The House of Commons, pictured in 2010

The House of Commons, pictured in 2010.

(Photo: UK Parliament/flickr/cc)

UK Lawmakers Vote to Recognize Statehood for Palestine

'This is not an alternative to negotiations. It is a bridge for beginning them,' said MP Ian Lucas

The UK parliament on Monday voted to recognize Palestine as a state alongside Israel, passing the non-binding agreement 274 to 12 in a symbolic move that could nonetheless have implications internationally.

The House of Commons backed the agreement as a "contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution," although less than half of Ministers of Parliament voted after the four-hour debate had finished. The measure does not actually require the British government to act.

Grahame Morris, the Labour minister who introduced the motion, said it was a "small but important symbolic step." Middle East MP Tobias Ellwood said the UK should wait to accept Palestine as a state until it was "appropriate for the peace process," and that the timing of their recognition would be "critical... You can, after all, only play this card once."

Prime Minister David Cameron supported Israel during its attack on Gaza over the summer, which saw more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis killed over weeks of shelling, bombing, and ground attacks, and Haaretznotes that despite recent political statements of waning approval for the Israeli government, "British-Israel trade has soared to record levels."

However, Britain's ambassador in Tel Aviv told Haaretz that Monday's Parliamentary measure "is a sign of the way the wind is blowing, and will continue to blow without any progress towards peace."

Morris downplayed the impact of the measure on Israeli interests, stating at the beginning of the debate that "recognition of Palestine does not mean causing any harm to Israel. The opposite, it is for Israel's good as well."

Almost all of the speakers, including those who supported the motion, acknowledged Israel's right to exist in security. But even some of those who voted against recognizing Palestine offered warnings of declining support for Israel. Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, who voted against the measure on the grounds that Palestine "is not yet fit to be a state," also said that "Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion."

"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," Ottaway said.

Ellwood seemed to agree, telling Parliament that while Israel lived in a "tough neighborhood," its recent actions--including continued land grabs and settlement expansions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem--seemed to go against the country's stated commitment to peace.

Shadow foreign minister Ian Lucas said the Labour party's support of the measure was intended to "strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence."

"This is not an alternative to negotiations. It is a bridge for beginning them," he said.

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