Question for Short Debate
My Lords, in the French newspaper Le Figaro this morning the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Erdogan, gave a very interesting interview about many different matters and problems including the Middle East. He was asked, as relations between Israel and Turkey did not seem so promising at the moment, what the situation was as far as he was concerned. He replied: “First of all, I wish to underline that our relations with Israel are not broken off. Our exchanges continue on the usual basis … But I have to say at this very moment, Israel does not unfortunately support the idea of a peace process in the Middle East. Let us take the example of the constructions of settlements in the West Bank. The whole world is demanding now that they are interrupted and reversed and lately President Barack Obama has said the same thing clearly as has Hillary Clinton. We know equally the position of all the European countries. But does Israel stop those developments as a result of these pressures? The answer is plainly no”.
Those are sobering quotes indeed from a very respected Prime Minister of Turkey and someone who represents a country with which Israel has had very excellent relations over many years. It is a Muslim country, mainly secular but with a growing religious input, but it has become disillusioned with one of its long-standing friends. Does it make sense for Israel to alienate a country like that, as it has increasingly done so many others?
Despite that I am delighted, if that is the correct word, to launch this debate in the nick of time before Dissolution and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and all other noble Lords who will speak in the debate, especially my noble friend Lord Alderdice, who has played a major role in this area already over the years and has replaced the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. Even as we speak, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is on his way to an election campaign meeting in Bermondsey, I believe; I wish him well on that occasion.
Henry Siegman, writing in the Financial Times on 24 February this year said:
“No country is as obsessed with the issue of its own legitimacy as Israel; ironically, that obsession may yet be its salvation ”.
By that he meant that the frustrated and angered international community might well end up asking the UN to accept a Palestinian declaration of statehood within the agreed pre-1967 borders, without the mutually agreed borders that a peace accord would have produced.
The Palestinians cannot be left for ever stateless without citizenship. This matter must be reversed as quickly as possible. It is very interesting to note, for example, that Israel itself has recently been described as a state without necessarily the firmly fixed borders that all states should have, in the sense that these negotiations may cause somewhat of a change if there is a genuine peace process, but that remains to come out of what is going on now. Indeed, there could be other bizarre side effects to Israel from the growing defiance and intransigence of the increasingly foolish and myopic Netanyahu Administration. I speak as someone who has been a proud and enthusiastic friend of Israel as well as a supporter of Palestine in its hour of need. I despair at the antics of the politicians in the coalition who are leading Israel down a blind and false path. The Foreign Minister is a deeply disappointing figure. It is only now that the US Government have at long last moved away from the nightmare years of George Bush to a determined, fair and thoughtful President who will, we hope, grasp this painful nettle, as he did with the healthcare issue in internal politics at long last. But for Netanyahu to have defied President Obama recently in Washington DC is itself unbelievably absurd in the present brittle state of affairs in the Middle East and the growing anxieties that we all perceive.
If Obama achieves a just and balanced two-state solution and the removal of the settlements, he will be the universal world hero for years and will finally have earned that prematurely accorded Nobel peace prize. It will be a fantastic achievement—but it looks some way off at the moment. At last, however, the quartet is lumbering into some semblance of reluctant movement forward with a recent gathering, but much more needs to be done. I especially ask the Minister tonight to give some account of what the pathetic and laughable efforts of the EU portion of the quartet intends to do from now on to insist that Israel behaves properly as the established state. We recall still with bitterness the chilling accounts of the 42 vetoes of UN resolutions as mentioned in the famous book by Mearsheimer and Walt in 2007 by the United States over the period 1972 to 2006, greater than the combined total of all other UN Security Council members over that period put together. What a disgrace for the country that professes to be the leader of the western world; I am not sure that that role is any longer applicable in the world, for lots of other reasons as well.
The list of Israeli violations of international law since the illegal annexation of the West Bank in 1967 is so long that I have no time to mention them tonight. Israel’s defiance of the agreed road map is also now well documented, and we can add to that woeful saga the history of violations of civic and human rights in the apartheid colony that the Occupied Territories have now become; the extra-judicial murders that we have recently seen in the press, seemingly authorised by Israeli Ministers and the military; and the continued incarceration of more than 8,000 detainees, mostly without proper due process, equal to more than twice the pro rata United Kingdom entire prison population. Then there is the killing of civilians in Gaza, and the illegal settlements with some 400,000 settlers, who literally have no right to be there at all. How reckless can a Government of a western-style democracy decide to be? Presumably as reckless as Blair and Bush were in Iraq.
We seem to live in a world where only the US, the UK and Israel feel that it is all right to bomb civilians, as in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Lebanon and Gaza. Among the advanced countries, no one else seems to do it on a regular basis, apart from one or two unfortunate accidents among other NATO members in Afghanistan. Israel even attacks Syria with impunity, apparently, without any criticism uttered in Washington at all. In fact, if sensible public opinion in Israel were respected and followed by a sensible and moderate Government, as it used to have in the old days, these dreadful violations of international law would not be enacted.
I repeat my previous admiration for the millions of decent citizens in Israel who do not accept these dark prescriptions for the future. I raise my hat to JFJP, including its UK adherents—people of remarkable courage and tenacity—as well as to the 300-plus ladies of Checkpoint Watch, who go daily to the West Bank to report on violations of abuse of decent Palestinians struggling to survive, and to the hundreds of signatories in the Times on 1 December last year of British and international Jews welcoming the Goldstone findings. I single out too Gerald Kaufman MP for his bravery, and Peace Now—the UK branch and in Israel—as well as Bet’Selem and the other human rights groups in Israel, and the brave younger members of the military who formed the Breaking the Silence group to complain about abuses by the military of hapless Palestinian civilians. The list is very long and shows a decent side of a country, which can still—if only its short-sighted Government see sense—avoid becoming a pariah state like apartheid South Africa.
