I welcome the decision by Ed Miliband to support the application by Palestine for membership of the United Nations – in effect the full recognition of a Palestinian state. This should not be seen as a shift in Labour’s policy but a decision consistent with the two state solution, which for so long has been the core of our foreign policy. The only difference now, is that Ed has not capitulated to the enormous pressure from both Israel and the US and stuck to a vision, a correct vision, for what he believes is the right solution for the Middle East.
The process of peace between Palestine and Israel has been long and complex. Many have taken entrenched views and many have adopted their own interpretation of history. Hamas needs to recognise the state of Israel and the mortars need to stop. I want a strong, secure and independent state of Israel next to a strong, secure and independent state of Palestine. I recognise the fears that Israel has with the vote before the UN but we are now entering a new phase, one that must lead to peace in the region. If not, violence will undoubtedly increase, with the inevitable deaths of many innocent people on both sides of the divide.
Israel argues that UN recognition is a symbolic gesture and that what’s needed are further negotiations not symbolism. But they are wrong. For a nation that has been under occupation for over 40 years, with over 500,000 settlers who have now been moved into and (according to International Law) illegally taken over their land, this is not symbolism. It was not symbolic to the thousands of people, many of whom wept, as they stood in front of the screens in Ramallah and watched live as President Abbas made what many considered as one of the best speeches ever made before the UN General Assembly. Recognition by the UN offers a clear statement in support of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and would send a timely message to the Palestinian people that the international community is prepared to take strong steps to bring about a two-state settlement.
In recent years, Palestine, under the leadership of President Abbas, has made significant progress in reforming government infrastructure, financial institutions and the security services in the West Bank. The reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah and the preparation for elections next year has removed another barrier, which for so long has been a stumbling block towards peace. However, despite over a hundred countries having unilaterally announced recognition of Palestine over the years, there has been a failure to translate this into reality on the ground. As President Abbas said, recognition “might create an atmosphere that will convince Israel that it is in its interest to come forward and to re-engage in negotiations”. Further recognition along 1967 borders also hopes to provide a counter to any Israeli plans of annexation in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
In 1947 the world held its breath while the United Nations took an historic vote on whether to admit Israel as a member, thereby recognising it as an independent state. After the collapse of the League of Nations, this was the first real test of the newly formed UN. The split was to be 60 per cent Israel and 40 per cent Palestine. One by one the countries voted and Jews all over the world listened on their radios and then celebrated and danced in the streets, as finally, after the hell that was the Second World War, they had been granted a homeland. A place to rebuild their shattered lives. Let us hope that the application made by Palestine last Friday will one day do the same for the Palestinian people.
Simon Danczuk is Rochdale’s MP and Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East