Government urged to formally recognise state of Palestine
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Government urged to formally recognise state of Palestine

Tory former minister Sir Desmond Swayne says the UK should go further than just oppose West Bank settlements.

A wall snaking through the West Bank, sectioning off Jewish and Palestinian areas
A wall snaking through the West Bank, sectioning off Jewish and Palestinian areas

The Government should consider formally recognising the state of Palestine before illegal Israeli settlements make a two-state solution impossible, MPs have suggested.

Tory former minister Sir Desmond Swayne urged the Government to go further than simply making representations to Israel condemning the settlements being built in the occupied Palestinian territories.

He warned Israel would continue to act with “absolute impunity” until tougher action was taken as he suggested formal recognition of Palestine could be the answer.

Addressing Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood, Sir Desmond said: “Can I make one suggestion, one gentle suggestion as I conclude to you.

“You might consider giving effect to this House’s instruction that we should recognise the Palestinian state.

“I have heard you say that we can only do this once and therefore we need to choose the moment where that will make the maximum impact and I agree with you.

“But you need to consider this: It would be truly absurd if we were to delay that recognition until after the point at which the reality of any such Palestinian state could actually be delivered.”

A law passed by the Israeli parliament has retrospectively legalised thousands of West Bank homes built unlawfully on private Palestinian land.

The issue of settlements was a topic for discussion when Theresa May met with Israel‘s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks in Downing Street earlier this week.

MPs have previously backed statehood for Palestine but the vote was symbolic and did not compel the Government to act.

Sir Desmond, leading a backbench debate on Israeli settlements, said the current situation in the occupied Palestinian territories appeared to be like “petty apartheid”.

He added: “It is absolutely clear that a significant proportion of the Israeli political establishment are enthralled to an increasingly strident settler movement that regards Palestine as a biblical theme park.”

Sir Desmond was backed in his call by Labour’s Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield).

Mr Burden said the possibility of a two-state solution was still alive “but the chances of it are disappearing, let’s make no mistake about that”.

He said: “Will the minister agree with me that when the two state solution that we all support is now under threat like never before that now is the time to act on that bilateral recognition?

“We have to ask ourselves, if not now, then when?”

 

Crispin Blunt, the Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said the recent visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to the UK suggested the Government “doesn’t fully appreciate the seriousness” of the settlements issue.

However, a number of MPs warned of the need to recognise the complexity of the situation and said the settlements are not the main barrier to achieving peace.

Labour’s Joan Ryan (Enfield North) said: “Settlements are not the only, or even the principle, obstacle to peace.”

She added: “We should recognise and encourage the need for compromise and we should never fail to acknowledge the complexities of a conflict which has endured for decades and whose roots run deep.”

Mike Freer, the Tory MP for Finchley and Golders Green, echoed a similar sentiment as he said: “As other members have said, Israeli settlements are not by a long stretch the main obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

A backbench, cross-party motion put forward by Sir Desmond reaffirms support for a lasting two-state solution and calls on Israel to immediately halt the planning and construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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