Monday October 30
The Foreign Secretary told the Commons that huge numbers of Palestinians have suffered and lost their homes at the hands of the Israeli government, but the time was not ripe for action.
Making a statement on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the letter from a British foreign secretary that led to the foundation of Israel, Boris Johnson rejected calls for immediate recognition of the state of Palestine.
“We must in time recognise a Palestinian state,” he told MPs, but “the moment is not right yet to play that card. After all, it is not something we can do more than once: that card having been played, that will be it.”
He was responding to Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry who had told him there was “no better way of marking the Balfour centenary than to recognise the state of Palestine”.
She reminded him that it has been the policy of his government for nearly six years – since November 2011 – to recognise Palestine “at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help to bring about peace”. “If not now,” she asked him, “when?”
She was supported by the SNP’s Chris Law, who called on him to open an embassy in Palestine, and Conservative former foreign office minister Sir Hugo Swire who called on him”finally to recognise the state of Palestine”.
Layla Moran, the new Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West who is of Palestinian heritage, said “the Foreign Secretary speaks of playing a card, but this is not a game. Recognition is not something to be bestowed; it is something that the Palestinians should just have.”
Grahame Morris, the MP who chairs Labour Friends of Palestine and who won the 274-12 Commons vote in favour of recognition, called on the Foreign Secretary to go to the next stage and end UK trade with illegal settlements.
Boris Johnson admitted that the Balfour promise was conditional, offering support for a national home for Jewish people but only if it could be achieved without prejudicing the civil and religious rights of the Palestinians.
He also admitted that the Balfour declaration was deficient. “It should have spoken of political rights” (rather than just civil and religious rights), “and it should have identified the Palestinian people” (rather than just referred to the ‘existing non-Jewish population’ of a country that was then 90% Palestinian Arab).
It was a tacit acceptance that the Balfour promise will remain unfulfilled until the 6 million Palestinians in Israel/Palestine have equal political rights to the 6 million Jewish Israelis – a prospect which looked as distant at the end of his speech as at the beginning.
He dismissed the idea of economic pressure on Israel citing the argument last heard in the apartheid era that “the biggest losers would be Palestinian workers who benefit immensely from the economic activity generated by Israeli companies”.
And his admission that the experience of many Palestinians was – and still is – “tragic” makes one wonder it will take to persuade him to finally take the first small step on the road to justice by adding the UK’s name to the list of 138 counties that already recognise the state of Palestine.
He ended with a flourish, promising “to make sure that Balfour does not remain unfinished business”. But although he “wanted” to recognise a Palestinian state, “we judge that the moment to do that is not yet ripe”.