UK should recognise state of Palestine, argues Layla Moran MP



By Layla Moran MP


London, (The Muslim News):  “Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full scale war.” Those were the words of Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process. He will not have made those comments lightly and their implications are stark – for Israelis, for Palestinians, for the wider region and for the whole world.

And as I reflect on the dramatic escalation of the last few days – the protests in Jerusalem; the storming of the al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli police, during Ramadan no less; the dreadful scenes of mourning parents whose children have been killed; and most recently the violence erupting within Arab-Jewish communities across Israel, my heart breaks.

My heart bleeds for Jerusalem – the city of my family.

The Old City is where my mother’s family were from and it is such a magnificent place. At the heart of its history is the idea – the ideal – that three major religions were able to come together and live in peace. This was the reality for my great-grandfather. In his time, it was normal to live side-by-side in harmony. And, despite the violence and the conflict of so many years, this is still the way most Israelis and Palestinians want to live. We want peace.

But extremists on both sides are stoking the flame of violence. And the international community are refusing to intervene, despite their historic responsibilities.

Not only does Britain have long-running responsibilities to the Palestinians, but we are also a Permanent Member of the Security Council. We have a seat at the table. So it is imperative that we do all we can to avoid war and help de-escalate this conflict as soon as possible. What we need now is a joint statement from the Security Council, with the US on board, condemning the violence on both sides and recognising that a ceasefire needs to happen. Otherwise, we are just going to see more innocent civilians – including children – dying. Violence only begets more violence.

The UK Government’s response so far has been disappointing. After my Urgent Question in Parliament earlier this week, the Minister rightly condemned the attacks of Hamas – but refused to criticise the disproportionate Israeli response, which has cost innocent lives.

The UK and the rest of the international community also need to recognise that the actions of the Israeli government in Sheikh Jarrah were the spark that lit this particular tinderbox, a tinderbox that has been growing for months if not years with potential evictions, demolitions and expansion of settlements. They need to acknowledge the provocative timing of the attacks, during Ramadan. And they need to take real steps to resolve these underlying issues: putting a stop to evictions; returning to status quo arrangements at holy sites; and ending the unfair treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The breaches of international law have been going on for some time now, and they only serve to make the prospect of a viable two-state solution more distant. If this is what we are going to return to following de-escalation, then further violence is a question of when, not if.

And once a ceasefire is in place – and I desperately hope that is sooner rather than later – people say we have to get round the negotiating table. But there is no table. So the process needs to start via the Security Council, with two equal partners coming together. The focus has to be on extinguishing the flames of violence and in their place reigniting the flames of hope.

That is the moment when Britain should meet its historic responsibilities to the Palestinians, responsibilities that date back over a hundred years, and fully recognise the state of Palestine. The House of Commons took this step back in 2014 – but the UK Government is still yet to do so.

Over 130 other UN member states already recognise Palestine. It would give such hope to my relatives who still live in the West Bank, were Britain to join that number. Not only would it help create greater balance in the peace process – it would also improve the prospects for success.

And if it will increase the chances of peace, surely that is a step worth taking?

Layla Moran MP is Liberal Democrat Spokesman for Foreign Affairs and International Development

[Photo: Layla Moran MP Liberal Democrats. Photographer: David Woolfall/Creative Commons]

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