Will Britain recognise Palestine as a state if, as planned, the matter comes to a vote
at the UN General Assembly in September? Right now, the government says it has not decided. But if France were to push, the likelihood is that William Hague will order British diplomats either to
accept or abstain from the vote.
The strategic rationale for a Yes vote is obvious: at a time when Britain is waging war in Libya and rallying support against Syria and Iran, it would be disadvantageous to be seen by Middle
Easterners as blocking Palestinian aspirations. And having accepted the case for Palestinian statehood in principle why not support it in practice?
On the other hand, voting for Palestinian statehood would divide Europe, since a number of allies will vote No, including Germany and probably Italy. And, more seriously, it would reward a
Palestinian government that includes Hamas and does not recognise Israel’s right to exist. Also, it would risk setting back the peace in Israel if Bibi Netanyahu does as he has promised and reacts
negatively to the vote. Finally, voting affirmatively creates a problematic notion: that peace is made not through painstaking negotiation and compromise, but through a vote at the UN General
People weigh these benefits and drawbacks differently. To avoid having to make the choice altogether, Britain is backing France’s effort at having some form of peace process restarted before the
September vote – in the hope that the Palestinians will then call off the vote.
But that looks unlikely to happen. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas looks set for the vote: having climbed up the hill, he can now hardly back down without winning a major concession in return.
Major concessions, however, do not seem to be forthcoming from Israel. For Abbas, this may also be a legacy issue, the one tangible thing he leaves his people.
The September vote is awkwardly timed for Britain given all the other things going on in the Middle East, not least the Libya intervention. But we are where we are. And I suspect the Foreign
Secretary will, in a common front with France, end up voting for Palestinian statehood.