Cameron to abstain in Palestine recognition vote

British PM indicates favorable vote would not change country’s policy toward Palestinians or peace talks

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech to the House of Commons in London, September 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Parliament TV)
British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech to the House of Commons in London, September 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Parliament TV)

British Prime Minister David Cameron is set to abstain from a non-binding parliamentary vote Monday asking the British government to recognize the state of Palestine.

The PM has indicated that a favorable outcome of the vote would not change the country’s foreign policy toward the Palestinians, Reuters reported, citing Cameron’s official spokesperson.

“I’ve been pretty clear about the government’s position and it won’t be changing,” the spokesman told reporters ahead of the vote.

The motion was brought by Labour MP Grahame Morris, prompting an angry debate earlier Monday over party instructions to vote in favor of the recognition, The Independent reported on Monday.

Several senior party members were pushing back against an order that the whole party support the recognition. MPs objecting to the move argue that recognition of Palestine should only come as part of a wider Middle East peace settlement.

Rather than being subject to compulsory support for the motion, party members should be allowed to choose how to cast their vote, the objectors said.

UK opposition leader Ed Miliband speaking at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, April 10, 2014 (photo credit: Hebrew University)
UK opposition leader Ed Miliband speaking at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, April 10, 2014 (photo credit: Hebrew University)

High-ranking Labour MPs have reportedly spoken with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who is Jewish and visited Israel earlier this year, in an effort to get him to alter the instructions before the vote, which was scheduled to take place on Monday afternoon in the House of Commons.

“If the vote is a success it would put a tremendous amount of pressure on the current government and the next government, which is likely to be a Labour government, to recognize Palestine as a state,” Morris said in an email to AFP.

“The UK recognizing Palestine could give decisive momentum to more EU states following suit,” he said.

“Recognition now would be a clear and legitimate message that Britain and others recognize Palestinian rights and that the illegal settlement enterprise has no validity.” he added

The text of the motion reads: “This House urges the government to recognize the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.”

Emotions were running high, according to Labour party members.

“To say that there is a row going on is putting it very mildly,” one senior Labour party member told The Independent. “People are furious. This is an attempt to rip up 13 years of carefully calibrated policy. It’s total madness and makes the prospect of peace less rather than more likely.”

According to the report, the Labour Friends of Israel has been campaigning to persuade Miliband to rethink how the opposition party handles the vote. If Miliband doesn’t agree, several senior faction members have also threatened to not turn up for the vote.

Over the weekend, Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, published a letter on the group’s website laying out her reasons for opposing the motion for a unilateral recognition of Palestine.

“History tells us that pre-emptive and unilateral moves are counterproductive,” she wrote. “Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 has only led to more conflict and violence. By contrast, negotiations – like those at Camp David in 1978 which led to peace between Israel and Egypt, or those which brought about peace between Israel and Jordan in the 1990s – have proved much more durable.”

However, some Labour members are very much in favor of supporting the recognition of Palestine.

“After the invasion of Gaza this summer at the cost of over 2,000 lives, the resumption of aggressive settlement building and Israel making every attempt to undermine the negotiating position of the Palestinians, it’s time to create a level playing field for negotiations,” said Andy Slaughter, vice chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East.

Though the vote wouldn’t obligate the UK to formally recognize Palestine, it galvanized the left-leaning Israeli Labor Party to send a letter to its British counterpart in which it warned the symbolic recognition could make peace even harder to achieve.

The Israeli Labor Party’s Secretary-General MK Hilik Bar wrote that while he appreciates the good intentions of those who support the vote, the outcome could be more of a hindrance than a help.

“I understand why many of you will want to vote for anything which claims to be a contribution to peace,” Bar wrote. “But our view in the Israeli Labor Party is that unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood does nothing to advance this vital cause.”

“Unfortunately, unilateral moves simply play into the hands of those on Israel’s hard right [who] want to suggest that we have no partner for peace, and that the Palestinians do not want to sit down and negotiate with us,” he noted.

In turn, Zahava Gal-on, leader of the the dovish Meretz party, condemned Bar’s letter and said it may pull out of an Israeli-Palestinian parliamentary peace caucus led by Bar, Haaretz reported.

“Meretz will consider canceling its membership in the Lobby for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict, headed by Hilik Bar,” she said. “All [these moves] by Labor are undermining the chance to promote a two-state solution.”

Britain abstained in 2012 from a vote in the United Nations on giving the Palestinians the rank of observer state, which was granted despite opposition from the United States, Israel and other countries.

AFP contributed to this report.

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