Because of the nature of this Question, I have not in this debate mentioned the long list of all the things that the Palestinians need to do if peace talks start properly. I presume that Senator Mitchell will work hard to be even-handed to both parties. But the fact remains that the Israeli Government, as the established order, supported as to their future security unconditionally by the entire international community, must take the lead as a colonial occupier that committed the violations of international law and created the Palestinian victims in the first place. That is what President de Klerk did in South Africa in 1990 to 1994. Sadly, the EU now has to consider seriously trade and other sanctions if Israel is not seen to be compliant with the growing anger and frustration of the international community. It would also be a good idea if it abandoned its defiance on the nuclear arsenal and subscribed to the NPT as well.
Finally, we watch with care and apprehension how the Muslim world of Arabia and beyond, as well as Muslim non-Arab countries like Iran, watch all these matters against the background of Israel’s short-sighted rejection of the Arab League peace offer, made as long ago as 2004 and repeated frequently ever since. Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and is expelled, quite rightly, after one year; Israel is still there after 43 years in the Occupied Territories. That cannot be right for the Arab man and woman in the street.
Israel has a great deal to offer its own citizens and neighbours, if true peace arrives and the Palestinians are given their place in the sun as a truly sovereign independent state, only seeking some 22 per cent of the combined territory. Israel has so much, the Palestinians so little. It is truly time for that Israeli generosity, which is such a feature of this excellent country. When I first went there in 1970, I was deeply impressed. I want to be impressed again.
My Lords, it is high time that this House had the opportunity to debate the state of the Middle East peace process—not, alas, because the situation is developing so fast, but because it is not moving ahead at all and simply goes round in circles. That form of stasis has major negative security consequences for this country and the rest of Europe. We delude ourselves if we think that the current deadlock can safely be dismissed with a shrug of cynical indifference.
The Middle East, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Experience shows that a further outbreak of violence is unlikely to be avoidable if the parties cannot be brought back to the negotiating table. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is to be congratulated on initiating this debate in the closing days of this Parliament. It is right, too, that we should focus our attention in the debate on the role of the Government of Israel and on their current disregard for international law. For all the shared responsibility between the two sides that has existed over the past 60 years—the shared responsibility for the failure to reach a negotiated settlement—it is the present Israeli Government who, by their words and deeds, now represent the biggest obstacle to making progress. Take the decision to site the security wall not on the ceasefire line but in many places well within occupied Palestinian territory, and to continue its construction even after the International Court of Justice ruled that the siting was illegal. Take the incredibly offensive and maladroit announcement of further settlement building in east Jerusalem, which scuppered the latest US initiative to resume peace talks. Take the remarks of the Israeli Prime Minister to the recent AIPAC meeting in Washington that there could be no talk of settlements in east Jerusalem, because the whole of that city rightfully belonged to Israel and east Jerusalem was not therefore occupied territory at all and not covered by the Geneva conventions. Those are just three examples of clear breaches of international law, as clear as it is possible to imagine. The fact that Israel is a working and respected democracy, which is often rightly cited as a factor in its favour, only compounds its errors.
What, then, is to be done if the international community is not simply to acquiesce in this defiance of international law and the consequent lack of any negotiating process? We must certainly not abandon our wholehearted support for the initiative taken by President Obama when, on his first day in office, he appointed Senator George Mitchell to revive the negotiating process and later when, in his Cairo speech, he spelled out so eloquently the case for a negotiated solution. Some have suggested that the US made an error in insisting on a cessation of settlement building as part of that process, but the recent Israeli announcements have surely demonstrated that Israeli opponents of a two-state solution were never going to allow the settlement issue to be finessed. Moreover, getting on to the negotiating table US-backed ideas for the necessary compromises on the key substantive issues—territory, security, Jerusalem and refugees—is far the best way of moving ahead, whether through a direct or an indirect negotiating process. I hope that the British Government, both pre and post-election, will press ahead down that road and urge the US Administration to put those cards on the table.
Should we be contemplating negative action against an Israeli Government who are showing such blatant disregard for their international obligations? Surely some carefully calibrated political and diplomatic action is, indeed, desirable and justified. Here, too, President Obama has shown the way in the presentational handling of the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Washington. Others, like ourselves, could usefully follow that pattern in our official contacts—correct, but no warmth and no photo opportunities. Could we not collectively go a bit further and remove from Israel that cover which we, and most of all the US, provide against criticism and condemnation of Israeli government policies at the United Nations? Such evidence of diplomatic isolation, so long as it avoided offensive rhetoric and stuck firmly to the parameters of agreed international law, could bring home to ordinary Israelis where their present Government’s policies were leading them.
It would be wrong, I suspect, to make no mention in this debate of the other side of the peacemaking equation. I, and others in this House, have long argued for an inclusive approach to the Arab side. I should like to be clear: that would not include negotiating with Hamas at this stage, let alone concluding an agreement with it. However, it would involve talking to Hamas and agreeing publicly to deal directly with it, if it and Fatah were to reach agreement on a unity Government for the Palestinian territories that were prepared to base themselves on the Arab peace initiative. I would hope that the Government could give further consideration to that sort of approach, rather than simply endlessly repeating the mantra of the quartet’s preconditions—now distinctly shop-soiled.
It is not easy to be optimistic in the short term. Occasionally, Back-Benchers can say something that those on the Front Benches cannot, so I hazard the personal view that progress will not be made so long as the present configuration of the Israeli Government persists. The extremists simply have too strong a grip on the present Government’s policy and are fundamentally opposed to a two-state solution, whatever Prime Minister Netanyahu may say. Alas, we have to watch—and it eludes me as to how this can continue—the party of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Abba Eban justifying and sustaining that configuration of the Israeli Government, so the international community, including its Arab component, may need to be both patient and persistent. What we should not do is to cease giving this issue the priority and engagement that it requires.
