British MPs to vote on calls for Palestinian state

Group of parliamentarians to propose motion that reads "this House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel."

By JERRY LEWIS
September 18, 2014 21:24
4 minute read.
House of Commons London.

British House of Commons in London.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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British MPs will have an unprecedented opportunity to vote on whether there should be a Palestinian state when the House of Commons resumes after its current party conference break on Monday.

A group of parliamentarians from all major political parties headed by Labor’s Grahame Morris including Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt, Liberal Democrat; Sir Bob Russell and the Green Party’s former leader Caroline Lucas have secured a debate under a relatively new procedure for a full scale, whole day’s debate in the Commons chamber.

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The MPs motion reads “this House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel."  With those proposing the motion appearing determined to push the issue to a vote, seasoned Westminster observers fear a vote in favor of immediate recognition of a Palestinian state could cause a substantial shift in public opinion and lead to added pressures on the Government to change its current policy which favors securing an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians before considering granting Palestinians recognition.

The debate will offer British MPs the first ever opportunity to vote on the vexed issue. As the topic for debate has been chosen by backbenchers it is very unlikely party whips will order MPs to attend or advise them how to vote, so predicting any possible outcome is virtually impossible.

However the Jerusalem Post understands that the pro Palestinian lobby will not have it entirely their own way. Several pro-Israel MPs from across the political divide in the Commons have just tabled an amendment which in effect insists that a key condition making any call for establishing a Palestinian state should only come about “on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority”.

Those associated with the amendment include former Conservative Friends of Israel Chairman James Arbuthnot, the highly regarded former Middle East Minister Alistair Burt and Labor Friends of Israel Chair Anne McGuire and LFI Vice Chair Louise Ellman.

After working very hard behind the scenes to ensure an amendment was tabled, Conservative Friends of Israel’s energetic director Stuart Polak told the Post “It’s comforting to know that there are backbench MPs who understand the reality of the situation and were able to amend Grahame Morris’s motion. Calling for two states for two peoples after the resumption of successful peace negotiations is something all MPs should support.”



Since the new procedure of allowing backbench chosen topics to be debated in Commons chamber was introduced after the 2010 general election, three of the resolutions discussed resulted in MPs taking a vote where the government have been defeated. But on each occasion the Government decided not to make the issues concerned one of ‘confidence’ and as a result they were able just ‘to take note’ of MPs views.

[Topics on which the Government suffered defeats in the Commons under the new arrangements range from disbanding of a highly regarded army unit, protests at defense reform and most recently, the heated controversy of badger cull to end the spread of TB in cattle.] Without indicating which way the Government minister - who will participate in the debate - will advise MPs how to cast their vote, a Foreign Office spokesman told the Jerusalem Post in scarcely coded language that the government would not be endorsing the MPs call favoring the recognition of a Palestinian state.

The spokesman made clear that the Government “reserved the right to bilaterally recognize a Palestinian state at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace’’ before crucially adding that they continued to believe that negotiations towards a two-state solution were “the best route to meeting Palestinian aspirations in reality and on the ground”.

The Jerusalem Post understands that the government minister replying to the debate will therefore make clear that whilst the initiative by Morris and his colleagues can introduce an informed debate on the subject, now is certainly not the time to be forcing the issue of the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Louise Ellman one of the amendments co-sponsors told the Jerusalem Post that a negotiated two-state solution is required to give Israel security and “that is the only way mutual recognition between the Palestinian and Israelis can be achieved with an agreement on sensitive issues including border and security arrangements.’’ She added that the debate under the terms proposed by Mr Morris and his colleagues was a clear attempt to bypass these requirements and will not require a Palestinian state to recognize Israel’s borders.

So the battlelines have been formed and even though the actual voting figures will bear little true reflection of the vast majority of MPs views, psychologically the winners on the pro Palestinian resolution or its amended pro peace Israel version will create an impact both on government and opposition policy determiners which will be less than easy to ignore.

This too will impinge on the wider public in the UK and in the region itself.

Intense efforts will now be made by both sides in the argument to try to persuade their supporters to persuade MPs at least to vote even if they cannot participate in the debate itself.

It may not bring about an immediate change in Government or for that matter opposition policy but for the first time, one side or the other will be able to claim a significant prize, a moral victory in Britain’s highest level and most influential political venue.

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