UK parliament votes to recognise Palestinian statehood

The UK parliament’s vote may not change British government policy, but Israel should take note of it as it reveals attitudes toward the country after the latest war in Gaza, said the UK's ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who visited north Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp yesterday, says the devastation caused by the recent war is worse than that caused in the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict. Mohammed Salem / Reuters
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JERUSALEM // The British parliament’s vote to recognise a Palestinian state reflects shifting public sentiment against Israel in the UK and around the world, Britain’s ambassador to Israel said on Tuesday.

British legislators on Monday voted 274-12 in support of a motion calling on the government to “recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”.

Nabil Abu Rudineh, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said the British vote was “a step in the right direction” and that “the two-state solution is the solution of the international community”.

While the parliament’s vote will not change British government policy, it is “significant” because it reveals attitudes toward Israel after the latest war in Gaza, said Ambassador Matthew Gould.

Mr Gould told Israel Radio that although it was only symbolic, Israel should take note of the vote.

“I think it is right to be concerned about what it signifies in terms of the direction of public opinion,” Mr Gould said.

The 50-day violence ended with a truce but killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to the United Nations. On the Israeli side, 72 people died, most of them soldiers.

The British House of Commons’ vote Monday came nearly 100 years after Britain issued its famous Balfour Declaration in 1917, which affirmed its support for establishing a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Israel was founded in 1948.

Israel’s recent settlement activity such as the move to approve more Jewish housing in east Jerusalem has “a very corrosive effect on international opinion”, the British envoy said.

Israel’s foreign ministry said the vote in Britain undermines chances for peace because 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.

Prime minister David Cameron and other government leaders abstained, and more than half of the 650 House of Commons members did not participate in the vote. But the motion had support from both government and opposition MPs, who said it could help revive the stalled peace process.

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to recognise a state of Palestine on territories captured by Israel in 1967. The United States and many European countries have not followed suit.

But earlier this month, Sweden’s new prime minister Stefan Lofven said his government would recognise the state of Palestine, an announcement that drew praise from Palestinian officials and criticism from Israel.

In a further symbol of international support for the Palestinians, UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and was scheduled to participate in a meeting of the new Palestinian government.

Mr Ban was driven through the ruins of Gaza City’s Shujaieh neighbourhood and the Jabaliya refugee camp – the scenes of some of the heaviest Israeli shelling in this summer’s conflict.

He said the devastation he saw was far worse than that caused in the previous Israel-Gaza conflict of winter 2008-2009.

“The destruction which I have seen while coming to here is beyond description. This is a much more serious destruction than what I saw in 2009,” Mr Ban said.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to people who lost their lives and also to families who lost their loved ones.”

Israel has denounced the Palestinian government because it is backed by the militant group Hamas, but Western governments have signalled a willingness to work with it.

* Associated Press, with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse