(Bloomberg) -- By recognizing Palestinian statehood, Norway may have closed the door on its historic role as a mediator in the Middle East. 

The country’s emphasis on being able to speak to both sides in the long-running dispute is symbolized by the 1993 peace accords signed in Oslo. That ‘interim’ arrangement — now more than 30 years old — serves as a reminder of its attempts to forge a permanent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

But after Norway announced on Wednesday that it will officially recognize Palestinian statehood — in coordination with some other European nations — Israel recalled its ambassador.

“With this symbolic action which has no real meaning, the government has completely played Norway out of its role as a potential peace broker in this conflict,” Sylvi Listhaug, the leader of the opposition Progress Party, said in an interview with VG newspaper.

Norway’s not the only European nation finding a non-aligned stance harder to maintain as violence proliferates both in its neighborhood and beyond. Just last week the Swiss government said it plans to soften the rules on arms exports that have long been a plank of its famous neutrality, both because it sees Russian advances in Ukraine as a threat to its interests and to boost its defense industry. 

Still Friends

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said the government still wants “close contact” with Israel, and remains “a friend” of the Middle Eastern nation, according to public broadcaster NRK.

“We can no longer wait for the conflict to be resolved before we recognize the state of Palestine,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a news conference in Oslo, as Irish and Spanish government officials delivered similar announcements. “A Palestinian state is a prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East,” he said.

Although Norway was instrumental in the secret negotiations that led to the creation of the Palestinian National Authority — the government body that was driven out of Gaza by Hamas in 2006 — it hasn’t been able to spur any real progress toward peace in decades. 

Still, the nation “has taken a leading role in mobilizing European support” for a peace plan put forward by Israel’s Arab neighbors in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, the government said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. The country also hopes to “make some major progress” at a meeting that’s taking place in Brussels later this month.

Picking Sides

Switzerland lost some of its appeal as a broker on the international stage when it decided to adopt European sanctions against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. And a decision to join the US and the European Union in labeling Hamas a terrorist organization has effectively made it impossible for it to act as a mediator with Israel.

But the country still retains its role of representing US interests in Iran. And the government in Bern is trying to regain diplomatic relevance by organizing a conference on Ukraine’s peace plan, even if so far the initiative has received tepid support beyond Kyiv’s traditional Western allies.

Read More: Ukraine Summit Eyes Minimal Goals to Sway Global South 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Norway’s neighbors Sweden and Finland have both joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, after betting for so long that their security interests were served better by remaining outside the bloc. 

Norway’s decision with regards to the Palestinian territories falls into a different category, since, like the governments of Spain and Ireland, it’s responding to domestic sentiment about the injustices of the conflict rather than acting out of concern for its own immediate security. Still, it’s increasingly obvious that European countries are finding it ever harder not to pick sides.

--With assistance from Stephen Treloar and Kevin Whitelaw.

(Updates with details of Norway’s neighbors’ decisions throughout.)

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