By Tariq Shadid
The remarkable landslide win for the motion in UK Parliament to recognize the Palestinian state has taken many around the world by surprise. Even though the vote is merely symbolic, since it is a non-binding motion, it is still being viewed widely as a setback for the Israelis.
Why is this the case, since it is not expected to have any effect on the decision-making of the current British government run by Conservatives? One of the reasons may well be Parliament’s overwhelming support for the motion, which was brought in by backbench Labour MP Graham Morris, namely by a stunning 274 to 12 votes. Another perhaps more important reason can be found in the highly critical tone of the debate in the direction of Israel.
Statements made by Richard Ottaway, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, seem to reflect this sentiment, since he argued that his support for the motion stemmed directly from recent Israeli actions. Stating that he had always ‘stood by Israel through thick and thin’, he expressed his ‘anger over the behavior of Israel’, calling to mind the recent annexation by the Zionist state of 950 acres of Palestinian land which had outraged him ‘more than anything else in my political life’. Very telling was his warning to the Israelis: ‘if it is losing people like me it is going to be losing a lot of people’.
Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, blamed the massive violence that Netanyahu’s government unleashed on Gaza this summer for the outcome of this vote. On Israeli public radio, he said: “I think that this vote is a sign of shifting public opinion in the UK and indeed beyond. The conflict in the summer over Gaza had a big impact on British public opinion and has affected Israel’s standing.”
As expected, the Israeli response to the outcome of the motion was quite negative. A statement from the foreign ministry said that this symbolic vote “sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make, and actually undermines the chances to reach a real peace.”
So, what is it that UK Parliament actually agreed upon, on October 13th? The full British motion stated: “That this House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”
The last 8 words in this statement came from an amendment that was requested by Labour Party MP Jack Straw. Another amendment that was called for by Conservatives led by Guto Bebb, had a wording that would have pleased ‘Israel’ a lot more, namely to add the phrase ‘on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.’ Fortunately, the Conservative amendment failed to gain hold.
The outcome of the motion in its current form means that a successive government run by the Labour Party would unilaterally recognize Palestine, in a similar move to the one announced earlier this month by Sweden’s new left-wing cabinet. This underlines the political significance of this UK Parliament vote, even though it would take a Labour win in the next elections for it to result in anything tangible.
What does this mean for Palestine solidarity movements in the United Kingdom and elsewhere around Europe? Should they celebrate today, or should they raise an eyebrow? The answer to this question may be short of satisfying, perhaps even disappointing, since it is actually a little bit of both.
The symbolism of this vote can be summarized as a vote of anger at Israel and a vote of sympathy for the Palestinians. This is definitely a reason for pro-Palestine activists to cheer it on. Isn’t a lot of what they themselves do about symbolism, and influencing public opinion? When they go out in the streets by the thousands, they don’t exactly expect their demonstration to directly lead to the liberation of Palestine. What they hope to do by such actions is draw attention to the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli against the Palestinians, and raise awareness. On all these levels, this move by the UK Parliament shows that their actions have resulted in a change of hearts at the level of their own representatives in the Chamber.
However, they also have reason to keep their feet on the ground, and be somewhat skeptical at the very least. All it takes is to scratch the surface of the motion, and what you will see is a polished version of UK support for the 1993 Oslo accords, which were already widely supported in British Government circles across the spectrum of left- and right-leaning parties. Most among the pro-Palestine supporters nowadays are highly skeptical of the Oslo setup, since they are well aware that the area that was designated to become the Palestinian state under these accords, has largely been gobbled up by Israeli expansionist efforts of land theft, cut up into various sections by checkpoints, ethnic segregation walls and fences, and ‘Jews-only’ roads meant to be used only by Jewish settlers.
The viability of the state of Palestine that this motion supports is therefore a mere fata morgana. Even if supported by a British government at the highest official level, and with the most bold and powerful statements, it would still not be much more than symbolical support for Palestinian self-determination, unless and until a readiness to resort to means of political and economical pressure upon ‘Israel’ is demonstrated.
Palestine solidarity activists are very well aware of this, and see through the political game of symbolical support for a theoretical Palestinian state, that has done nothing but give the Israelis time to make the factual creation of such a state with a viable economy and safe borders, simply impossible. Since this has already been achieved by the Israeli carrot-on-a-stick approach of years of sham ‘peace negotiations’, the way forward can never truly be support for a two-state solution. The one-state solution which would lead to abolishing the idea of a segregated ‘Jewish state’ – which is at the very heart of Zionist ideology – is what most Palestine activists all around the world are working towards.
Therefore, let us cheer today, that Israel appears to be losing the trust and support of politicians in the United Kingdom. However, let us get serious again tomorrow, and work hard to support the boycott movement that has the ability to create pressure upon Israel to abandon its expansionist plans, its racist ideology, and its genocidal intentions towards the Palestinian people. Let us cherish the hope that these changed sentiments at the level of political representatives in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are not an end station, but the prodromes of true awareness about the Palestinian cause.
All who are genuine in their intentions to achieve real peace and security for all inhabitants of Occupied Palestine living within its historical borders, and true justice for all expelled and banished Palestinians elsewhere in the world, know very well that racial nature of Israeli state must be dismantled and replaced by a one-state government that recognizes all of its inhabitants as equal citizens with equal rights, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
The motion as it is doesn’t mention these things, but may at its best be a small symbolic step that may help open the minds of lawmakers in Europe to these far more humane and just notions and ideas. May the next motion that passes in the United Kingdom, a historical partner in the crime of giving Zionism a foothold on Palestinian soil, be a motion for a comprehensive boycott of Israel. That’s when we will really have a reason to cheer.
- Tariq Shadid is a surgeon living in the Arab Gulf who has been contributing articles to the Palestine Chronicle for many years. Some of these essays have been bundled in the book ‘Understanding Palestine’, which is available on Amazon.com. He also is the founder of the website ‘Musical Intifada’ featuring his songs about the Palestinian cause, on www.docjazz.com.