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

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How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison respectively act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.