Rishi Sunak faces calls for UK to follow Spain, Norway and Ireland in recognising Palestinian state

27 May 2024, 21:10 | Updated: 28 May 2024, 00:34

Rishi Sunak is facing calls for the UK to recognise the state of Palestine, on the day that Ireland, Spain and Norway officially do so.

The Scottish first minister and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader John Swinney has written to both the prime minister and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urging them to "do the right thing" and "immediately" recognise a Palestinian state.

He said the SNP would force a binding vote at Westminster after the general election if they failed to do so.

Mr Swinney said recognition would offer "hope" that a "durable political solution" was possible between Israel and Palestine.

"I am calling on the UK to follow the lead of Ireland, Norway and Spain by immediately recognising Palestine as a state - and if Rishi Sunak will not do it now, Keir Starmer must commit to doing so on his first day in Downing Street."

The Palestinian ambassador to Ireland has also urged the UK government to recognise Palestine.

Speaking to Sky News, Dr Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid said: "The British have a very strong hand in the injustice that happened to the Palestinians, so I think it's important that one of those countries that should recognise the right of Palestinian self-determination is the British government."

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Dr Abdalmajid referred to Britain's involvement in the establishment of the state of Israel, including the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British government of David Lloyd George announced its support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine.

"Justice must prevail," said the ambassador. "I think it's very important for the British government to see this and try to correct what happened in 1917, and during the Mandate when they encouraged colonisation in Palestine."

The trio of countries which today will start recognising the Palestinian state have faced the diplomatic wrath of Israel since the move was announced last week.

Their ambassadors have been formally reprimanded by Tel Aviv, and were filmed by Israeli media as they were asked to watch video footage from the 7 October Hamas attack, something the Irish government deems "unacceptable".

The Israeli foreign minister, Israel Katz, posted a video on X showing footage of Hamas militants interspersed with traditional Irish music, footage of Irish dancing and the slogan "Hamas: Thanks Ireland".

Similar videos, tailored to Spain and Norway, were also posted.

Addressing the taoiseach, Mr Katz wrote: "Ireland, if your goal was to reward terrorism by declaring support for a Palestinian state, you've achieved it. [Irish Prime Minister] Simon Harris, Hamas thanks you for your service."

It's a point of view firmly rejected by the Irish. Speaking in Brussels with his counterparts from Spain and Norway, the Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin said: "Some have framed our decision to recognise the State of Palestine as a move to impose an outcome on the parties, or as somehow a reward for terror.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. We have recognised both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine precisely because we want to see a future of normalised relations between the two peoples."

But members of Ireland's small Jewish community are sceptical. Former justice minister Alan Shatter told Sky News the move was political theatre.

"It's about as relevant as New Zealand announcing that they now recognise that the government of the Republic of Ireland rules the entirety of the island of Ireland," he said.

"Of course, that wouldn't change the reality on the ground. And probably if that did happen, the Irish government would look askance and think everyone in New Zealand has gone mad."

Others say they fear the move could fuel anti-semitism. Maurice Cohen, chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, said that "latent anti-semitism is now becoming blatant anti-semitism".

"The experience [for Jews in Ireland] has always been 'cead mile failte' ['a hundred thousand welcomes']. There was an outstretched hand for us and for other people.

"But now we find, very simply, that that hand is curling into a fist and we don't know where that is going."

Palestinians in Ireland are expected to gather outside Leinster House, the home of the Irish parliament, today as speeches are made.

"This gives them hope," said Dr Abdaljamid. "This gives them some light after this dark tunnel.

"The Palestinian people see that we are seen, we are heard by Ireland, by Spain, by the whole world actually who protest since the 7th of October. We are not alone in this world. I mean it's very important."