Monday saw a historic and symbolic motion brought before the House of Commons by Labour backbencher Graham Morris. A motion to recognise the State of Palestine. This follows the decision by the new government of Sweden to recognise Palestine, a move branded ‘premature’ by America. The vote is not binding for the government, nor did government ministers partake in the vote, since it is not customary for ministers to vote on backbench motions.
Britain’s current stance, as set by former Foreign Secretary William Hague, is that we ‘reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace’. A rather strange way of putting it. ‘Recognising at the moment of our choosing’? At what point should a state be recognised at a convenient time and then referred to as a non-state when we need to pal up to Israel or America?
I tweeted my local MP Phillip Davies on this very issue, asking him how he intended to vote on the motion.
He replied, ‘I believe in a Palestinian state. There is right and wrong on both sides, and Palestinians also need to recognise (the) Israel state.’
This being a standard politician’s answer in my view, I pressed him further. I asked again if he would vote in favour. His response: ‘I will when Palestinians recognise the Israeli state. One cannot happen without the other.’
It was at this point that I pointed out, as mentioned in a previous article of mine, that Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had already recognised the right of existence for Israel. I argued the world recognised Israel but not Palestine. Davies responded, reiterating his support for a two-state solution, stressing the importance of finding a ‘sustainable and peaceful solution, not stunts generated by those who can only see one side’.
My issue is: how can you support a two-state solution if you don’t recognise one of the parties as a state? A two-state solution implies two states, not one state and a stretch of land occupied by another people. How can peace talks continue if both sides are not on a level playing field, recognised by the international community as equals in the struggle to co-exist?
I am reminded of an episode of The West Wing, where Charlie gives President Bartlett a map of the Holy Land from 1709. It causes controversy as Bartlett wants to frame it in the office, but can’t because it is a map of the Middle East without Israel on it, causing the perception of not recognising Israel as a state. Bartlett argues that there was no Israel in 1709 and so it could not be on the map, but the symbolism of having it near the Oval Office was seen as inflammatory.
This is similar to the current vote. Critics of the motion feel a ‘yes’ would undermine the peace process – that it will be seen as taking sides. Others argue that Palestine should be recognised as a state after negotiations between the two sides have created a deal. Palestine has 20% of what is left of their former land with Israel illegally building settlements in that remaining 20%. It is not co-existing, it is occupation. An occupation that is condoned through silence.
On November 29 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a motion changing Palestine’s ‘entity’ status to ‘non-member observer state’ by 138 votes to 9 with 41 abstentions, including the UK. This put them on the same membership level as the Vatican. As of 27 September last year, 69.4% (134) of UN member states recognise the State of Palestine.
November 1974 saw the UN pass Resolution 3236, recognising the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty in Palestine. 40 years later, the UK joins 134 other nations by voting to recognise the State of Palestine with 274 ‘yes’ votes to 12 ‘no’ votes. It may not be legally binding, it may not be government policy tomorrow, however it is now on record that the House of Commons has heard the voices of support for the people of Palestine, heard their disgust at the actions of Israel, the death of 1,473 civilians (UN) in the most recent conflict and, if anything, this vote in favour of an equal approach to future negotiations can only be a good thing. After all, we now have two states for the two-state solution.