Ex-shadow minister: Labour must not row back on recognising Palestine

Katie Neame
© artaxerxes_longhand/Shutterstock.com

A former Labour shadow minister has urged the party not to further row back on past commitments on recognising Palestine when in government, criticising its decision not to promise immediate recognition of statehood.

Speaking exclusively to LabourList, Richard Burden, the former Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, called on Labour to reinstate its previous policy of immediately recognising the state of Palestine, as the party committed to under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Burden, also vice chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, expressed concern about the language used by Labour’s frontbench about Palestinian statehood, pointing to a recent piece in The Observer by David Lammy.

But a Labour spokesperson told LabourList the party was committed to recognition alongside international partners as part of efforts to secure a two-state solution, and one insider dubbed the alternative Corbyn-era stance of immediate, unilateral recognition an “unrealistic gesture” that would hinder peace efforts.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said in the piece last weekend he had promised during a visit to Palestine last year that, if Labour wins power, the party “will strive to recognise Palestine as a sovereign state, as part of efforts to contribute to securing a negotiated two-state solution”.

Burden highlighted Lammy’s use of the word “strive”, suggesting he feared it could signal a less strong commitment.

Burden told LabourList: “I really don’t know why the word [strive] was used if there is no change in policy.” He argued that it is important for the frontbench “to clarify that the commitment is still to action, not only efforts in support of an aspiration”.

A Labour spokesperson said the party has supported recognising the state of Palestine since 2014, adding: “We remain committed to this.”

Burden told LabourList: “An incoming Labour government has the opportunity to demonstrate UK leadership on the world stage, something we rightly criticise the Tories for having squandered.

“By recognising the state of Palestine, the UK could also help encourage other countries to follow suit. In doing so, we can help kickstart the negotiations towards a two-state solution that both Keir Starmer and David Lammy have declared to be vital to a lasting peace.”

Burden said clarification is “most important to be heard internationally”, and echoed comments made by Starmer recently about the Palestinian people “need[ing] to know there is a genuine will and determination from Israel, from Arab states, from the West to finally address their plight in deeds as well as words”.

The former MP argued Starmer and Lammy “must immediately clarify that there is no change to Labour’s commitment to recognise the state of Palestine in practice upon taking office”, saying: “Words matter, and their words are being heard in Israel and Palestine as well as here in the UK.”

Burden acknowledged that the immediacy of recognition “is not the key principle” but added: “It does beg the question, if Labour does indeed regard recognition as a matter of rights, not negotiation, and a contribution to kickstarting progress towards a two-state solution, what would be the logic of any delay?”

During a speech last week, Starmer said his party would “work with international partners towards the recognition of a Palestinian state”, describing the Palestinian claim to statehood as an “inalienable right of the Palestinian people”.

Labour’s most up-to-date policy document – produced by the party’s National Policy Forum (NPF) and signed off at conference in October – used very similar language to Starmer’s speech, stating that the party would “work alongside international partners to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”.

The language used in that document was somewhat different to that used in a document produced earlier in the NPF process – summarised in full by LabourList here – which said the party “supports the recognition of the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”.

A Labour spokesperson added: “The NPF reached agreement on this policy, which is to work alongside international partners to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as part of efforts to contribute to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”

The party’s current stance is a clear change from that taken under Corbyn’s leadership, with both the 2017 and 2019 general election manifestos pledging to “immediately recognise” the state of Palestine.

Corbyn’s predecessor as leader, Ed Miliband, said in the run-up to the 2015 general election that he favoured recognising Palestine as a state if such a move would help bring about a broader peace deal in the Middle East.

One Labour insider dubbed immediate recognition an “unrealistic gesture” and said it had been a “party management exercise” under previous leadership.

They added: “Labour’s current stance – a restatement of the long-standing position we previously held – is a further example of the party’s seriousness about government.

“A two-state solution will only be achieved by international partners supporting direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, where both sides will have to make difficult compromises and trade-offs.

“Unilateral recognition contributes nothing to that process and, as such, hinders rather than advances the real progress we so urgently need to see.”

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