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It is vital that the House of Commons today recognises the Palestinian state

palestine flagIt is significant that today’s vote in the Commons for Britain to recognise the Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state comes not at the behest of the government, but on the initiative of an MP (the redoubtable and resourceful Labour MP, Grahame Morris) under the relatively new procedure that allows backbenchers to choose the issue for debate on the floor of the House. The government would never have allowed this to be debated and voted on if they could have prevented it, and if this resolution supporting Palestinian statehood receives a majority, which seems likely, it will insist that the vote is purely advisory and simply ignore it.

It is yet another abuse of the House of Commons that the government has quietly and unobtrusively adopted the principle, without consultation or consent, that the only votes it will accept are those put forward by government itself as part of its own business programme. This not only means that debates and votes on international matters not initiated by the government are ignored, but also domestic petitions that gain enough signatures to earn debate on the floor of the House.

The argument in favour of Palestinian statehood is overwhelming, so much so that its opponents in the House are not openly rejecting it, but have put down what is in effect a wrecking amendment, namely that recognition should depend “on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority”. That of course offers Netanyahu and the majority around Likud a veto by postponing Palestinian statehood indefinitely through simply ensuring that the so-called peace negotiations never reach a successful conclusion – which is exactly what is happening and why this statehood resolution has now been tabled. If all the central issues in this unprecedentedly long conflict – the future of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, access to water supplies, the borders of the Palestinian state, the end to illegal Israeli settlement building, and mutual security – had to be settled first, Palestinian statehood would recede into never-never land.

If this motion is passed today in the Commons, Britain would not be alone in making this call in order to breathe new life into the peace process. At the UN General Assembly in 2012, 138 countries voted to afford Palestine the higher standing of a ‘non-member observer state’. Only 8 countries joined Israel in opposing that, and 41 abstained including Britain. Three EU countries already recognise Palestine as a state, and they are now being joined by Sweden with its new centre-left government. In addition, recognition would strengthen the hand of the Palestinian president Abbas both in his application for membership of international agencies and his demand that the UN Security Council set a binding 2016 deadline for ending Israel’s occupation after nearly 50 years.

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