My Lords, this will be one of the last debates of this Parliament. Even so, I hope that the Minister will ignore the advice that she has been given by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes. Perhaps it is because we are in election mode that the noble Lord—unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—seems to have forgotten about the need for balance in foreign relations, and seems to show attitudes which are irresponsible, hostile, partisan and prejudiced. Those will only damage our foreign relationships.
This Motion invites the Government to engage in lecturing Israel and finger-pointing about actions which the noble Lord finds unacceptable. However, he omits to mention how they came about, ignoring the bigger picture. That finger-pointing and lecturing would be a grave error. Why? It would contribute to tribalism and encourage fundamentalism. It would become part of the self-serving hate industry and if it inhibits dialogue, the hard-liners win on both sides. Anyway, Israel knows what its duties are, as do most Israeli citizens. They do not need Members of this House to tell them what those are.
Fortunately, we have a Foreign Secretary who has more sense. Despite the recent difficulties, the Foreign Secretary recently asserted that Britain will continue to work closely with Israel, which he described as a democratic country with remarkable achievements to its name in a dangerous part of the world. The Foreign Secretary is right. Israel is that rare thing; a liberal democracy in the Middle East—a Western-style democracy, as the noble Lord put it and, indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us. It is achieving the fruits of being a liberal social democracy. Public services provide a high standard of education and health. Outstanding universities and hospitals are there, as is a skilled workforce that can operate a knowledge economy which delivers a high standard of living. There is a strong and well regulated economy—Israeli banks did not have to be bailed out—little corruption, and equality before the law. It shares many strengths with most other liberal social democracies.
However, it also shares their problems. Terror: what does a liberal democracy do about that? We are all divided. In the United States, half the population thinks it is at war and the other half does not, so they are divided over whether terrorism is a matter for the military or for the police. There is controversy here too; what are the rights and liberties that must be sacrificed for the sake of our security? My noble friend—and not so simple sailor—Lord West bravely treads that difficult path every day. It is the same in Israel. How far do its Government go to ensure the security of their citizens? Israel is not a heartless society that enjoys oppressing its neighbours. It is a divided society; divided in its concern over terror. As in every other liberal social democracy, some Israelis think that the Government go too far—the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, listed some of them—while others think that the Government do not go far enough. They do not need lectures from us, but solutions. They know the destination; we need to know how to get there.
What, then, is the answer? Mine is the same as the Foreign Secretary’s: put your trust in a liberal democratic society. Trust in the ability of individuals to combine with each other to make sensible decisions for their own good, whether at the macro level of politics changing society or the micro level of small groups of individuals working away. At the macro level, Israel is even trying to sort out its proportional representation system, which the Liberal Democrats might approve of, although it has not served Israel well. At the micro level, there is plenty going on. In the same way that the recognition of a shared Judaeo-Christian heritage was key in combating anti-Semitism, so there is lots of dialogue between the three Abrahamic faiths, making proposals for working a way forward to a better future.
In Israel, there are mixed schools and mixed communities working on this and working on living together. We have examples here in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Stone is working to establish a joint Israeli and Palestinian clothing company. Personal tragedy has stimulated my noble friend Lord Turnberg to arrange special training for young Israeli and Palestinian doctors—something about which he has special knowledge and experience. So, rather than lecturing and finger pointing, I urge the Government to encourage these activities so that they can achieve a critical mass necessary to have an impact that will change people’s lives, because this is what happens in a liberal democracy.
My Lords, it is customary to congratulate a noble Lord on securing a debate on an important and topical subject. Unusually, on this occasion I am not certain that there is anything singular about the debate. We have had 143 Questions in this House about Israel in the past 12 months. On my rough count, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, has put down more than 40 since the start of 2009. Indeed, he has asked 193 Questions on this subject, and initiated three debates, since he entered the House. One may well wonder what effect these have had and why his party’s Weltanschauung is so narrow. I imagine that the suffering people of Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea, the Western Sahara and Tibet would welcome similar attention to the minutiae of their oppression. Before anyone says that Israel should be held to a higher standard, let me say that the rule of law applies to all equally. It is not right to apply a higher standard to some and let off others who abuse human rights with a lower standard.
Any noble and learned Lord will know that a legal system links obligations and rights under law. Israel was admitted to the UN more than 60 years ago on the strength of the right of self-determination accorded to all peoples, as asserted in the charter. This has never been accepted by most of the Arab world, permanently in breach of this right by denying Israel's right to security and to enter into diplomatic relations. The context of what I have to say is set by this and by Isaiah Berlin. He believed in a two-state solution and called the creation of the state of Israel a victory for freedom because it,
“restored to Jews not merely their personal dignity and status as human beings, but what is vastly more important, their right to choose as individuals how they shall live”.
He meant free from the pressure of the non-Jewish world. This is what is at stake.
Hamas and other Palestinian groups in Gaza have abused international law by targeting civilians with thousands of rockets—a crime against humanity. They have held Gilad Shalit captive for nearly four years without access from the Red Cross or contact with the outside world. They have captured journalists for no good reasons and they have launched rockets from mosques during conflict. Hamas has the obligation to recognise the state of Israel, renounce violence and accept existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. This is part of the road map.
In relation to Gaza, the problems arise from the seizure by Hamas of control with a view only to fomenting violence, not promoting peace, as can be seen by the contrast with the standard of living in the West Bank. There are two borders to Gaza. One can well understand why the Israeli one is closed, but the Egyptian Rafah crossing could be opened again if the EU restored its Border Assistance Mission, which it says it is ready to do.
As regards Jerusalem, I am sure that noble Lords realise that divided cities do not work. Belfast, Berlin and Nicosia were all untenable; and the walls come down in the end. Jerusalem has been the cultural, religious and political focal point of Judaism for more than 3,000 years and has only ever been divided once, between 1948 and 1967. When Jordan occupied old Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed in at all, the Jewish quarter was vandalised, 60 synagogues were destroyed and prayer at the western wall was impossible. Reunification came about because in 1967 Jordan answered the call of Egypt and Syria and attacked Jerusalem. Since reunification the city has flourished and Israeli and Arab quarters have grown and prospered.
