Civil Liberties

Palestinian statehood: the hypocrisy of Labour's three-line whip


We know how the argument goes. If you oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, you are a bigoted Zionist who perpetuates suffering and injustice through illegal occupation. If you support the establishment of a Palestinian state, you are either fair-minded, unprejudiced and just, or naive, ignorant of history and probably anti-Semitic. Still others decry the myth of ‘Palestine’ altogether, insisting that ‘Palestinians’ are a historical fabrication for the perpetuation of every kind of Arab-Muslim grievance: all roads of resolution lead to ‘illegal occupation’. There isn’t much common ground between these geo-political polarities; not a lot of space for dialogue, peace or reconciliation.

As the British Parliament votes on a motion of support for the establishment of the State of Palestine, it is noteworthy that Conservative backbenchers have been granted a free vote, while Labour MPs are subject to a three-line whip. If you happen to be a pro-Israel Labour MP, you have been asked to stay away from the Chamber. In this interminable religio-political, socio-historical cosmological clash, the Labour Party wants to be seen to be pro-Palestine, for therein lies justice, truth and the rule of law – the path to peace. Pace Baroness Warsi, the Conservatives recognise that things aren’t quite so simple.

A two-state solution has been discussed and debated for decades. Both sides say they want it, but (setting aside that the Hamas Charter calls for the obliteration or dissolution of Israel) both set seemingly intractable conditions, not least of which are mutually exclusive positions regarding the status of Jerusalem. The issue may be (and has been) perpetually shelved in negotiations, but both sides know that a declaration of Palestinian statehood will not stop with a sovereign Gaza. Without sovereignty over East Jerusalem, Palestinians will never have a ‘viable’ Palestine. Yet, for many Jews, Jerusalem is the indivisible capital of Israel and sovereignty over any part is non-negotiable. ‘Land for peace’ goes only so far: Judaea may be negotiated away; Samaria may be yielded. But Jerusalem is inviolable.

In a lucid piece entitled ‘The obsession with Israel is disproportionate‘, Paul Goodman draws attention to the demographic tensions:

According to Bernard Wasserstein, the Jewish population of Israel is some 5.2 million: if the number of Arab Israelis (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, if you prefer), about 1.3 million, is added to the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, one reaches a total of 4.7 million.  Sergio DellaPergola, a leading Israeli demographer, claims that they may fall below the 50 per cent mark in this entire area by 2020.

Israel therefore faces a choice over how to deal with the Palestinians on the West Bank.  It can either give them the same rights within one polity as Israelis themselves, in which case Israel will not be Jewish for very long (let alone Zionist); or it can withhold these rights, as at present, in which case Israel will no longer be democratic for very long.  This is the country’s Catch 22.

It is a Catch 22 to which many MPs appear to be oblivious. In their quest to support the rights of Palestinians, they neglect the demographic reality which will certainly eventually nullify Israeli democracy, if it is not already invalidated.

One can respect if not entirely agree with the sincerely-held views of Tories like Sir Alan Duncan or Baroness Warsi, for whom the establishment of the State of Palestine is a “moral duty” because it will “breathe new life” in the peace process. They ought to be free to reason their beliefs in public and vote in Parliament accordingly, and we must be free to tell them they’re utterly wrong and misguided. But there is a curious hypocrisy in Labour’s three-line whip which will prick the consciences of more than a few of their MPs. Why are they being obliged to support the establishment of a state which subjugates women, persecutes gays, harasses Christians and destroys synagogues? Why should it be mandatory to recognise a state in which Jews specifically will be denied political rights and social liberties? Why should Labour MPs be coerced into sanctioning the realisation of a de facto and de jure apartheid state?

Does the popular cause of Palestine trump homophobia, misogyny, racism and religious hatred, relegating the egalitarian ideal to the abstract? Does Labour’s foreign policy cease to be ethical or even rational when it comes to appeasing an overriding Muslim concern? Or does Ed Miliband really believe that Palestinian statehood is the key to entrenching women’s rights, bolstering racial equality, propagating religious freedom and establishing a string of gay clubs in the Gaza strip?