JERUSALEM: The British parliament’s vote to recognize a Palestinian state should concern Israel, Britain’s ambassador to the Jewish state suggested Tuesday, saying it reflected shifting public sentiment in Britain and around the world following the summer war in Gaza.
The vote will not change London’s policy, British officials have said. But Ambassador Matthew Gould said it was “significant” because it reveals negative attitudes toward Israel following its 50-day war with the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The violence ended with a truce but left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, according to the United Nations. On the Israeli side, 72 people died, most of them soldiers.
In an interview on Israel Radio, Gould suggested that although the vote was symbolic, Israel should take note. “I think it is right to be concerned about what it signifies in terms of the direction of public opinion,” Gould said.
The British House of Commons’ vote Monday came nearly 100 years after Britain issued its famous Balfour Declaration in 1917, which affirmed its support for establishing a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Israel was founded in 1948.
Israel’s recent settlement activity, such as last month’s approval of the construction of more Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, has “a very corrosive effect on international opinion,” the British envoy added.
Nabil Abu Rudineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the British vote was “a step in the right direction” and that “the two-state solution is the solution of the international community,” while Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it undermines peace efforts because Palestinian statehood should come about only as a result of negotiations with Israel.
“Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make,” the ministry said.
Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for launching the Oslo peace process.
More than two decades after direct negotiations began, Middle East peace remains elusive, with numerous rounds of talks having collapsed amid mutual recriminations — most recently in April of this year — leading to increasing international pressure on both sides.
British legislators voted 274-12 in support of a motion calling on the government to “recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.”
Prime Minister David Cameron and other government leaders abstained, and more than half of the 650 Commons members did not participate in the vote. But the motion had support from both government and opposition lawmakers, who said it could help jump-start the peace process.
“The only thing the Israeli government in my view, under the present demeanor of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, understands is pressure,” said Labour Party legislator Jack Straw.
Britain’s government is an ally of Israel, but public support for the Palestinians runs high. Demonstrators have staged multiple street protests against Israel’s policies, and British academic and other groups have voted to boycott their Israeli counterparts.
In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly voted to recognize a state of Palestine on territories captured by Israel in 1967. The United States and many European countries have not followed suit.
But earlier this month, Sweden’s new Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said his government would recognize the state of Palestine, an announcement that drew praise from Palestinian officials and criticism from Israel.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon channeled international anger at the destruction wrought by the summer war on a visit to the Gaza Strip Tuesday.
“I’m here with a very heavy heart,” he said. “The destruction which I have seen while coming to here is beyond description.”
Ban promised that construction materials for the private sector would enter Gaza Tuesday for the first time since the war to allow reconstruction to begin. And in a sign of growing international support of the Palestinians, Ban was scheduled to participate in a meeting of the new Palestinian government in Gaza.
Israel has denounced the Palestinian government because it is backed by Hamas, but Western governments have signaled a willingness to work with it.
The U.N. chief said the destruction he saw in Gaza was “much more serious” than what he witnessed in the Palestinian territory in 2009, following a previous Israel-Hamas war.
In the West Bank meanwhile, suspected Israeli vandals set fire to a mosque and left Hebrew graffiti in the village of Aqraba Tuesday.
The mosque’s carpet was scorched, walls had burn marks, and holy books were covered in soot. The graffiti referenced the name of a late American-Israeli ultranationalist rabbi, a nearby Jewish settlement, and included the words “price tag,” a slogan for assaults carried out by Jewish extremists in response to Palestinian or Israeli actions against them.