Reprinted from The National
There can have been few Palestinians whose hearts did not warm at least a little to the news that the British parliament voted overwhelmingly this week to recognise a Palestinian state. After all, it was a British decision to issue the Balfour Declaration -- taken almost 100 years ago -- that set in motion Israel's creation and the territorial conflict that has raged ever since.
The parliamentary win, as has been widely noted, was symbolic -- and in more ways than one. The motion, backed by 274 votes to 12, is not binding.
Like most of the European Union, the UK government still appears unwilling to join more than 130 states worldwide that have recognized Palestinian statehood.
If, as expected, the Palestinian leadership returns to the UN next month to renew its statehood bid, British officials have indicated they will not be swayed by parliamentary sentiment.
A late amendment also tied recognition to a "negotiated two state solution." But in cleaving to the US position, which opposes unilateral Palestinian moves, British MPs continued to implicitly acknowledge the veto of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Palestinian ambitions.
The vote was symbolic, too, because the Conservatives, the dominant party in the ruling coalition, effectively opted out of the debate. More than half of all MPs either abstained or stayed away.
Research shows four out of five Conservative MPs -- and a significant proportion of opposition Labour MPs too -- belong to their party's Friends of Israel caucus. Each year large numbers fly to Israel at the expense of the Israeli government.
In a country that has so often betrayed the Palestinians, the other major parties' voting behavior hardly inspired confidence. At the last minute Labour downgraded its "whip," leaving its MPs largely free to decide how they voted or whether they attended. The Lib Dems, the junior coalition partner, did the same.
Nonetheless, there was cause for celebration. The wariness of all the main parties to be seen publicly opposing Palestinian statehood undoubtedly signaled a change of political climate.
Labour leader Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet backed the motion. The party appears to have accepted that there is a price for endlessly postponing recognition of Palestinian rights, or conditioning them on Israel's approval. Not least, anger at western hypocrisy has spilt out in unpredictable ways: from murderous jihadis destabilizing the Middle East to radicalized Muslim youth on Europe's streets.
Importantly, too, the British vote adds to the momentum initiated this month by the Swedish government's decision to break with its established EU partners by pledging to recognize Palestine. Others are likely to follow suit. On Tuesday, France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, indicated his country would also recognize Palestine if negotiations fail.
In short, the tide of history is turning. Israel is losing the moral argument in Europe, where the Zionist movement began. That tide will spread across Europe and ultimately lap up against the shores of Capitol Hill and the White House.
It was for that reason Israelis followed the British vote with concern. Matthew Gould, Britain's ambassador and a much sought-after guest on Israeli TV and radio, warned that the UK public's mood was shifting inexorably against Israel.
That process accelerated over the summer with Israel's assault on Gaza, which killed large numbers of civilians, followed by yet another wave of settlement building and land appropriations in the West Bank.