On Monday the United Kingdom will vote on recognizing the state of Palestine. The House of Commons’ symbolic motion is poised to pass the Parliament despite Britain’s history of refusing to approve previous and similar bids. When the UK government was faced with Palestine’s own plans to seek recognition from the United Nations in 2012, Britain abstained.
The bill’s backers from the Labour party have shored up votes from Liberal Democrats and Conservatives alike, making Monday a likely Palestinian victory. But the vote is coming at a cost. The Independent is reporting inside of Britian’s Labour party, pro-Israel members of Parliament are “furious.” Still the measure more or less models what former Prime Minister Tony Blair has proposed through the Quartet. And the House of Commons bill is also being pushed by heavyweights from within the government.
The UK’s former consul-general to Jerusalem Vincent Fean has advocated that the UK should advance a two-state plan modeled after the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002—which called for a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state on the June 1967 lines, and the division of Jerusalem in exchange for normalization of relations between the Arab World and Israel–by voting for statehood in the Parliament. Coincidentally in the West Bank, Fean is most known for causing uproar at Bir Zeit University outside of Ramallah. Two years ago the diplomat was scheduled to speak on campus when scores of students flooded the parking lot, pelting his car with stones. Nineteen school-goers were arrested. The clash was emblematic of the fact that sentiments of Palestinians towards their former colonial rulers are still tense–and no one from the British government has been invited to the university since.
But that background is exactly why Fean believes the UK should take a step on speeding up a Palestinian state.
“We are party to the history of this conflict – originators of the Balfour Declaration and holders of the Mandate for Palestine between 1920 and 1948,” wrote Fean in September when he staged the proposal in the British daily The Telegraph. “Under the Mandate, we took on a ‘sacred trust of civilisation’ to advance the welfare of the Palestinian people and guide them to independence,” he continued.
The UK broached the idea of acknowledging a Palestinian state by vote after Israel declared its largest settlement expansion yet at the close of summer. Just as the war between Israel and Gaza was cooling, Israeli officials announced tenders for settlement growth near Bethlehem. “Where we lead, Europe will follow – and there is urgency,” Fean wrote in his op-ed of the 1,000 acres of land Israel plans to build on nestled between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli construction there compromises not only territorial continuity for a future Palestinian state, but access to Jerusalem in general.
“The combination of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the closure of Gaza means that time is not on our side if the two neighbourly states we seek are to be realized,” wrote Fean.
The move also sidelines Israel’s demand that any agreement can only be reached through negotiations and not by unilateral declarations of statehood, or the international communities’. The United States has consistently echoed that approach since the Palestinian Authority went to the United Nations in 2012 and upgraded its status to non-member observer.
The U.S. is cool on these initiatives. “We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can only come through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues and mutual recognitions by both parties,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki last week when Sweden made headlines by stating that it intended to be the first European Union country to recognize the state of Palestine. The UK’s Prime Minister supports the U.S. stance. Indeed there is considerable daylight between David Cameron’s Conservative party and Labour, which is pushing the Palestinian state inside of the Parliament.
Cameron has asserted himself as a staunch, no-holds-barred Israel-backer. He’s kept quiet on the statehood debate in his home country thus far, but earlier this year in his first visit to Jerusalem as head of state he made clear his policy was lockstep with Israel. “Let me say to you very clearly,” he said to Knesset last March, “with me, you have a British Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable.” Then, Cameron announced he made special arrangements for Israeli officials such as Tzipi Livni who were unable to travel to the UK out of fear of prosecution for crimes committed against Palestinians under Britain’s international jurisdiction laws. “When I became Prime Minister I legislated to change it. My country is open to you. And you are welcome to visit anytime,” he continued.
Conservative Friends of Israel, Western Europe’s AIPAC is organizing against the vote, and their ties to the current UK government run deep. The head of the Conservative party attended their conference last week and at the end of the year David Cameron will keynote one of their events.