The UK will abstain on a UN vote on Palestinian statehood, Foreign Secretary William Hague has told the Commons.
The announcement came after Hague was put under heavy pressure by senior Tories who argued he could not support self-determination elsewhere in the region but deny it to the Palestinians.
Hague told the Commons on Wednesday:
"The UK judges that the Palestinian Authority largely fulfils criteria for UN membership, including statehood as far as the reality of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories allows, but its ability to function effectively as a State would be impeded by that situation.
"A negotiated end to the occupation is the best way to allow Palestinian aspirations to be met in reality and on the ground.
"We will not vote against the application because of the progress the Palestinian leadership has made towards meeting the criteria.
"But nor can we vote for it while our primary objective remains a return to negotiations through the Quartet process and the success of those negotiations."
The UN security council is considering an application for statehood made by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. If it can find nine votes on the 15-member security council, a vote will be held.
If the UK abstains it will be joined by Portugal and France, and likely Germany. The Guardian has reported that the EU is playing a larger role in the Middle East and that the government does not want to jeopardise that growing influence. The United States is virtually certain to veto the vote.
Britain abstained on a recent vote to accept the Palestinian Authority as a full member of Unesco.
Hague has come under criticism from senior members of his own party in the Conservative Middle East council, who argue that abstention amounts to hypocrisy.
"As a good friend of Israel and Palestine, the UK has always supported a viable sovereign and secure Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, and this vote asks no more than that we should vote accordingly," the council said in a statement.
The statement was signed by Nicholas Soames, a Tory MP, former defence minister and the president of the council, and Lady Morris of Bolton, its chairman.
Hague's full comments to the Commons on the Palestinian statehood vote can be found below:
I repeat our calls for negotiations on a two state solution without delay and without preconditions, based on the timetable set out in the Quartet Statement of 23rd September. In our view, the parameters for a Palestinian State are those affirmed by the European Union as a whole: borders based on 1967 lines with equivalent land swaps; a just, fair and realistic solution for refugees; and agreement on Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.
Israel’s announcement last week that it would accelerate the construction of 2,000 settlement housing units was wrong and deeply counterproductive. This was the eighth announcement of settlement expansion in six months. We also condemn the decision to withhold tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority which was provocative and against Israel’s own interests, since it has direct implications for the Palestinian Authority’s ability to maintain effective security in the West Bank. We call on Israel to revoke both of these decisions.
We are also concerned about the situation in Gaza and the constant risk of an escalation in violence. We believe the Israeli restrictions harm ordinary Palestinians, inhibit economic development and strengthen rather than weaken Hamas.
It will be both right and directly in Israel’s interest if she permits increased imports of building materials for UN projects and for the private sector in Gaza, allows legitimate exports to traditional markets in the West Bank and Israel, and reduces restrictions on civilian movement between Gaza and the West Bank.
On Friday the Admissions Committee of the Security Council will conclude its consideration of the Palestinian application and produce a report summarising Council members’ views on whether Palestine meets the criteria for membership under the United Nations Charter.
As this could now soon be followed by a vote in the UNSC it is appropriate to inform the House of the Government’s intentions.
The UK judges that the Palestinian Authority largely fulfils criteria for UN membership, including statehood as far as the reality of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories allows, but its ability to function effectively as a State would be impeded by that situation. A negotiated end to the occupation is the best way to allow Palestinian aspirations to be met in reality and on the ground.
We will not vote against the application because of the progress the Palestinian leadership has made towards meeting the criteria.
But nor can we vote for it while our primary objective remains a return to negotiations through the Quartet process and the success of those negotiations.
For these reasons in common with France and in consultation with our European partners, the United Kingdom will abstain on any vote on full Palestinian membership of the UN.
We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace. The United Kingdom will continue to be one of the principal supporters of Palestinian state building efforts, assisting them to tackle poverty, build institutions and boost their economy.
If their application to the UNSC fails, the Palestinian leadership have indicated that they may take the issue to a vote at the UN General Assembly, where different voting procedures and different considerations apply. We and the other countries of the EU will continue to emphasise that any proposition put to the General Assembly must make a return to negotiations more likely.
For Israel, the only means of averting unilateral applications to the UN is a return to negotiations. A demonstration of political will and leadership is needed from both sides to break the current impasse. This includes the Israeli government being prepared to make a more decisive offer than any they have been willing to make in the past.
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