A Backbench debate on Monday 13 October 2014 was secured by Grahame Morris MP “That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. An amendment was proposed by Jack Straw to add ‘as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.’ This amendment was accepted.
The amended motion was carried 274 votes for, 12 against.
Highlights from the debate
Grahame M. Morris: As the originator of the Balfour declaration and holder of the mandate for Palestine, Britain has a unique historical connection and, arguably, a moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine. In 1920, we undertook a sacred trust—a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. That was nearly a century ago, and the Palestinian people are still to have their national rights recognised. This sacred trust has been neglected for far too long. As the Lady has just said, we have an historic opportunity to atone for that neglect, and take this small but symbolically important step.
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I understand the Government’s position, but they should listen to the voice of this House. Virtually everybody who has spoken—not just lefties waving placards in Trafalgar square, but virtually every Conservative MP—has said that now is the time to recognise the justice of the Palestinians’ case.
I have nothing but respect and support for the state of Israel. I think that all of us are very philo-Semitic. But the [Israelis] have to open their hearts. They have to start relaxing controls in and out of Gaza. They have to start relaxing controls at the Bethlehem checkpoint and they have to stop the settlements. There has to be some way forward. We have to recognise, however naive this may sound, that we are part of a common humanity.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): this country has a special duty here. It is easy to try to duck that duty. We are the authors of the Balfour declaration and we were the occupying power. Anybody who goes to the Middle East knows—I am sure that the Minister would agree with me on this—that the views taken by the British Government and the British people run powerfully in the region. We should set an example. Yes, 135 countries have recognised Palestine and yes, we are behind the curve in this matter, but it is not too late for us to set an example to Europe and the rest of the world and show that we believe in equality and fairness in international statecraft as much as we believe in our own country.
Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): What entitles the United Kingdom to withhold a recognition that is the birthright—the long overdue birthright—of each and every Palestinian child? It would be shameful not to take the step of recognition now, when it would make a real difference.
The United Kingdom was a midwife at the birth of Israel and is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. That means an aspiration to take a lead in world affairs. We should take that lead now on this vital issue through a decisive vote of the British House of Commons.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): There The recognition of Palestine by the British House of Commons would affect the international situation. It would be a game changer. I call on both sides of the House to give the Palestinians their rights and show the Israelis that they cannot suppress another people all the time. It is not Jewish to do that. They are harming the image of Judaism, and terrible outbreaks of anti-Semitism are taking place. I want to see an end to anti-Semitism, and I want to see a Palestinian state.
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Their illegal occupation of land is condemned by this Government in strong terms, but no action follows. The Israelis sell produce from these illegal settlements in Palestine as if they were made or grown in Israel, but no action follows. The Israeli Government will go on doing this as long as they pay no price for their obduracy.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I received an e-mail today from a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem. He described some of his life under occupation in East Jerusalem and he asked me to say this tonight: “I want to see light at the end of the tunnel, but I really want to see light at the end of the tunnel; I don’t want to see a train coming at me from the other end.”
Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians …. and I thought that they were listening. But I realise now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion.
The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent.
Under normal circumstances, I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion.
I have to say to the Government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.
Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Recognition of statehood is not a reward for anything; it is a right. The notion that it would put an end to negotiations, or somehow pre-empt or destroy them, is patently absurd; Palestine would still be occupied, and negotiations would need to continue, both to end that occupation and to agree land swaps and borders. Refusing Palestinian recognition is tantamount to giving Israel the right of veto.
A lot of people feel intimidated when it comes to standing up for this issue. It is time we did stand up for it, because almost the majority of Palestinians are not yet in their 20s. They will grow up stateless. If we do not give them hope, dignity and belief in themselves, it will be a recipe for permanent conflict, none of which is in Israel’s interests. Today, the House should do its historic duty.
Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) (Lab): We will be voting tonight for the recognition of a Palestinian state. That is not just about recognising the inalienable right of Palestinians to freedom and self-determination but about Israel’s need to be saved from itself. What Israel is looking at in a one-state solution is a continuation, year after year, of war and violence such as we have seen building in the past 20 years. The Israelis have just finished a third incursion into Gaza in 10 years. Are we suggesting that every two years another 1,500 people should be killed and another 100,000 people rendered homeless as a continuation of the process of driving everybody who is not Jewish out of what is considered to be greater Israel?
Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): What I do not understand is why the Palestinians should have had to pay such a terrible price for the creation of the state of Israel, where it was believed that security could be created, or why the Israelis believed that the brutal expulsion and continued suppression of the Palestinians would ever lead to the sense of security that they seek.
Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): There are moments when the eyes of the world are on this place, and I believe that this is one of those moments.
Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): , three years ago at the United Nations, the then Foreign Secretary said that Palestine met the conditions and was ready for statehood. How long do they have to wait?
