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UK Government position: Non recognition

In October 2014, the House of Commons voted in favour of the following:

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.

This vote was not binding on the Government.

The UK Government has not recognised this statehood, and abstained in the UN General Assembly vote that granted Palestine non-member observer status at the UN. The previous Library Briefing Paper, “International status of Palestine”, 3 October 2014 covered these developments in detail. See also the Briefing Paper, “The Occupied Palestinian Territories: recent developments”, 20 March 2017.

In recent months, the UK has continued to reiterate its long-standing position that it would only recognise a State of Palestine at the “right time” in the peace process with Israel. In February 2021, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said:

The UK will recognise a Palestinian state at a time of our choosing, and when it best serves the objective of peace.

In September 2020, the Government said:

We are clear that we want to see the creation of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state – living in peace and security, side by side with Israel. The UK will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace. Bilateral recognition in itself cannot end the occupation. Without a negotiated settlement the occupation and the problems that come with it will continue. We continue to work closely with international partners strongly advocating a two-state solution and encouraging a return to meaningful negotiations.

The Government has reiterated this position again in in June 2021, and in a Petitions Committee debate in that same month, saying:

The UK Government position is clear: the UK will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the object of peace. Bilateral recognition in itself cannot, and will not, end the occupation. The UK Government continue to believe that without a negotiated peace agreement, the occupation, and the problems that come with it, will continue. We are committed to the objective of a sovereign, prosperous and peaceful Palestinian state, living side by side with a safe and secure Israel.

Arguments in favour of recognition

Some recent arguments suggest that the UK should recognise a Palestinian State to further the progression of negotiations and peace talks. Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran recently argued that recognition would help re-establish peace talks, writing in The Independent:

…the time is right for Britain to soon play its strongest hand and recognise the state of Palestine. Without Israel and Palestine coming to the table as equal partners, the likelihood of the negotiations failing is almost inevitable.

Yossi Mekelberg, Professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House, has recently written:

… Palestine remains a hybrid political entity that many countries consider a state but won’t go so far as doing the honorable thing and recognizing it as a state regardless of the Security Council. This means it does not get treated as an equal member of the community of sovereign states.

The power of symbolism cannot and should not be underestimated, but there is also overwhelming evidence that international recognition of Palestine would serve the causes of peace, justice and international law. For too long, the issue of recognition has been framed as a prize waiting for the Palestinians at the end of negotiations. This has always put Palestinian negotiators in an inferior position around the negotiation table vis-a-vis Israel, which is not only a superior military and economic force that is occupying its land, but one that is formally a state. Laying to rest the question, and the whip, of Palestinian self-determination would accelerate the peace negotiations and give them a better chance of succeeding.

International recognition of a Palestinian State

Palestinian Membership of international organisations includes organisations such as the International Criminal Court, in the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, the Group of 77, and UNESCO.

At the United Nations, the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations lists the states that have recognised the State of Palestine.

While this may indicate some form of recognition by the members of those organisations, membership of organisations per se is not automatic in achieving statehood. The Commons Library Briefing Paper, “Palestinian statehood”, 11 August 2011, also explored the issues surrounding its recognition in international organisations such as the UN.

Currently, 139 of 193 UN Member States recognise this statehood.

Statehood as an aim of peace talks

A two-state solution for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was the objective of a peaceful settlement highlighted in the 1993 Oslo Accords (the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements).

Article 1 of this agreement stated the aims of the negotiations between the two sides as including self-government and permanent status:

The aim of the Israeli–Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council (the ‘Council’), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. It is understood that the interim arrangements are an integral part of the whole peace process and that the negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

More recent attempts to set out a solution to the conflict continued to aim for a two-state solution and the independence of a Palestinian state. In 2003, a UN-backed roadmap included “a vision of two states, Israel and a sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.” In 2007, a joint understanding between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation agreed to resume negotiations “[i]n furtherance of the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

The two-state solution remains the most favoured approach to achieving peace, despite some incidents being criticised for potentially endangering this in recent years. For example, On 28 January 2020, the former US President Trump’s Administration published its peace plan for the Middle East which included controversial proposals to swap land between Israel and the Palestinians. This would have required Israel to annex land currently occupied by settlements in the West Bank, and was met with hostility by some.

In February 2022 a group of Israeli and Palestinian public figures drew up a new peace initiative—largely based on the 2003 Geneva Accord. The nearly 100-page confederation plan includes recommendations for how to address core issues. Importantly the plan starts with recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel before seeking to work out the details of controversial issues such conflicting claims to Jerusalem, final borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Palestinian Authority declined to comment in response to the confederation proposal.

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