Officials in Israeli and British Labor Parties Trying to Thwart Vote on Recognition of Palestine

Letter written by MK Hilik Bar and disseminated by Labor's Friends of Israel implores British MPs to oppose or abstain on Monday's vote, saying that 'unilateral moves play into the hands of Israel's hard right.'

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Demonstrators carry Palestinian flags as they protest outside the Houses of Parliament in central London July 26, 2014.
Demonstrators carry Palestinian flags as they protest outside the Houses of Parliament in central London July 26, 2014. Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Senior officials in the Israeli Labor Party and pro-Israeli MPs from the British Labour Party are working to persuade Labor members of Parliament to oppose or abstain from the vote on recognizing Palestine, slated for Monday.

Even though the vote is non-binding, it carries important symbolic significance.

Secretary-general of the Israeli Labor Party, MK Hilik Bar, sent a letter on the matter to the British party's senior MPs, following a conference call with several members of the Labor Friends of Israel parliamentary group.

"We thought how to deal with the debate in the British Parliament to be held in a few days, and with the vote," Bar told Haaretz. "We decided together that I'll write a letter and they'll help disseminate it between the Labor MPs, beyond what I'll do myself, with the MPs I keep contact with."

Bar, who is in charge of the Labor Party's foreign relations and heads the Lobby for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict in the Knesset, is in contact with senior members of the British Labor party as part of the cooperation between the sister parties. In his letter, Bar stressed that the "Israeli left" has long been a supporter of the two state solution, based on security and justice for Israelis and Palestinians, and has fought for that solution's realization.

"I understand why many of you will want to vote for anything which claims to be a contribution to peace. But immediate and unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood does nothing to advance this vital cause. In fact, precisely the opposite," the letter continues.

The secretary-general emphasized in the letter that unilateral moves have led to more conflict and violence in the past, and noted that one of the principles of the Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the Palestinians, is that any dispute will be resolved by negotiations.

"Unfortunately, unilateral moves simply play into the hands of those on Israel hard right, which wants to suggest that we have no partner for peace, and that the Palestinians do not want to sit down and negotiate with us," Bar wrote the British lawmakers.

Bar added: "To counter such arguments, and get the peace process moving again, we in the Israeli Labor party need your help, which is why I urge you to stick to your party’s long-standing policy of a negotiated two-state solution, and oppose any unilateral moves which threaten that goal."

Ahead of the debate to be held in the British parliament on Monday, the British Labor Party has been swept by a heated debate over whether its MPs should be forced to vote for recognition of a Palestinian state. Unanimous support by the Labor MPs for the motion will send a message to Israel, and will pose a change in the party stance toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Labor Chairman Ed Miliband supports the motion, and has backed the proposal of his shadow foreign minister, Douglas Alexander, to impose party discipline on the Labor MPs. In contrast, a group of senior Labor MPs, members of the Labor's Friends of Israel, are opposing the move and demand to have a free vote on the motion.

The British newspaper The Independent reported Saturday morning that several shadow cabinet ministers from the Labor Party have met to discuss the matter with Miliband in order to persuade him to retract his backing for Alexander and permit them to vote against the recognition a Palestinian state. They claimed the decision goes beyond the party's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which supports direct negotiation between the sides. According to The Independent, if Miliband doesn't backtrack, a group of Labor MPs will defy the party line and not turn up for the vote.

Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said on Saturday that "the Labor party can't say that it doesn’t believe Netanyahu will promote a political settlement, and then, when elements abroad try to advance a measure at the UN, it asks to thwart it. The Labor party is acting like Netanyahu's second foreign ministry, a kind of a coalition in the opposition."

Gal-On added: "Meretz will consider canceling its membership at Lobby for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict, headed by Hilik Bar. All [these moves] by the Labor are undermining the chance to promote a two-state solution."

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