The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats has told a fringe meeting at the party's conference that they are fully supportive of the Palestinian application for recognition of an independent state by the UN. Simon Hughes MP made his statement at the meeting co-hosted by the New Statesman and Medical Aid for Palestinians during a discussion with fellow MP Sir Menzies ("Ming") Campbell on the party's support for the Palestinian move.
With the backdrop of the sweeping changes brought about by the Arab Spring, the conversations at the Lib Dem conference this year focused on the wider foreign policy effects that the new political realities in the Middle East will have. Former Lib Dem leader Campbell opened his speech by noting that the situation in Palestine and Israel could not be immune to the changes in the region. Expressing his support for Palestinian recognition at the UN, Sir Ming went further and said that the issue has now reached the stage of determining what is morally right and what is pragmatic.
When Baroness Jenny Tonge took Simon Hughes to task by pointing out that the coalition agreement between the majority Conservative Party and the Lib Dems did not refer to positions on Palestine, he was keen to pledge Lib Dem support for the UN vote but lay overall responsibility at the feet of the Tories. Hughes argued that whilst the Lib Dems supported the campaign and had been having conversations with their partners in government, it is "difficult" to get the Tories to agree. Nevertheless, he claimed, the Lib Dem Party's position on the issue is clear and it is, in fact, the Tory position that was the stumbling block behind Britain's hesitation in making its official stance clear.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader was reported to have confirmed that the UN bid is a "difficult" issue between the coalition partners. With the Lib Dems looking to support the Palestinian campaign rumours have emerged of a coalition split on the issue. This mirrors the reported split on universal jurisdiction legislative changes which were opposed by the Lib Dems at their conference last year, while the Secretary of State for Justice used the Conservative Party conference to confirm that changes would be enacted. The Tories won that argument when changes to Britain's universal jurisdiction legislation were finalised last week. Meanwhile, Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander has released a statement confirming his party's support for the Palestinian bid at the UN.