Mr Tobias Ellwood, Middle East minister: The UK will bilaterally recognise a Palestinian state when we judge that that can best help bring about peace. The UK will recognise a Palestinian state at a time most helpful to the peace process, because a negotiated end to the occupation is the most effective way for Palestinian aspirations of statehood to be met on the ground.
The UN estimates that it could take 18 years to rebuild Gaza without major change. It says that Gaza could become unliveable by 2020. If the underlying causes are not addressed, it risks becoming an incubator for extremism in the region.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab), shadow Middle East minister: The Labour party supported Palestinian recognition at the UN and we support the principle of recognition today, because we believe it will strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence.
It is crucial, at this time when help is needed, that President Abbas receives support for the political path he has chosen. We need to support President Abbas to follow the path of peace and not the path the terrorists of Hamas inflict on the people of Israel, Labour believes that, amid the despair today, we need to take a dramatic step.
Labour urges the Government to listen to the House of Commons—listen to the voices on the Conservative Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Labour Benches, all the Benches—and give Palestinians what they have as a right: statehood. This it not an alternative to negotiations; it is a bridge for beginning them.
Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): This year’s conflict in Gaza shows how unequal the two sides are. There were some 1,462 civilians killed on the Palestinian side and seven on the Israeli side. All of those are a personal disaster for the victims’ families and are regrettable, but we can see from the numbers the scale of the imbalance in this situation.
Given the imbalance, Palestinian statehood would not harm Israel in any way, but it would give some support to the Palestinian people.
Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): In line with our traditional policy, we should recognise the Palestinian state as a reality. We would not be granting it anything; we would simply be recognising a fact.
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Every day that the establishment of the Palestinian state is postponed merely guarantees the continuation of the conflict, with more innocent people losing their lives. We owe it to all those who have lost their lives on both sides, and those whose lives are constantly at risk, to bring this tragedy to an end by recognising the Palestinian state without further delay.
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I believe that time has come. We need to support the vast majority of Palestinians who believe in peaceful coexistence with Israel, and face down the violent minority by showing them that non-violence and a willingness to negotiate can help get them somewhere.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): It is the British people who have taken up this cause, with more than 50,000 e-mails sent to MPs over the past two or three weeks. The Labour movement [has been on a journey] from being very sympathetic to Israel as a country that was trying to achieve democracy and was embattled, to seeing it now as a bully and a regional superpower. That is not something I say with any pleasure, but since the triumph of military Zionism and the Likud-run Governments we have seen a new barbarism in that country.
The motion is a positive step, but my constituents wish to see more. They would like us to stop supplying arms to the Israelis when those arms are being used for the occupation and to kill people in Gaza. They would like us to stop importing goods from illegal settlements—illegal under international law. They cannot understand why, if the settlements are illegal, the goods should not be illegal as well.
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): In the recent referendum in Scotland. … we did not ask the people of England, Wales or Northern Ireland whether they wish Scotland to stay. We accepted that it was the right of the Scottish people to decide. The same principle should be applied to Palestine. This is not an issue for the Israelis to decide, even if they want to. It is not an issue for negotiations. It is an issue for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian people alone.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): If we are serious about a two-state solution, 65 years is too long to wait for recognition of Palestine. Even if only to provide parity of dignity—the basic dignity of having one’s nation state recognised—we should recognise it. The time for excuses is over; we should recognise Palestine today.
Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): According to the UN, during this summer’s conflict, a total of 2,131 Palestinians were killed. Of those, at least 1,473 were civilians—young, innocent civilians, in many cases. On the Israel side, 66 Israeli defence force soldiers were killed, and five Israeli civilians. I do not believe that that response is proportionate. Israel has lost the moral high ground in the way it acted.
We should demand the same standards of Israel as we do of any democratic state Some of the acts committed by Israel were clearly unacceptable. Why was it necessary to blow up Gaza’s only power station, leaving already stretched hospitals to rely on generators? Why was it necessary to bomb hospitals and schools, when, as we saw, the threat of loss of life to Israeli civilians was small in comparison? By adding to the suffering of the Gazan people, the Israeli Government have lost the support of the House, and it should cause them great concern.
It is important that moderates in the debate such as me should speak out if we are turning against support for Israel.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Over the past weeks my in-box has been flooded with hundreds of letters from my constituents. Their strength of feeling is undeniable, their arguments are heartfelt, and their conviction is deep-seated—and for good reason. I share those arguments and that conviction.
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): This House has a duty to support Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian claim to statehood is not in the gift of a neighbour—it is an inalienable right of the Palestinians, and tonight we should speak up on their behalf. There are times when this House has to send a message—when this House has to speak. I believe that the will of the British people is now to support Palestinian statehood
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): if we are to tell Arabs across the region to reject extremism, rockets, bombs and massacres that are deliberately aimed at killing defenceless civilians, we must also do more to support the moderate, democratic, pluralist leaders, such as Mahmoud Abbas, who have painstakingly pursued the diplomatic path towards peace and self-determination.