The Jerusalem issue is in reality used as an excuse not to resume negotiations. The non-negotiators see the delegitimisation of Israel as the way to get what they want. The future of Jerusalem will depend not on international law but on negotiation. There are many perspectives on international law. I recommend—but do not have time to examine—that of Professor Lauterpacht. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that Jerusalem should be the capital for both, which must depend on a working relationship, not bombs on buses. That negotiation will flourish only when the malign influence and harassment from those who blame solely one side are removed from the equation. I support the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, in that regard. By placing all blame on Israel, the peace process is distanced. Generous offers were made to the Palestinians by Olmert and at Camp David and were rejected. The Palestinians see no need to hurry to settle because they get more offered every time. Peace will come only with Palestinian realism and acceptance of international law—namely, Israel’s right to live in security. Palestinian teachers must stop teaching the next generation to hate Jews and restore Israel physically on their maps. Sixty years have been wasted since the two-state solution was rejected in 1948.
What, then, can the British Government do? They could regain some influence by starting to recognise Israel’s legitimate concerns and displaying balance. Following the road map, they must persuade Hamas to stop the rockets, end smuggling of arms into Gaza and free Gilad Shalit. The UK should tell the Palestinians to sit down at the negotiating table and behave like the statesmen of the international community that they wish to be. What is the alternative? If the alleged breaches of international law by Israel were pressed home, if she did what some noble Lords apparently want her to do and, for example, accepted a one-state solution with return of the Palestinians, there would be an end of the state that provided a haven for the Jews. There would no doubt be destruction, both human and material, and no longer a corner of the earth where Jews can be assured of freedom from persecution. If Jerusalem were divided again, that part would once again be a no-go area for Jews and again one might expect vandalising of homes and places of worship, as happened in Gaza when it was evacuated.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I am anxious to ask her before she sits down—because so far she has not mentioned it—what view she takes of the colonisation of the West Bank and nearly half a million permanent settlers. Is that not an impossible impediment to all that she wants?
My Lords, I have eight minutes. Had I longer, I would deal with it. However, there are conflicting views about the occupation. We all know that in the end Israel has a history of trading land for peace. I am sure that that will come about once there is a Palestine. I have no doubt in my heart that that will be the case.
The actual elimination of Israel has become acceptable talk among many westerners. The one-state solution is a euphemism for this because Jews would be in a permanent minority. This has not been a happy situation in which to be in some Islamic states. In other words, Israel would risk being destroyed and another Judenrein state might take its place, as seems likely in relation to Palestine even if there is a two-state solution. Ending the so-called occupation is no solution until Hamas drops the aim of destruction as in its charter.
For 2,000 years the moral quality of any state or culture could be judged by the way it treated its Jewish population. Israel is the great moral criterion of our age, and the community of nations will be judged by the way it treats the tiny Jewish state in its midst. Over the centuries Jews have been held responsible from time to time for the world’s ills when it seeks a scapegoat, and now it is Israel. When words like “apartheid”, “tentacles”, “the international Jewish community” and “the blood of children” are used in this context, noble Lords should recall that those phrases were familiar to the ancestors of the present Israelis. They knew their significance and how to regard them.
Those who call for the elimination of or damage to Israel by selective use of international law are on the wrong side of history, morality and justice. Israel has a history of obeying the law and doing the right thing when peace is ready to be offered. We should be optimistic about this.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for securing this debate. I am a great admirer of his and have become an even greater admirer as he secured the debate just before the end of this Parliament.
I, too, strongly believe that representation should and must be made to the Israeli Government in view of their human rights violations and continued disregard for international law. The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be our first and foremost concern. I do not need to remind your Lordships that it states that,
“all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
We have a global responsibility to uphold this in both our domestic and foreign policies, as it is our humanity that makes us human.
Earlier this year I was part of a large European parliamentary delegation led by Sir Gerald Kaufman to Gaza, where we met members of the Samouni family. Mona Samouni was born free and equal in dignity and rights, but our ability to protect her and thousands of Gazan children like her has been thwarted by Israel’s disregard for international law. The 14 year- old showed me and approximately 60 European parliamentarians the remains of her family house. She described how her father was shot and killed in front of her eyes. She saw her father’s brain being shot out of his head. Some 29 members of the Samouni family were killed during Operation Cast Lead. The Samouni family do not belong to Hamas or Al-Fatah. They are not political; they are an ordinary Palestinian farming family.
I also met the mother of a six year-old who was shot twice in the chest at point-blank range after he protested and cried when his father was shot right in front of his eyes. The mother of this child showed us photographs of the little boy and her dead husband. I was humbled by Mona’s resilience but also deeply shocked by how the international community remains silent about the suffering of Gazan children. Without renewed, clear and urgent representation from the British Government, our dedication to securing human rights will be in question on the global stage.
I will briefly outline Israel’s breaches under international law with regards to both Gaza and continued settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Sir Gerald Kaufman, as the leader of the British parliamentary delegation to Gaza, spoke for us all when he said that,
“if Europe does not take political action to bring about the end of the siege, we are culpable”.
That is, we are culpable for the 75 per cent of Gazans who are malnourished and the 50 per cent of Gazan children under the age of 12 who do not have the will to live.
The laws of occupation incorporated in the Hague Convention of 1907 and in the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 apply to a state if it has “effective control” over the territory in question. No one can deny that Israel has effective control of the Gaza Strip. On my visit, UN representatives told me that the borders are so tightly controlled that even they could not obtain building materials to rebuild their own buildings, which were destroyed in January 2009. Two days ago, aid agencies spoke once more of serious shortages of food, medicines and essentials. Goods have been held in Israel’s ports since 2007 and the first small cargo of clothes and shoes was allowed through two days ago, most of it damaged. With the people of Gaza imprisoned like this, what hope is there of recovery?
