High stakes: UK makes a deal on Palestinian statehood

By Ian Dunt and Charles Maggs

Britain has said it would back a Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN tomorrow if president Mahmoud Abbas agrees to three conditions.

The deal, which was announced in the Commons this afternoon, was a significant step for foreign secretary William Hague, who had previously refused to support the bid.

"We explained that while there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments," Hague said of his meeting with Abbas last Monday.

"For us to support a resolution at the UN it is important that the risks to the peace process are addressed, so that the chances of negotiations beginning after it are enhanced rather than diminished."

Hague's conditions are that the Palestinian Authority should indicate a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without preconditions, so that Israel cannot claim the UN-level recognition is a move away from bilateral negotiations.

Secondly, the resolution must specifically rule out a later attempt to pursue internationalcriminal court jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories, which Hague said would make "a return to negotiations impossible".

Finally, the language of the resolution should not prejudge any deliberations by the United Nations security council and it must make clear it would not apply retrospectively.

"We believe these changes would not be difficult to make; that they would win wider support for the resolution without any prejudice to final status issues; and that they would increase the prospects for negotiations moving ahead," Hague told the Commons.

"Up until the time of the vote itself we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution, if we see public assurances by the Palestinians on these points.

"However in the absence of these assurances, the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote. This would be consistent with our strong support for the principle of Palestinian statehood but our concern that the resolution could set the peace process back."

The move towards the Palestinian position comes as 102 MPs from seven political parties signed a parliamentary motion supporting UN recognition of Palestine.

The signatories included former foreign secretary Jack Straw.

The Palestinian request is to become a non-member observer state at the UN general assembly.

The rights of 'non-member observer status' countries vary but it usually does not allow them to vote in the general assembly. Currently the only other observer states are neutral Switzerland and the Vatican.

The move enjoys huge international support but is vociferously opposed by Israel and the US.

Research by Azzaz.org suggests that 72% of the British public support Palestinian claims for statehood.

1.6 million people worldwide have now signed a petition backing the move.

"The events we have witnessed over the last few days in Israel and Gaza points to the fact that now, more so than ever, there is an urgent need for Palestine to be recognised as an independent state," Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said.

"Both Palestine and Israel have the right to live without fear, have rights to live life in peace and prosper as a nation. Only when Palestine takes its place as a sovereign member of the international community, lasting peace in the region will prevail."

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced yesterday that France will be voting in favour of Palestine getting observer status.

This is not the first time that the Palestinians have looked to get UN recognition. As recently as last year the president of the Palestinian authority Mahmoud Abbas tried to get full statehood recognised, but was blocked by the security council.