LONDON – The British Parliament will in all probability vote in favor of recognition of a Palestinian state without a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians being finalized, following a controversial decision by the official opposition Labor Party to support a backbench parliamentary motion on the issue of statehood.
The House of Commons is to debate the issue on Monday.
Labor’s unexpected move effectively scuppers an attempt by pro-Israel MPs who tabled an amendment on an all-party basis that would make granting any recognition conditional on an agreed solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Monday night’s 10 p.m. (midnight, Israel time) vote is supposed to be for backbenchers only, is considered nonbinding, and the government will not view it as an embarrassing parliamentary defeat.
However, it will be viewed as a moral victory for the pro-Palestinian lobby, and it appears to many that the Labor party has decided to support the move for cynical electoral reasons – pandering to the rapidly increasing and influential Muslim vote, which will be important to win next May’s general election.
Israel’s Labor Party, in a letter sent by party secretary- general Hilik Bar to all Labor MPs, urged them to defy their own party’s voting instructions.
He told them that he understands why so many Labor MPs want to vote for anything that claims to be a contribution to peace, “But our view in the Israeli Labor Party is that unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood does nothing to advance this vital cause.”
Over much of the last fortnight Jewish communal organizations have been urgently encouraging members to contact their MPs in an attempt to stave off a possible defeat. But tactically they proved to be not only unprepared but also inept, as they ignored early warnings about the impending vote, failed to coordinate their campaigning and did not even undertake the basic step of a mapping exercise to determine which MPs to target.
The original initiative for the motion “that this House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel” came from a pro-Palestinian Labor backbench MP, Grahame Morris.
Shortly after he made his application for a full day’s commons backbench debate, a combined group of MPs from the Conservative and Labor Friends of Israel tabled an amendment that in effect would make recognition conditional until such time as negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians had been completed.
It was hoped that their approach would appeal to most backbench MPs, not least of all because it is in line with the Foreign Office guidance – given to The Jerusalem Post nearly a month ago – stating that Britain reserved the right to bilaterally recognize a Palestinian state “at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace,” but with the additional caveat that the UK continued to believe that “negotiations toward a two-state solution are the best route to meeting Palestinian aspirations in reality and on the ground.”
Complicating the issue, however, has been this weekend’s intervention by former foreign secretary Jack Straw, who has sought to add a further amendment to Morris’s motion, stating that recognition would be “a contribution to securing a negotiated twostate solution.”
In a private message to Labor MPs, he told those who suggest that recognition should happen only once a final two-state solution has been agreed that, as one of the foreign ministers who negotiated the 2002 road map, he wants to confirm “that this anticipated that the recognition of Palestine could happen as a contribution to, and in advance of, an agreement on a final twostate settlement and not the other way round.”
Conservative Friends of Israel sources quickly pointed out that even the new wording will be disadvantageous to Israel, as any recognition of Palestine that could be granted by a possible Labor government (should it win next May’s general election) would not be subject to an agreed negotiated settlement.
Instead, it would just be part of a contribution to such a settlement.
With Morris evidently agreeing to the suggested amendment and with most Labor MPs expected to back the revised wording – provided they attend and vote what is primarily backbenchers business – the motion will probably be carried with a sizable majority.
The issue over wording may appear pedantic, but to Israel supporters in the UK it will be a bitter pill to swallow. After decades of support for Israel from both major political parties, Labor will be effectively taking a stance distancing itself not only from its sister Labor party in Israel but also from many supporters in the UK Jewish community.
A leading communal figure noted that Labor was apparently trying to curry favor with the three million Muslim voters in Britain, many of whom live in areas where Labor desperately needs votes in its bid to win the next general election.
The Jewish community’s estimated 280,000 electors are concentrated in so few areas, it is almost as if their views no longer count, the source added.
PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi met last week with correspondents from British media outlets in Israel to reiterate the official call of the PLO for all states to recognize the “State of Palestine” as a “human, moral, legal and political imperative.”
Ashrawi said she welcomed and appreciated the initiative of a group of British parliamentarians to ask their government to recognize the “State of Palestine.”
“This would be the first clear step taken by the UK as part of the process of historical rectification of the disastrous consequences of the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine that ended in 1948 with the creation of the State of Israel,” she said.