British lawmakers have voted to recognise Palestine as a state in a historical and symbolic move which “calls on the government to recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”.
A total of 274 members of parliament voted for the motion on Monday night to recognise the state of Palestine as part of a two-state solution, with only 12 voting against.
As he opened the debate in the UK parliament, Labour MP Graham Morris said such a move would be a “small but symbolically-important” step towards peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The non-binding motion, entitled “The future of the two-state solution in Israel and Palestine”, was debated for six-hours before the vote, and amended by former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to recognize a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.
The opposition Labour Party backed the proposal and instructed its MPs to support the motion, a move which upset pro-Israel members amongst its ranks, some of whom threatened to defy party orders and not turn up to the vote.
The party underlined that passing the motion was in line with official party policy – that of its position following the United Nations 2012 vote which gave Palestine its non-Member Observer State status. The UN assembly voted 138 to nine in favor of the move with 41 nations, including the UK, abstaining.
Nearly 60,000 people had emailed their MPs to urge them to vote for the motion, said Sara Apps of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Prime Minister David Cameron abstained from the vote.
His conservative party gave backbench lawmakers a free vote, but encouraged ministers not to attend.
His official spokesman said in a statement: “The government’s position is very clear and hasn’t changed, so I think that is a very clear indication of the British government’s approach.
“The government’s approach is a long-standing one and is in support of a two-state solution and we will continue to work with a range of international partners – Israel, the Palestinian Authority – in support of that.”
Liberal Democrat ministers also abstained.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said before the debate: “It is Liberal Democrat party policy to support the recognition of Palestinian statehood.”
He added: “There are good arguments for moving to recognise Palestine now… But it is also a backbench debate where colleagues will want to express their own views.
“That is why Liberal Democrat ministers will be abstaining – in accordance with established practice that ministers don’t vote on backbench motions – and backbenchers have a free vote.”
MPs made their cases for and against the motion, with the majority speaking in favor.
Current British government policy is that it “reserves the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”.
The motion is not binding on the British government and therefore the government does not have to officially recognise a Palestine state.
You can catch up with the proceedings of the debate over at our live blog from last night.