New Conservative parliamentary group calls for UK recognition of Palestine

Group is launched as British ministers decline to attend events commemorating the Nakba

A Free Palestine march in London. Getty Images
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A UK parliamentary group on Palestine could bring new perspectives to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of its founders has said.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former cabinet minister, announced she will be relaunching the Conservative Friends of Palestine parliamentary group with other party members.

“It’s not about denying the right of Israel to exist, but about talking of the persecution [of Palestinians] to stop the suffering of Palestinians today,” she said on Monday, at an event marking the 75th year of the Palestinian Nakba at the House of Commons.

She also called for the British government’s recognition of the state of Palestine, and accused ministers of “openly denying a future state for Palestinians.”

Baroness Warsi, a former chairwoman of the Conservative party, resigned from her position as a cabinet minister in 2014, in criticism of the coalition government’s policy on the Israel-Gaza conflict that year.

The Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary group was founded in 1974 and has 2,000 supporters, according to its website.

Conservative support for the Palestinians has typically come through the Conservative Middle East Council, which covers the wider region. A Conservative parliamentary group on Palestine was set up in 2019, but has been mostly inactive.

One of the aims of the newly-launched group, she said, would be to encourage advocates of Palestine to “part with emotions and deal with the facts.”

“Facts are so powerful, but simple facts are often not put in a digestible manner,” she said, “Challenging [the Israeli narrative] has been a language issue. You must find the language and do it in a way where you can be effective.”

“This will be part of the role of Conservative Friends of Palestine.”

Leila Moran, a Liberal Democrat MP whose mother’s family fled Jerusalem in 1948, agreed that facts about the Palestinian issue need to be more widely disseminated. “I’ve been struck by my conversations with Friends of Israel. They don’t have a clue about the Palestinian story,” she said at the event.

Baroness Warsi's announcement comes as the UK declined to participate in the UN’s first ever Nakba commemoration, after Israel’s UN envoy urged a boycott of the event.

Speaking at the House of Commons on Monday, Dr Hussam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, described the decision as “disappointing”.

He said that no ministers or officials from the British government had accepted their invitations to attend events commemorating the Nakba, when thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes upon the formation of Israel in 1948. “Nakba denial should be made a crime,” he added.

Alistair Burt, a former minister of state for the Middle East and Conservative MP, called for renewed attention to the Israel and Palestine conflict. “The status quo is getting worse. It’s hard to find the international will, or the will between Israel and Palestinians, to change this,” he told The National.

“With the international community’s bandwidth taken up by Ukraine, I fear that something very bad will happen,” he added.

Rather, a resolution to the conflict is in the hands of those who “see a better future” for the region, he said.

“The Gulf states have a genuine passion for peace. The Abraham Accords has a role to play, but it cannot be done at the expense of Palestinians,” he added.

Updated: May 16, 2023, 11:29 PM