This Monday the UK Parliament passed a motion, recognizing the official status of the Palestine statehood. While the vote itself can be considered as a positive step in a right direction, it raises two fundamental questions, which should be addressed.
The first question is over the significance of this vote in international context, particularly considering that Palestine was already officially recognized by approximately 100 governments. Clearly, the recognition of Palestine is meant to signal to the Israel’s officials that the international community is getting increasingly dissatisfied with Israeli reluctance to cooperate with the Palestine state representatives. Yet, the problem is that Israel might fail to react to this signal. The Israeli policy towards Palestine is formed by the Netanyahu and his close aides, which show little concern for the views of the international community. On the contrary, the Netanyahu government is more preoccupied with the demonstration to its regional rivals that Israel has the sufficient resources to combat any possible threat against its security and demonstrating to Palestinian officials that it can engage in a bilateral negotiation only once certain conditions are adopted and implemented by the Palestine side. Thus, it is rather unlikely that the current government will shift dramatically its policy towards Palestine only on the basis of this fragile international pressure.
The second important question is whether Palestinian recognition through this motion will bring a fundamental change of UK policy towards Israel and the Palestine conflict. While there might be some ground for optimism, few factors suggest that this would be highly unlikely. Legally, the motion itself had a non-binding legal status, which means that it signifies a sentiment or slight change of attitude rather than a uniformed willingness to bring about a change in the policy.
Furthermore, many senior government officials, including the official and shadow cabinet of ministers decided to abstain from the voting on the motion in order not to be drawn on this debate and to demonstrate their neutral or undecided stance towards the issue. Indeed, the Conservative minister for the Middle East Affairs Tobias Ellwood declared that UK will only recognize officially and legally the Palestine state only when it will deem such action as the beneficial for the establishment of peace in the Middle East.
Thus, the decision to introduce the motion should be attributed to the intensive political pressure either of the renowned NGO’s such as Oxfam or the local pressure group, heavily interested in the recognition of the Palestine statehood, such as Labour’s friend of Palestine and the Middle East. It should also be noted that the current Coalition government, particularly its Conservative “component”, strongly supported the Israeli government even during its controversial military operation against Gaza during this summer, which means that it requires a much clear and cohesive set of evidence even to consider the change of its traditional approach towards Middle East.
Economically, Israel is one of the key economic allies for Britain and a sudden & radical change of the policy towards the Middle East might offset the rapidly growing economic partnership and might create serious obstacles for the future of bilateral relationship.
Thus, while the recognition of the Palestine statehood is certainly a step towards a right direction, the more extensive measures are required in order to change the UK policy towards Middle East and achieve a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.