There is one KEY issue the Government will have to take a decision on – whether to join France, and possibly Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland, in a co-ordinated recognition of Palestine later in the year.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, restated his commitment on January 29th that France will recognise Palestine in October or November if the Israelis are still refusing to sit down to talks with the Palestinians.
It didn’t take long for Israel to give its answer. To quote the Times of Israel headline later that day: ‘Israel rejects French ultimatum’.
That makes it close to certain that France will become the 138th country to recognise the state of Palestine along with any other European countries that decide to follow suit.
William Hague set out the UK’s policy in 2011. It was to agree with recognition ‘in principle’ but to wait until ‘the time is right’.
Apparently the time was not right when the Kerry peace talks collapsed in April 2014 over the Israeli refusal to stop building settlements. Apparently the time was not right when Sweden because the 134th country to recognise Palestine in October 2014.
However Phillip Hammond did say that the only argument he had with Sweden “individually unilaterally recognising Palestine” was that it was throwing away the opportunity that European countries had “to exercise leverage by collectively holding out the prospect of recognition as a way of influencing behaviour”.
The UK can now take that opportunity by joining France in a co-ordinated move which may persuade most other European countries to follow suit, putting real diplomatic pressure on Israel for the first time to stop expanding its illegal colonies in the West Bank
The time is right now for several reasons. The end of the peace talks, nearly two years ago, has created a political vacuum which drives Palestinians to despair, to anger and for a minority to violence; it erodes confidence in the ability of the international community to deliver a solution; it undermines support for moderate Palestinian politicians who support non-violence.
Furthermore the US will be out of action for the next 12 months because of the election and because of President Obama’s admission there is nothing he can do in the remainder of his period in office.
It is up to the Europeans now, and the UK and France in particular, to take the lead and start putting pressure on Israel to reach a settlement.
Now is the time for MPs of all parties to make the case to Phillip Hammond – either privately by letter or more transparently by tabling questions and taking every opportunity to raise the issue in the Commons.
Here are some relevant quotations:
William Hague in 2011: “We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”.
Phillip Hammond in 2015: “We believe that European Union countries individually unilaterally recognising Palestine is throwing away an opportunity that the European Union has to exercise leverage by collectively holding out the prospect of recognition or non-recognition as a way of influencing behaviour.”
Times of Israel Jan 29th Israel rejects French ultimatum: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced earlier in the day that France would shortly try to convene an international conference, with the hope of enabling new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but that if this effort reached a dead end, Paris would recognize a Palestinian state.
“And what will happen if this last-ditch attempt at reaching a negotiated solution hits a stumbling block?” Fabius said. “In that case, we will have to live up to our responsibilities and recognize a Palestinian state.”
Sir Nicholas Soames MP: “Our partners in the Middle East look on amazed while we support the right to self-determination in every other country in the Middle East and then deny the same right to the Palestinians.”
Former Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander: “Labour believes statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given but a right to be recognised”
Sir Vincent Fean, former British Consul-General in Jerusalem: “The time is right for the United Kingdom to recognise the state of Palestine. … A further abstention is abdicating responsibility.”
President Barack Obama to the UN in 2010: “Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine – one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity….When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”
Foreign Office in 2011:“The Palestinian Authority has developed successfully the capacity to run a democratic and peaceful state, founded on the rule of law and living in peace and security with Israel… Palestine largely fulfils the legal and technical criteria for UN membership, including statehood, in as far as the Occupation allows.”