British MPs vote to recognise Palestinian state


British MPs, including the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, voted on Tuesday to recognise Palestine as a sovereign state in a symbolic move that will unnerve Israel by suggesting that it is losing a wider battle for public opinion in Britain.

The vote of 274 to 12 - a majority of 262, on a backbench motion has no practical impact on British government policy and ministers were instructed not to vote.

Former British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said the vote was not simply a gesture, because if it were, the Israeli government would not be as worried by the vote.

The Israeli government, he said, wants the recognition of the Palestinian state only at the successful conclusion of any negotiations.

But Straw said “such an approach would give the Israelis a veto over whether a Palestinian state should exist”.

A vote for recognition would add to the pressure on the Israeli government, he said.

“The only thing that the Israeli government, in my view, in its present demeanour under Bibi Netanyahu understands is pressure.”

Straw moved an amendment to the motion setting out that the UK government should recognise Palestine “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution”.

In 2012 the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinians' status to that of "non-member observer state". Some 41 nations - including the UK - abstained.

Current UK government policy is that it "reserves the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace".

Conservative James Clappison spoke out against the motion, arguing it would do more harm than good.

He said: “I believe that international recognition of a Palestinian state in the terms of the motion would make a two-state solution less likely rather than more likely.

“I don’t see Israel, having faced the challenges it has over the years, caving in to this backbench motion. It might be a gesture on behalf of this house, but it would take the process no further.”

He said Hamas had “set its face against any peace deal with Israel” and undertaken a “campaign of terror”.

The motion had been tabled by Labour’s Grahame Morris, who said it was right to take the “small but symbolically important” step of recognising the Palestinian right to statehood.

Tobias Ellwood, the Middle East minister, said the UK government was a “staunch supporter” of Israel’s right to defend itself, but settlement-building made “it hard for Israel’s friends to make the case that Israel is committed to peace”.

Ellwood said Palestinian statehood could only become a reality when occupation ends and stressed that the UK believes “this will only come through negotiations”.

He added: “The UK will bilaterally recognise a Palestinian state when we judge that it can best help bring about peace.”

The British vote comes after Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven formally announced recognition of an independent Palestinian state on Monday early this month.