Parliamentary Recognition of Palestine – Legally, Historically and Politically Questionable

, October 27, 2014

 Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 14, No. 35       October 27, 2014

  • Official political bodies in the UK, Ireland and Sweden have called for the recognition of Palestine, claiming that such recognition would “contribute to securing a two-state solution.”
  • These actions, whether by votes in the UK parliament and in the Irish Upper House, or in a parliamentary speech by the prime minister of Sweden, are based on questionable legal, historic and political premises since no Palestinian state exists, and the issue of the status of the territories is subject to negotiation.
  • These actions actually hinder progress to a negotiated agreement since they attempt to prejudge the outcome of the very negotiation they purport to support.
  • It would be legally and politically prudent were the UK House of Commons and the Irish Upper House, as well as the prime minister of Sweden, to reconsider their ill-advised resolutions or statements.
British Parliament

British Parliament

On October 13, 2014, the British Parliament, in its House of Commons, adopted a resolution by a majority of 274 votes, with 12 opposing votes, that states:

“That this House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”1

Proponents of this curious resolution claimed that “recognizing Palestine as a state would be a symbolically important step towards peace.” The Labour Party shadow foreign secretary Ian Lucas even opined that the resolution would “strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence.” He went on to claim that “this is not an alternative to negotiations.  It is a bridge for beginning them.”2

However, former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind disagreed and suggested such a move should not be adopted because it would be purely symbolic:

“For me the most important question is what practical benefit would passing this resolution make?” he asked. “It might make us feel good. But recognizing a state should only happen when the territory in question has the basic requirements of a state.  And through no fault of the Palestinians that is not true at the moment and it seems to me that the resolution before us is premature as we do not have a Palestinian government.”3

A similar vote by the Upper House of the Irish Parliament, known as the “Seanad Eireann,” adopted on October 23, 2014, stated:

“Seanad Eireann calls on the government to formally recognize the state of Palestine and do everything it can at the international level to help secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”4

A similar position was put forward by the new prime minister of Sweden, Stefan Lofven, who stated in an inaugural address to the Swedish parliament on October 3, 2014:

“The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law.  A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.”5

Mistaken and Ill-Advised Statements

Analyzing these statements and votes logically, they would appear to be based on questionable legal, historic and political premises, as well as being in and of themselves self-contradictory and constituting, by their terms, a non-sequitor. As such, they would appear to be both ill-advised and based on a mistaken reading of the situation.

The reference to the ultimate aim of a “negotiated two-state solution” correctly acknowledges the present legal situation in which the issue of final status of the territory is a distinct negotiating issue between Israel and the Palestinians, pursuant to the Oslo Accords, to which the UK, Ireland and Sweden, as part of the EU, are signatory as witness.6

However, in acknowledging this, it is clear that the issue of the permanent status of the territory remains an open negotiating issue, yet to be agreed-on, and one may assume that upon resumption of the negotiating process, it will be duly addressed by the parties as one of the central agenda items.

Statements Prejudge the Outcome of Negotiations

Accordingly, the British House of Commons, the Irish Upper House and the Swedish prime minister would appear to contradict themselves by recognizing that negotiations are still pending, but nevertheless at the same time prejudging the outcome of the very negotiation they purport to support, by calling for recognition of the state of Palestine.

Clearly no such a Palestinian state or sovereign entity exists and thus cannot logically be recognized or acknowledged by the UK Parliament.

Similarly, no international treaty, convention or binding international resolution or determination has ever been adopted or entered into, that determines that the territories in dispute are indeed Palestinian.

In this context, the Palestinian leadership itself is committed, pursuant to the Oslo Accords, to negotiate the issue of the permanent status of the territory.  Article V of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements signed by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on September 13, 1993 states as follows:

“2. Permanent status negotiations will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period, between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian people representatives.

3. It is understood that these negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.”7

An Agreement Cannot Be Imposed by External Parties

Accordingly, the outcome of such negotiations and the ultimate status of the territory, whether as a Palestinian state or any other sovereign entity agreed-upon by the two sides, cannot be arbitrarily imposed by external parties, including the UK, Irish or Swedish parliaments, or the UN. It may only emanate from a bona-fide negotiating process as well as in accordance with accepted norms and requirements of international law regarding the characteristics of statehood.

Such norms and requirements are set out in international law in article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States8 that clearly determines the attributes of statehood:

“The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

The Palestinians clearly do not meet the requirements set out in this convention.

Since the issue of the permanent status of the disputed territory is an agreed-upon negotiating issue, as indeed acknowledged by the international community including the UK, Ireland and Sweden,  any resolution by the House of Commons, the Irish Upper House of Parliament or the Swedish prime minister calling for recognition of a Palestinian state in effect purports to pre-empt the outcome of that negotiation through a one-sided determination that totally ignores legitimate legal and historic claims to the territory by Israel, including those based on historic and legal commitments to which the United Kingdom itself is bound.

They would thus appear to be intervening in a bona fide negotiating process by supporting one side only. This is far from constituting any “bridge” to negotiations, so described by shadow foreign minister Mr. Ian Lucas, or “morally right,” as stated by Mr. Nicholas Soames.

To the contrary, rather than encouraging a return to negotiations, as claimed by the proponents of these resolutions, such one-sided and biased issuances emanating from European parliaments will only serve to impede any bona fide and genuine negotiation by encouraging the Palestinians to adopt arbitrary and uncompromising positions on the issues on the negotiating agenda, knowing that they have the support of those European countries.

While clearly it is the sovereign prerogative of the British, Irish or Swedish Parliaments to adopt whatever resolution they choose, one might assume that they would not want to be misled or manipulated, whether by narrow political interests, external political or economic pressures or any other cause, into adopting a resolution that is legally and politically ill-advised and mistaken.

It would be legally and politically prudent were the UK House of Commons and the Irish Upper House, as well as the Prime Minister of Sweden, to reconsider such ill-advised resolutions or statements, which certainly do no credit to them nor to those MPs who advanced and supported them.

* * *

3 and
6, see list of signatories at page 456.
7 This was repeated in the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


About Amb. Alan Baker

Amb. Alan Baker is Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center and the head of the Global Law Forum. He participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as well as agreements and peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. He served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.