Scotland should recognise Palestine

Scotland should recognise Palestine
Comment: The Scottish parliament is soon to debate recognition of Palestine. But the real question is, what pressure will be brought to bear on Israel.
4 min read
16 Apr, 2015
Scottish Celtic supporters wave a Palestinian flag [AFP]

Next Tuesday, members of the Scottish Parliament will be debating a motion that calls for the recognition of Palestine as a state. They will join the members of the United Kingdom, Irish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish and

     The phrase about "all sides avoiding action that would make peace harder to achieve" is a platitude.

European parliaments who have all debated similar motions.

The Scottish Parliament has no responsibility for foreign affairs as Scotland, like Palestine, is not a state. And in any case there will not be a vote. But a quarter of the Scottish Parliament’s members have signed the motion and more – maybe even a majority – are expected to support it.

At a time when the United Kingdom is in the midst of an election campaign and the House of Commons is locked to all visitors, even to MPs, the Scottish debate will be a reminder of the urgent issue that awaits the newly-elected Members of Parliament when they arrive after May 7.

The world does not stop while elections take place and the plight of Palestine has become far worse since the Israeli election of March 17 and, more specifically, since Binyamin Netanyahu’s frank admission on the day before polling day that he will never agree to a Palestinian state.

The debate will offer a chance to address the new realities: Netanyahu does not believe in the two-state solution. So there is no point in re-starting negotiations yet. The only way forward is to give Israel an incentive to make peace. The only incentive that will work is economic. It will only work if it removes the rock on which all negotiations have foundered – the settlements.

In terms of physical change the recognition of the state of Palestine will make only a tiny difference. A building in East Jerusalem will change its name-plate from ‘British Consulate-General’ to ‘British Embassy to Palestine’. But it will make a huge emotional difference. It will signal an end to double standards. And it will clear the roadblocks to far greater change.

Last October the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly by 274 votes to 12 in favour of recognising Palestine, but only two days later David Cameron, the Prime Minister, brushed the vote aside, saying he would recognise Palestine only “when the time is right”.

Timing and action

After the Israeli election David Cameron rushed to tweet his congratulations and spoke in the Commons as though nothing had changed: “I am sure that we will all want to congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu on his election victory. I agree we must put pressure on both sides to ensure that talks on a two-state solution get going. I will be talking with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening, and I will make it very clear that I support a two-state solution.”

Labour’s policy is to support recognition and Labour leader Ed Miliband was one of the 274 MPs who voted to recognise Palestine in October, as did 80 per cent of his MPs.

But the real question is the timing. At a press conference in Scotland, Miliband was asked by a reporter if Britain would recognise Palestine “in the first year or two” of his premiership if Labour wins the election.

"What we said at the time of that vote was that it was a vote about the principle of recognition. And clearly a decision about when recognition would take place was dependent on how it would constructively help negotiations."

"I am not going to get into, today, speculation about when that would precisely be. That is a judgement we would have to take at the time," he said.

His manifesto talks as though a two-state solution were still achievable and makes no reference to recognition: “We remain committed to a comprehensive two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent state of Palestine. There can be no military solution to this conflict and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve.”

This does not sound like a man ready to recognise Palestine in his first speech, as Stefan Löfvén did when he became prime minister of Sweden. The phrase about "all sides avoiding action that would make peace harder to achieve" is a platitude that overlooks the fact that it is not action but inaction by Western governments that makes peace harder to achieve.

It may take some time before recognition is granted, but that is the easy bit. The real question that will have to be faced once it has been granted is whether to support action to end trade and financial dealings with settlements or to suspend Israel’s duty-free access to the European Union until it agrees not to act as a conduit for trade with illegal settlements.

Scotland should point the way.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.