British Parliament recognizes Palestinian state
LONDON — Against a backdrop of growing impatience across Europe with Israeli policy, Britain’s Parliament overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Monday night to give diplomatic recognition to a Palestinian state. The vote was a symbolic but potent indication of how public opinion has shifted since the breakdown of American-sponsored peace negotiations and the conflict in Gaza this summer.
Though the outcome of the parliamentary vote, 274-12, was not binding on the British government, the debate was the latest evidence of how support for Israeli policies, even among staunch allies of Israel, is giving way to more calibrated positions and in some cases frustrated expressions of opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance toward the Palestinians.
Opening the debate, Grahame Morris, the Labour Party lawmaker who promoted it, said Britain had a “historic opportunity” to take “this small but symbolically important step” of recognition.
“To make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel’s agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination,” said Morris, who leads a group called Labour Friends of Palestine.
Richard Ottaway, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said that he had “stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad,” but now realized “in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion.”
“Under normal circumstances,” he said, “I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behavior in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”
The breakdown of negotiations over a two-state solution, continuing Israeli settlement building and the bloody conflict in Gaza all appear to have jolted Europe’s politicians, including Sweden’s new prime minister, Stefan Lofven, who this month pledged to recognize Palestine, the first time a major Western European nation had done so.
Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said that moves like the British resolution and Sweden’s recent statement “make conflict resolution much more difficult” by sending Palestinians the message that “they can achieve things” outside negotiations. Israel, the United States and most of Europe have long insisted that the only path to Palestinian statehood was through bilateral negotiations.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s government opposes recognizing a Palestinian state at this point.
The parliamentary debate and vote are not likely to change British policy.