Gaza has had a four-year prison sentence. Many have described it as the largest prison in the world. The blockade is in breach of Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, which prohibits collective punishment. It is also stipulated that non-combatant civilians must be protected during armed conflict and that the free passage of medicines, medical assistance teams and essential foodstuffs must be allowed.
There were 1,400 fatalities during Operation Cast Lead. Since then, a further 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis. In the same amount of time, two Israeli soldiers have been killed in armed conflict. The response to this was 13 air strikes. The target was supposed to be a weapons factory, but a milk factory, a metal workshop and farms were also hit. According to the WHO, Israeli bombs hit more than half of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 44 clinics. The Geneva Convention makes it clear that medical staff and hospitals are not legitimate targets. The list of violations continues.
When Britain abstained from the UN vote on the ratification of the Goldstone report, that detachment showed not only lack of interest in the plight of the Palestinian people but also support for Israel’s conduct. However, representatives from both Houses have campaigned for the UN-ratified Goldstone report to be implemented and reflected in our foreign policy towards Israel. We must continue to do so or we will appear to hold double standards and make a mockery of UN law. The 10th EU-Israel association agreement council meeting will be held next Tuesday to decide whether Israel meets the conditions set by the EU-Israel association agreement, one of which is to,
“respect human rights and democratic principles”.
We should be making representations to the Israeli Government, but we should also make it clear to the EUIAA council that its actions should be suspended until the Israeli Government comply with international law.
Europe would not be alone in calling for this. America has taken a historically strong stance and shown its resolve in making the road map to peace a reality. We could join it and call for an end to the continued settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Hillary Clinton stated that such construction,
“undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need”.
By systematically building settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel breaches the rules of international humanitarian law governing occupation, in particular Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, by which Israel has been bound since 6 July 1951. Israel’s most recent provocation was its announcement that 122 new settlement buildings would be constructed. These violations of international law have happened and will continue unless a strong stance towards the Israeli Government is initiated. Since 1967 Israel has been the subject of 138 resolutions and has violated 40 of them. In comparison, Iraq has been the subject of 69 Security Council resolutions. It is time that Her Majesty’s Government stopped appeasing the Zionist lobby and took a firm step towards ensuring that international law is respected. We have a duty to children like Mona and thousands of other Palestinians who deserve a brighter future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for the balanced way in which he introduced this debate. I subscribe fully to the praise given by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for Israel as a democracy of a particular and special kind. It is deeply disappointing that Israel is recognised by only two of its immediate neighbours. However, it still occupies land belonging to Syria, as well as a few farms in Lebanon. The situation of refugees has been left in abeyance for so long that the current displaced population outnumbers resident Palestinians still living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It is regrettable that the peace process has been drawn out at such length after the bright, hopeful days of 1993, without reaching a just and lasting agreement.
Of course, there have been plausible excuses. Yes, Mr Arafat was a slippery partner. Yes, there was a second intifada in 2000, provoked by Mr Sharon’s walkabout near the Dome of the Rock. Yes, there were terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. Why, however, have successive Israeli Governments disregarded the Arab League peace initiative proposed in 2000 and confirmed in 2007? Why, 10 years later, has Israel not engaged with what could be the basis for a long-term solution?
It must be in the interests of a democracy such as has been described to respect international law—indeed, to be an example to others in complying with the norms and wishes of the whole world. However, that is not what the record shows. Israel has armed itself with nuclear weapons yet does not submit to international verification. Ever since 1967, driven by Zionist ideology, Israel has been busy planting colonies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, contrary to the fourth Geneva Convention.
The annexation in 1967 of east Jerusalem was illegal and has not been recognised by any other state. That is why the foreign embassies are all in Tel Aviv. One cannot approve of the steady attempt over many years to increase the Israeli proportion of the population of greater Jerusalem and to reduce the Palestinian percentage. This has gone to the extent of using evictions, demolitions and one-sided lawsuits. I say “one-sided” because apparently Jews have the right to return to east Jerusalem while Palestinians may under no circumstances return to their homes and properties in Israel.
As regards the separation wall, or barrier, I agree fully with my noble friend Lord Hannay, as I do with what he said about Hamas and how we should approach that movement. We should also look at the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the 2006 war and the 2008-09 onslaught on Gaza. We will find no UN approval for these operations, but rather the disproportionate use of military force, with great civilian casualties and destruction of property. Yes, there was small-scale provocation by the enemies of Israel, but they did not use white phosphorus, tungsten shrapnel or flechettes in civilian areas. I have seen flechettes on the ground in battlefields in Azerbaijan. For noble Lords unfamiliar with them, they are small, screw-like weapon components that cause horrible flesh wounds. Noble Lords will find the evidence on these matters in the Kahane and Goldstone commission reports.
I come at last to the blockade of Gaza. This has lasted more than 1,000 days, from before November 2008, when Israel deliberately broke the existing ceasefire. Despite the trickle of supplies allowed into Gaza, children and others suffer malnutrition, homeless people live in tents and some medical patients die for lack of necessary treatments. This is an example of collective punishment at its worst.
I have not mentioned the numerous breaches of international humanitarian law and of human rights law affecting Palestinians in detention, including women and children. Some of them are detained administratively while others come before military courts. I disagree strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Israel as a democracy should respect a higher moral code than resistance fighters or terrorists. Israel should not enjoy the benefits of the association agreement with the European Union while it does not respect human rights, as required by Article 2 of the agreement.
Her Majesty’s Government, the European Union and the rest of the civilised world should no longer be content with purely verbal protests. Positive action is now needed. The European Union came into being to prevent fratricidal war in Europe. It must now, with the help of the United States, develop a vision to prevent the cycle of wars and uprisings in the Middle East.
