Opinion: It’s time to recognise Palestine as a state

Israelis go to the polls on March 17 and no doubt the US and UK governments and most Lib Dems are hoping for a Netanyahu defeat and a more “liberal” government.  Opinion polls however suggest the opposite.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in article on 1 February, suggested that Netanyahu’s re-election would be the better outcome, as then the rest of the world would see the need to keep up the pressure on Israel.  The article suggested that it could be worse if a government of the centre left was elected as this would reassure the rest of the world that peace negotiations would be renewed, while nothing would actually happen. So, whatever the outcome of the election, there is a need for EU countries to keep up the pressure on the Israelis to stop their illegal activities in the Occupied Territories, lift the cruel siege of Gaza, and settle fairly with the Palestinians.

I would suggest that now is the time, well before the general election,  for the Party to commit itself to immediate British recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, as Sweden did last October, and to encourage other members of the EU to do the same. Sweden acted alone, France is getting close to doing so and others would undoubtedly follow the United Kingdom.

On 13 October 2014, the House of Commons voted by 274 votes to 12 to approve the motion:

that this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to negotiating a two state solution.

On the day of the Commons vote, Anglican and Catholic Bishops made a joint statement of support for recognition, at the express request of Jerusalem Church Leaders. This echoed positions adopted earlier by the Church of Scotland and the Quakers. It was also welcomed in the Muslim community and by many in the Jewish community.

The Commons vote followed a motion in favour of recognition adopted at our own Party conference and 27 Lib Dem MPs, most of our back benchers, voted for the motion and only one against.

Sir Vincent Fean, former British Consul General in Jerusalem, wrote an article for the New York Times in December in which he too argued the case for recognition.

There are many reasons to recognise Palestine now, but one in particular is the need to establish parity of esteem between Israel and Palestine for negotiations in good faith to succeed. Negotiations have to be on the basis of no victor and no vanquished, and predicated on the acceptance by each party of its own obligations and the rights of the other under international law. Two thirds of the UN membership hold that Palestine meets the criteria for sovereign statehood. Britain and its EU partners should exercise their political will to extend recognition to Palestine, making the negotiating ground between the two parties less uneven.

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary constantly urge restraint on Netanyahu but his gross violations of international law go unpunished.  Labour, which did little in government to check Israeli breaches of international law, is now showing every sign of moving towards recognition of Palestine. The large vote in the Commons clearly had the support of the Labour Front Bench.  Our Party should come out strongly in favour of recognition as well.  It would show that we have not completely forgotten our human rights background. There are almost certainly votes to be gained from such a stance also.

Coupled with a strong reaffirmation of Israel’s inalienable right to live in peace and security with her neighbours the Party will attract support for recognition within the UK Jewish community and in Israel, from organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Peace Now and Breaking the Silence.  The Board of Deputies of British Jews may still be reluctant to criticise Israel, but opinion among Jewish people seems to be shifting fast – especially among its younger members.

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

* John Kelly is vice-chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine

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21 Comments

  • Two States is the only viable option…

  • David Faggiani 24th Feb '15 - 12:48pm

    I would support this measure. It’s a minefield, but the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, as an issue or a people.

  • A reasonable argument, but if Palestine becomes a state, it’s one run by terrorists funded by foreign governments and committed to Israels destruction. And that’s deeply problematic.

  • The Foreign Office should just come out and recognise Palestine already. Isn’t it the will of the House, the excuse given by the Prime Minister to continue violating the European Convention of Human Rights?

  • g: Israel is also funded by foreign governments, and certainly under Netanyahu, committed to Palestine’s destruction and terroristic.

  • Miranda Pinch 24th Feb '15 - 3:20pm

    G. Your point about the Palestinian State being run by terrorists is an interesting one for several reasons. Even if it had any truth at all, it is a fact that our Government supports regimes on a regular basis that many would consider to be terrorist in nature such as Saudi Arabia, so such ‘funding’ would be in keeping with our other strategic interests!

    But a more serious point is that Palestine, or rather what is left of it, is currently occupied by Israel and many would describe the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians as terrorist in nature as it deprives them of human rights on a grand scale and breaks international law. So I must ask on what basis you describe the Palestinians as terrorists? Even allowing for any defensive or aggressive actions taken by individual Palestinians, a look at any statistics for the region will show a huge discrepancy between Israeli fatalities, injuries or losses of any kind compared to that of the Palestinians.
    I do wonder from your comment, whether you have ever visited Palestine or spoken to a Palestinian. I could recommend many good websites that could give you a flavour of life in the occupied territories including the LDFP’s own Facebook Page and many Israeli human rights organisations.

    I think that any accepted agreements about the support of a Palestinian State would add that such an autonomous, secure and viable State, must be created alongside that of an autonomous, secure and viable Israel. The best way of achieving the security that both Israeli and Palestinians want so badly is to draw up a fair and just agreement that redresses the huge imbalance that currently exists between the two societies and leads to a much more normal life and the possibility of economic growth.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Feb '15 - 5:51pm

    The Commons has spoken very clearly – so what is holding the UK government back?

    Surely nothing to do with our special subservient relationship?

    Recognition and a two state solution is a must for our manifesto.

  • A bit late isn’t it?The British withdrew from Palestine in 1948.

  • Jonathan Brown 25th Feb '15 - 12:27am

    Good article, I agree.

    It makes no sense that we (as a country and as a party) back the call to recognise Palestine in parliament and then don’t follow through. If there is to be any hope of a two state solution being viable, then we ought to support the creation of the second of those states alongside the first.

    Not only would it boost peace talks, it would empower moderates on both sides who wish to make such a solution work.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th Feb '15 - 8:05am

    I am fully signed up to a two-state settlement in the pre-1967 lines, including both countries sharing Jerusalem as their capital. I also want Palestine to take its seat at the UN and I’m delighted that it is joining the ICC.

