MPs will vote on recognising Palestine as a state today. Photo: Getty
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Why MPs should vote to recognise Palestine

MPs have a rare chance to vote on Palestinian statehood today.

It’s very rare for MPs to get the chance to vote on the Israel-Palestine issue. There are many debates in the House of Commons, but almost never votes. So today’s backbench debate and vote on Palestine presents a great opportunity for MPs to nail their colours to the mast.

There is a good possibility that there will be a majority – even a substantial majority – supporting motion calling on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine and, if there is, we believe it would have a huge impact in both Europe and the Middle East.

In Europe it could kickstart a process that would see all the West European countries confer recognition on Palestine and then put economic pressure on the Israelis to end their oppressive 47-year occupation.

In the Middle East it would send a signal that the West really does mean what it says about the illegality of Israeli settlements and encourage the politicians who have been advocating a constitutional and non-violent route to Palestinian self-determination.

Of course the result of the vote on a backbench motion is not binding on the government. And even if the government does confer recognition, it is not going to make any overnight difference to the lives of millions of Palestinians in refugee camps.

The only visible difference will be that a small well-fortified house in the Sheikh Jarrah suburb of East Jerusalem which has been acting as the unofficial British mission to the Palestinians will take down a sign reading “British Consulate-General” and put up a sign reading “British Embassy”.

But the emotional difference will be huge. Britain, the country that issued the Balfour Declaration, that governed Palestine from 1922 to 1948, that abandoned a country in turmoil and left the two sides to fight it out, that has been standing on the sidelines ever since, condemning Israel for its illegal settlements but taking no action, will finally have come off the fence.

There has been a huge increase in public pressure on MPs. They have received 53,000 emails asking them to vote for recognition via just one website in the last ten days. Some MPs have received over a thousand emails for recognition and only a few against.

But most MPs made up their mind earlier this year after the collapse of the peace talks in April, which even the Americans blamed on Israeli settlement building, the collective punishment of the West Bank in June and July, the war on Gaza which killed over 500 children and 1,400 civilians in August and the announcement of yet more illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land in September.

MPs who have been loyal members of Conservative or Labour Friends of Israel for decades and have never breathed a word of criticism have come to debates to say that this time Israel has gone "too far". Many of them will be eloquent by their absence from this debate.

The Israel loyalists will still be there, pressing their amendment that recognition should not be conferred until "the conclusion of successful peace negotiations", but of course the Israelis forced the collapse of negotiations by continually building more illegal settlements.

And in any case the recognition of Palestine by Britain is a matter for our government alone. It does not require us to consult with the Israeli government. To make it dependent on the success of the talks would mean handing over control of our foreign policy to Israel.

Ed Miliband and his shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander deserve credit for pressing the case for the recognition of Palestine, as they have done for the last four years, and for calling on his party to support the backbench motion.

There are already 135 countries that recognise Palestine, including many EU countries, and with Sweden announcing that it would recognise Palestine just last week, it’s not clear why Britain should wait any longer. It is a time for Britain to show leadership.

Andy Slaughter is Labour MP for Hammersmith and a shadow justice minister; Martin Linton is the former Labour MP for Battersea, a Guardian journalist, and works for Palestine Briefing

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.