The Guardian/Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem/10/14/2014
The non-binding vote, supported by 274 MPs with 12 voting against, follows a recent announcement by Sweden’s new government that it will recognise a Palestinian state in the future.
The Swedish announcement and the Commons vote came against the background of unilateral moves by Palestinians at the UN security council to secure a resolution that would call for the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories by November 2016.
Although the vote in the Commons is only symbolic, it has attracted wide comment in Israel, despite attempts by Israeli government officials to largely ignore it.
Israel’s foreign ministry, however, was quick to issue a statement criticising the vote, insisting that Palestinian statehood should come about only as a result of negotiations with Israel.
“Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make,” the ministry said in a statement.
Speaking on Israeli radio after the vote, the UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, insisted that Israeli officials should not dismiss the vote.
Although Gould reiterated that the vote would not mark a change in government policy, he said: “I think it is right to be concerned about what it signifies in terms of the direction of public opinion.”
He added: “Separate from the narrow question of recognition, I am concerned in the long run about the shift in public opinion in the UK and beyond towards Israel. Israel lost support after this summer’s conflict, and after the series of announcements on settlements. This parliamentary vote is a sign of the way the wind is blowing, and will continue to blow without any progress towards peace.”
Other UK officials have also suggested that frustration with Israel and the government of Binyamin Netanyahu is echoed at the top of the British government where David Cameron’s support for Israel’s “right to self defence” during the recent Gaza war was answered after the ceasefire by Israeli settlement announcements – characterised as “galling” for No 10.
For his part, the leader of Israel’s opposition, Isaac Herzog, described the British vote as a defeat for Netanyahu’s increasingly troubled foreign policy that in recent week’s has seen the Israeli prime minister engaged in diplomatic disputes with the US, the UN and Sweden.
“This is another echoing failure from [Binyamin] Netanyahu and [foreign minister Avigdor] Lieberman,” said Herzog.
“A cold wind is blowing toward Israel from every corner in the world, but they refuse to deal with the hard facts and are bringing a diplomatic storm,” he said “Netanyahu prefers to confront the whole world, from President Obama to other friends.”
Efraim Halevy, a former Mossad director and former Israeli ambassador to the EU, blamed the recent war in Gaza, which claimed 2,100 Palestinian lives and that of 73 Israelis.
He said: “We should view this wave of decisions and announcements as reflecting public opinion. Public opinion is more against Israel after Operation Protective Edge.
“This public opinion was affected by the media, which was very effective in the service of Hamas and its supporters. Public opinion has certain weight in deciding governments’ positions, particularly governments in whose countries there are ever growing numbers of Muslims, from various countries, not just the Middle East, but also Pakistan and India. That’s how we should see this.”
Elsewhere, former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren warned the Israeli government it should not discount the significance of the British MPs’ vote.
In an interview with the website Ynet, Oren insisted that the “support expressed by Britain for the establishment of the Palestinian state is much more important than the Swedish one, and is being underestimated”.
“Britain is a member of the UN security council. The Palestinians are going to the UN in November and they want at least nine votes in the security council (to force Israel to commit to a timeline for withdrawing from the West Bank). There is a chance America will abstain, but a lot of it is up to us.
“Britain is one of our closest friends and allies, and still 274 parliament members supported the (non-binding) movement, with only 12 objecting.
“I am slightly shocked by the fact that we are not responding. The Palestinians are playing smart and we aren’t responding,” he said.
“Israeli society does not want to deal with the implications. It is easy to deal with rockets, it is concrete and understandable. But we don’t want to deal with a boycott,” he said.
On the Palestinian side, officials welcomed the British MPs’ vote. A Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member, Dr Hanan Ashrawi, said: “On behalf of the Palestinian people and its leadership, I would like to thank everyone who worked to bring about this vote. The recognition of Palestine and its people is both a principled decision and a significant step towards justice and peace.”
She continued: “Our right to self-determination has never been up to negotiations. The recognition of Palestine is not contingent upon on the outcome of negotiations with Israel and certainly not something we will trade for; this claim is not only unfair, but immoral.”
“This vote sends the right message to the British government and the rest of Europe – it will enhance the European voices calling for the recognition of the state of Palestine and will create the right environment for the international community to grant the Palestinian people legal parity and rights.
“We would like to thank the British people, the thousands who lobbied their members in parliament, and the religious leaders, trade unions, artists, and civil society at large who stood up in the name of justice. We would also like to thank those Israelis who courageously called upon the British parliament to recognise the state of Palestine.”