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Starmer plans recognition of Palestinian state as part of peace process

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Labour Party recognition: Reports in the UK suggest Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is expected to make a commitment to Palestinian statehood in the party’s upcoming election manifesto.

  • Unlike recent moves by Ireland, Spain, and Norway, however, which recognised a Palestinian state immediately, Starmer is likely to follow the line of current Foreign Secretary Cameron – that statehood is to be part of a process, with recognition to come at what Reuters describes as “an appropriate time in peace talks”.
  • Starmer’s stance is expected to endorse delayed recognition, in stark contrast to his predecessor as leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who had previously insisted that recognising Palestine would be an early priority of his premiership.
  • Israel will nonetheless likely be concerned by a unilateral change in policy, due to the intimate UK-Israel bilateral relationship.
  • In the aftermath of October 7th, much of the Israeli public has become sceptical on the wisdom of pursuit of the two state solution, and there is minimal appetite in Israel to acknowledge Palestinian statehood at this time.
  • The concern of many Israelis stems from the question of how it can be ensured that a future Palestinian state will not involve Hamas, and that the significant reforms of antisemitic incitement and inducement to terror are enacted. There is scepticism also that so corrupt and ineffective an institution as the Palestinian Authority is capable of such reform.
  • However, both the Biden administration and Foreign Secretary Cameron have publicly referred to recognition as a possible element along the path to peace and two states, in moves which break the two states’ traditional position that such talk is premature until substantive issues have been addressed in bilateral negotiations.
  • A new Labour government will want to be seen to support pro-peace partners in the region, both Israeli and Arab, including Starmer building relations with the newly elected leader of the Israeli Labour Party Yair Golan.
  • If recognition is incorporated into part of a peace process, UK announcements could be part of dual reward/incentive to both sides. If, for example it were also to include moving the embassy and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or affirming that the State of Palestine is the solution for Palestinian refugees, with no “right of return” to Israel that would threaten its status as the nation state of the Jewish people.
  • The UK government can also play a supportive role encouraging Israeli-Saudi Arabian normalisation as part of a wider regional deal.
  • Immediate recognition of the kind pursued by Ireland, Spain, and Norway runs the risk of raising unrealistic expectations, whilst having no direct effect on realities on the ground.

Israel criticises draft UNSC hostage resolution: Israel is concerned over e a US-led UN Security Council resolution in support of the hostage negotiation proposal announced by President Biden last week.

  • Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan has informed his US counterpart Linda Thomas-Greenfield that Israel will not support the resolution, which is set for debate in the next few days.
  • As well as providing support for the plan, the resolution, which may also face pushback from Security Council permanent members Russia and China, proclaims an “unwavering commitment to achieving the vision of a negotiated two-state solution… consistent with international law and relevant UN resolutions, and in this regard stresses the importance of unifying the Gaza Strip with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
  • According to Biden, the proposed hostage deal plan would have three stages:
    • In the first, a cease-fire would be imposed for six weeks, during which Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas in Gaza. Hamas would release female, elderly and sick hostages and Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners. Gazans would return to their homes.
    • Phase Two would see all remaining living hostages released, including male soldiers. Israel would withdraw its remaining forces from Gaza. A permanent cease-fire would be effected if Hamas lived up to its obligations.
    • Phase Three would see a major project of reconstruction begun in Gaza.
  • Israel has made clear that it will not accept a deal which conclusively ends the war in Gaza. Its objection to the Security Council resolution focusses on the use of the word “ceasefire”, as opposed to an original draft’s wording of “cessation of hostilities”.
  • Israel also objects to the resolution stressing that it “rejects any attempt at demographic or territorial change in the Gaza Strip, including actions that reduce the territory of Gaza, such as through the permanent establishment officially or unofficially of so-called buffer zones.” After October 7th, a buffer zone on the Gazan side of the Gaza-Israel border is currently viewed as essential to reassure and protect Israeli border communities.

UAE-Palestinian tensions: Axios’s Barak Ravid has revealed that UAE and Palestinian officials clashed at a recent meeting between Arab officials and US Secretary of State Blinken.

  • At the meeting, whose theme was planning a post-war strategy for Gaza, Blinken was joined by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, as well as Palestinian minister Hussein al-Sheikh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s closest deputy.
  • Sources claim that Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed criticised al-Sheikh and the Palestinian Authority, saying that he hadn’t seen much in the way of the reform of the Authority demanded by the US.
  • He reportedly referred to the Palestinian leadership as “Ali Baba and the forty thieves”, and that senior officials were “useless” and therefore “replacing them with one another will only lead to the same result.”
  • “Why would the UAE give assistance to the Palestinian Authority without real reforms?” he asked.
  • Emirati officials confirmed the reports and said that “His Highness added that if the Palestinian Authority paid as much attention to its own people as it does to security coordination with Israel the Palestinians will be in much better shape.”
  • The Emirati leadership is associated with figures within Fatah opposed to the leadership of President Abbas. The Palestinian closest to the regime in Abu Dhabi is longtime Abbas critic and former Palestinian Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan.
  • When Abbas recently replaced former Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh with Mohammad Mustafa, the UAE reportedly cautioned the US that, as a confidant of Abbas, Mustafa would be no improvement. They lobbied instead for Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian Prime Minister widely admired for his moderation and pragmatic approach to state-building.

Looking ahead: Labour’s manifesto is expected to be published next week, ahead of the UK general election on July 4th.

  • Hostage deal talks involving Qatari, Egyptian and US mediators are continuing, though reports suggest Hamas is set to reject the terms of Biden’s/Israel’s proposal. The gulf between the two sides on the provisions for ending the war in Gaza appear impassable at present.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu is to address a joint session of the US Congress on July 24th, following a bipartisan invitation from both Republican and Democrat House leaderships.