New York.
To lift a phrase from a famous statesman who spoke from this podium few days ago: “Yes, we can.” Twenty years ago, in 1991, Iceland watched on television how thousands of brave Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians took their destiny in their own hands. They reached out to the international community, to the people of Iceland among others, and asked for help to break the ice for international recognition.
The great British statesman, Lord Palmerston, once made a famous statement to the effect that there is no such thing as eternal friendship between nations and that only eternal interests decide how nations react to each other. This is a mantra that still today is taught at every bad school of political science. If Palmerston’s words had prevailed, Iceland would have turned a deaf ear to the call of the fighters for freedom in the Baltics.
She did not.
In the historic year of 1991 Iceland became the first to recognize the restored sovereignty of the Baltic States. This she did out of respect for the principles that are vitally important for small nations, the right to choose your own destiny, to carve out your own future, the right of small nations to be independent.
Principles, Mr. President, do matter in politics.
On the same principle that led Iceland to recognize the Baltic States in 1991, we today also support the Palestinian struggle for statehood. On that very same principle Iceland feels we should welcome Palestine as a new Member State to the United Nations, based on the borders before 1967 – exactly the same criteria as laid down by the EU, by the Quartet, and lately by President Obama in his speech in May.
A parliamentary proposal to support Palestinian statehood will be put before parliament this week, and is expected to pass, although conservative chairman Bjarni Benediktsson questions the wisdom of doing so. Bjarni contends that Palestinian statehood is a matter that should be resolved with both Israel and Palestine in the negotiations, and that Icelanders have very little actual knowledge of the situation to have an informed opinion.