UK’s Labor party divided ahead of Parliament vote on recognizing Palestinian state

Baroness Warsi: ‘Our moral compass is missing.’

British House of Commons in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)
British House of Commons in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – The opposition Labor Party’s unprecedented decision to tells its 258 MPs to support a call for recognition of a Palestinian state, which is due to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons on Monday, has led to behindthe- scenes rows with several key senior shadow ministers who object to the change in policy toward Israel.
According to the Independent on Sunday, party leader Ed Miliband has “rewritten the rulebook of parliamentary procedure in his attempt to stave off a damaging revolt by senior Labor MPs” on the issue.
The paper added that he has taken a highly unusual move that has left senior parliamentarians “struggling to find a precedent” by ordering all Labor legislators who attend what is supposed to be backbench business – where MPs are traditionally given a completely free vote – to abide by a “three-line whip” to vote according to the instructions that he and Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander issued last week in support of the nonbinding recognition vote.
However, many Labor MPs, especially those who support Israel, have objected to the revised policy, which appears to have been taken without formal consultation either at shadow-cabinet level or within the party machine, in effect granting Palestinians recognition at the earliest opportunity should a Labor government come into power, which party leaders hope will be the case as a result of next May’s general election.
Some shadow cabinet ministers and other office holders are expected to absent themselves from the Commons for a vote that other Labor MPs have been instructed to attend.
One shadow minister described the situation as “unfortunate,” adding that the word was “an understatement.”
“The party did not need to get itself into this situation – it is a combination of cock-up and failure to deal with the cock-up,” he said.
Critics point out that the vote on the motion proposed by pro-Palestinian backbencher Grahame Morris takes no account of the results of any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
According to one pro-Israel MP, the motion not only departs from Labor’s traditional support for Israel, it also means that an incoming Labor administration will have no leverage over the Palestinians to take account of Israel’s legitimate concerns once recognition has been unilaterally granted.
It also appears that strong representations made by the Israeli Labor Party’s secretary- general, Hilik Bar, not to vote for recognition have been ignored.
MPs have all day to debate both the motion and, if selected, an amendment would proposed by a cross-party group of pro-Israel MPs calling for recognition only to be considered once negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been successfully concluded.
The results of the vote will not be binding, though all sides agree it will be a seminal moment on the issue, and that if the pro-Palestinian lobby wins, the victory will have significant ramifications for British Israeli-relations.
The governing Conservative Party has decided to stick to parliamentary convention and not instruct their MPs on how to vote, nor to use their so-called payroll vote – the approximately 150-strong list of ministers and the MPs directly working for them – who would normally ensure that such a motion would be defeated.
Meanwhile, Baroness Warsi, the Muslim former minister who resigned from her Foreign Office post in protest at what she said was the government’s “morally indefensible” pro-Israel stance during the recent Gaza war, vented her anger again in an article in Sunday’s Observer.
She accused her former colleagues of abdicating their responsibility for driving the peace process, and claimed the government’s diplomatic channels with Israel “counted for nothing.”
She added that there was the lack of negotiations reflected “a lack of political will, and our moral compass was missing.”
“Somehow we have to breathe new life into these negotiations and one of the ways we can do that is by recognizing the state of Palestine,” she added.
Warsi also disclosed that not only did other serving ministers agree with her, the Foreign Office, “to the highest levels,” felt British policy is wrong.
“You’ve a small group of politicians who are keeping a close grip on this and who are not allowing public opinion, ministerial views, parliamentary views and the views of the people who work in this system,” she said.