LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will not take part in a parliamentary vote on whether the government should recognise Palestine as a state, his spokesman said on Monday ahead of a debate designed to raise the political profile of the issue.
The spokesman said the vote, called by an opposition lawmaker, would not change Britain’s diplomatic stance. Britain does not classify Palestine as a state, but says it could do so at any time if it believed it would help peace efforts between the Palestinians and Israel.
Nevertheless, the vote will have symbolic value and is being closely watched by Palestinian and Israeli authorities as a barometer for European readiness to act on Palestinian hopes for unilateral recognition by U.N. member states.
The debate comes just as Sweden’s new centre-left government is set to recognise officially Palestine — a move that has been condemned by Israel, which says an independent Palestine can only be achieved through negotiations.
The British parliamentary motion, which is expected to come to a vote around 2100 GMT, states: “That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.”
Cameron’s spokesman said he would not be taking part in the vote, and that the government was asking ministers to abstain.
However, it has the backing of the left-leaning opposition Labour party’s leadership, which has told its lawmakers to vote in favour of the motion — an edict which has caused anger with some pro-Israel members of parliament set to rebel or stay away.
Even if a majority of the House of Commons’ 650 Members of Parliament do vote in favour, it is non-binding and would not force Britain, which was once the colonial master of Palestine, to change its foreign policy.
“I’ve been pretty clear about the government’s position and it won’t be changing,” the spokesman said when asked about possible repercussions of the vote.
“When you believe you have the right position... that is the one, I believe, that you take.”
Palestinians have long-resented Britain’s role in the region, arguing that its three-decade rule over Palestine and subsequent withdrawal from the land in 1948 allowed the creation of an Israeli state.
Sayeeda Warsi, a lawmaker from Cameron’s Conservative party who quit her ministerial post in August after accusing the government of taking a “morally indefensible” approach to the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, said she hoped the motion would pass.
“There is a lack of political will and our moral compass is missing,” the former Foreign Office minister said of government policies towards Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
“There are no negotiations, there is no show in town. Somehow we have to breathe new life into these negotiations, and one of the ways we can do that is by recognising the state of Palestine,” she told The Observer newspaper on Sunday.
The U.N. General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of Palestine as a state in 2012 but the United States, the European Union and most EU countries, including Britain, have yet to throw their weight behind unilateral independence moves.
The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
The latest round of U.S.-backed peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed earlier this year and there is no sign the talks could be revived any time some.
Western diplomats in Jerusalem question in private whether the so-called two state solution is still viable, given extensive Israeli settlement building on occupied lands.
Editing by Stephen Powell and Crispian Balmer