MPs back recognition of Palestine

Nearly 8 years on, MPs back recognition of Palestine by twenty speeches to six 

Backbench debate on Recognition of Palestine
Thursday February 24th 2022 

It’s now nearly eight years since the historic House of Commons debate of October 2014 in which MPs voted by 274 to 14 to urge the UK Government to redeem its endlessly recycled promise to recognise the state of Palestine “at a time of its own choosing”.

Last Thursday (February 24th) the Commons staged a repeat performance at the instigation of four MPs – Labour, Conservative, SNP and Liberal-Democrat – from the All-party Britain-Palestine parliamentary group – to persuade the Government that only a belated and overdue recognition of Palestine as a state can now kickstart a new Middle East peace process.

There was no vote at the end of this debate, but the speeches split 20 in favour of recognition to six against. All but one of the 16 Labour speakers supported recognition and all but one of the six Conservatives speakers opposed it. 

Only one MP – Scott Benton, the Conservative MP for Blackpool South, advanced any arguments against recognition in principle, but another five – including Christian Wakeford who crossed the floor from Conservative to Labour – supported the Government’s argument that the time was not yet right for recognition.

The great majority of speakers wanted to know why the Government was still prevaricating, what exactly it was waiting for and how it could ever make sense to support a two-state solution yet to deny recognition to one of the two states involved.

Here are some highlights from their speeches:

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab)  The time for recognising the state of Palestine was many years ago. For over 40 years, successive British Governments of all parties have claimed to support a two-state solution. This claim, for Palestinians, rings hollow. We recognise only one state, Israel, and refuse to recognise the other.

The Government’s position remains “not now”, but I ask the Government, “If not now, when?”

Our refusal to recognise Palestinian statehood sends a dangerous message: it reinforces the view that we support and uphold rights for one people — we rightly recognise the state of Israel— but do not recognise the rights of the other, the Palestinians. It shows that we are not at all serious in our claims to back a two-state solution.

Some argue that Palestinian statehood should be the outcome of negotiations. This allows successive Israeli Governments who reject Palestinian statehood to have a permanent veto.

It is essential that Israel knows that statehood for Palestinians is not something to be bartered over, but something that has to happen. Palestinians are stateless. At best, they have travel documents. They can travel only with the permission of the occupier, Israel.

In fact, they can leave one Palestinian city to go to another Palestinian city only with the permission of the occupier. An Israeli soldier at a checkpoint can prevent President Mahmoud Abbas from leaving Ramallah.

Palestinians have no say in the control of their land, water, maritime area or airspace, or even their population registry.

The longer we dither about recognising Palestine, the more potent Hamas’s argument that there will be no two-state solution becomes. By failing to recognise Palestine, we undermine the Palestinian national movement that agrees to two states in favour of the likes of Hamas.

It is not enough for our UK Consulate in Jerusalem simply to bear witness as its neighbours literally across the road, the Salhiya family, were forcibly evicted from their home, which was then demolished.

We sanctioned Russia over Crimea, and we are now likely to impose more sanctions, with which I wholeheartedly agree, yet Palestinians ask why we do nothing to end Israel’s occupation. Recognising Palestine is now the bare minimum of what we should be doing.

We need no more warm words; we need action. We have the ability as a country and the Government have the ability as our Government to recognise Palestine today. We do not have to wait—let us just act and not wait. 

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is a great shame that we are here, once again, holding another debate on the UK’s recognition of Palestinian statehood, almost eight years after this House voted formally to adopt that position, because the British Government are yet to do the right thing and abide by that historic decision.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind) It is simply not tenable to continue with the narrative that somehow or other we can continue not recognising Palestine because the Palestinian leadership has not passed threshold X, Y or Z or jumped over this fence, that fence, that hurdle or the other, while all the time accepting the recognition of Israel. It gives a message to the Palestinian people that we do not care, that we are not very interested and that they will continue suffering under the occupation they are under.

Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con): Some may think that recognition is merely an empty gesture and that there is no harm in it whatever, but I believe that supporting this motion would give the green light to the intransigence of the Palestinian Authority and the terrorism of Hamas in Gaza.

The UK Government have been clear that they will recognise a Palestinian state “when it best serves the objective of peace”, but that must not happen while Palestinian territories are controlled by terrorists and the Israeli people suffer appalling rocket attacks and suicide bombings.

The only way to negotiate a lasting two-state solution is for the Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct peace talks. That is what we should be calling for. I urge the Minister to prioritise that and to leave the final status issues for the parties to determine themselves.

