John’s Speech on Recognising the Palestinian State

That the Parliament believes that the recognition of the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel based on 1967 borders could be a stimulus to securing a negotiated two-state solution in the Middle East and notes the opinion of many Israelis and Palestinians living in Glasgow, the rest of Scotland and beyond that resolution through peaceful means is the only option.


I, too, congratulate Sandra White on bringing this timely debate to the chamber.

I have confidence in humanity’s ability to do things right. It sometimes takes us a considerable time to do so, but we can get there. We have repeatedly heard the statistic that 135 out of 193 UN member states have already done the right thing, and I commend them for that. Although recognising the Palestinian state will perhaps have little practical effect immediately, it is significant for the issues that are important to people, such as equality, the regard that they are held in and the solidarity that is shown to them.

The Scottish Parliament does not have responsibility for foreign affairs, so many people might wonder why we are discussing this matter. However, it is highly appropriate that we do so. The Parliament has always been outward looking. At topical question time today, my colleague Alison Johnstone raised the plight of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. I venture that that is very much a metaphor for the plight of the Palestinian people. I welcomed the Scottish Government’s response, which we heard from the cabinet secretary. It was compassionate and constructive, and it sought to work collaboratively with people. I contrast that with what many would characterise as the UK Government’s position, which is that drowning acts as a deterrent.

There is a similarity with what we have heard before from the Scottish Government in relation to the attacks on Gaza, when there was a call for the international community to act together to condemn the collective punishment and the disregard for international law and to offer to treat the injured and offer asylum. It is by acting together that we will secure what we have to secure for the Palestinian state.

The blockade has been mentioned. I have to say that, if someone is homeless, hungry or dispossessed, fine words will count for zero. We need to see action on the ground. Sadly, the UK could be characterised as standing by—the worst sort of gallows bystanders.

I am unequivocally opposed to violence. Coexistence is not a complicated political concept, but it requires good will. The EU was founded on the principle of equality of human rights. We must ask ourselves why some states that we would think would be outward looking and compassionate have taken the position that they have. Clearly there are vested interests, which are often financial and are very pernicious.

The UN resolutions have been alluded to. They are an important signal, but what is more important for the people of Gaza—which I have had the privilege to visit, as have many colleagues—is the practical support that is given on the ground by the people wearing a UN badge. During my visit, I had the opportunity to see at first hand a resilient population, but a population of a systematically brutalised piece of land. It is a just settlement, not illegal settlements, that we need to move things on.

Peaceful coexistence might appear a dream, but it is the right approach to take. The power of reason over the force of arms will always win through. I will not repeat—not least because he would appreciate the characterisation—the Prime Minister of Israel’s present position, but he is certainly not the architect of peace; he is the architect of further division.

What will history say about those who recognised the Palestinian state? It will say that a stance was taken on points of principle, recognising international law and humanitarian norms. That is the only principled stance, as part of the two-state solution.