LONDON – British MPs will have an unprecedented opportunity to vote on whether there should be a Palestinian state when the House of Commons resumes after its current party conference break on October 13.
A group of MPs from all major political parties, headed by Labor’s Grahame Morris – including Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell, and Green Party former leader Caroline Lucas – have secured a debate under a relatively new procedure for a full-scale, whole day’s debate in the Commons chamber.
The motion reads: “This House believes that the government should recognize that state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.’’ With those proposing the motion appearing determined to push the issue to a vote, seasoned Westminster observers fear a vote in favor of immediate recognition of a Palestinian state could cause a substantial shift in public opinion and lead to added pressures on the government to change its current policy, which favors securing an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians before considering granting Palestinians recognition.
The debate will offer the MPs the first-ever opportunity to vote on the vexed issue. As the topic for debate has been chosen by backbenchers, it is very unlikely party whips will order MPs to attend or advise them how to vote, so predicting any possible outcome is virtually impossible.
However, The Jerusalem Post understands that the pro-Palestinian lobby will not have it entirely its own way. Several pro-Israel MPs from across the political divide in the Commons have just tabled an amendment that in effect insists that any call for establishing a Palestinian state should come about only “on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.”
Those associated with the amendment include former Conservative Friends of Israel chairman James Arbuthnot, the highly regarded former Middle East minister Alistair Burt, Labor Friends of Israel chairwoman Anne McGuire, and LFI vice chairwoman Louise Ellman.
After working very hard behind the scenes to ensure an amendment was tabled, Conservative Friends of Israel’s energetic director, Stuart Polak, told the Post: “It’s comforting to know that there are backbench MPs who understand the reality of the situation and were able to amend Grahame Morris’s motion. Calling for two states for two peoples after the resumption of successful peace negotiations is something all MPs should support.”
Without indicating which way the government minister – who will participate in the debate – will advise MPs on how to cast their vote, a Foreign Office spokesman told the Post in scarcely coded language that the government would not be endorsing a call favoring the recognition of a Palestinian state.
The spokesman made clear that the government “reserved the right to bilaterally recognize a Palestinian state at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace,’’ before crucially adding that the government continues to believe that negotiations toward a two-state solution are “the best route to meeting Palestinian aspirations in reality and on the ground.”
Ellman told the Post that a negotiated two-state solution is required to give Israel security, and “that is the only way mutual recognition between the Palestinians and Israelis can be achieved with an agreement on sensitive issues including border and security arrangements.”
She added that the debate under the terms proposed by Morris and his colleagues is a clear attempt to bypass these requirements and would not require a Palestinian state to recognize Israel’s borders.