THE BLOG

Why I'm Abstaining on Palestine

13/10/2014 15:03 BST | Updated 13/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Today the House of Commons is being asked to choose between two positions on the recognition of Palestine as a state. There should have been a third, middle way.

The original motion reads:

That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.

Before this there will be a vote on an amendment to add at the end of the motion; 'on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.'

The problem I face is that neither motion adequately reflects my considered view on what needs to be done to resolve this very important issue.

The original motion makes no demand on Hamas to give up its rocket attacks on Israel and to accept Israel's right to exist, while the amendment offers no sense of urgency or of the injustice being experience by Palestinian people.

Israel's response to this year's rocket attacks by Hamas was disproportionate and lost it much international support. The Israeli government continues to impose unreasonable restrictions on Palestinians and to build massive illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

If forced to vote on a principle I would, on balance, choose recognition and support the unamended motion, but I am not given to gesture politics. In my view to vote for an unqualified recognition of Palestine and which makes no distinction between the very different conditions in the three areas of Palestine - the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza - is simply a gesture. And it is one that will be interpreted very differently, and not necessarily helpfully by the two sides to the conflict.

In the debate over the Israel-Palestine question we are always - wrongly - forced to choose one side or the other. Any criticism of one is taken as evidence that you side with the other. I refuse to make this bogus and damaging choice. There are decent and misguided people on both sides, but the vast majority of both Israelis and Palestinians want to live in peaceful co-existence. In the UK we must not make gestures that risk being misunderstood, but rather work to make this desire a reality.

What is needed is for Israel to end settlement construction immediately, relax many of the restrictions it imposes on both the West Bank and Gaza, and to show real commitment to the two state solution, which it is slowly strangling by its present policies. Those in the Palestinian community who deny the right of Israel to exist must likewise be forced to reconsider and not to be rewarded for their violence.

The history of such struggles is that the 'extremists' must be spoken to and drawn into dialogue. We saw this in Northern Ireland; we saw how Nelson Mandela approached reconstruction in South Africa; we saw this works with some elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The risk that the hard liners in Hamas will see recognition of Palestine as reward must be balanced by the risk in keeping them marginalised. The hard truth is that there can be no enduring solution without Hamas.

I have reluctantly concluded that the only appropriate action I can take tonight is to abstain.