Britain will abstain from supporting a Palestinian bid for enhanced membership of the United Nations unless it receives assurances the Palestinians would return to peace talks and would not seek to prosecute Israelis through the ICC.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said the Government’s position was “consistent with our strong support for the principle of Palestinian statehood but our concern that the resolution could set the peace process back”.
“Up until the time of the vote itself we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution if we see public assurances by the Palestinians,” he said in a parliamentary statement.
“While there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments. However in the absence of these assurances, the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote,” he said.
The Government has lobbied the Palestinian Authority hard to make the changes to its application to become a “non-member observer state”, which is likely to pass by a clear margin at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday.
But comments from senior PA members suggested its overtures had been blocked, meaning Britain was most likely to abstain. Mr Hague confirmed he had not yet received any of the assurances he had sought.
The Palestinians are facing “intensive pressure” not to sue Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court should they win upgraded UN status this week, an official said on Wednesday.
Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi had come under intense pressure, mostly from Britain, to pledge that they would not sue Israeli officials at the ICC.
“We have not succumbed to pressure, we did not give any commitment,” she said, adding that on the other hand, “we haven’t decided that tomorrow we are going to be recognised as a state and the day after, we are going to the International Criminal Court”.
“The UK did try in an intensive effort to modify the text [of the resolution] and to get assurances and commitments,” she explained.
“It wasn’t only the UK but it was the most visible. We know that Israel, of course, was working through the US and through the UK to try and get commitments that Israel will not be taken to the International Criminal Court,” she said.
The European Union is split on the vote, with France, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway have in the past 48 hours said they would vote in favour. In an online poll, 72 per cent of Britons supported the Palestinian right to statehood.
The move is strongly opposed by the United States and Israel, who say a Palestinian state should only emerge out of bilateral negotiations.
During questions, Mr Hague’s nuanced position was criticised by members of all parties.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said the Government’s approach “will be more likely to retard efforts than advance them”.
Nicholas Soames, Conservative, said it was “grossly unfair”.
Sir Gerald Kaufman, Labour, said Mr Hague was “offering Mr Abbas all support short of actual support”. He added: “The right honourable gentleman sits on his hands.”
Mr Hague said both Israelis and Palestinians need to make moves that would see a return to negotiations.
“We have consistently asked Israel to make a more decisive offer to Palestinians than in the recent past, and have also called on Palestinians not to set preconditions for negotiations,” he said.
“We want to see a Palestinian state and look forward to the day when its people can enjoy the same rights and dignity as those of any other nation.
But for us to support a resolution at the UN it is important that the risks to the peace process are addressed.
“We call again on the Palestinian Authority to make every possible amendment to win the widest possible support and to give the strongest possible assurances;
“We call on Israel to be ready to enter negotiations and to agree a two-state solution before it is too late.”