Labour draft policy document avoids ‘immediate’ state of Palestine pledge

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Labour draft policy document avoids ‘immediate’ state of Palestine pledge

New policy provides clear sign that Labour's expected slimline general election manifesto will avoid the contentious call for 'immediate' recognition

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Will a Labour government led by Keir Starmer be committed to the 2SS and recognise Palestine alongside Israel? (Blake Ezra Photography)
Will a Labour government led by Keir Starmer be committed to the 2SS and recognise Palestine alongside Israel? (Blake Ezra Photography)

Labour has given its clearest indication yet that a pledge for the “immediate” recognition of a Palestinian state if Keir Starmer becomes prime minister will not feature in the party’s manifesto at the next general election.

A draft policy programme designed to be fine-tuned over the next few months as it shapes Labour’s 2024 manifesto confirms a noticeable change in language around the contentious issue of Israel and Palestine than was the case under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The 86 page draft policy document, which is drawn up by senior officials at party headquarters, does still include a reference to Labour’s “support” for recognition of a Palestinian state “alongside the state of Israel, as part of efforts to contribute to securing a negotiated two state solution.”

But the language marks a clear shift in tone used by the party under Starmer than that of Corbyn-led Labour, who promised the “immediate and unconditional recognition of the State of Palestine” in both the 2017 and 2019 party manifestos.

Palestine flags are waved during the Labour conference 2019 (Jewish News)

The draft policy programme, which places issues such as crime, the economy, and investment into a green and digital industrial strategy at the heart of Labour’s key priorities going into an expected election next year, will be discussed and signed off by the full national policy forum (NPF) in July, and then by annual conference in October.

Earlier this year, Jewish News revealed Labour could drop the commitment to the immediate recognition of a Palestinian state from its election manifesto as part of a shift towards a slimline document “for a party fit for government, rather than one wishing to remain in opposition.”

The draft policy document would seem to confirm that the conflict in the Middle East would not be a priority issue of the party heading into the general election, and could well be shelved from the manifesto.

One senior party source told Jewish News: “There may be nothing at all about Israel and Palestine in the manifesto.

“All the talk is of it being a far shorter document covering far less subjects than in 2017 and 2019.”

The same source added: “There is no particular reason why a manifesto should set out a stance on Israel and Palestine.”

Another party insider said: “Let’s be honest. The issue of Israel and Palestine is not coming up too often in our focus groups.

“When compared to the impact of the cost of living crisis or concerns around crime, is policy on the Middle East going to be an issue that secures the keys to Number 10 for Keir Starmer? I don’t think so.”

Despite the change in priorities for a Starmer-led party, Labour sources stressed they were aware and not ignoring growing frustration and anger within some sections of the UK Jewish community over the increasingly right-wing nature of the Israeli government.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East fringe event

Communal organisations such as Yachad are believed to have relayed the call by many of their supporters for Labour to continue to speak out in support of recognition of a Palestinian state.

Especially when Benjamin Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government includes far-right ministers who have made their total opposition to a two-state solution known.

But Starmer’s determination to be seen as an honest broker in terms of his approach to the region has become apparent, after he recognised Corbyn’s one-sided support for Palestine had helped inflame the antisemitism crisis.

After the recent cold-blooded murder of three members of Rabbi Leo Dee’s family in the West Bank, Starmer’s condolence message and condemnation of the “senseless murders” contrasted with Corbyn’s silence on the issue. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy was also the most senior political figure to offer an almost immediate message of condemnation of the Dee family murders.

In February Labour MP Kim Johnson was made by Labour whips to apologise to the Commons after provoking anger by calling the Israeli government “fascist” during prime minister’s questions.

The party’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves also said a Labour government would look to the example of Israel’s “economic miracle” to provide an alternative to “managed decline” under prime minister Rishi Sunak after speaking at an United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) business breakfast event.

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