UK Politics

MPs' Palestinian vote sends troubling message, says Israel

Palace of Westminster Image copyright PA

Israel has warned against sending a "troubling message", after UK MPs voted to recognise Palestinian statehood.

The House of Commons backed a motion by 274 votes to 12, although the decision will not decide government policy.

But Israel's government said the vote could undermine the chances of peace by letting Palestinian leaders think they could evade the "tough choices" needed.

However, the Labour MP bringing the motion said recognising statehood could be a "bridge" to negotiations.

Current UK government policy is that it "reserves the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace".

'Premature'

But Labour MP Grahame Morris's Commons motion, backed by his party's leadership, stated: "That this House believes that the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution."

The Commons backed the move "as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution" - although less than half of MPs took part in the vote.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers abstained, which is convention on motions proposed by backbench MPs. This is despite recognition of Palestinian statehood being a policy held by the Lib Dems.

Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood said the UK reserved the right to recognise Palestine when it was "appropriate for the peace process".

In a statement following the vote, Israel's government said: "The route to Palestinian statehood runs through the negotiation room. Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make, and actually undermines the chances to reach a real peace.

"Recognition of a Palestinian state should be the result of a successful conclusion of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

But Palestinian officials say they have been forced to pursue measures including seeking greater recognition internationally because a succession of peace talks has failed.

In a speech on Tuesday morning, former International Development Minister Alan Duncan said the expansion of Israeli settlements was an "ever-deepening stain on the face of the globe".

'Natural growth'

Mr Duncan, who left the government in last summer's reshuffle, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "Having illegal settlements all the time is simply not acceptable and anyone who supports them, I consider to be an extremist."

He said "the starting point in principle is that these settlements are illegal", adding that the UK government "must be prepared to state this principle more strongly".

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, said there was "a lot of frustration" there had not been more progress in the peace process.

But he said settlements had never been the barrier to reaching agreement.

"We have a population where there is natural growth," he said, adding: "Why is it out of the question that in a future Palestinian state, that Jews should not be able to live there side-by-side with their Palestinian neighbours?"

In 2012 the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinians' status to that of "non-member observer state". Some 41 nations - including the UK - abstained.

The parliamentary vote came amid moves elsewhere in Europe to recognise Palestinian statehood officially, more than 100 countries having done so.

The full list of how MPs voted can be read on Hansard's Official Record of the debate.

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