A Palestinian supporter wears Palestinian and Union Jack flags outside the Parliament in London during October's vote on recognizing a state of Palestine.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – British MPs held a three-hour debate in the House of Commons late Monday, in which they highlighted their dissatisfaction with Israeli policies, and several MPs called for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state.
The trigger for the debate – which took place less than two months after legislators approved a non-binding parliamentary motion to recognize a Palestinian state – was a petition calling for action to push forward such recognition.
Labor MP Grahame Morris, who led the session, called for addressing the situation “on the ground” in Israel, and warned that the status quo was laying the foundation for the “next major escalation.”
When Conservative MP Robert Halfon challenged him to comment on the 19,000 missiles fired at Israel and the recent murders of Israelis, Morris offered a general condemnation of terrorism, but reiterated that Israel was being allowed to “achieve its goals through force regardless of how illegal and counterproductive its actions were.”
He added there was currently “little economic pressure to prevent Israel from continuing to colonize and annex as much of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as it wishes.”
As such, he called for “applying further pressure” on the Israeli government through economic sanctions, and highlighted “the iniquities of trading with illegal settlements on the West Bank.”
Over 50 MPs were crowded in the House of Commons’ second chamber at Westminster Hall, most of them in the pro-Palestinian camp. Following remarks from some of them regarding further Israeli “obstructions” to the peace process, Morris expanded his list of proposed actions against Israel to include first a suspension of arms export licenses, and then a ban on all arms trading in both directions.
MP George Galloway said Palestinians had a “legal and moral right of an occupied people to rise up against their illegal occupier,” while Liberal Democrat David Ward – who has tweeted in the past that he, too, might have been willing to fire missiles at Israel had he been in Gaza – not only called for a boycott of settlement goods, but said “it should go beyond that.”
In his reply to the debate, Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood told Ward he did not believe in introducing sanctions “when we are trying to get people back to the [negotiating] table.” Ellwood maintained that the government wanted to “reserve the right to recognize Palestine when that is most likely to lead to a two-state solution.”
But during the monthly Foreign Office question session on Tuesday, Ellwood faced repeated criticism from MPs in all parts of the Commons for failing to implement the will of Parliament as expressed in the October vote on the Palestinian state motion.
In response, he told MPs pressing for recognition that “bilateral recognition would not end the occupation” and that without a negotiated settlement, “the occupation and the problems that come with it would still continue.”
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, criticized Israel for its “illegal” settlements, which he said were a roadblock to the peace process.
“We cannot allow one of the parties to this conflict to build themselves into a position to dictate the eventual peace,” he said.
Longtime Israel critic Bob Russell of the Liberal Democrat Party commented that public opinion in the UK was moving strongly against Israel “because it is morally indefensible to support a state that has policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid.”
Hammond replied that while he was not sure he would agree with Russell’s reasons, he did agree that “public opinion is moving against Israel in a country that has traditionally been understanding of the Israeli position.”
In a veiled warning to Israel, he added that “we have made the point strongly to Israeli Ministers and politicians that they are losing the argument and public opinion not only in Britain, but in Europe and, perhaps more importantly for them, in the United States.”