Parliament votes to recognise Palestinian state


Parliament has voted to recognise the state of Palestine following a symbolic and unprecedented debate in the House of Commons.

A motion calling for the recognition of a Palestinian state was passed by 274 votes to 12 after MPs spent five hours debating the issue.

Proposed by Labour backbenchers with Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell and Green MP Caroline Lucas, the result represents a significant PR victory for pro-Palestine campaigners, but will not affect government policy on Israel and the Palestinians.

An amendment initially tabled by a cross-party group of pro-Israel MPs to include a reference to recognising a state only at the conclusion of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was pulled on Monday afternoon after former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tabled an amendment backed by Labour leaders.

It called for the recognition as “a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution”.

Labour front-bench figures including Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, Shadow Public Health Minister Luciana Berger and Shadow Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves are all leading supporters of Labour Friends of Israel and did not attend the debate or vote.

In total eight Labour shadow cabinet members avoided the vote, including LFI chair Anne McGuire and supporters including Ian Austin, Louise Ellman, and David Lammy. Around 25 per cent of the party's MPs did not vote.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs were given a free vote. A number of Israel-supporting Tories were unable to oppose the motion due to their government roles, which forbid them from taking part in backbench votes.

Others did not take part in the debate after suggesting they did not want to give legitimacy to the result. David Cameron was among those who was not present in the Commons.

Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood said Britain would “bilaterally recognise Palestinian statehood only when we judge it can best bring about peace”.

He gave an overview of the situation in Gaza following the summer’s violence. He said urgent progress must be made on peace negotiations.

Mr Ellwood highlighted the strength of Britain’s friendship with Israel but made widespread and detailed criticisms of Israel’s settlement building.

Shadow Middle East Minister Ian Lucas said a Labour government would act on the issue of Palestinian statehood if the matter was not resolved before next year’s general election.

He said a “dramatic step” was required to bring about new peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Grahame Morris, the Labour MP who led the debate, said Israel would be “finished” if a two-state solution could not be agreed.

“Recognition is not an Israeli bargaining chip, it’s a Palestinian right,” he said.

Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind called the motion “premature” and listed a series of what he said were “fundamental ingredients for a state” which would currently stop a Palestinian state from functioning.

Conservative Friends of Israel chairman James Clappison MP claimed a unilateral declaration of statehood would make a two-state solution less likely and said the Israeli government would not “cave in” to pressure from backbenchers.

Labour’s Sir Gerald Kaufman suggested Israel’s actions had led to the rise in antisemitism in Britain. In reference to treatment of the Palestinians, he said it was “not Jewish for the Israelis to do this. They are harming the image of Judaism. I want to see an end to antisemitism and I want to see a Palestinian state”.

Liberal Democrat MP David Ward said tweets in which he suggested he might fire rockets on Israel if he lived in Gaza had not been intended as condoning terror. They were, he said, “simply recognition of despair and hopelessness”.

In a statement the Board of Deputies said: "The vast majority of British Jews support a two-state solution, in line with Israeli and British government policy.

"This evening’s vote was a statement of intent, which says nothing about the timing for recognition of Palestinian statehood.

"We understand the desire of some MPs to use it to express their support for a two-state solution, although we are concerned that the vote will be misused to undermine meaningful negotiations."

A spokesman at the Israeli embassy in London said: "The route to Palestinian statehood runs through the negotiation room.

"Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make, and actually undermines the chances to reach a real peace.

"Recognition of a Palestinian state should be the result of a successful conclusion of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

In a joint statement, the Jewish Leadership Council, Zionist Federation and Bicom said: "Parliament voted to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. We refute the notion that this will advance prospects for peace.

"The vote - passed with less than half the House present - is non-binding and so has no direct implications for British foreign policy.

"We believe support for unilateral recognition makes negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority less likely and the prospect of peace more distant.

"We fully support a state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, but maintain that this can only be achieved through dialogue. Gesture politics are unhelpful and betray the spirit of international support needed for progress."

Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer resigned from his government role as a private secretary so that he could vote against the motion.

Mr Freer said he felt strongly enough about the issue to leave his position as a PPS to business minister Nick Boles.

Reaction to the debate included criticism of Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who said the United States was "very susceptible to well-funded powerful lobbying groups and the power of the Jewish lobby in America".

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive