The time is right for Britain to recognise the Palestinian state

The alternative is further violence, injustice and discrimination. When the UK parliament votes on Monday we must break this impasse.

Last week the prime minister of Israel announced yet more illegal settlements in the West Bank, cutting off Bethlehem from Jerusalem – a wholly negative act. On Friday, the prime minister of Sweden announced that his government recognises the state of Palestine – a positive step that will help bring forward the day when genuine negotiations between the parties take place. On Monday, British MPs will vote on recognition. It is the right time to support the two-state solution by validating the second, Palestinian, state.

Fifteen years ago the EU agreed the Palestinian right to self-determination. Britain and Sweden were part of that consensus. Recently, and during my years in Jerusalem, Israeli policy on a negotiated peace has been accelerating in the wrong direction. The Palestinians who practise non-violence and security cooperation with Israel – the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, under President Abbas – need encouragement to maintain their stance. They have engaged in fruitless talks on and off for 20 years, to the scorn of Hamas, while the illegal settler enterprise brought more than 600,000 Israelis into East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The illegality of settlements, the separation barrier, and the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank is incontestable. UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond “deplored” the latest Israeli move, just as he found “ill-judged” Israel’s expropriation of 1,000 acres of Palestinian land near Bethlehem two months ago. We have deplored frequently, to no avail. What to do?

Sweden is the 135th state of 193 in the UN to recognise Palestine, and its validation does nothing to undermine the legitimacy of Israel. It is wrong to argue that recognition precludes negotiations, or makes them harder. The past 20 years show that there must be greater equity between the parties in order for negotiations to succeed, in addition to strong US, EU and Arab engagement under UN security council auspices. Recognition of Palestine begins to level the ground somewhat for those essential talks. But only somewhat: physically, Israel continues to control the land, air and sea – even bandwidth, denying Palestinians access to 3G for “security” reasons.

Bilateral recognition of Palestine by Britain – our sovereign decision – should be accompanied by a reaffirmation of UK and EU policy on the framework for agreement, starting with Israel’s inalienable right to live in peace and security. President Obama said last month that the status quo in the Holy Land was not sustainable. He is right. It is not peace. Nor is it just. The United States should guarantee the safety of both peoples with US or Nato troops during the full, phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestine, endorsed in a unanimous security council resolution. If the US elects not to go to the UN, for domestic political reasons, it is back to us, working with France and all willing EU partners, to shape the international effort to achieve peace with justice for both peoples.

The Commons debate matters. The motion, by Labour MP Grahame Morris, is to recognise Palestine. That is right, and timely. An amendment tabled by both the main parties’ Friends of Israel groups would make UK recognition contingent on successful peace talks. This is well-intentioned, but mistaken. Adopting that amendment would give Israel a veto over our policy decision to recognise another state. That is wrong in principle and practice. It’s our call, not Israel’s.

The amendment also contradicts current UK policy: “We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace,” the foreign secretary William Hague told the House of Commons in November 2011. Now is that moment. It would be an action which others will emulate, and would stimulate US re-engagement. We know that the US cannot do it alone, and that Britain can do things that the US cannot.

Some contend that UK recognition would be a catalyst for violence. Not so. To become the 136th state to recognise Palestine is no incitement. Britain matters because of our historical role, our permanent membership of the security council, and our partnership with 27 EU states. We can take a decisive political step to break a political impasse for which we have a bigger share of responsibility than all the 135 put together.

The recognition of Palestine would help to preserve the two-state solution which is, after all, the policy of the three main political parties. It would reward and encourage moderation in both states. It is something that is overdue. If not now, then when? Imagine the alternatives – yet more of what we have become used to, or the one-state outcome to which this Israeli government’s actions on the ground are leading.

A one-state outcome is no solution. Without equal rights, it would mean further discrimination in what would, in effect, be an apartheid-style system and, yes, it would also mean violence – but this time with no way out.

In saying yes to Palestine, our parliament can say a decisive no to that disastrous scenario.

Vincent Fean, 10th October 2014