Reprinted from Mondoweiss
Yesterday the British Parliament voted overwhelmingly (274-12) to recognize a Palestinian state, and if you listened to the debate, one theme above all else explains the crushing victory: The British public has been horrified by Gaza and its opinion of Israel has shifted. Even Conservative members of Parliament cited pressure from the public. As Labour's Andy Slaughter said, Britain has witnessed a new "barbarism":
"I think that the British people have been on the same sort of the journey as the right hon. Member for Croydon South [Conservative Sir Richard Ottaway] described -- it is certainly true of the Labour movement -- from being very sympathetic to Israel as a country that was trying to achieve democracy and was embattled, to seeing it now as a bully and a regional superpower. That is not something I say with any pleasure, but since the triumph of military Zionism and the Likud-run Governments we have seen a new barbarism in that country."
Slaughter and a fellow Labour member, Kate Green, said that just as the British Parliament sent a message to Obama a year ago in voting to oppose the Conservative Prime Minister on attacking Syria, a vote Obama heeded in reversing course on a Syria attack, today the British Parliament aims to influence U.S. policy on Palestine.
The Parliamentary debate was conducted in moral terms throughout, a fact that the parliamentarians described as historic. And the discussion was astonishing in its contrast to the stifled debate on these issues in the US Congress. (The debate can be found online: Section one here. Section two is here. Section three is here.)
Below I have made excerpts of the debate, emphasizing the powerful ideas the parliamentarians sounded that you would never hear in Washington. One lawmaker says that the occupation is "much worse" than apartheid in South Africa. Another says that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 now seems like a "sick joke," because it never guaranteed freedom to Palestinians.
Many members offer frank descriptions of Israeli detention of children and unending settlement expansion. Several describe Israeli actions in Gaza as war crimes. One mentions the use of terrorism by Mandela and Begin long before Palestinians used the tactic. Labour and Conservative members alike speak about the role of the Israel lobby in the United States. I should note that all these pols also supported the two-state solution. (I've largely ignored those portions because I believe the 2SS is a dead letter. But you can find the arguments at the links.)
Here are my excerpts. First, the sponsor of the legislation, Grahame M. Morris, Labour, on Britain's historical responsibility, and the failure of Oslo:
"As the originator of the Balfour declaration and holder of the mandate for Palestine, Britain has a unique historical connection and, arguably, a moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine. In 1920, we undertook a sacred trust -- a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. That was nearly a century ago, and the Palestinian people are still to have their national rights recognised. This sacred trust has been neglected for far too long. As the hon. Lady has just said, we have an historic opportunity to atone for that neglect, and take this small but symbolically important step...
"It is now more than 20 years since the Oslo accords, and we are further away from peace than ever before. An entire generation of young Palestinians -- the Oslo generation -- has grown up to witness a worsening situation on the ground. We have seen a significant expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, heightened security threats to both sides, punitive restrictions on Palestinian movement, economic decline, a humanitarian crisis in Gaza of catastrophic proportions and the construction of an illegal annexation wall through Palestinian land.
"It is clear that both Israel-Palestine relations and our foreign policy are at an impasse, which must be broken."
Morris emphasized the Israeli responsibility for the crisis:
"Let us make no mistake about this: to make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel's agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination...Recognition is not an Israeli bargaining chip; it is a Palestinian right. It is one that has to form the basis of any serious negotiations. Indeed, the lack of equity between Israel and the Palestinians is a structural failure that has undermined the possibility of a political settlement for decades. As it stands, Israel has little motivation or encouragement -- perhaps little incentive is a better way of putting it -- to enter into meaningful negotiations. The majority of Israeli Government politicians flat-out reject the notion of a Palestinian state. There are currently no negotiations and, as Secretary of State John Kerry admitted, it was Israeli intransigence that caused the collapse of the latest round of talks...
"Those Palestinians who have pursued the path of diplomacy and non-violence for more than 20 years have achieved very little. We need to send them a message and give them encouragement that it is the path of peace and co-operation, and not the resorting to force of arms, that will actually lead to a lasting and just peace."
Richard Burden, Labour, describes Palestinian persecution in ways you would never hear in the US congress:
"Over the years, I have spoken about the things I have seen for myself, whether that has been settlements growing in violation of international law and successive resolutions; the barrier that snakes in and out of the west bank, cutting Palestinian communities off from each other and farmers from the land; or Palestinian children being brought in leg irons into Israeli military courts, accused of throwing stones, and being subject to laws that vary depending on whether one is Palestinian or Israeli. I have sat with Palestinian families in East Jerusalem who have had their homes destroyed and who are no longer allowed to live in the city of their birth. I have seen for myself the devastation of homes, schools and hospitals in Gaza. I have met fishermen who are fired on if all they do is try to fish. Yes, I have been to Sderot as well and know that Israelis have spoken about their real fear about rocket attacks from Gaza. I also know the fear that Palestinians in Gaza feel daily because of the constant buzz of drones overhead, 24 hours a day, that could bring death at any moment.