Recognition is an attainable goal, entirely within the sovereign powers of our Government, independent of other states’ decisions, costing no money, and promised many times in the past.
A decision by our Government to recognise Palestine alongside Israel will not make an immediate difference to the daily lives of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza - only Israel can do that - but it is equitable and just. It will remove a major obstacle on the road to peace and stability in the Holy Land. The status quo is inherently unjust, and thus unstable.
Recognising Palestine as a state, legally on the same footing as Israel will be a European game-changer. Where Britain leads, others will follow.
If the UK does not recognise both states in Israel/Palestine, how else are we going to sustain the two-state solution, which is being eroded before our eyes by illegal settlement expansion on an unprecedented scale? Time is not on our side, and the US is not going to do the job for us.
Eighteen reasons for the UK to recognise Palestine:
- The time is right The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been saying for years that we will recognise the Palestinian state “when the time is right”. That time is now. Sir Vincent Fean, Britain’s official representative to the Palestinian Authority until he retired in 2014, now says that “the time is right for the United Kingdom to recognise the state of Palestine. … If we choose to act decisively, we change the dynamic in the EU and at the UN. A further abstention is abdicating responsibility.”
- Firmly supports a two-state solution It will validate the second state in the two-state solution which we and all EU states support, without in any way delegitimising the state of Israel, long recognised by all EU states.
Israel’s accelerating settlement building is reducing the chances of a two-state solution. British recognition of a Palestinian State would help focus Israeli public opinion on the choices before it: two sovereign states, the unsustainable and inequitable status quo, or the one state outcome – but with equal rights for all?
- Supports differentiation between Israel and Israel’s settlements The act of recognition will differentiate legally and politically between the Israel founded in 1948 and the Israeli settler enterprise in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, illegal under international law and consistently condemned by our Government.
- Supports international law It will commit our Government and like-minded partners to uphold without fear or favour the international order of law which we drafted and ratified together after World War II, and which we ourselves may need to invoke to defend our rights in future.
The United Nations promised when Israel conquered and occupied Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 that it would secure the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and that it would stand by the principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” (UN Security Council Resolution 242).
- Supports self-determination Palestinians have the right to self-determination, guaranteed by the UN charter and by successive UN resolutions. It does not need to negotiate this right with anyone. Israel does not have a veto. The Berlin European Council unanimously endorsed this fact as long ago as 1999.
- Delay is harmful It is disingenuous to condition the recognition of a Palestinian state on “the conclusion of successful peace negotiations”. Every round of peace talks in the last 20 years – Madrid, Oslo, Annapolis, and the Kerry talks – has failed, and has been accompanied by accelerating illegal settlement construction on Israeli-occupied Palestinian land that makes the conflict increasingly difficult to resolve.
- Long overdue As far back as 2010 President Barack Obama said that he looked forward to welcoming "an independent sovereign state of Palestine" as a new member of the United Nations by September 2011
- Supports peace According recognition will strengthen the voice of those advocating non-violence and international action – seriously undermined by the lack of political progress and the ongoing violations experienced by Palestinians. It will conversely weaken support for the path of violent resistance.
- Rewards with reciprocity The Palestine Liberation Organisation recognised the State of Israel as part of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Reciprocity is long overdue.
- Palestine meets the tests Britain said in November 2011 that Palestine passes every test for statehood: in a statement in the UN Security Council Britain said “the Palestinian Authority has developed successfully the capacity to run a democratic and peaceful state, founded on the rule of law and living in peace and security with Israel… Palestine largely fulfils the legal and technical criteria for UN membership, including statehood, in as far as the Occupation allows.” The World Bank, the IMF and the EU have similarly declared Palestine to be ready for statehood.
- Gives an equal footing Recognising Palestine is a good starting-point for negotiations. It means that both sides are at least nominally at the same level. Recognition does not remove the need for negotiations and it does not prejudice those final status negotiations. On the contrary, it assists them. As PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi put it: “Those who claim to support the two-state solution must realise that in order to reach it, what's missing is a sovereign Palestinian state.”
