Why Britain is wrong on Palestinian Statehood

Britain's stance on the Palestinian declaration undermines the peace process and poses serious risks for Israelis and Palestinians

The General Assembly may soon have much to answer for
Matthew Offord MP
On 19 November 2011 15:26

Last week I urged the Foreign Secretary to vote no at the United Nations Security Council on the issue of Palestinian membership to the UN.

In his statement to the House of Commons William Hague announced that the UK would be abstaining from the vote in the Security Council. He stated that the UK ‘consider there to be no substitute for negotiations under the Quartet process, which we obviously want to get going’ and that the Government ‘also believe that voting for full Palestinian membership of the United Nations at this moment would reduce the incentives for the Palestinians and the willingness of Israelis to find a negotiated solution.’

However, if the Foreign Secretary agrees that the conflict is a political one that can be resolved only at the negotiating table, and that the talks should resume as soon as possible, how does that explain the planned UK abstention from the vote?

The Palestinian initiative at the United Nations presents some very serious risks for Israel.

Two short months since the issue of Universal Jurisdiction underwent legislative change in the UK in order to avoid spurious allegations by campaign groups, Israelis may once again be prevented from travelling freely abroad thanks to the Palestinians’ UN agenda.

A successful bid will infer statehood in the eyes of many of the world’s international institutions. Institutions such as UNESCO have already done this and it is clear that the International Criminal Court will not be far behind. Palestinians would then be afforded the opportunity to bring petitions against Israelis on the international stage.

Earlier this year, in an article in the New York Times, President Abbas said:

"Palestine's admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalisation of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice."

What clearer evidence is needed that the Palestinians now intend to ‘internationalise the conflict’ in order to achieve their aims and how serious can they be about achieving genuine peace with Israel?

This brings me onto my next point. The Palestinians unilateral agenda will also bring some very real dangers to the Peace Process.

Firstly, granting the Palestinians membership of the United Nations will bring no real changes on the ground to the lives of Palestinians. There are serious risks that raising Palestinian expectations in this way could lead to a resurgence of violence when Palestinians realise that that success at the UN does not in reality give them statehood.

Placing the initiative with those Palestinians intent on violence does nothing to resolve the conflict. The prospect of a third intifada in the region is unimaginable and will render hopes for peace impossible.

Secondly, a positive result for the Palestinians at the UN indicates to them that the unilateral diplomatic agenda works. That they don’t need to sit down at the table with Israel and make the tough decisions and the difficult compromises that define the process of seeking peace.

Furthermore, it indicates that the International community will support this behaviour. What sort of message does this send? Whilst it is frustrating that peace talks are going nowhere, it is only through a resumption of negotiations, not a unilateral agenda, that two states for two peoples can be a realistic objective.

In all likelihood the Palestinian resolution at the United Nations Security Council will not have the votes to pass. Nonetheless, much like our US allies, the UK should have been clear in stating they would be voting no at the UN. Instead of trying to appease Arab and Palestinian opinion they should be standing up for their principles, defining their role as a strong, mediating influence in the peace process and making the sensible decisions even if they are the tough ones.

If the Palestinians decide to take their case to the UN General Assembly, the UK must be prepared to assert its influence in ensuring that any resolution on statehood, non-member statehood or the peace process more generally is poised to facilitate to a swift return to negotiations by both sides.

At the UN in September, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said himself that as soon as a peace agreement is signed, Israel would be the first country to welcome a Palestinian State to the UN. For now though, the focus for Britain, the international community and all defenders of a two state solution, should be to encourage the Palestinians to accept the Quartet Parameters for peace, immediately return to negotiations and resuscitate the peace process. 

Dr Matthew James Offord  is a British Conservative Party politician and the Member of Parliament for Hendon in North London. This article first appeared in the London Jewish News and is reprinted with permission.

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