My Lords, I am sorry that I did not put my name down in the normal way, but uncertainty over public transport arrangements meant that I felt it would be unwise. I will make a couple of points in the two minutes available to me. First, in a debate of this kind we should all pay tribute to those of immense courage in Israel who stand for the arguments that have been put forward so well this evening. There are many within Israel, including people who have served in the armed services, who are extremely disillusioned with the Government's position and want to see radical change. We should express our solidarity with them.
My second point is that this debate is not simply about human rights. Those of us who take the position that the noble Lord took when he brought forward this debate—for which I express my appreciation—are doing so because we believe that this is the way that Israel can have peace and security in future. We are absolutely certain that the road that Israel is taking at the moment is not the road that will win for its children and grandchildren peace and security in the region. It is totally counterproductive. This counterproductivity could not be better illustrated than by the blockade. The blockade is causing immense suffering in education, housing, nourishment, health and in every other way, which is fanning the flames of extremism. We should take a firm stand against it.
My last point concerns Hamas. I am one of those who believe that it is simply impossible to envisage how we will get stability and a settlement in the area without bringing Hamas on board. We cannot argue for democracy and then when a Government are elected say, “Well, we do not like this particular Government so we will not deal with them”. We just cannot do that. When we lay down all sorts of preconditions we should think of our own history in Northern Ireland; I have some hesitation in saying this. We knew in Northern Ireland that you had to bring people on board and win them. It was no good laying down all sorts of preconditions, you had to win them. Our intransigence at the moment is simply driving people into the arms of extremists and undermining the responsible elements within Hamas. It is madness.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for agreeing to share this short space in the break. I confess I was not aware that this debate was taking place because I was abroad for the past week. When I saw it come up on the screen I rushed here; I missed the opening words of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, but I congratulate him on securing this debate.
My excuse for intervening at all is that I came back only last month from leading a parliamentary delegation to Gaza with three colleagues from the other place. I will say two things about the situation in Gaza.
It is well known, as others have mentioned, that Operation Cast Lead caused the deaths of some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis—not exactly an eye for an eye; more like a hundred eyes for an eye. What worries me is not so much the effect of the operation itself, but that 15 months later the blockade is there. We saw for ourselves the plans for badly needed housing for people who are living in tents. Money has been allocated by us—taxpayers—the Europeans and others for housing which should go ahead, but the Israelis will not allow cement and steelworks to come into the territory to build or rebuild those houses. As everybody has already mentioned, this is totally contrary to the preface to the European trade agreement which requires them to act in a humane manner. I am full of admiration for the work being done by UNWRA in Gaza; it is quite remarkable. UNWRA has guaranteed that it would secure the supplies if they came in, and they would not fall into the wrong hands.
What depressed us was that whether we talked to businessmen, teachers or students, everybody was saying, “We are a people without hope”. The present policy of the Israeli Government is not only inhumane, it is downright stupid. Half the population of Gaza are under the age of 18 and we are breeding a whole generation of people with bitterness and hatred towards Israel which cannot be in the long-term interests of the security of Israel.
My final point is that I hope people reading this debate will not accuse some of us of being anti-Israel. We are against the policies of the Government of Israel. If we are against the policies of the British Government we are not anti-British—and we are not anti-Israel either.
My Lords, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, I welcome my noble friend’s achievement in getting this debate at this time. I find it quite remarkable that it is suggested that these Benches have ignored questions like Zimbabwe, Burma and Tibet, particularly when one notes some of my colleagues, the noble Lords behind me.
I start by emphasising, as a number of colleagues have, that this debate is about the policies of the current Israeli Government. There are many in Israel, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, emphasised quite rightly, who desperately want to see progress. Opinion poll after opinion poll over the years, whoever has been in government, has demonstrated—and in fairness the noble Baroness pointed this out—that the majority of Israeli people are prepared to do a deal for peace.
As the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, pointed out, it is not that Israel is a heartless country, it is a divided country. That is absolutely right. Israel is not simply a country with a Jewish population. There is a Jewish population—very importantly, and it is a homeland for Jewish people who choose to live there—but there is also a significant Arab population. Very importantly, NGOs and others do a great deal of marvellous work. Here I declare an interest as a patron of the Abraham Fund UK, which raises funds in order to try to help Arab and Jewish Israelis work together to build a multicultural society there. There are lots of other organisations—Hand in Hand in schools, the Jerusalem Foundation, Friendship Village and so many others. This is not about Israeli people, many of whom, to my certain knowledge from speaking with and listening to them, desperately want peace, but it is a question of whether the current policies of the current Government are moving in the right direction.
I confess that when the Government came together I rather abandoned the hope that there would be much progress on the Palestinian front in the short term, so I made it my business to return to Damascus and met again with the foreign minister, Walid Muallem, to talk about the possibilities of improving the relationship between Israel and Syria. It seemed to me that the current Government might have a little better hope of making progress on that front if they wished. He made it clear that the return of the Golan—no one, not even the Israeli Government disputes that the Golan is Syrian territory—might not necessarily happen overnight, but he said that if half of it were to be returned, there would be an end to enmity; if three-quarters of it were to be returned, an Israeli section could be opened in the US embassy in Damascus; and once all of it were returned, there could be an Israeli embassy in Damascus and a Syrian embassy in Tel Aviv. Of course, that would not mean that the Palestinian questions would be attended to, but the relationship between Syria and Israel would be changed dramatically.
Within a couple of weeks, the former Prime Minister Mr Barak indicated that he thought that there might well be more war between Israel and Syria and Foreign Minister Lieberman declared that the Syrians just had to accept that they would never get the Golan back. I do not immediately enter into the question of the West Bank and Gaza. I know all the complexities, but here is a situation where Syria was prepared to move forward and where Turkey and the Turkish Prime Minister, who was referred to earlier by my noble friend, were prepared to intercede. Yet the response was to talk about war, when it was not on anyone else's agenda and to say that there would be no return of what is, undeniably and internationally agreed, Syrian territory.