Khalid Mahmood Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): To have a two-state solution, we need two states. That is exactly the point of this debate. Peace is always there for us to recognise, but we can only do that when we are able to sit down together at the same table with the same status as each other. That is what is important, and that is what we are talking about here.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): In 2014, I voted to recognise the state of Palestine, and I would do so again today. On the last set of census data, about one in six of my voters are British Muslims.

If I may say so, I know that some of my colleagues do not represent very diverse constituencies, so let me dispel an illusion about who cares about this issue.

We are not talking about radical youths here, although they may well be included; we are talking about professional middle-aged people — indeed, people of all ages — who are thoughtful and well educated, and we are talking about Conservative councillors, who feel most acutely this issue of the suffering of the Palestinian people. 

It is a grave mistake, and one I have confessed to from this position before, to neglect this issue between periods of violence. When we do so, we send the message that we do not care about the issue or we have forgotten about it, which in some cases people have, and that of course only encourages violence.

On behalf of the electors of Wycombe, who feel this issue most powerfully, I implore the Minister to recognise the state of Palestine, and to do it very soon and preferably at the moment that she can collectively agree it with her colleagues.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): It is surely inappropriate for recognition to be seen as a prize waiting for the Palestinians at the end of negotiations. If that were allowed to happen, negotiators from Palestine would be in an inferior position, with one hand tied behind their back when the negotiations take place with the Israelis. If our aim is genuinely to see a two-state solution agreement that is acceptable to both sides, there must be a high degree of parity between the two negotiating parties.

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): The violence that took place last summer was shocking for the silence and lack of action that it elicited from the international community. Instead of demanding sanctions for violations of international law, an immediate overhaul of all arms used indiscriminately to kill civilians and commit war crimes, and the immediate recognition of the state of Palestine, the international community stood by and did nothing.

The silence of the international community was deafening then and it is deafening now. They should hang their heads in shame.

Kim Leadbeater  (Batley and Spen) (Lab): The consequences of .. injustice are felt day in, day out as the people of Palestine go about their lives. To take just one example — there are many — how can it be right that, in such a small geographic area, a woman giving birth in the occupied territories is nine times more likely to die than a woman in Israel?

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): Despite that moral responsibility, despite the legal urgency and despite the threat to peace, what are the Government doing? They are refusing to recognise the state of Palestine. They are pursuing a free trade agreement with Israel. They are standing by while products such as those made by JCB are destroying homes in the occupied territories. Frankly, they are not investigating the whys and wherefores of some of our arms exports.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): The UK Government have to take their opportunity. They signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Israel last year that makes no mention of a two-state solution or even a road to peace, so will the road map that is to come out of that do so? Will the territorial application of a free trade agreement specifically exclude illegal settlements?

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Recognition of a Palestinian state, given the justified desperation of the Palestinian people, is the very least we can do. The more I have heard the arguments over the years as to why it should not happen, the less convincing they seem. To say that Palestinians should be granted their statehood only as a kind of favour at the end of the negotiations is the least convincing argument of all.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): President Obama said in 2010 that he hoped to see the recognition of a Palestinian state within a year. Although William Hague coined the phrase “moment of our choosing”, or “when the time is right”, I think that he meant it as a statement of intent, but it has become a filibuster that is endlessly repeated by Ministers to enable them in fact to do nothing. We in the UK, who have a responsibility, through the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration, have not recognised Palestine although 138 other countries have.

Settlement and occupied land – both those are war crimes. This is relatively rare, thank goodness. It happens in Crimea, it is happening in Ukraine and it happens in Western Sahara, but in Palestine it has continued since 1967 and we have done precious little about it.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Streatham) (Lab): The recognition of the Palestinian state should not be seen as a prize at the end of peace negotiations. It should be regarded as a prerequisite for peace. Only when the two states have equal status and recognition can we have genuine hopes for peace. The Government cannot continue to claim that they are committed to a two-state solution while only recognising one state.

Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Lab): For us to recognise Palestinian statehood outside a wider peace process would make little or no impact in the real world. We need to take concrete steps that will advance and recognise both peoples’ right to self-determination, peace and security, and steps that will make a real difference to the lives of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, rather than the kind of gestures that seek to demonise one side or the other.

Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP): The SNP supports the recognition of Palestine as a state, for the simple reason: how can we have a two-state solution without two states? Statehood is not a bauble or a prize to be given to the Palestinian people at the end of the process; statehood is the entry ticket to the talks. There must be parity of esteem between the two parties.

The debate was brought to a close by the new Middle East Minister, Amanda Milling and the new Shadow Middle East Minister, Bambos Charalambous, neither of whom added anything significant.

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