Yesterday, the UK House of Commons overwhelmingly adopted a resolution, by 274 votes to 12, which stated that “this House believes that the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”, which was amended to include the words “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution”. This resolution (or motion) is not binding on the government whose official policy is that it “reserves the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”. Government ministers did not vote on the motion in accordance with a long—standing procedural policy that they do not vote on motions introduced by backbenchers (members of Parliament who do not hold ministerial office), and a number of pro—Israeli MPs were absent from the debate, as well as much of the Conservative Party.
The House of Commons debate recalls that in the UN General Assembly when it adopted Resolution 67/19 ((29 November 2012) which “accord[ed] to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations”. The voting for this resolution was 138—9, 41 abstentions (including the UK). The implications of that resolution were discussed in this blog, eg, here, here, and here.
The House of Commons vote is essentially symbolic rather than determinative, and the BBC has reported that a former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who supports a two—State solution in the Israel—Palestine conflict stated during the debate:
“Symbolism sometimes has a purpose, it sometimes has a role, but I have to say you do not recognise a state which has not yet got the fundamental ingredients that a state requires if it’s going to carry out its international functions and therefore, at the very least, I would respectfully suggest this motion is premature.”
Ha’aretz, one of the leading Israeli newspapers, in its report on the vote, noted that Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, decided not to give interviews in advance of the vote, in an attempt to ensure that because there was no official acknowledgment by Israel, this would undercut its importance.
The symbolism of this motion, however, goes beyond the vote and beyond the Chamber of the House of Commons. It might well reverberate in international circles, and Ha’aretz has also reported that the UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, while restating that the vote would not alter the government’s view on recognition, that the issues raised by this debate should not be ignored:
“Separate from the narrow question of recognition, I am concerned in the long run about the shift in public opinion in the U.K. and beyond towards Israel,” [says Gould.] “Israel lost support after this summer’s conflict, and after the series of announcements on settlements. This Parliamentary vote is a sign of the way the wind is blowing, and will continue to blow without any progress towards peace.”