Labour’s plan to recognise Palestine is gesture politics of the worst kind

It makes a negotiated settlement less likely


Sir Keir Starmer (Photo by LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

June 07, 2024 11:03

When 1200 Israelis were butchered by Hamas on October 7, the civilised world united in revulsion – and backed Israel’s right to take action to prevent a repeat. It was important – and a hopeful sign for the future – that that included the Leader of the Labour Party, not least because his predecessor had described the terrorist organisation responsible for the massacre as “friends”.

To his credit, Sir Keir Starmer’s firm stance lasted some months.

But yesterday evening the Labour manifesto leaked, and it will contain, according to the Guardian, “a pledge to recognise Palestine before the end of any peace process, and to make sure such a move does not get vetoed by a neighbouring country.” You might wonder why a promise to recognise a Palestinian state should be seen as undermining, or even contradicting, revulsion over October 7 and Israel’s right to take action to prevent a repeat. After all, if we are in favour of a two-state solution, what’s not to like?

The fundamental issue is timing. Backing recognition before any peace agreement is reached is simply gesture politics – of the worst sort, because it works against the very end it claims to seek. In this case, gesture is exactly the right word because Labour’s manifesto commitment is about UK domestic politics and the party’s determination to appease those in its ranks and otherwise likely Labour voters, who walk around in keffiyehs, think “Palestine” is the cause of the day and accuse Sir Keir of being in the pocket of the Zionists.

There are now 144 countries which have recognised a Palestinian state, after Spain, Norway and Ireland did so last month. So: can you see it? Can you tell me where it is? If you can, you know something no one else on the planet knows, because it doesn’t yet exist. Simply asserting that something has happened doesn’t make it happen.

Which brings us to the second fundamental problem with the timing of recognition: without an agreement, it rewards terror. To see October 7 as necessitating a move towards recognition of a Palestinian state before the terrorists have been defeated is not simply to reward terror, it is worse - it is to hand the terrorists exactly the argument they deploy, to show Palestinians not only that terrorism works but also that, far from it needing to be eliminated to lay the foundation for an agreement for a two state solution, it is the modus vivendi for a Palestinian state’s existence. In that context, it actually makes a negotiated agreement less likely.

With Labour seemingly heading for a landslide, it will do as it will. But it will be fascinating to see how it answers the most basic questions about the Palestinian state it intends to recognise: Does it include Gaza? Jerusalem? Which parts? What is its government – the Palestinian Authority (in its 18th year since elections, with Abbas having been elected for a supposed 4 year term)? What about Hamas? How will it deal with Hezbollah? None of these questions can be answered. They require the long, slow, hard work of negotiation.

There is one form of recognition which might well hold the key but it isn’t of a Palestinian state. Were the Saudis to recognise Israel it could set in train the opposite of a domino effect whereby wider positive change follows. If Labour wants to have a serious impact for good, rather than gesture showboating, it should instead press for recognition of Israel by Saudi Arabia.


June 07, 2024 11:03

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