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Britain’s Palestinian statehood question

14 September 2011

11:16 AM

14 September 2011

11:16 AM

The Palestinians are seeking United Nations recognition as a state and a vote is
apparently imminent. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland has a useful account of the diplomatic
arithmetic and explains how the possible vote could be decided by European countries and by Britain in particular.

‘Barack Obama has already said the US will vote against any Palestinian move towards statehood at the UN general assembly now gathering in New York. Large swaths of Latin America,
Africa, Asia and the Middle East plan to vote for it. Which leaves Europe as the diplomatic battleground. If the leading European powers side with the US, the Palestinian initiative will be seen
as a failure. If an EU majority backs recognition in some form, the Palestinians can claim symbolic victory.

Already negotiations are under way, both among the European nations and between the EU and the Palestinians, aimed at reaching a common, compromise position. France and Spain want to say yes,
Germany and Italy are wary. Which leaves Britain with something akin to a casting vote in the "quintet" of leading European nations. How David Cameron jumps will be crucial in
determining Europe’s stance, and therefore the fate of the Palestinian effort itself. For decades Britain has talked about punching above its weight. Now its weight really counts.’

So, what is Britain policy? Well, at present it seems that the policy is not to have a policy. The government admits that it doesn’t know which way it would vote. Much will
depend on the wording of any motion and there are suggestions that abstention might be the most diplomatic course of action in any event. However, the government is committed to a two state
solution, but one in which the Palestinians explicitly recognise and respect Israel’s right to exist. I’m told that any ‘yes’ vote depends on that requirement.

Freedland insists that Britain should vote ‘yes’ regardless. He believes that this would promote the interests of Fatah at the expense of Hamas and contain Netanyahu. Freedland’s
opponents disagree, mainting that Britain must vote ‘no’ if the Quartet’s peace plan is to survive. As one prominent member of Conservative Friends of Israel put it to me last
night: "Hamas will merely use statehood to legitimise and extend its terrorism”.


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