Zahava Gal-On, former leader of the Meretz party in Israel “It would have been better for Israel to say yes to a Palestinian state…. Then Israel could hold negotiations, government to government, on an equal basis aimed at reaching a solution for two states.”
Baroness Patricia Morris, former Chair of the Conservative Middle East Council said "At the very least it will mean that the Palestinians can sit a little taller at the negotiating table.”
- A British obligation It is more than a hundred years since Foreign Secretary Balfour’s promise not just to support a homeland for Jewish people but to do so without “prejudicing the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – which it has clearly failed to do.
“Britain, more than any country, has an obligation to the Palestinians and we should fulfil that obligation by recognising Palestine” – Baroness Patricia Morris.
- Consistent with Britain’s historical approach Britain recognised Israel in 1950. It did not ask anyone's permission. Equally it should now recognise Palestine and does not need to ask Israel or anyone else for permission. Recognition is a purely bilateral diplomatic issue.
- Global support overwhelming Over 130 out of 193 UN member states already do recognise Palestine.
Britain did not oppose UN recognition in the UN General Assembly vote in 2012 (the vote was 138 for, nine against - Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Panama, the Czech Republic, Israel, Canada and the United States).
- Britain can lead the way “We have waited too long: we should recognise Palestine, preferably bringing with us the few remaining EU refuseniks and aligning them and us with most of the rest of the world.” Oliver Miles, former UK Ambassador to Libya and Greece.
- Britain recognises states, not governments An argument used against recognition – that it would involve recognising Hamas – is based on a false assumption. Britain recognises States, not Governments. Our Government’s recognition of the state of Palestine does not entail any recognition of Hamas, Fatah or any other political actor or authority within Palestine.
- On the right side of history “Our position not to recognise Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in November 2012 placed us on the wrong side of history and is something I deeply regret not speaking out against at the time.” Conservative Foreign Office minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi explaining her decision to resign over the Government’s policies towards Palestine in August 2014.
- Builds Parliamentary support It would build on the historic vote taken by the House of Commons. In October 2014 the House of Commons voted 274-14 in favour of recognition.
Hopes for a resumption of the peace process are at a particularly low ebb. The Palestinian leadership believe that after moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem (an act opposed by our Government) President Trump cannot act as ‘honest broker’ between the Israelis and Palestinians, capable of delivering a two-state solution. Indeed, US Vice-President Mike Pence has said publicly “We don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides, but America is on the side of Israel.”
All the evidence indicates that the USA cannot – in the coming years – lead efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict for the very reason that Pence gave. The responsibility falls to European countries such as the UK or France to take the lead. Leaving it to the two parties to the conflict to “sort it out between them” would mean leaving the strong to negotiate with the weak. That is no way forward.
William Hague started to square up to the task when he said in November 2011 that the UK “reserves the right to recognise the state of Palestine” at a time “when it can best help bring about peace”.
Seven years later, Boris Johnson is still saying the UK will recognise Palestine and he’s still waiting for the right time to “play his card”. The analogy with a card game is seen by many as insensitive – while others point out that even in a game of cards you can hold on to a trump for too long.
The fact is that now is the time to recognise Palestine “when it can best help bring about peace”. There has never been a greater need for the UK to ‘play its card’. Despair leads to violence, to violent repression, and to hatred. The situation cries out for a European initiative, validating both states – Palestine and Israel – in line with U.K. and EU declared aspirations.
That is not going to come from the EU itself – as it would require a unanimous vote by all 28 members. So it must come from individual states. Several European states – Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Slovenia – are lining up to recognise Palestine when one of the bigger states makes its move. In view of the UK’s history as the country that issued the Balfour Declaration and ruled over Palestine for 26 years, the responsibility is ours.
Thank you to Palestine Briefing for providing information and text which contributed to this briefing.