The statue of Britain's former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Pro-Palestinian MPs used the last Foreign Office Questions session in the House of Commons prior to Britain’s general election on May 7 to demand recognition of a Palestinian state. But their calls fell on deaf ears, though not before ministers registered renewed complaints about Israel’s settlement expansion.
“Palestinian statehood” has been one cry heard persistently during Foreign Office questions over several years but it gained a major boost when the Commons expressed overwhelming support for early recognition in a non-binding vote last October.
Both Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood told MPs that until the results of the Israeli election are known, any such discussions were irrelevant. Ellwood added that whilst the government favored the establishment of an “independent Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel,” the UK would only recognize a Palestinian state bilaterally “at a time when we judge it best to help bring about peace.”
Margaret Ritchie of the Social Democratic and Labor Party (of Northern Ireland) suggested that if recognition was still conditional on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, in effect it gave Benjamin Netanyahu – or his successor – a veto over what she said would be “the UK’s sovereign decision to recognize Palestine.”
Ellwood tried to put her right. Recognition was not what he termed a “tick box” process but rather one which would have consequences “and which is therefore best used at a time when it will advance the process and leverage positive change.” However, he carefully refrained from spelling out who it was intended the leverage would be used against.
Labor’s Ian Austin, one of Israel’s staunchest friends, said that Palestinian statehood could not be imposed from outside; it could only come about after proper negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“We need to see the demilitarization of Gaza with Iran no longer sending rockets to Hezbollah and Hamas,” he added. The minister not only agreed, he also added that the Palestinian Authority had to “reassert itself in Gaza” and not just have what is known as a “technocratic government” there.
Liberal Democrat MP Duncan Hames lamented the fact that “the sovereign will of Parliament” had already spoken on the subject, voting by an overwhelming margin, and he asked how the timing of such an announcement could “be at odds with the sovereign will of MPs.”
Later Hammond said that as soon as the Israeli elections were completed, the UK would press the United States to revive the peace initiative and, he added, then “all parties needed to show bold political leadership.”