Palestine: is vote to recognise state courageous or harmful?

MPs are likely to back a motion calling on the UK government to recognise the Palestinian state

Demonstration for Palestine in London
(Image credit: Oli Scarff/Getty)

The House of Commons will vote next week on whether Britain should unilaterally recognise the state of Palestine, in a move that is likely to provoke renewed debate about the stalled search for peace in the Middle East.

MPs on both sides of the debate predict the motion will be passed after Ed Miliband ordered his MPs to back it. Most Liberal Democrat MPs and a number of Tory backbenchers are also planning to vote in favour of the symbolic resolution.

Although the motion will not be binding, if it passes "it would nevertheless have profound international consequences", The Independent says.

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More than 134 countries around the world currently recognise the state of Palestine, but the majority of Western European and North American nations do not. However, the tide could be changing. Last week Sweden became the first major EU country to officially recognise Palestine.

Alan Duncan MP, who backs the motion from the Tory benches, said: "There is no reason to seek Israeli permission for Palestinian recognition. It is their right and we should feel a moral duty to support it."

However, Tory MP Guto Bebb has laid down an amendment stating that such recognition should only come as a result of "successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority". He claims the resolution contradicts both "common sense" and "UK government policy".

The motion comes amid growing fears that the prospect of a two-state solution is dying. As far back as 2012, then foreign secretary William Hague warned: "If progress on negotiations is not made next year, then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve."

Two years on the peace process is still in stalemate and the issue remains as contentious as ever. The Israeli government reacted furiously to Sweden's move last week, calling in the Swedish ambassador for a reprimand.

But the senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat hailed Sweden's recognition as "courageous", while Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said: "The time has come for the entire world to recognise the Palestinian state."

The US State department described Sweden's move as "premature". A spokesperson said: "We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can only come through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues, and mutual recognition by both parties."

In the West, even within each side of the debate there is disagreement. Most pro-Israelis oppose unilateral moves to recognise Palestine. The Zionist Federation argues: "To grant Palestinians statehood at this premature juncture sends a harmful message that negotiations can be circumvented and dialogue ignored, rewarding intransigence over compromise."

Those in the opposite camp have mixed feelings. Arguing that "the time has come for Britain to back a Palestinian state", Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph, a long-term critic of Israeli policy, says he can "sense change".

He writes: "The Gazan atrocities, as well as Mr Netanyahu's shameless disregard of international law over his settlement building programme, has created a new mood."

However, some pro-Palestinian commentators oppose next week's motion. Author and leading activist Ali Abunimah argues that passing the motion could "harm" Palestinians. He writes: "While recognizing the 'State of Palestine' excites and pleases many who support the Palestinian cause, people should not to get carried away with the aesthetics of 'statehood' in what would amount to a 'bantustan' [an area set aside for black people in apartheid South Africa]."

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