Scottish parliament discusses recognition of Palestinian state

Foreign Ministry slams the debate — held on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day — as ‘shameful’ and ‘pointless’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Scottish MP Sandra White introducing her pro-Palestine motion in the parliament in Edinburgh, April 21, 2015. (screen grab
Scottish MP Sandra White introducing her pro-Palestine motion in the parliament in Edinburgh, April 21, 2015. (screen grab

A Scottish parliament debate on Monday on the recognition of a Palestinian state as a means to revive peace negotiations drew sharp condemnations from Jerusalem. Noting that the debate took place on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day, one Israeli official called the discussion “pointless” and “shameful.”

The parliament in Edinburgh did not vote at the end of the poorly attended session, but most speakers expressed support for the motion, several of them criticizing Israel for running an “apartheid” regime and “inhumane” policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The motion, proposed by Glasgow MP Sandra White, stated that the parliament “believes that the recognition of the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel based on 1967 borders could be a stimulus to securing a negotiated two-state solution in the Middle East and notes the opinion of many Israelis and Palestinians living in Glasgow, the rest of Scotland and beyond that resolution through peaceful means is the only option.”

Usually, members’ debates in the Scottish parliament last for about 30 minutes and feature a handful of speakers. But due to the uncharacteristically large number of MPs who wanted to speak, the session was extended to last for a full hour.

“The only way to achieve a lasting peace is to recognize a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one,” White, from the Scottish National Party, said in her speech introducing the motion. “Let’s be clear: the time is now. The time is not tomorrow or at some vague point in the future.” Recognizing Palestine at the present time would be a “huge stimulus for peace efforts,” she added.

White congratulated the House of Commons in London for having overwhelmingly voted in favor of the recognition of Palestine in October, and said she hoped the UK’s new government will implement this decision after the upcoming national election.

Polls expect the pro-Palestinian Scottish National Party to make significant gains in the May 7 election.

“We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand,” White said. “Already 134 out of 193 UN member states have taken steps to recognize the state of Palestine and I believe it’s time the UK did the same. I believe that it is morally incumbent on the UK to take that step, given its involvement and its resulting culpability for the current situation.”

Other MPs were openly hostile toward Israel in their statements.

Israel “breaches international law by operating what is, in effect, an apartheid regime that treats Palestinian people — including Palestinian children — as second-class citizens, that denies them basic human rights and that believes that the life of an Israeli child is more precious than the life of a Palestinian child,” said Labour MP Cara Hilton.

Jim Hume, a Liberal Democrat, mentioned that during his last visit to the Middle East he was told about “Israeli-only bus routes with no Palestinians allowed,” accusing Israel of practicing inhumane policies. “The situation in Palestine is intolerable. Gaza is still besieged, apartheid is the norm and prisoners are held without charge,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem condemned the debate, stressing its awkward timing.

“A small number of members of the Scottish parliament, among them dedicated and vociferous haters of the only democracy in the Middle East, chose to conduct yesterday evening a pointless anti-Israeli debate,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon. “This happened on Israel’s Remembrance Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of Palestinian terror. This is shameful and unnecessary.”

In September, Scotland voted against independence from the United Kingdom. At the time, officials in Jerusalem declined to comment on the record about the Scottish referendum, but in private conversations expressed concerns that an independent Scotland could embolden other nationalist movements — including the Palestinians — to increase their activism.

Scotland is known as relatively pro-Palestinian. During last year’s Operation Protective Edge, the government in Edinburgh released more than half a dozen statements critical of Israel and reportedly called for an arms embargo against the Jewish state. Several local councils flew the Palestinian flag in solidarity with Gazan casualties.

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