MPs have voted in favour of recognising Palestine as an independent state alongside Israel.
The House of Commons voted 274 to 12 in support of the motion “that this House believes that the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”
While the motion, which was put forward by Labour MP Grahame Morris and amended by former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, was passed by a large majority, less than half of MPs took part in the vote. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats abstained from the vote, as is customary on backbench-proposed motions.
During the debate, Morris argued that recognition of Palestinian statehood would be a “symbolically important” step towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a process that has been stalled for decades with frequent eruptions of conflict.
Shadow foreign minister Ian Lucas claimed that British recognition of Palestine could be a “bridge” for reopening negotiations and would “strengthen moderate voices” in Palestine by demonstrating that there is an alternative to violence.
Conservative MP and former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind called the motion “premature”, but fellow Tory MP Nicholas Soames described the recognition of Palestine as both “morally right” and “in our national interest”.
The motion is non-binding and will not change British policy, where the UK reserves the right to recognise Palestine when it was “appropriate for the peace process”. Britain abstained from casting a ballot in a 2012 UN vote granting the Palestinians non-member observer state status.
Palestinians welcomed the vote, with Ashraf Khatib, an adviser for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, telling the Financial Times:
“It will send a strong message to the current Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu that it is not business as usual.
“The decision by the British will safeguard the two-state solution, and will safeguard the investments the UK has made in the past 20 years in the Palestinian issue.”
Meanwhile, Israel has described the vote as “troubling” and said that it could undermine the road to peace. In a statement following the vote, the Israeli government said:
“The route to Palestinian statehood runs through the negotiation room. Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make, and actually undermines the chances to reach a real peace.”
Currently, 138 countries around the world recognise the state of Palestine, but Western Europe and the US are notably absent from this list.