Palestinian statehood: This is why the Labour Party has committed itself to recognition of Palestine

We seek to bring justice to a country blighted by the world’s longest occupation

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The Independent Online

Ahed Atef and Zakaria Ahed, aged 10, Mohamed Ramez, 11, and Ismael Mohamed, 9 were killed by an Israeli air strike while playing football on a Gaza beach. They were four of the almost 600 children killed by Israeli warplanes, shells and rifle fire during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ this summer.

Sara, 7, Jamal, 6, Yusef, 4 and Ibrahim, 2 were the four youngest of nine members of the El Dallo family killed in 2012 during ‘Operation Pillar of Defence'.

In 2009 I managed to get into Gaza three weeks after ‘Operation Cast Lead’, and heard eyewitness testimony from the surviving members of families killed in the last ground assault by the world’s fourth strongest army on the world’s most densely packed and closely constrained population.

These are only the most barbaric consequences of a 47-year occupation of which colonisation by settlement building, blockade and apartheid–style segregation are the daily rituals. 

And all of this is carried out by a strong ally of the United Kingdom, to which we sell arms, from which we import goods produced in settlements illegal under international law and which has sabotaged any meaningful negotiations for the past 20 years.

Tomorrow, Parliament will vote on a backbench motion to recognise a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. Against those 47 years of occupation and for the millions exiled from their homeland since 1948 this may seem a small step. 

But Britain has a special responsibility to the people of Palestine and many other countries will take notice if we join the 134 nations who have already recognised Palestinian sovereignty.  It will, at the UN at least, give parity to both sides. 

This debate has not come about through Government initiative, rather from an upsurge of feeling on the back benches. The most recent invasion of Gaza, the cynical undermining of peace talks and of the Palestinian unity government and the announcement of the biggest expansion of settlement building for 30 years have incensed MPs on all sides of the House.

Those feelings are strongest in the Labour Party but noticeable and growing support can be found in the Lib Dem and even the Conservative Parties.

Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, of which I am vice chair and which has a third of Labour MPs as members, is delighted that following their historic move to recognise Palestine in 2011, the Labour Leadership is backing tomorrow’s motion

There is a blatant attempt at sabotage by way of a wrecking amendment proposed by prominent opponents of Palestinian statehood which makes recognition dependent on negotiations.  This gives Israel a veto, but there was no such condition when Britain recognised the state of Israel in 1950.

On the other hand we support a proposed amendment in the name of Jack Straw, Menzies Campbell and Alan Duncan which makes it clear that recognition is a positive step that will aid future negotiations. It is not a unilateral move but a catching up that puts both parties on an equal footing.

The Labour Party has committed itself to recognition of Palestine. Tomorrow is about trying to get Parliament and the Coalition to follow suit.  If we succeed we will have done something to bring justice to a country blighted by the world’s longest occupation. If we fail because the Tories wheel out the payroll vote this will give the millions of British voters who support the Palestinian people one more reason to vote them out in May.

Andy Slaughter MP is the Labour MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Justice Minister

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