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Britain’s Parliament Votes For Palestinian Statehood

Luiz Filipe Carneiro Machado

Greg Daly - published on 10/14/14 - updated on 06/07/17

Catholic and Anglican bishops support the symbolic motion

British members of Parliament have voted 274-12 to recognize the existence of a Palestinian state.

Monday's non-binding motion, proposed by Labour backbench MP Grahame Morris and amended by former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, moved “That this House believes that the Government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.”

Prime Minister David Cameron abstained from the vote, saying that its outcome would not change government policy; the UK in principle recognizes the Palestinian right to statehood but “reserves the right to recognize a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace.”

That moment is “long overdue,” according to Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chairman of the Bishops' Conference Department for International Affairs, who released a joint statement with Coventry’s Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, the Church of England's Lead Bishop for Foreign Affairs, in advance of the almost five-hour debate. 

“Given the benchmarks established by international law and universal legitimacy,” the statement read, “and in light of the support offered by the Christian Church in the Holy Land, we believe Palestinians should also have a state that they can at long last call home. Such a principled recognition by our Parliament and Government will facilitate rather than hamper the negotiations that would inevitably follow between Israelis and Palestinians to agree upon the details of this new and sovereign state created next to a secure Israel.”

 “Peace needs a bold vision,” the bishops concluded.

The Prime Minister was not alone in abstaining. Fewer than half the UK’s MPs took part in the symbolic vote, which came little more than a week after Sweden’s new Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, announced in his inaugural parliamentary address October 3 that Sweden would recognize the state of Palestine. If Lofken’s decision is realized, Sweden could become the first European country to recognize Palestinian statehood while being a member of the EU.  

Sweden had, however, been one of the 138 nations that voted in 2012 for the UN General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to that of a “non-member observer state.” The UK, on the other hand, was one of 41 nations that abstained on that occasion, giving weight to the claim on Monday by Labour MP and former shadow Foreign Secretary Sir Gerald Kaufman, that “this House can create an historic new situation.“

Urging his fellow MPs to support the motion, Kaufman said that he wanted to see a Palestinian state and an end to anti-Semitism, and insisted that “the recognition of Palestine by the British House of Commons would affect the international situation.” 

Former Conservative Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, like Kaufman one of the most eminent Jewish members of parliament, disagreed, saying that the recognition by 135 UN members of Palestinian statehood has “had no marginal, massive or significant impact on the course of history.” Describing the motion as “premature,” Rifkind said that Parliament was at risk of being driven through frustration and a desire to “feel important” to support a motion that “will not have the desired effect and will perhaps make the problems that need to be addressed in reaching a two-state solution more difficult to deal with.”

Catholic MP Sir Edward Leigh contested such views, saying that “sometimes one has to be naive in expressing one’s hopes for a better world and to be prepared to make gestures, even if our power is very limited.” Insisting that supporters of the motion were overwhelmingly friendly towards Israel, and that they understood “the horrors that the Jewish people have undergone and their desire for security and peace,” he nonetheless said that it was possible to defend both Israel’s right to security and justice for the Palestinian people.

“We have to recognize, however naive this may sound,” he said, “that we are part of a common humanity, whether we are Christian, Jew or Arab. When we vote tonight—and I will vote for the motion—we will be making a gesture in favor of that common humanity, and we should be proud of that.”

Greg Dalycovers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.

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