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Palestinian State (UN Membership)

Volume 529: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2011

Membership of the UN by September is one option under consideration by President Abbas. We believe that Israelis and Palestinians should return to negotiations. We will make a decision on UN membership only at the appropriate time.

Time and again, the Secretary of State has said that he is in favour of an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. Surely with events going apace in the middle east, the time is right to show solidarity with the Palestinians, support them at the United Nations and prove, once and for all, that we are on the Palestinian side.

We have lent a great deal of support to Palestinians at the United Nations. For instance, as the hon. Lady will know, in February we voted for the Palestinian resolution on settlements. We voted the opposite way to the United States on that occasion, which is unusual for this country. We strongly support a future state based on 1967 borders, and we welcome President Obama’s recent speech in that regard. We must remember that the way to a viable and secure state is through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It is to those negotiations that we want both parties to return.

I am disappointed in the Foreign Secretary’s answer. If we wait for negotiations to resume, we will wait for ever, given how things are going. President Obama made self-determination the focus of his speech to the middle east and made reference to the brave people struggling for freedom in the Arab world. Does that not also apply to the Palestinians, and would UN membership not take us a step forward?

The hon. Lady will have to be disappointed with the position of all European countries, because we have all withheld a decision on the question of Palestinian recognition and membership of the UN. It is vital to remember that the way to a secure Israel and a viable, prosperous Palestinian state is through negotiations between the two. She is right to be frustrated or exasperated by the time that the negotiations have taken. Nevertheless, there is no way to lasting peace in the middle east other than through those negotiations.

Will the Foreign Secretary impress upon the Israeli Government in a friendly but firm way that the only manner by which they can avoid an overwhelming vote in favour of a Palestinian state at the General Assembly is if the Israeli Prime Minister gives an unequivocal commitment in support of a two-state solution, as proposed by President Obama, and a commitment to enter into early and meaningful negotiations to that end?

Yes, I agree with that. My right hon. and learned Friend is right that it is important for Israel to show a readiness to negotiate in the light of President Obama’s speech and what could happen at the United Nations in September. Indeed, one advantage of the United Kingdom and other EU nations considering our position on this matter over the next few months is that it will maximise the pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians to enter such negotiations.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an essential feature of statehood is identifiable and recognised borders? Will he therefore confirm that there will be no compromise on the principle that any settlement must be based on the borders of 1967?

My right hon. and learned Friend will know what the President of the United States has said about 1967 borders. We have always said that we mean 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps of land. I therefore do not think that we can be as categoric as my right hon. and learned Friend, but based on those borders, subject to agreement, there will be a good deal of latitude.

What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the moves towards Palestinian unity? Does the reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas make it more or less likely that the United Kingdom will support UN membership for Palestine?

Our stance on that, if it comes to that point in September, will depend on many things, including the issues that I have commented on. It is important that the reformed Palestinian Authority—we still await many of the appointments to that body—uphold non-violence, are committed to a negotiated two-state solution, and uphold the previous agreements of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Those are the factors by which we will judge the Palestinian approach.

Mr Speaker,

“peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state.”

They are not my words, but those of President Obama. Might not moving too quickly towards a unilateral declaration of statehood undermine moves towards peace entirely, and should we not be seeking negotiations towards an agreement between the two parties outside the UN?

My hon. Friend will have heard in my answers that we have placed our emphasis strongly on that. There is a need for a return to negotiations by both sides, and now that President Obama has made his speech about 1967 borders, I hope that Palestinians will take that approach. We have already talked about the Israeli approach.