It was to be expected. This month’s overwhelming historic vote that the British Government should recognise Palestine as a state proved to be only symbolic. Such is the magniloquent democratic nature of Parliament. MPs are allowed to discuss and express concern about Government policy but only in a non-mandatory way without bringing our ministers to account.
“The UK will bilaterally recognise a Palestinian state when we judge that it can best help bring about the peace”, Middle East Minister, Tobias Ellwood, insisted after MPs voted 274 to 12 in favour of the motion proposed by Labour backbencher Grahame Morris. After 66 years of prevarications, what else could be expected than further delays to resolve the greatest injustice of the 20th century?
Britain, as the originator of the infamous Balfour declaration and holder of the mandate for Palestine has a particular obligation to live up to its historic responsibility. But as always, it was not to be. Ellwood repeated the clamped-lock dilemma facing the homeless nation. “The aspirations of the Palestinian people cannot be fully realised until there is an end to the occupation.” It is a ready-made chicken and egg excuse to prevent any movement.
Despite the vote, all Palestinians are still to remain stateless with millions remaining in land usurped by Israel and occupied territories. It is a misnomer, like the status of Gaza that no one appears willing to do anything about despite being commonly recognised as the world’s largest open prison. Yet the vote represents more than an empty gesture. It was unprecedented coming after Israel’s latest massacres in Gaza.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, it was a ‘wake-up’ call amid fears that Israel was starting to lose the propaganda war that it has long relied upon to defend its existence by being perpetually at a state of war under the protection of the US and its allies. Britain’s Ambassador Tel Aviv, Matthew Gould, warned that the vote by MPs to recognise a Palestinian state is a sign that public opinion is turning against Israel.
“Israel lost support after this summer’s conflict in Gaza, and after the series of announcements on settlements. This Parliamentary vote is a sign of the way the wind is blowing, and will continue to blow without any progress towards peace.”
Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan summed it up correctly by saying there isn’t any populous area of the world that is subject to so many resolutions but is not allowed to call itself a state. “Two years after 1948, we recognised the state of Israel. Its borders were not clear; they still are not.” And as Sir Nicholas Soames (C) said: “Ninety-seven years later, the terms of the Balfour declaration are not clearly upheld with respect to the Palestinians, and in Britain that should weigh very heavily upon us indeed.”
As a staunch supporter of Israel, Prime Minister, David Cameron’s Government attempted to play down the vote aware that there was no moral high-ground to defend his position. Pro-Israel MPs were allowed to stay away while even the most die-hard supporters of Israel like Malcolm Rifkind, Louise Ellman, James Clappison and Robert Halfon who spoke in the debate decided it was not worth bothering to vote against – such was the humiliation. Within Labour ranks, the divisions turning against Israel was quite overwhelming with 195 of their MPs backing the motion though a third of the shadow cabinet stayed away.
It was interesting to see that all six Muslim Labour MPs voted for the Palestinian state whilst the only two Muslims Conservative MPs abstained.
It is proving to be a slow ebbing away of support for Israel with Sweden set to become the 135th state of 193 in the UN to recognise Palestine but as always it is being held back largely by the US-controlled Security Council. Fifteen years ago the EU agreed to the right of self-determination for the Palestinians and while several members have taken it a step further, it has become a painfully slow process which Britain is only helping to delay.