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Keir Starmer must live up to his pledge to recognize Palestine
Tom Fowdy
Wednesday 10th of July 2024

Last week, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party was brought to power in an overwhelming victory in the British general election, sweeping aside the historically unpopular government of Rishi Sunak. Commanding such a gigantic majority, Starmer has both the comfort and space to bring much-needed stability and certainty to British politics after years of chaos. Domestic issues aside, however, the eyes of the world will be on him in regard to one issue, his recent manifest pledge to recognize the state of Palestine and likewise, to push for a ceasefire in the Gaza war. 
 
Despite having made this pledge, things are hardly optimistic on this front for the new government. First, Keir Starmer has already cemented his reputation as a hardline supporter of Zionism. Over the past few years, the Labour leader has relentlessly purged his party of the most vocal critics of "Israel", including his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn himself. Gutting the influence of the “anti-war” left from the party, he appointed parliamentary candidates who had more pro-Zionist and right-leaning views. In spite of his massive victory, this cost Labour votes in constituencies with Muslim communities and even five seats against independents campaigning on the Gaza issue.
 
Because of this, he has already limited his political capital to make such a move. As claimed by an article in The Independent, those around him are fearful of alienating the United States, leading Keir Starmer to distance himself from the pledge already and describe it as a “process” rather than something spontaneous, unlike that done with other European countries, as well as his emphasis on a “safe and secure Israel” and “coordinating with allies” (which is code for the US). It appears that Starmer’s pledge now appears to be more ideational and optimistic than an actual plan of action. 
 
If the UK is serious about the Palestine issue, the first test to assess if the new government is serious about this pledge will be to see if any efforts are made on behalf of the United Kingdom to actually end the war. Will Britain more proactively call for a ceasefire? And more importantly, will it back up words with deeds and actually take action that forces "Israel" to the negotiating table? Will it take more action against illegal occupation and settlement building? We may see more increased rhetorical criticism of Tel Aviv by the British government, especially if Netanyahu pursues any path of escalation, but it seems unlikely from Starmer’s disposition that he would take any punitive actions to go along with it. 
 
The main question that hangs over it all, however, is whether Starmer is willing to actually defy the will of the United States. If “recognition of Palestine” hinges solely upon American approval, then the blunt answer is it is never going to happen because the United States will never give it. This case is even more true if Trump returns to the White House, which will effectively give "Israel" a free reign to do whatever it wants. However, Starmer, on the other hand, is already seeking to re-engage Europe as a foreign policy priority and therefore will bring an end to the “Brexit” chauvinism that the previous government espoused, which was obsessed with following in the US in the name of Anglophone exceptionalism. 
 
Although this will not change things drastically, it will be a subtle geopolitical tilt that may offer more independence from Washington. Overall, Keir Starmer is to be understood not as a radical, and certainly not the kind of politician who makes daring or sweeping moves, but as a pragmatist at that. His behavior in opposition over the past five years would indicate he is the sort of politician who seeks to replicate elite talking points and positions to pay lip service to the accepted political orthodoxy of the day as opposed to challenging it and then making incremental changes. However, given his majority and now the reality of the Conservatives being out of office for presumably at least a decade, it remains to be seen just how many risks he will take.
 
Despite this, it remains nonetheless true that recognizing Palestine is the only way to push for peace and place pressure on Tel-Aviv. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government wants to destroy the "two-state solution" and occupy Gaza and the West Bank in its entirety and is openly and apologetically pushing ahead with more settlement building. He has banked on unconditional Western support for his government to get away with this. The recognition of Palestine and adherence to International Law are one immediate way to shift the boundaries and ensure new red lines are drawn. Making this move will not cost Keir Starmer domestic support but will in fact consolidate what he has by winning back lost voters and conforming to what the majority of the British public believe. There is widespread support for a "two-state solution", and it is the only possible route to peace in the region.
 
 
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