UK envoy says London not recognizing Palestine yet

After Parliament votes ‘yes’ to Palestine, Matthew Gould says Gaza conflict, settlements changing British point of view; bishops say resolution ‘long overdue’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould speaks at a recent tech conference in Israel (Photo credit: Courtesy UK Embassy)
British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould speaks at a recent tech conference in Israel (Photo credit: Courtesy UK Embassy)

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould said Tuesday that the United Kingdom would recognize a Palestinian state at a time that is “most helpful for the peace process,” and reiterated that the outcome of Palestinian sovereignty could only be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel.

Gould said that the largely symbolic UK parliamentary vote overnight Monday for recognition of a Palestinian state reflected a broader shift in British public opinion on Israel in the wake of the conflict in Gaza over the summer and announcements of settlement construction.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Gould said: “We’ve long said that we will recognize this Palestinian state at the time that is most helpful for the peace process,” an apparent indication that the British government was not set to adopt the nonbinding resolution anytime in the near future.

Gould emphasized that the vote was an internal debate by non-ministerial MPs, and that ministers and Prime Minister David Cameron were not in attendance. Yet he acknowledged that the ruling was nonetheless “significant.”

“Although this vote won’t affect government policy, I think it is right to be concerned about what it signifies in terms of the direction of public opinion,” he said. “I think last night’s vote was a sign of the tide in public opinion in the absence of progress towards peace.”

The ambassador called on Israel to assist in the international reconstruction efforts in Gaza, to “refrain from steps to expand settlements, which have a very corrosive effect on international opinion,” and to pursue the reinstatement of peace talks.

He added that while Cameron and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke regularly on the phone, they did not converse prior to the vote.

Several British Catholic and Anglican bishops hailed the resolution, which passed by a 274-12 margin, and said it was “long overdue.”

In a statement signed by the the chairman of the bishops’ department of international affairs, Declan Lang, and the Church of England’s Lead Bishop for Foreign Affairs, Christopher Cocksworth, on Monday called on MPs to back the bill.

“At a time of great uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa, we hold that it is the reasonable aspiration of all peoples to belong to a state and enjoy the merits of full and active citizenship on their own lands. We equally believe that the right of Palestinians for such statehood has been long overdue,” the statement read.

“Such a principled recognition by our Parliament and Government will facilitate rather than hamper the negotiations that would inevitably follow between Israelis and Palestinians to agree upon the details of this new and sovereign state created next to a secure Israel.”

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