Foreign Secretary William Hague has delivered a sharp rebuke to Israel over its decision to accelerate the construction of settlements and withhold tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority in a parliamentary statement on the Middle East. He also expressed the UK government's belief that Israeli restrictions in Gaza "harm ordinary Palestinians, inhibit economic development and strengthen rather than weaken Hamas."
But Mr Hague took the opportunity to announce the UK government's decision to abstain in the vote for Palestinian statehood when it comes before the United Nations Security Council.
In a wide-ranging statement which encompassed the threat of a nuclear Iran and the Arab Spring, Mr Hague made a direct appeal to Israel to ease the blockade on Gaza. He said: "It will be both right and directly in Israel's interest if she permits increased imports of building materials for UN projects and for the private sector in Gaza, allows legitimate exports to traditional markets in the West Bank and Israel, and reduces restrictions on civilian movement between Gaza and the West Bank."
He called on both sides to resume negotiations on a two-state solution based on the parameters of 1967 borders with land swaps, a "just, fair and realistic" solution for refugees and an agreement on Jerusalem as a shared capital.
This Friday (November 11) is the deadline for the Admissions Committee of the Security Council report on whether Palestine meets the criteria for membership under the UN Charter. This is likely to be followed by a vote in the Security Council, in which the US has already committed to use its veto.
Britain believes that the PA fulfils the criteria for membership, but that the route to statehood is through a return to negotiations, not a unilateral declaration. The decision to abstain is consistent with that of France and other European partners.
The abstention choice has already led to dissent in Mr Hague's own party. The Conservative Middle East Council has warned that "the consequences of an abstention would be severe." The statement is signed by the council's president, Nicholas Soames MP, and its chair, Lady Morris of Bolton.