UK Parliament recognises Palestine –


After Parliament’s historic recognition of Palestine in October, I wrote the following article for the Chartist on the implications of the vote.

The UK Parliament’s vote on October 13 to recognise the state of Palestine was, by any standards, historic. Some close to the Israel government have since sought to rubbish it, claiming that somehow Labour MPs were forced by Ed Miliband to vote for recognition despite being unwilling to do so.  The reality, though, was that this was a cross party debate initiated from the back-benches. No MP from any party was subject to a Three Line Whip to turn up and vote a particular way. Yes, the Labour leadership had made clear that recognition of Palestine is in line with Party policy, just as the Conservative-led coalition told their MPs that Government policy was to abstain. But nobody listening to the debate can have been in any doubt that the 274 MPs from different parties who voted to recognize Palestine that night did so because we believe recognition is the right thing to do, not because anybody told us to do it.

 Once it was likely that a wrecking amendment to the recognition motion was also likely to face defeat, organised “Friends of Israel” Parliamentary Groups also tried to rubbish the decision Parliament was going to take by announcing that they would absent themselves from the vote. It seems lobbyists for Israel reckoned that this tactic would enable them to somehow aggregate the minority of MPs opposed to recognition with both those who were genuinely “on the fence”, and those who could not be there because of constituency and other engagements. Put them all together, they thought, and you could even get near to claiming that the majority of MPs did not want to see the motion for recognition passed at all. Nice try but not a logic that is applied to any other vote in Parliament. And at 274 to 12, this was one of the biggest votes ever on a backbench motion.

The reality is that the vote in Parliament was a key moment in Palestine’s quest for recognition, as was the announcement by the new Swedish Government a week or so before, that it would recognize Palestine as a state. Both underline growing international frustration with constant repetitions of mantras about the importance of the “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians when there has been very little process worth the name and certainly no peace. Just look at what happened in Gaza over the summer when over 2,000 Palestinians and 71 Israelis died, 1,473 of the Palestinians and 4 of the Israelis who died were civilians. These figures include 501 Palestinian children and one Israeli child. Just look at the devastation which took place to homes schools and hospitals in Gaza, while Israel’s blockade still stops many of the materials needed to rebuild them being imported into Gaza. Just look at the continuing expansion of illegal settlements that are being built by Israel, systematically cutting one part of the West Bank from another and cutting all of it off from Jerusalem. It is construction which, if left unchecked, that will soon have destroyed the viability of a two state solution forever.

The moves by Sweden and the UK Parliament reflect a growing public mood which says enough is enough about all these things. They also introduce into the international community’s support for a two state solution something that has been absent for too long: the principle of equality between Israel and the Palestinians. For decades, self-determination and recognition of their state has been demanded by Israelis and accepted by the international community as matters of right, not for negotiation. When it comes to Palestinians, however, the reverse has always seems to apply. Self-determination becomes an aspiration. Recognition of the state of Palestine something that may or may not come out of negotiations which may or may not take place; and then only with the approval of Israel. Those double standards have to end and more and more people are recognising it. It is not only friends of Palestine who do so but, increasingly friends of Israel too who understand that the long term sovereignty of the state they love cannot be sustained by denying the same rights to their neighbours. Those voices may not feature loudly in the organised “Friends of Israel“ groups that exist in the UK and elsewhere, but they are there.

We must all remember, though however necessary, justified and welcome, international recognition of Palestine is, in itself it will neither end the blockade on Gaza nor the occupation of the West Bank. Neither will it stop Israel building the settlements which daily undermine the prospects for peace. That is why international pressure on Israel to abide by its international obligations and commitment. And it is why the time has also come for sanctions if Israel continues to thwart international law.

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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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