Today in Parliament, MPs are voting on a backbench motion (supported by a one-line whip from the Labour party) proposing that Britain recognises Palestine as a state. The motion attempts push a new status quo on Israel-Palestine, without the agreement of the partners on the ground.
This is not just an arrogant move, it is a pointless one – not least because the Cameron government has already said it will ignore the vote. What is of concern, however, is that the whole move displays a startling degree of naivety in Westminster.
At the same time as the West has declared war on Isis, it is odd for British MPs to be publicising their intention to support the exponents of another caliphate – one centred on the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian ‘state’ that MPs are being asked to recognise consists of a ‘unity government’ – albeit a fractious one – between the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas; and the terrorist group Hamas (the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood).
Just how long this ‘unity government’ will last is anyone’s guess. In 2007, Hamas ejected the PA from Gaza by a variety of their traditional means, including shooting their opponents in the backs and throwing others off tall buildings. Hamas aspires to do the same in the West Bank. As recently as August 2014, Abbas accused Hamas of smuggling money and ammunition into the West Bank to stage a coup against the PA. This is the state that the House of Commons is trying to wish into existence.
But this is not purely a problem for Palestinians or Israelis. It is a regional and indeed a global problem. A senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Zahar, explained in a 2010 speech the Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas goal:
‘Our enterprise extends far beyond Palestine: Palestine in its entirety, the Arab nation in its entirety, the Islamic nation in its entirety, and the entire world.’
Another Hamas figure, Subhi Al-Yaziji, dean of Koranic studies at the Islamic University of Gaza, provided further details in a 2012 television interview:
‘The conquest of Andalusia [Spain] is an old dream, something Muslims proudly hope for and will continue to hope for in the future. . . . We place our hopes in Allah and trust that the day will come when our triumph will not be restricted to Palestine. Our hopes go beyond that – to raise the banner of the Caliphate over the Vatican, the ‘Rome’ of today, in accordance with the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad: Constantinople shall be conquered, and then Rome.’
Recognition of a Palestinian state will inevitably be seen, by the peoples of the region, as an endorsement of these aspirations. Middle Easterners are quick to internalise signs of Western inconsistency, and will draw their own conclusions about Western resolve over Isis.
All of which may sound like so much naysaying, so let me point out a positive: There is a solution to the Israel-Palestinian situation. It relies on both sides being confident enough in each other that they are able to come to a solution. Absent such bilateral agreement, no meaningful peace or peace deal could possibly come about. What Westminster is doing today may sound like a positive move, but it is in fact simply a group of outsiders claiming to know the security situation of Israeli and Palestinian people better than those people and their governments can know it for themselves.
One reason why the Israelis cannot currently agree a solution with the PA is because the PA are in a unity deal with a terrorist group that seeks a local version of what Isis is trying to do in Syria. If British MPs wish to support the creation of another state that we and our allies will have to fight, then they should vote ‘yes’. But they should know what they are voting for, and they should know how history will judge the naivety and the presumption of their stance.