The UK parliament voted last night in favour of recognising a Palestinian state in a move that was widely welcomed by pro-Palestinian campaigners, with the head of a leading charity describing it as "a historic moment".
The vote by 274 to 12 that "this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel" was moved by Labour MP Grahame Morris, with an amendment by former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw adding "as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution".
Labour MPs were subjected to a three-line whip requiring them to vote in favour of the motion, though not all attended. Many Conservatives and Liberal Democrats also stayed away.
The vote does not commit the Government to change its policy, which is to recognise Palestine only after a stable agreement has been reached between Israel and Palestine. However, supporters argue that it increases pressure on Israel to reach a settlement. Speaking in the debtate, Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman said that a vote in favour would be a "game changer" which would affect the international situation. He called on parliamentarians to "give the Palestinians their rights and show the Israelis that they cannot suppress another people all the time. It is not Jewish for the Israelis to do that. They are harming the image of Judaism, and terrible outbreaks of anti-Semitism are taking place. I want to see an end to anti-Semitism, and I want to see a Palestinian state."
Chief executive of Embrace the Middle East Jeremy Moodey said: ""This is a historic moment for those who seek peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. Britain has done much to contribute to the current mess, from the Balfour Declaration to the mishandling of the Mandate to this current government's near unqualified support for Israel. Some 64 years after we recognised Israel, the British parliament has now finally acknowledged that Palestinians are entitled to their own state." He added that the government "cannot and must not ignore what MPs have said".
The Rev Chris Rose, director of the Amos Trust, said: "The vote sends out a clear message that if we believe in a just peace then the UK Government must listen: not only to the Palestinian people, but also to the Israeli peace movement and to the will of parliament and recognise the state of Palestine."
A joint statement from the Church of England and Roman Catholic bishops with responsibility for foreign affairs before the vote urged that Palestinian statehood should be recognised. The Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, and the Bishop of Clifton, Declan Lang, said: "Such a principled recognition by our Parliament and Government will facilitate rather than hamper the negotiations that would inevitably follow between Israelis and Palestinians to agree upon the details of this new and sovereign state created next to a secure Israel. Peace needs a bold vision."
However, Jacob Vince, the chief executive of Christian Friends of Israel, said that the proposal would "add nothing to the current impasse and may even aggravate it", in that it ignored the influence of Hamas: "It seems bizarre when the brutal movement of ISIL is making such progress we should be assisting an equally heinous organisation, Hamas, to gain greater credence." He said that the Palestinian Authority was not strong enough to counter the influence of Hamas and warned of the effect of a Hamas ascendancy on the plight of Christians, saying: "Israel itself is one of the few countries in the Middle East where Christians and other religious minorities have their right enshrined by law, outworked in a free democratic society with independent judiciary and freedom of the press. We should be listening to countries where Christians are protected, such as Israel and be very wary of giving greater power to those regimes where this is sadly far from the case."