A1. UK MP Sir Richard Ottaway, Speech on Recognizing Palestinian Statehood, London, 13 October 2014
Two weeks after the new Swedish government recognized the state of Palestine on 30 October, the United Kingdom (UK) House of Commons approved a nonbinding resolution that called on the British government to recognize Palestinian statehood. The resolution passed by a vote of 274–12, with 364 abstaining. Although the resolution did not garner the support of Prime Minister David Cameron or his Conservative Party, its passage illustrates the ever-growing frustration with Israel’s ongoing settlement of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, its failure to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, and the UK public’s outrage over the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, in the summer of 2014. (In the months following the attack, the legislatures of Ireland, Spain, and France all passed similar legislation.)
In the debate that preceded the vote, Conservative member of Parliament Sir Richard Ottaway made a speech that highlights the changing political climate in Western Europe with regards to Israel/Palestine. He explained how, even as a lifelong “friend of Israel,” recent Israeli actions had enraged him to the point that he could not vote against the resolution.
Ottaway’s speech is presented below and a full transcript of the debate, along with the text of the resolution, is available atwww.parliament.uk. The speech, like other documents in this section, is reproduced verbatim and idiosyncrasies of spelling are preserved.
If the rest of the debate follows the tone of the three speeches that we have heard so far, it will be a memorable debate. The next few minutes will be personally rather painful for me. It was inevitable right since the time of the Holocaust that Israel clearly had to be a state in its own right, and Attlee accepted the inevitable and relinquished the British mandate. In November 1947, the United Nations supported the partition resolution. What was on the table then was a settlement that the Arabs would die for today. In May 1948, Israel became an independent state and came under attack from all sides within hours. In truth, it has been fighting for its existence ever since.
I was a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory. My wife’s family were instrumental in the creation of the Jewish state. Indeed, some of them were with Weizmann at the Paris conference. The Holocaust had a deep impact on me as a young man growing up in the aftermath of the Second World War, particularly when I paid a visit as a schoolboy to Belsen . . .
In the Six-Day War, I became personally involved. There was a major attempt to destroy Israel, and I found myself as a midshipman in the Royal Navy based on board a minesweeper in Aden, sent by Harold Wilson to sweep the straits of Tiran of mines after the Suez Canal had been blocked. In the aftermath of that war, which, clearly, the Israelis won, the Arab states refused peace, recognition or negotiation.
Six years later, in the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the same situation happened again. It was an emphatic defeat after a surprise attack. Since then, based on the boundaries that were framed after the Yom Kippur war, we have had three thwarted peace agreements, each one better than the last, and we have had two tragedies: the assassination of Rabin and the stroke suffered by Ariel Sharon.
Throughout all this, I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians and urged peaceful negotiations and a proportionate response to prevarication, and I thought that they were listening. But I realize now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent.
Turning to the substantive motion, to be a friend of Israel is not to be an enemy of Palestine. I want them to find a way through, and I am delighted by yesterday’s reconstruction package for Gaza, but with a country that is fractured with internal rivalries, that shows such naked hostility to its neighbor, that attacks Israel by firing thousands of rockets indiscriminately, that risks the lives of its citizens through its strategic placing of weapons and that uses the little building material that it is allowed to bring in to build tunnels, rather than homes, I am not yet convinced that it is fit to be a state and should be recognized only when there is a peace agreement. Under normal circumstances, I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behavior in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the Government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.