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MPs vote to recognise State of Palestine

MPs vote to recognise State of Palestine

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday October 15 2014

MPs took the historic decision to recognise Palestine as a state after a backbench debate yesterday evening ended with a vote of 274 to 12, a massive majority of 262. The vote has no bearing on the official UK government position but the widely backed symbolic move evinces a shift in public opinion away from Israel in the wake of its latest campaign of violence against Palestinians in Gaza this summer and a mood for more serious steps towards peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Grahame Morris MP who secured the backbench debate described Britain’s historical connection to Palestine and suggested that the country had a ‘moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine.” He described the debate as an opportunity to take a “small but symbolically important step” towards the successful implementation of the two state solution.

Passions ran high all throughout the debate with MPs crossing words over issues of Israel’s illegal settlement building, the annexation of almost 1000 acres of West Bank land after this summer’s bombardment and the selling of produce from illegally occupied lands as Israeli produce with impunity. A running theme throughout the debate was the need for the British government and parliament to send a strong message of support to Palestinians whilst maintaining the Government’s position on Israel.

The issue of Palestinians’ recognition of Israel was a point of contention that was mentioned several times during the debate and to which Jack Straw replied:

“Israel itself was established and recognised by unilateral act. The Palestinians had no say whatever over the recognition of the state of Israel, still less a veto. I support the state of Israel. I would have supported it at the end of the 1940s. But it cannot lie in the mouth of the Israeli Government, of all Governments, to say that they should have a veto over a state of Palestine, when for absolutely certain, the Palestinians had no say whatever over the establishment of the state of Israel.”

Richard Burden MP spoke eloquently about his visits to both Palestine and Israel but one of the strongest examples of this shift in political opinion was the emotional intervention of Richard Ottoway MP, Conservative Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. A once staunch supporter of Israel, Mr Ottoway went on to express his anger and dismay at Israel’s actions over the last twenty years saying “I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians and urged peaceful negotiations and a proportionate response to prevarication, and I thought that they were listening. But I realise now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the west bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent.”

Sir Malcolm Rifkind also expressed his frustration with Israel’s illegal settlement policies however, in his remarks, Sir Malcolm said that it was difficult to move forward with negotiations when Hamas continued to attack Israel despite her withdrawal from Gaza. He argued that the motion was “premature” and that Palestinians “through no fault of their own did not have a single government which had a specific territory, army or control over its foreign or defence policies and that these would normally be a precondition before the UK would recognise them as a state.”

The issue of borders is a moot point given that Israel too has no defined borders and that the pre-1967 lines are widely recognised in international law as the boundaries of Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem as a shared capital. Surely the basis of the two state solution, of which the UK is a staunch supporter, begins with the UN resolution that mandates the two states on the pre-1967 lines?

Louise Ellman MP, a former chairman of the Labour Friends of Israel group and supporter of a rival amendment backed by Guto Bebb MP, appeared to blame the failure of a negotiated peace settlement on the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, for choosing to address the issue of Palestinian sovereignty through UN resolutions rather than direct negotiations with Israel. In her remarks, Mrs Ellman spoke about the high number of Israeli deaths in 2002 but failed to make any mention Palestinian deaths either in the recent or more distant past. It is remarkable that after a summer of bombardment in Gaza and the civilian death toll rising above the numbers of Palestinians killed during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09, Ms Ellman couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge the loss of Palestinian lives under Israeli occupation.

Sir Nicholas Soames MP, who as President of the Conservative Middle East Council urged support for the Palestinian Authority’s UN statehood bid in 2011, also spoke in the debate saying “I’m convinced that to recognise Palestine is both morally right and is in our national interest.”

The backbench debate and vote backing recognition of Palestine as a state was known to be a symbolic gesture with no binding power on Government policy. But the vote and the overwhelming support shown in favour of recognition, suggests that the UK’s official position is out of sync with the British public as represented by their elected officials.

You can check the voting record on last night’s vote in Hansard here.


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