    But I’m not sure what recognition itself will achieve. Are we proposing to impose comprehensive EU wide sanctions on Israel until there is an acceptable solution? Are we proposing to send British troops into the newly recognised Palestine to secure that state’s borders, even if this means engaging the IDF in combat? We need to be clear what the outcome of recognition is.

  • John McHugo 25th Feb '15 - 2:33pm

    Toby – I am delighted with what you say in your first paragraph and agree with you 100%. In your second paragraph you ask what recognition will achieve. Let me answer that.

    In order to reach a peaceful settlement, it is necessary for the parties to negotiate as equals, recognising the rights of the other in international law as the basis for agreeing a settlement. Now that Palestine has satisfied the requirements of a sovereign state, it is unconscionable that Israel should be able to veto other states exercising their political will to accord Palestine recognition. There has to be parity of esteem between the parties. If Britain followed Sweden’s recognition of Palestine last year, it would encourage other EU members to follow suit.

    None of this would alter the facts on the ground – but it would make it clear that Israel is a power occupying the territory of another sovereign state, not just the territory of a people with the right of self-determination. At the moment, Israel even claims it has the right to annex parts of that territory – witness its claim that Jerusalem is its “eternal and indivisible capital”. This is legally and morally wrong. Recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state would underline this point. Recognition of Palestine has to be a given. It is not something to be graciously awarded by the occupier in exchange for a quid pro quo – e.g. territorial concessions. British recognition of Palestine will not deprive Israel of anything that rightfully belongs to Israel.

  • Toby Fenwick 26th Feb '15 - 1:06pm

    John,

    Interesting. I think that recognition is probably due now, and within the 1967 borders subject to agreed land-swaps. But the question of when is a state a state isn’t settled: http://slightly-random-musings.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/happy-birthday-america.html

    All the best,

    Toby

  • Toby – I’m glad you agree that recognition is probably due now. You also say it should be “within the 1967 borders subject to agreed land swaps” and add that “the question of when a state is a state isn’t settled.” Allow me to comment.

    The four requirements of statehood are, of course, set out in the Montevideo Convention. One of them is territory, but that does not mean that the extent of that territory must be certain. Palestine has made it clear that it does not claim sovereignty over any of the territory occupied by Israel before 1967. The corollary, of course, is that Israel should renounce all territorial claims to territory it occupied in 1967 but it has not yet done this (or prepared its people for it to do so).

    The pre-1967 border was only an armistice line, and most people agree that it would be sensible for the parties to negotiate equitable land swaps. However, that would have to be done by a sovereign Israel and a sovereign Palestine negotiating as equals. Recognition of Palestine should not be withheld until these negotiations have succeeded. To do so would enable the stronger party, the occupying power, to use its greater strength to extract an unconscionable bargain. That is precisely current Israeli policy – and is likely to remain so even if Netanyahu loses the forthcoming election.

    By the way, have you looked at the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian statehood in the second (2006) Crawford’s “The Creation of States in International Law”? I think you would find it most interesting.

    All the best

    John

  • I agree recognition is long overdue I ‘m not sure always sticking to the pre-1967 line has gotten us very far, it has a ring of looking back about it. I wonder if in any of the many internationally brokered negotiations over the years there is not a starting point for negotiations that is a little further on. It often feels like the “restart at 1967” approach has given hard liners on both sides a way to avoid progress to a negotiated boarder.

  • Miranda Pinch

    “many would describe the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians as terrorist in nature as it deprives them of human rights on a grand scale and breaks international law.”

    The “many ” you speak of would not be using the term correctly and would be commuting Orwell’s offence of debasing the language for political purposes in attempting to make the ‘re “terorism” simply mean “something of which I disapprove.”

    When the USSR invaded Afghanistan it was not terrorism. It was expansionism by an oppressive reigeme, there was no difficulty finding vocabulary to be highly critical without debasing the language, I wonder why you feel the need to do it?

    Also why do you suggest your first paragraph is not a serious point? It is important to note that we don’t need to like the powers leading a country in order to recognise the state they rule. Dislike of Hamas is not a reason to not recognise Palestine as a state.

  • John McHugo 27th Feb '15 - 8:54am

    Psi – I disagree with you about sticking to the pre-1967 borders. The point is that those lines form a legal barrier beyond which Israel may not acquire sovereignty over territory except through agreed land swaps. Agreed land swaps necessitate reaching agreement with the sovereign on the other side. Recognition of Palestine as the sovereign over the land on the other side of those lines is therefore a prerequisite for negotiating land swaps which are fair, equitable, and negotiated on the basis of no victor and no vanquished. .

    It is precisely the hardliners on both sides (actually on the Israeli side, as Hamas has accepted a Palestinian state limited to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967) who are opposed to the 1967 borders being the starting point for negotiations between the two sovereign states. Netanyahu is not the only hard liner – I fear the likes of Tzipi Livni and the so-called Israeli “centre left” are as well.

    John

  • Peter Duxbury-Smith 30th Mar '15 - 1:57pm

    It is time to establish a “Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel.” This article reflects views which originate not from a sound understanding of the situation of the Palestinians or other people in Israel, but rather from mythology propagated by theologians and activists whose agenda is to destroy Israel. There are so many such organisations who feel it is their right to impose their ideology upon a situation to which they have so little genuine ownership. For example, Sabeel is such.

    This is the one and only issue which will prevent my vote for LibDems at coming election. It is really the weakness of the LibDems to allow themselves to become infected by idealistic opinions like this where there is no real accountability or actual involvement in the genuine sufferings of the people they so glibly would affect.

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