On Monday the British Parliament will vote on a backbench motion brought by Grahame Morris MP calling on the Government to unilaterally recognise the State of Palestine. While the importance of the vote is largely symbolic, it should still be opposed by anyone interested in a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian question.
There are few issues that divide opinion more potently than the conflict between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. In the Labour Party, attitudes towards Israel are generally a good barometer of where someone sits on the ideological spectrum. While the centrist elements within Labour tend to seek a more balanced approach that does not condemn Israel out of hand and promotes the two-state solution, the situation on the Left is a different story. Many Labour MPs now associate the Palestinian issue as being a natural cause of the Left, blindly opposing Israel in whatever action it takes. Grahame Morris, who leads the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, is notorious for his anti-Israel attitudes and simplifications when it comes to the Middle East, and is a perfect example of this trend. That the Labour leadership is apparently supporting the motion is a clear statement as to whom within the party they are beholden to.
When considering the merits of the motion, it is worth first considering what current UK policy is. After all, with the motion calling for British recognition of Palestine, it would be logical to assume the UK Government is currently opposed to Palestinian statehood.
This is not the case.
The UK Government supports the establishment of an independent State of Palestine living side by side with Israel in peace and security. It is the belief of the Government (and should be obvious to any observer of Israeli-Arab history) that the establishment of that State will only be achieved through negotiations between the two sides, and not unilateral declarations.
The proposition before the House of Commons is therefore that the UK Government should ignore the process of negotiation inherent to state-building, and simply declare that Palestine exists. To what purpose? None at all, other than the continued isolation of Israel by those who seek to demonise the Jewish state.
The motion will achieve nothing on the ground. It is opposed even by the Israeli Left who have written to Ed Miliband to urge him not to support the motion. It is an exercise in armchair foreign policy by a group of individuals who have allowed frustration at the lack of progress in negotiations to lead them to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Those in the West who are desperate to see the establishment of a Palestinian State to right the historical wrong that has been done to the Palestinians are expressing an understandable view. Their sense of urgency is legitimate, as for too long the prospects of peace have been held up and the Palestinian people have suffered terribly as a result.
What it is essential to remember, however, is that the motion will do absolutely nothing to either improve the situation of the Palestinians today, or successfully leverage the Israelis into making the compromises the authors of this motion desire.
The logic behind the motion is the same as that behind the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement. The proponents of these ideas believe they can scare Israel into surrender. They hold that if Israel is sufficiently isolated and bullied, it will have no choice but to accede to the demands of the Palestinians.
They could not be more wrong.
The history of Israel shows any interested observer that the Israeli public supports compromise with their enemies when they feel secure. The 1979 Peace Accords with Egypt were achieved because of the cast-iron guarantees of the United States, as was the 1994 agreement with Jordan. In 2005 when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, it did so because it felt sure that it would be supported both by the US and European partners, not out of fear.
Until supporters of the Palestinians abroad understand that Israelis negotiate when they feel safe and able to do so, and not when they are being threatened, their efforts will remain misguided.
It is not just that this motion will undermine Britain’s role in the pursuit of peace (by alienating Israelis from the British perspective), but it also sends exactly the wrong message at the wrong time to the Palestinians.
Absolutely zero political progress has been made by the Palestinians since the overthrow of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza by Hamas and the suspension of further elections. In that time Hamas has started three military confrontations with Israel (Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, and Protective Edge), the only honest man in Palestinian politics (Salam Fayyad) has been fired, corruption has worsened, and the freedoms of Palestinians have been further curtailed by their own leaders.
How do supporters of the Palestinians react to these reversals to their hopes of progress? By declaring that state-building through negotiation is not needed and the Palestinians already have a working state. It is simply absurd.
Britain has made too many missteps in the Middle East throughout her history to throw yet another spanner in the works. Voting to recognise the State of Palestine will not bring it closer to existing. It would simply be yet another profound mistake. For the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, Members of Parliament should vote ‘No’.
By Philip A. Gardner