By Matthew Barrett
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In a statement to the House on North Africa and the Middle East this afternoon, William Hague announced the government's intention to abstain on the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood. The Foreign Secretary said:
"Mr Speaker, the events in the Arab Spring and mounting concern over Iran's nuclear programme do not detract from the urgent need to make progress on the Middle East peace process. I repeat our calls for negotiations on a two-state solution without delay and without pre-conditions, based on the timetable set out in the Quartet statement of the 23rd of September. … The UK judges that the Palestinian Authority largely fulfils criteria for UN membership, including statehood as far as the reality of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories allows, but its ability to function effectively as a State would be impeded by that situation. A negotiated end to the occupation is the best way to allow Palestinian aspirations to be met in reality and on the ground. … We will not vote against the application because of the progress the Palestinian leadership has made towards meeting the criteria. But nor can we vote for it while our primary objective remains a return to negotiations through the Quartet process and the success of those negotiations. For these reasons in common with France and in consultation with our European partners, the United Kingdom will abstain on any vote on full Palestinian membership of the UN."
During the questions that followed, Nicholas Soames asked the Foreign Secretary to reconsider the government's position – Soames is a signatory to a statement by the Conservative Middle East Council, which says "The consequences of an abstention would be severe. The UK cannot support the right to self-determination in every country in the Middle East and then deny the same right to the Palestinians".
Nick Boles warned, in light of Iranian nuclear developments in recent days, that a Palestinian state could develop into a "proxy" for Iran – a possible state of affairs that Israel fears with considerable severity.