That takes us to the nub of the problem. There seems to be a belief in Israel that, whether it is Syrian territory, south Lebanese territory or Palestinian territory, if Israel feels threatened, it is perfectly all right to occupy land for six months, six years or 60 years without any apparent appreciation that that very occupation, in the medium and long term, does not contribute to Israeli security but stimulates resistance—violent resistance—when it cannot be resolved. This is not a matter of being for Israel's security or against Israel’s security; it is about seeing the long term.
I see the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, shaking his head and I am reminded of one of the leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party, who was involved in militant activity in the early 1970s. I see the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, in his place and it was certainly not him. Many years later, he came to me and said, “John, I wish we had done what your predecessors were advising at that time because we could have had a good deal then and now we are in an impossible situation”. If, many years before, the views of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, had been followed by his colleagues, we would have had a very different situation and many lives would have been saved in our country. One has to be careful that what one seeks in the name of security is actually the best way of achieving the security that one wants.
At the time of the debate on Gaza—I will not go into the situation there—I warned that things would not improve for Israel. Two days after the awful earthquake in Haiti, General Petraeus, the commander of CENTCOM, took a number of his colleagues to meet the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, to give him an account of what they had found after he had sent a team to all the countries in the region. The response was: “General Mullen, you need to understand that in every single one of those countries, the American interest, the American standing is collapsing partly, at least, because of the stance that we are taking on this matter and, furthermore, American lives are at risk in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan partly because of that”. General Petraeus was saying something very similar to what I am saying. That went to the White House. Admiral Mullen then went to Israel to try to get across to the Israelis the cost to them. That was why there was such deep anger and why Vice-President Joe Biden was received as he was. The Americans believed that they had got the message across that this was not of academic interest, this was not merely a question of national security, but this was American lives that were at stake and that put a whole new complexion on it.
If that is the case for American lives in the region, and we are a true and firm ally and friend of Israel, we should not assume that it is merely an academic or indeed altruistic question from our point of view. Some of our brave men and women who are serving—thankfully no longer, in most cases, in Iraq, but in Afghanistan and in relation to Pakistan—find themselves at risk because this issue is not being resolved and attended to. That is the passionate concern and commitment of those on these Benches.
The reason for obtaining a debate was to try to keep the matter to the fore. It is in our national interest to see this matter resolved. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said, “What you do about terror and terrorism?”. Please do not get me started; it is a long journey. You have to talk to people you might not ever want to talk to. You have to accept things that you might not want to accept. However, I say for certain and without any fear of contradiction, the longer you leave it before you start on the road, the longer and more painful the road becomes; the sooner we return to the rule of law in the region, and the sooner we all recognise that, the better it will be for our people as well as for all the long-suffering people in the region, Israeli and non-Israeli.
My Lords, this has been a mixed debate. There is no surprise that there is more than one view. Many truths have been spoken, but frankly there has been no clear message from your Lordships which will carry us very much further forward. We have to be very aware in having these debates of straying from concerned advice and focus on our own national interests, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, into hectoring and lecturing others who are in circumstances that sometimes are very difficult for us to imagine and appreciate.
I begin with the general observation that it is sad to see how the cause of Israel’s existence and nationhood has declined over the years. When I first entered politics—well over four decades ago—Israel was the favoured cause of the left, the right and the centre. Heroes like Abba Eban and others were enormously admired by Labour leaders such as Dick Crossman. Everyone recognised the values and determination of this amazing country, which was making the desert green and building a nation. Today, it is quite different. Almost everyone has grown impatient, if not with Israel, with Israel’s current policies, with its government attitudes and many—not all—of its leaders.
Now, at the moment and at this particular stage, there is the relentless expansion into east Jerusalem and into Palestinian territory which has been mentioned by your Lordships; there is the heavy-handed siege of Gaza—one recognises all the arguments either side, but nevertheless it is undoubtedly very heavy-handed; there is the ruthless killing, the murder, of political opponents, themselves possibly murderers as well—always two sides to that argument—actions that in a democracy make many of us feel very shocked. Nor must we forget, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, rightly reminded us, that many Israelis, possibly most Israelis, simply want the right to exist in peace with their neighbours, to have their right to exist recognised, instead of constantly questioned, and maybe to get back onto the road map if they can. That is the sad and mixed situation. Anyone who tries to define it more narrowly, one way or another, is not helping the cause of peace in the region.
Everyone, too, is watching what a reinvigorated—or supposedly reinvigorated—US President, Mr Obama, will do now, after his domestic problems have been somewhat ameliorated with his success over the health scheme and health reforms. We have heard about the so-called unbreakable bond between America and Israel, which Mrs Clinton was reiterating the other day to the major audience of the US Jewish lobby AIPAC, but now we have to ask what the US President and the US Government mean by that unbreakable bond.
Mr Obama made three requests the other day to Mr Netanyahu, and he has made them before; first, the freeze on Jewish settlement growth should be extended beyond September—that is the George Mitchell proposition; secondly, building projects in east Jerusalem should be stopped; and thirdly, Israeli forces should withdraw to positions held before the second intifada of 2000. There is no evidence at all that Israeli leaders are agreeing to any of these requests. In fact, the very cold meeting between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama the other day suggests that there is no agreement at the moment.
The figures of the settlement issue—people say it should not be focused on, but it is a very central issue—are truly staggering. Last year, the number of settlers in the West Bank was 479,500, of whom 285,000 were living in the West Bank, and another 193,700 in east Jerusalem. These are enormous numbers and it is very hard to see how they can be reconciled with any kind of concept of two states or a separate Palestinian state. That is very hard to understand. I know I have heard in detail the arguments put by very sincere Israelis about this case, but it remains very difficult for us to see how these things can match.
