Labour should vote to recognise the state of Palestine next Monday

Sunny Hundal

If you want the UK to recognise the state of Palestine, then vote for Labour at the next General Election. This isn’t a mere pitch for votes but a factual statement that will become all the more obvious next week.

Palestinian flag

On 13th October, British MPs will get the first opportunity in five years to discuss Palestinian statehood. The debate is significant not just because it comes in the aftermath of the horrific attacks on Gaza this summer, and a week after Sweden became the first major European country to recognise Palestine, but because MPs will be able to vote on a motion.

The motion states: “That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.

In 2012 the Tory-led government shamefully abstained at the UN General Assembly where countries overwhelmingly voted to give Palestine a non-member observer status. At the time, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Palestinian statehood is not a gift to be given, but a right to be recognised.”

In fact Ed Miliband nailed his colours to the mast early on, calling on Israel to recognise the Palestinian right to statehood in his first speech after being elected leader in 2010. He also said he would “strain every sinew” to push for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. So the landmark vote next week also gives Labour an opportunity to hold the government to account for its unwillingness to adequately condemn Israel for the slaughter of Gazans just a few months ago.

It also gives Ed Miliband an opportunity to reiterate that he is the first leader of the Labour party to push for Palestinian statehood and, if elected, could make Britain the first member of the UN Security Council to take that step.

Events of the last few years have comprehensively undermined the arguments against recognising Palestinian statehood, which makes it all the more important that this step is taken.

If Britain fully recognises Palestine, it would spur other major countries across Europe to do the same. The EU could then act as a broker for peace in the Israel-Palestine dispute with much more legitimacy. It would also send an important signal that democratic and peaceful political process is important, and would shore up Mahmoud Abbas at a time when moderate Palestinian leadership is being undermined by people who accuse them of being ‘sellouts’.

The Palestinian Authority has made substantial progress made in recent years in getting ready for independence and building the necessary infrastructure. The recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas underscored the point that united political leadership is possible for Israel to negotiate with.

Even though Israel has argued that progress can only be made through negotiations rather than unilateral moves by Palestinians, it has undermined its own case through huge land-grabs and building more illegal settlements. Israel cannot call on Palestinians to work as partners while ignoring the rules itself.

Britain needs to take leadership in the Israel-Palestine conflict because the United States has failed to do so. And if we don’t, then we give legitimacy to extremists who say Palestinians can only achieve justice through violence. The rise of ISIS illustrates this point to brutal effect.

Even if the vote next week is largely symbolic, the Labour party has an opportunity to send a signal to the world and take a step in ending this grave injustice. It is time we stated unequivocally that Britain is also on the verge of recognising Palestinian statehood.

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