Former foreign secretary William Hague declared the current British policy to be that Britain “reserves the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”. UK politicians agree that a two-state solution must be agreed. The vote on October 13 was non-binding, but did it change anything?
Observers are increasingly inclined to believe that Israel will not to accede to any plans involving a two-state solution. As Rachael Shabi notes, the leak of papers regarding the latest round of negotiations revealed that Palestinian officials had made increasing concessions toward their Israeli negotiating partners without reciprocation. This led to the breakdown of these last talks, in April 2014, with even the United States, Israel’s expected partner, recognising the futility in the contemporary attitude of Israeli representatives.
Within Labour a distinct disunity on the matter was visible prior to the vote. Several leading members of Labour party’s shadow cabinet felt they had to notify Ed Miliband of their disagreement with the motion, to the point that the three-line whip was watered down to permit absences of vote. The feeling was, as one unnamed Labour member told The Independent, that this motion would come in conflict with a carefully calibrated foreign policy thirteen years in work. On the other side of the aisle, Conservative MP Mike Freer resigned as parliamentary private secretary in protest.
Ministers & PPPs aren’t meant to vote on backbench business. I resigned as PPS to represent constituents & support Govt pol on 2state solt
— Mike Freer MP (@mikefreermp) October 13, 2014
This contrasts with opinions such as that of Andy Slaughter, vice-chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. He believes these party members are not recognising that the negotiations have never been under equal circumstances of both parties, accusing Israel of undermining Palestine and this resolution would “afford the same right to Palestinians as that we did to Israel, and to give Palestinians both a right to be heard and the recognition they deserve,” a point the author of the resolution, MP Grahame Morris, raised in an interview with Jo Coburn of BBC’s Daily Politics.
Does this acknowledgement of the state of Palestine truly level the playing field with the aforementioned lack of conviction that Israel will accede to any propositions leading to a two-state solution? The symbolic nature of the vote means that the government is by no means bound to its outcome, although constituents have lobbied their MPs to vote one way or another in the hopes of providing a mandate for the outcome. Nonetheless the UK has not officially adopted this stance.
Sir Alan Duncan, former international development minister and Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, added to the arguments in favour of the resolution, saying that the UK “have an historic and moral duty to recognise Palestine. There’s no reason not to.” Duncan referred to Britain’s former instrumental involvement in the Middle East as a particular reason to make this show of support of Palestinians suffering under the -by international law- illegal construction of settlements by Israel in the West Bank. Formerly protector of the Palestine before the state of Israel was recognised, the United Kingdom was one of several European nations involved in the Middle East nearly a hundred years ago after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. By historically creating a situation in which both Muslims and Jews were given the impression they had a right to the same land as their home, Duncan’s statement implied the UK had to uphold the commitment to both sides.
Netanyahu has attempted to graft the attention on IS militants onto his cause of fighting Hamas, which ostensibly was the reason for Gaza attacks this year, in the face of a reshaping Middle East. With anti-IS forces won from a coalition of unlikely bed-fellows including Iran, whose past state leaders have pronounced the Holocaust was a fabrication, Israel apparently fears that its own existence could come under threat with united opposition surrounding them and within, should Palestine be recognised. How much the activity of IS-sympathising militants within Hamas is endangering Israel at present is questionable, seeing as the Gaza attacks were considered brutally one-sided and effective in favour of Israel’s response.
Not all Israelis were against a positive vote either, signalising that there is a sentiment of change in the understanding of the currently untenable situation. More than 350 Israeli politicians, scientists, artists and other prominent figures have submitted an open letter to members of parliament, stating that they “believe that the long-term existence and security of Israel depends on the long-term existence and security of a Palestinian state”, and “calling on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.” And after the UK’s symbolic vote the Spanish government has slated a vote on the recognition of the state of Palestine