Boris Johnson has rejected Labour’s desire for the UK to mark the Balfour Declaration’s centenary by officially recognising the state of Palestine.
The Foreign Secretary said the UK judges, alongside the French and other European allies, that “the moment is not yet right to play that card” of recognising Palestine.
He added in the Commons: “It won’t on its own end the occupation. It won’t on its own bring peace. It isn’t after all something you can do more than once.
“That card having been played, that will be it. We judge that it is better to give every possible encouragement to both sides to seize the moment.”
The 1917 Balfour Declaration was seen as the first significant declaration by a world power in favour of a Jewish “national home” in what was known as Palestine.
Arthur Balfour, as foreign secretary, sent the letter which remains a deeply divisive document.
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Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry had urged Johnson to use the 100th anniversary of the declaration to reflect on Britain’s role in the region and ask whether there is more it could be doing to “bring about lasting peace and stability” in the Middle East.
She said: “Can we do more to ensure the political rights as well as the civil and religious rights of Palestinian people are protected, just as Lord Balfour intended all those years ago?
“On this point, as ( Johnson) will well know, I believe there’s no better way, no more symbolic way of marking the Balfour centenary than for the UK to officially recognise the state of Palestine.”
Thornberry asked if the UK still has plans to recognise Palestine and to outline when it will do this.
She also described US president Donald Trump as being “utterly directionless”, adding: “The need for the Britain to show leadership on this issue is ever more pressing.”
Johnson said Thornberry had been characteristically “hard” on the current US administration, noting this was perhaps her job.
Thornberry could be heard shouting “it’s your job too”, which prompted the Foreign Secretary to reply: “Indeed, I’m hard where it’s necessary.”
Johnson added: “We need the Palestinian Authority, with a clear mandate, to sit down and negotiate with the Israelis and do that deal that is there to be done, that everybody understands.
“We all know the shape of the future map, we all know how it could be done.
“What is needed now is political will and I can assure you and the House that the UK will be absolutely determined to encourage both sides to do that deal.”
Conservative former minister Sir Hugo Swire echoed Labour’s calls, telling Johnson: “A positive way to mark this important centenary would be for the UK to finally recognise a Palestinian state – something many of us in this House believe would honour the vision of those who helped bring about the state of Israel in the first place.”
Johnson said the UK “wants to recognise a Palestinian state” as part of a two-state solution but the moment is not yet right.
He later reiterated there is a chance to “proceed with a version of the Arab peace plan” which has been on the table since 2002.
Johnson went on: “Nobody ever got rich by betting on a successful conclusion of the Middle East peace process, but there is an opportunity, we must do whatever we can to persuade both sides that this is their moment for greatness.
“That is certainly the case we’re making to both of them.”