Palestine at the Labour Party Conference


This morning I spoke in the Britain in the World debate at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.

Last week Palestine applied for full state membership of the United Nations. Speaking to the Conference this morning I called on the UK government to support the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Here is a copy of my speech:

I want to tell you about a nation’s appeal to the United Nations. About a people who unilaterally declared their own state and asked for recognition as a full member of the United Nations.

There had already been UN resolutions saying they had the right to a state in principle – but it had not come about after months and negotiation to move things forward were not happening.

That nation’s representative appealed to the United Nations, saying enough is enough. All sorts of things remained unresolved. Fighting was still going on in the area. And the new state knew that recognition would not remove the need for negotiations to resolve its future relations with neighbouring countries. They said they accepted that membership of the UN brought responsibilities as well as rights.

But they also said that they could not wait for all of these things to be resolved. Because this was about self determination. It was about the right of a people – as the new state’s representative put it: ‘to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state’.

That was 63 years ago. The representative was David Ben Gurion. The state was Israel.

Last week at the UN the Palestinians asked for no more than that.

They too have been waiting for UN resolutions affirming rights to statehood to be put into practice. Waiting not for months, but for decades.

They too have been suffering. Suffering from the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in defiance of the Geneva Convention.

Suffering from the confiscation of land for a wall and checkpoints that separate farmers from their fields and which was even preventing a Palestinian father I met from taking his disabled son to his special school in Jerusalem.

You see that suffering for yourself when you witness – as I have – Palestinian children being brought in to Israeli military courts in leg irons under a legal system that echoes Apartheid in treating children living in the same town differently depending on their race and religion.

And refugees, denied for decades the right to return home, suffer too.

As do the people of Gaza. We were told last week by the Israeli Prime Minister that they were given freedom in 2005, but they still face an Israeli blockade by land, sea and air which leaves it amongst the poorest places on earth.

Palestinians know that these things and Israeli’s own demands for security can only be resolved by negotiation and agreement.

But they also know that if they stand any chance of being treated as equals in those negotiations, recognition of their state by the international community should not wait. They should not have to wait any more than Israel was prepared to let its own declaration of statehood wait 63 years ago.

I am proud that Douglas Alexander has been clear in saying that Britain should vote for recognition at the UN – whatever the sabre rattling by Israel, and even if the USA is unwilling to face up to its own responsibilities.

We have heard no such thing from the UK’s Conservative-led government.

It is time for the UK to get off the fence. We always say we believe in a two state solution and that recognition of Israel is a precondition to that.

If the UK is to have any credibility, we must now say yes to the recognition of Palestine too.

You can watch a video of my speech online here


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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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