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UK Labour members pan parliamentary Palestine vote

Party officials object to instructions from leadership that they must support motion to recognize state

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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)

An angry debate has divided Britain’s Labour party over instructions to vote in favor of nonbinding recognition by the British government of the State of Palestine, The Independent reported on Monday, with some party members threatening to boycott the vote.

Several senior party members are 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, to the objectors say.

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. The motion for the recognizing Palestine was presented to parliament by Labour backbencher MP Grahame Morris.

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

Emotions are running high, according to 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.”

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