Palestinian Statehood: a right to be recognised, not a gift to be given

Douglas Alexander

Palestinian flag

The weeks of bloodshed witnessed in Gaza this summer, and the breakdown of meaningful negotiations in April this year, are a painful and stark reminder of how distant and difficult the prospect of a peaceful resolution to this conflict remains.

But events of recent months only underline the dangers for both Palestinians and Israelis of a resumption of violence and bloodshed, and reinforce the urgent need for a return to meaningful negotiations.

Labour fully supports two states living side by side in peace, and recognised by all of their neighbours: This conflict will only be resolved ultimately by both sides engaging in a negotiated peace process towards that two state solution.

But the tragedy is that today, there is not only no peace, but also no process. And in this environment, despair dominates as hope struggles to survive.

Labour believes statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given but a right to be recognised: That is why since 2011 Labour has supported Palestinian recognition at the United Nations and called on the government to support this important principle.

After decades of diplomatic failure there are those on all sides that today question whether a two-state solution is any longer possible. That is why Labour believes that, amidst the undoubted despair and the disappointment, the international community must take concrete steps to strengthen moderate Palestinian opinion, encourage the Palestinians to take the path of politics, reject the path of violence, and rekindle hopes that there is a credible route to a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel achieved by negotiations.

We are clear that Palestinian recognition at the UN would be such a step. That is why I called on the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in 2011 and in 2012 to commit Britain to supporting the Palestinians’ bid for recognition at the UN. I made clear then that our support for the principle of UN recognition was not a means of bypassing the need for talks, nor was it an excuse for inaction in seeking to get negotiations re-started.

It has never been the case that recognition can only follow the conclusion of the negotiations. The 2002 Roadmap says that during its second phase, the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States would promote the international recognition of a Palestinian state, including possible UN membership.

Labour’s consistent support for the principle of recognising Palestinian statehood, as part of continuing steps to achieve a comprehensive negotiated two state solution, is why we will be voting to support the principle of Palestinian statehood when the House of Commons debates the issue on Monday.

The motion before the House on Monday does not commit Labour to immediate recognition of Palestine, or mandate the UK government to immediately bilaterally recognise the State of Palestine, but it does reaffirm Labour’s support for the principle of recognising Palestinian ‎statehood.

‎The timing and the mechanism by which Palestinian recognition takes place will continue to be matter decided by an incoming Labour Government. We have made clear previously that steps taken by individual governments outside of a wider international process won’t contribute to meaningful progress in negotiations towards a two state solution. There is, however, already a determined international push to achieve Palestinian recognition at the UN, including fourteen EU nations who voted in favour of Palestine securing ‘enhanced observer status’ at the United Nations in 2012 – with only one EU member voting against.

Although the motion to be debated in the Commons on Monday results from a decision by the backbench business committee, it is an important opportunity for MPs on all sides to place on record their support for the recognition of the Palestinian right to statehood and debate the urgent need for a return to peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

As Labour has argued over recent years, recognition of Palestinian statehood by the international community can be an important contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.

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