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16th Feb 2019

British MPs vote to recognise Palestine in symbolic move

  • (Photo: murphyz)

British MPs have said the UK should recognise Palestine in a non-binding resolution which highlights EU frustration with Israel.

The motion - “the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution” - passed by 274 to 12 in the 650-seat House of Commons on Monday (13 October).

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The vast bulk of Yes votes came from the opposition Labour Party after Conservative prime minister David Cameron urged his MPs to not to attend the session.

For his part, the shadow foreign secretary, Ian Lucas, said “statehood will be decided by Labour when it comes to power”, with Labour polling ahead of the Tories ahead of elections next year.

But Tobias Ellwood, a Tory junior minister responsible for Israel, said the resolution will not change British policy for now: “The UK will recognise a Palestinian state at a time most helpful to the peace process".

The Westminster debate saw MPs highlight Britain’s historic role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The territory which is now Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank became a British “mandate” after World War I.

The UK in its Balfour Declaration of 1917 created a blueprint for Israeli statehood by saying there should be “a national home for the Jewish people”, but added that it must not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.

Labour MP Grahame Morris, who introduced Monday’s motion, said Britain “undertook a sacred trust” to the Palestinians which has been “neglected for far too long”.

A second Labour MP, Sir Richard Ottaway, described himself as a lifelong supporter of Israel, but said its recent decision to annex 950 acres of West Bank land “outraged me ... makes me look a fool”.

“I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people”.

The motion was backed by a Jewish Labour deputy, Sir Gerald Kaufman, and by Labour’s former foreign secretary Jack Straw.

“The only thing that the Israeli government understand ... is pressure”, Straw noted.

Tory MPs criticised the resolution, blaming Hamas, a Palestinian militant group which rules Gaza, for violence against Israel, and saying Palestine is too divided to be called a country.

“Recognising a state should happen only when the territory in question has the basic requirements for a state”, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a Tory former defence minister, said.

“There is a great risk that today we will make ourselves feel important and that our own frustration will lead us to vote for a motion that will not have the desired effect”.

But some Tory MPs rebelled, with Sir Alan Duncan, also a former minister, voting in favour.

The British vote comes after Sweden recently pledged to recognise Palestine, prompting howls of Israeli complaint.

Sweden is the first sitting EU country to take the step, but eight, mostly former Communist, EU countries already recognised Palestine in the 1980s.

Labour on Monday also highlighted that more than 130 UN members recognise Palestine, amid talk of a new UN vote on statehood later this month.

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the EU have also said Palestine is ready for statehood in technical terms.

But the EU remains divided on the issue: A 2012 vote on making Palestine a UN “observer state” saw 14 EU countries vote Yes and one vote No while the rest abstained.

Reacting to the Westminster vote on Monday, Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, told Israeli radio: “I am concerned in the long run about the shift in public opinion in the UK, and beyond, towards Israel”.

Referring to civilian casualties in Gaza in the recent Israel-Gaza war and to Israeli settlement expansions, he added: “This parliamentary vote is a sign of the way the wind is blowing, and will continue to blow without any progress towards peace”.

Opinion

EU states should follow Sweden on Palestine

Israel's ex-ambassador to South Africa tells EUobserver his country is on "the slippery slope of apartheid" by destroying prospects for a Palestinian state.

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