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A state of things to come

A state of things to come


THE Israeli government might try to take solace in the low turnout—only half of British MPs showed up to debate a motion proposing to recognise Palestine as a state on October 13th. Yet their verdict was overwhelming: the motion was carried by 274 to 12.

As a backbench motion, the coalition government, which asked its ministers to abstain during the vote, can choose to ignore it. But as an indication of where British, and European, sympathies increasingly lie on this issue, it will be profoundly unsettling for Benjamin Natanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

The main opposition Labour Party—including its leader, Ed Miliband, who has Israeli relatives and has visited Israel as Labour’s leader—supported the motion. So did the Liberal Democrats, the government’s junior partner, which has long advocated recognising Palestine. And on the Conservative side, which has traditionally been more sympathetic to the Jewish state, the motion also received some striking backing.

Richard Ottaway, the veteran Tory chair of Parliament’s influential foreign affairs select committee, said Israel’s recent decision to expand its settlements in the West Bank had persuaded him to break a lifelong habit of staunch pro-Israeli support. “Looking back over the past 20 years, I realise now Israel has slowly been drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life. It has made me look a fool and that is something I deeply resent.”

“In normal circumstances” Mr Ottaway said he would have opposed the motion, because the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel was fit to disqualify it from statehood. But, he said, “such is my anger with the behaviour of Israel in recent months that I will not be opposing this motion. I have to say to the government of Israel: if it is losing people like me, it is going to be losing a lot of people.”

The vote in the House of Commons follows an announcement from Sweden’s new centre-left government on October 3rd that it intends to recognise Palestine. Around 130 countries have already done so; Sweden would be the first longstanding EU member to follow suit on Palestine’s behalf.

Recognition from Britain, given its historical role in Israel’s birth and closeness to America, would be a much bigger fillip for the Palestinian cause. Given that Mr Miliband is currently the bookies’ favourite to win next year’s general election, and probably then rule in tandem with the Lib Dems, that has never looked so likely.


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