Palestine vote shakes British politics

By Ian Dunt

The Palestinian Authority's attempt to secure statehood is causing deep uncertainty at the top of British politics.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg admitted there were "debates" about the decision in government today.

"It’s a difficult judgement to make, because we all want Palestinian statehood as part of the two-state leadership," he said.

Government insiders are desperate to keep the Liberal Democrats on-side with any decision the government takes so that the coalition speaks with one voice on the issue, but the minority party's sympathetic approach to Palestine makes a unified stance more difficult.

The Palestinian Authority will press ahead with its plans for recognition this week, despite frenzied attempts from Washington and Tel Aviv to stop the process.

London, along with many EU member states, has still not confirmed its approach, but reports that Hillary Clinton arranged a Chequers meeting between David Cameron and Tony Blair suggest Washington is counting on the UK to support its position.

The Independent reported this morning that the secret Blair/Cameron meeting saw the former Labour prime minister offer his Tory successor advice on foreign policy and specifically the Palestinian statehood bid. Such a meeting would contravene usual protocol for a Middle East envoy, who should be meeting with EU figures.

Labour demanded that the government back the Palestinian bid in a letter to foreign secretary WIlliam Hague.

"The case made by the Palestinians for recognition as a state is strong," shadow foreign secretary DOuglas Alexander said.

"This week, at the United Nations, the British government should be willing to support the recognition of Palestinian statehood as part of continuing steps to achieve a comprehensive two state solution."

Remaining members of the EU are split on the development. Germany and the Netherlands oppose the application while France, Spain and Sweden support it.

Palestine could either gain full UN membership through a security council vote – an almost impossible scenario given the US has announced it would veto it – or lesser "non-member state" status through the general assembly, where it is thought to hold a majority.

Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu has agreed to hold direct talks with Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas at the UN, but without any promise to stop settlement building or keep to the 1967 borders, the Palestinians will not back down from their diplomatic efforts.