UK parliament to debate over recognizing Palestinian state

Published October 13th, 2014 - 09:16 GMT

The British parliament’s House of Commons will debate a motion to recognize Palestine as an independent state on Monday, in a move that is already controversial both at home and abroad.

The motion, which reads: “This House believes that the Government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel,” will be introduced by a backbench opposition MP, Grahame Morris, of the Labour Party.

“We just feel that now’s the time to shout out loud that this should be done,” he told Reuters news agency. “Not only is statehood the inalienable right of the Palestinian people, but recognizing Palestine will breathe new life into a peace process that is at an impasse.”

The motion is largely symbolic and will not change official UK policy if it passes. In a reiteration of official British policy, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to believe that negotiations toward a two-state solution are the best route to meeting Palestinian aspirations in reality and on the ground.”

However, the motion is another sign of increasing disenchantment with Israeli policy in the UK and Europe, and is likely to infuriate the Israeli government, as well as causing disquiet in Washington.

Two weeks ago, the new Swedish government became the first Western European state to officially recognize Palestine, leading the Israeli Foreign Ministry to summon the Swedish ambassador to deliver an official reprimand.

A spokesman for the US State Department described the move as “premature,” and said that while the US was not opposed to Palestinian statehood in principle, it believed this could only come about “through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues, and a mutual recognition by both parties.”

The motion is also likely to prove divisive within the ranks of the UK’s two largest parties, the Conservatives, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, and the Labour Party, the official opposition.

A number of members of the Labour shadow cabinet have been given permission not to attend parliament on Monday, according to press reports, despite other Labour MPs being instructed to vote for the motion if present.

Two members of the shadow cabinet are among members of the party’s Labour Friends of Israel group. One backbench member of the group, Louise Ellman MP, said she opposed the motion on the grounds that recognition should only come after direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership.

Conservative cabinet ministers will abstain, while rank-and-file MPs from the party have been given a free vote on the issue.

Thanks to Labour votes and support from several Conservative MPs and most members of the Liberal Democrats—the junior partner in the ruling coalition—the motion is expected to pass.

More are expected to vote for the motion if an amendment sponsored by a number of MPs from across the different parties is adopted.

The amendment adds the phrase, “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution” to the motion.

Although also favored by the Labour Party’s leadership, it is not yet known if the amendment will be adopted at time of writing.

One former Conservative minister, Baroness Warsi, called on her colleagues to back the motion in an interview with theObserver newspaper on Sunday.

Lady Warsi, a former junior foreign affairs minister, resigned in protest at the British government’s decision not to condemn Israel’s actions in the recent conflict in Gaza in August.

In remarks published on Sunday, she said more pressure needed to be put on Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

“There are no negotiations, there is no show in town. Somehow we have to breathe new life into these negotiations, and one of the ways we can do that is by recognizing the state of Palestine,” she said.

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