A VISIT by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to Israel and Palestine last week sparked a major diplomatic spat between the two countries, after the Socialist Party leader voiced stark criticism of Israeli military operations since the Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7. 

Speaking from Rafah, the Palestinian city in the southern Gaza strip on the border with Egypt, Sanchez said at a press conference that Israel “has the right to defend itself, but within the parameters and limits imposed by international humanitarian law. And this is not the case. 

“The indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, including thousands of boys and girls, is completely unacceptable,” he continued. “Violence will only lead to more violence.”

Sanchez also called for Spain and the European Union as a whole to recognise Palestine as a state. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Sanchez’s comments by denouncing the fact that the Spanish leader and his Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo, who was also on the visit, had failed to condemn Hamas’s ‘crimes against humanity’. Both Sanchez and De Croo have, in fact, issued such condemnations. 

On Friday, Israel summoned the Spanish and Belgian ambassadors stationed in the country in response to the comments made by Sanchez and De Croo. The Israeli authorities stated that the European leaders’ comments ‘gave support to terrorism.’

Pedro Sanchez in Israel
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Spain Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez meet at a one-day visit of both Belgian and Spanish Prime Ministers (incoming and outgoing presidency of Europe) to Israel and Palestine, in Jerusalem, Thursday 23 November 2023.. Photo by POOL/Belga/Sipa USA

The Spanish foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albares, called that response ‘completely false and unacceptable’ and told Spain’s state broadcaster TVE that he had also summoned the Israeli ambassador in Spain to give explanations over the accusations, calling them ‘particularly serious’. 

On Saturday, Hamas issued a statement in which it said it appreciated ‘the clear and bold positions of the Belgian Prime Minister (Alexander De Croo), who affirmed his rejection of the destruction of Gaza and the killing of civilians, and the Spanish Prime Minister (Pedro Sanchez), who condemned the indiscriminate killing practised by the occupying state against civilians in the Gaza Strip’.

The main opposition Partido Popular slammed Sanchez’s actions, calling him ‘reckless’ when it comes to foreign policy, according to Spanish daily El Pais. Party sources told the paper that ‘going with an invitation to the home of an ally to offend them is the worst presentation letter for Spain’. 

Speaking at a Socialist Party event on Sunday, Sanchez referred once more to the situation in the Middle East. 

“Condemning the vile terrorist attacks of a terrorist group like Hamas, and at the same time condemning the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, is not a question of political parties or ideology, it is a question of humanity,” Sanchez said. 

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