Calling Palestine "Palestine" in the European Parliament is actually quite important

Wednesday 9th September marked a symbolic victory for those who believe that an Israeli-Palestinian peace is only possible if both sides are treated as equals. The European Parliament has now voted to change the name of its “Delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council” to the “Delegation for Relations with Palestine" by 344 votes to 282.


Published in The Huffington Post 11th September 2015. 

Ultimately, words matter in international politics, as we have seen over the FYROM/Macedonia ongoing debacle.  Where the change in terminology within the Parliament in respect of Palestine might not seem earth shattering, it underlines just how far the Palestinian cause has had to come to achieve any sort of equal recognition with Israel.

But things are changing. Few in Western Europe are aware that over 136 states have already recognised the state of Palestine, with Sweden and the Vatican adding to this list earlier this year. Even Europe's diplomatic service, the European External Action Service, has agreed to use the word Palestine in all its internal documents since 2013, instead of "Palestinian territories" or "West Bank & Gaza."

The previous discrimination in terminology did not even fit the reality on the ground.  Palestinians call themselves Palestinians, not "West Bankers" or "People of the Palestinian territories." Calling somebody by his or her name is a sign of respect, and the same applies to nations.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in London yesterday to meet with UK PM David Cameron. Will the latter use UK economic and military ties with Israel to urge Mr Netanyahu to commit to genuine negotiations? Given that Mr Netanyahu campaigned against a Palestinian state only months ago, a wake-up call is a necessity, and indeed there are reports in Brussels that he has softened his rhetoric since re-election.

The fact that the UK has still not recognised the state of Palestine is embarrassing, although I am not surprised by a Government whose foreign policy on Israel-Palestine earlier this year was to try and deter the latter from applying to the International Criminal Court. In this instance, happily it failed and Palestine is now a full member of the Rome Statute.

As the sole Scottish member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, I have seen at close hand how the Palestinians have overwhelmingly endorsed a path of non-violence, reasserting their intention to reach a just and lasting peace with their Israeli neighbours. Israel's former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin treated Palestinians as equals, unlike a number of Israeli Ministers in the xenophobic, right-wing Israeli Government that we see today. We in the European Parliament must show the way, therefore, in the hope that both the Palestinians and the Israelis will treat each other as equals - a prerequisite to effective, actual negotiations. 

We have a saying in Scotland that 'mony a mickle maks a muckle' - many small things make a big thing.  I hope that the latest small change will add to the momentum towards real equality for Palestine.  After all, you can't have a two state solution without two states. 

Alyn Smith is an SNP Member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee