British parliamentarians recognise a Palestinian state

British parliamentarians recognise a Palestinian state
3 min read
14 October, 2014
In a symbolic yet historic vote, United Kingdom lawmakers .
Parliament’s recognition of a Palestinian State is symbolic [Getty]

British members of parliament on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favour of recognising Palestine as a state, in a non-binding motion heavy with symbolism - but which is unlikely to change UK government policy.

The motion, to "recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution" was passed by 274 votes to 12.

Prime Minister David Cameron and more than half of the 650-strong House of Commons did not participate in the vote. However, the motion drew cross-party support and was backed by 39 Conservative lawmakers and 192 Labour MPs - including party leader Ed Miliband.

The debate in the House of Commons could have diplomatic implications, bolstering a campaign led by the Palestinian Authority for state recognition.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said in a statement that the vote would "enhance the European voices calling for the recognition of the state of Palestine and will create the right environment for the international community to grant the Palestinian people legal parity and rights".   

The Palestinian Authority says that 134 countries, including China, Brazil and Turkey, have now recognised Palestine's statehood. Sweden is set to be the first and only European Union country to recognise a Palestinian state

A 'game changer'?

     I have to say to  the government of Israel: if it is losing people like me, it is going to be losing a lot of people.
Richard Ottaway, Conservative MP

Mathew Gould, British ambassador to Israel, described Monday’s vote as "significant", revealing changing attitudes towards Israel following its latest 50-day assault on Gaza.

The violence ended with a truce but left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead. Most of the casualties were civilians, according to the United Nations. On the Israeli side, 72 people died, most of them soldiers.

Gould told Israeli radio that despite the vote being only a symbolic gesture, Israel should take note of it.

"I think it is right to be concerned about what it signifies in terms of the direction of public opinion," he said.

Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said that he had always been a strong supporter of Israel, but that the recent annexation of 950 acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank, in addition to the latest attack on Gaza had "outraged me more than anything else in my political life".

The Conservative MP added that "in normal circumstances" he would reject the recognition of a Palestinian state because of Palestinian groups' refusal to recognise the Israeli state. However, he said, "I have to say to the government of Israel: if it is losing people like me, it is going to be losing a lot of people."

Reaction

Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said that the vote in Britain undermined chances for peace - because Palestinian statehood should come about only as a result of negotiations with Israel.

Tobias Ellwood, Britain's Middle East minister, asserted that the UK government was a "staunch supporter" of Israel's right to defend itself, but settlement-building made it hard "for Israel's friends to make the case that Israel is committed to peace".

Britain "will bilaterally recognise a Palestinian state when we judge that it can best help bring about peace", Elwood said.

Aesthetics of statehood

Despite the high symbolism of the vote, diplomats and analysts said the non-binding vote showed "a small shift", and warned against reading too much into it.

Prominent Palestinian writer and blogger Ali Abunimah argued that the recognition of a Palestinian state on "a fraction of Palestine" denied Palestinians their right of self-determination.

Abunimah said that many supporters of the Palestinian cause who support these moves "should not get carried away with the aesthetics of 'statehood' in what would amount to a Bantustan".

He called for the focus to shift to ensuring the right of return and the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.