Oct 14 2014

British vote brings Palestinians one step closer to statehood

Published by at 10:22 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

After debate ended Oct. 13 in Westminster and the votes were cast, 274 British members of Parliament (MPs), representing major parties as well as diverse communities, passed a motion calling on their government to recognize the state of Palestine.

“The vote is symbolic, but the discussion is essential,” Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, had told Al-Monitor on Oct. 12, the day before the motion by the Labor Party backbencher Grahame Morris was slated for a debate and vote. “It is not a binding vote, but it will send a strong message to the British government and to the world.”

Hassassian, speaking by phone from his London home, had said he was sure that most members of the Labor Party would vote for the motion, because their leader, Ed Miliband, “had on three recent occasions spoken in favor of recognizing Palestine.” Labor’s official position was posted by shadow Foreign Secretary Alexander Douglas on the party’s website.

Palestinians were also encouraged by a column in the British press by Vincent Fean, a former UK consul general who served in Jerusalem between 2010 and 2014, and by a statement issued by Catholic and Anglican churches in support of a vote for Palestine. As many as 350 Israelis, including former ministers, generals and members of the Knesset, publicly called for UK recognition of Palestine. Scottish External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf also announced support for the vote.

Nontheless, Hassassian had said he would be happy if only 200 MPs showed up and was excited simply to have the issue publicly debated. In the end, support for Israel crumbled, with many MPs speaking passionately for Palestine.

The debate itself covered a number of issues. Several MPs referred to the Balfour Declaration, asserting that it was time to implement the second half of it. The 1917 letter sent by British Foreign Minister Alfred Balfour to Lord Rothschild supporting “a homeland for Jews in Palestine” had also stated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

The Israeli war on Gaza and Israeli settlement policies were referenced more than any other subjects. Speakers read letters from their constituents, some of whom had been to the West Bank and recalled their encounters at Israeli checkpoints and the various manifestations of the occupation. MPs also mentioned the need to support the moderate Palestinian leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas versus Hamas.

In the interview with Al-Monitor, Hassassian referred to repeated speeches he had made in which he described the birth of radical Islam as the result of the failure to resolve the Palestinian conflict, which he called the “crux of the conflict in the Middle East.” He also said that a favorable vote would send a message to France and Germany and have a “domino effect” on countries reluctant to recognize Palestine.

Following on the decision by Sweden to recognize the state of Palestine, the vote in Parliament, even if only symbolic, clearly reflects the will of the British people, regardless of the position of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government. The argument has been effectively demolished that the world must wait until Israelis and Palestinians reach a mutually agreed solution as a prerequisite for countries to recognize Palestine.

The message from Westminster to Brussels, Washington and Israel is that the issue is no longer if, but when, a Palestinian state will be realized. Summing up the current situation, Hassassian compared the failure to resolve the conflict to a large tanker constantly ramming an iceberg: “Eventually the iceberg will give.”

The vote in the British Parliament has given Palestinian statehood a strong push. The iceberg that is Israel and its US and assorted European allies will continue to resist the Palestinians’ desire for self-determination and the will of the international community to support them, but such resistance cannot hold out forever. For better or for worse, the British vote has placed the Palestinians one step closer to statehood.


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