The Caithness Courier, December 2014
It was some time ago now, in 2011, that I visited Gaza as part of the Council for European-Palestinian Relations. There we witnessed the squalid housing many Gazans are forced to live in due to a ban on the importing of building materials, and we experienced Gaza’s unreliable electricity supply. We met bright students who had been accepted into US and European universities but were unable to leave because they were unable to acquire visa permission. I found the situation then to be harrowing and yet here we are three years later with conflict still raging and Israel still violating international law and continuing with the building of settlements.
In December, at the last Strasbourg Plenary of 2014, a large majority of MEPs voted in favour of the official recognition of Palestinian statehood. This European Parliamentary vote is a political rather than a legal decision, but the strength of the majority expressed strong support for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and to have their own state, as is the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. MEPs also condemned in the strongest terms all acts of terrorism or violence.
The vote followed similar successful votes for Palestinian recognition in British, French, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish parliaments and by the government of Sweden. I believe that it is right that the European Parliament has reflected this initiative that has been sweeping parliaments right across Europe and that it will now become a push for all further countries to give coordinated recognition and support the bid at the United Nations for a global deadline to be set for a new Palestinian state to not just to be recognised, but established.
Recognition of Palestinian statehood is neither an alternative to a two-state solution nor for peace talks to achieve it, but hopefully can be a vital injection of impetus towards both. It is our hope it will send a strong message to Member States to be united in their support for this legitimate process. I believe that the only way to solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine is through the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. In this way, the State of Israel can live in peace and security alongside an independent, democratic and viable State of Palestine.
Before the vote Labour's MEPs had welcomed the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Legislative Authority, Nabil Sha'ath, for talks. Mr Sha'ath thanked the British Labour Party for backing a similar resolution at Westminster and said the European Parliament vote could be an historic step to encourage other European Union states to follow suit.
I and my fellow Labour MEPs recognise that a final and lasting peace in the Middle East can only be achieved through successful negotiations with full security for Israelis as well as Palestinians, but we believe that the recognition of Palestinian statehood can add pressure to end the long wait for progress and represent a concrete step towards a two-state solution.