The question now is: what moves can the US make—if it is up to it? Can the US move to much stronger measures, such as cutting off funds, in the way that George Bush Sr did? What representations can we here in the UK make in our various roles as a member of international organisations, as a leading member of the European Union but also as a leading member of many other groups, with excellent bilateral ties to many players and many states in the region—bilateral ties which in my view and my party’s view need considerable refreshing and strengthening?
The signs are that the US may be stirring a little more than some people think. Senior American officials have been talking to Hamas—Thomas Pickering and Robert Malley, both very distinguished former senior officials in the US Administration. The tone has changed, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, reminded us, with the language of the deadlock, the failure to come to grips with the almost intractable problem of who to negotiate with. Hamas will still not talk even to al-Fatah, so it is difficult for Israel to find grounds on which to talk but, nevertheless, perhaps somehow there can be progress through proximity talks. Until there is, that is endangering the interests of US troops and of our soldiers and military, endangering our lives and our national interest. It is certainly continuing to erode American influence everywhere in the Middle East. That is the change of tone and it may be leading to something firmer. There is also the question of Iran. Obviously, Israel cannot afford to open an Iranian front on its own and the US is certainly in no mood for a third Muslim war. Nor for a moment could we in this country afford to be dragged in to such a conflagration.
The deeper and final question is whether the US alone can now solve the problem or carry it forward—whether it has the political weight to do so. It may have the military weight, has it got the political weight? Have we now reached the point where not only the European Union and the regional powers, such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and, perhaps, Syria, must be involved but where the full weight of China, Russia and the rising powers of Asia must be mobilised to solve what is becoming a global and international problem? Either way, there is no quick fix. Whatever representations we may try to make, it looks as though this will begin to unravel only when it is seen and acted on as a truly global issue. That is the sobering but realistic message that must come out of any debate such as we have had this evening. No doubt we shall return to this matter many times in future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for initiating this debate and for his commitment to these important issues. I also thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate.
The Middle East peace process continues to be a high priority for the Government, as well as a topic of great interest to this House. The Government recognise, as many noble Lords have done, that there are major obstacles to be overcome. We are extremely concerned about recent violence, and deeply regret the loss of life on both sides.
Noble Lords have mentioned the quartet. The quartet meeting in Moscow on 19 March made clear that the negotiations should lead to a settlement negotiated between the parties within 24 months. We wholeheartedly support that goal; it may not be a quick fix, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, but at least those are hopeful words.
Noble Lords will also be aware that President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell have reiterated their commitment to bring the parties into talks that can reach a solution. The high representative reported on 21 March that the quartet was now united and determined to push the process forward and engage with concrete steps, such as assisting the Palestinian Authority in its state-building efforts. That is undoubtedly the correct approach, and reinforces the importance that we should attach to the work of the quartet. We also welcome the fact that the quartet has called on Israelis and Palestinians to act on the basis of international law and on their previous agreements and previous obligations—in particular, adherence to the road maps irrespective of reciprocity.
The noble Lords, Lord Dykes and Lord Howell, and others, have raised the issue of settlements and described as a clear breach of international law the approval by Israel’s Interior Ministry of 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem. Secretary of State Clinton has said that the plans should be shelved, that new provocations should be avoided and that there should be agreement to talk about the core issues, such as Jerusalem, in the planned proximity talks.
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, that we are absolutely clear on settlements. Settlement activity is illegal, prejudices peace talks and must be halted immediately anywhere in the Occupied Territories. In east Jerusalem it presents an even greater threat to the prospect of peace, as many noble Lords have said. Noble Lords will have seen the Foreign Secretary’s condemnation of the Israeli announcement of more building in Jerusalem as,
“a bad decision at the wrong time”.
Moreover, Israel's decision to add two holy sites in the occupied West Bank to a list of heritage sites is deeply worrying. We are making representations in private as well as in public on these issues and I can assure noble Lords that we are utterly unambiguous. I can reassure noble Lords that we are looking at the practical steps we can take to discourage settlement expansion, such as ensuring that goods from settlements do not benefit from EU trading agreements with Israel.
Much of the public debate has focused on settlements, but I want to reassure the House that while they are the gravest threat to negotiations and to a future Palestinian state, they are far from being the limits of our concern. I can confirm that on a range of issues—from the route of the barrier, to the operation of military courts, to the operation of the permit system which gives Palestinians the right to visit or live in east Jerusalem—we are active and we are vocal. I encourage noble Lords to read the 2009 FCO annual report on human rights, published last month, which sets out our principal concerns and actions. On detention practices, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that we have called on the Israeli Government to take immediate action to ensure that all cases are reviewed by a court in accordance with fair procedures and that their rights are upheld, particularly the rights to a fair trial and to family visits.
On Gaza, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his continuing interest and engagement on these issues. The Fourth Geneva Convention is clear that an occupying power must co-operate in allowing the passage and distribution of relief consignments. We argue that strict border restrictions limit the flow of legitimate aid, reconstruction materials, trade, goods and people. Approximately 90 per cent of Gazans depend partly on food aid. In December, the European Council of Foreign Ministers said that the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive.
The UK provides practical support to the people of Gaza, and we do so also, of course, as an EU member state. The funds provided to support the Palestinian Authority and the UN refugee agency pay salaries and provide essential services in Gaza as well as in the West Bank. DfID has committed more than £24 million to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza since the conflict, and has given £5 million to the UN relief agency to strengthen the education programmes that are designed to combat radicalisation among vulnerable young Gazan people.
As I am sure noble Lords will agree, the recent violence in Gaza is a stark reminder of the need for direct negotiations between the parties. We continue to talk on all sides to refrain from violence and to refrain from provocation or efforts to distract the process at this crucial moment—which is indeed a moment of opportunity.
As for the past incidents of violence, we have been consistent in our calls for parties to hold full, credible and independent investigations into the very serious allegations about their conduct. We will continue carefully to monitor the progress of investigations by Israel and by the Palestinian Authority. The call has to be for all parties to take clear and unequivocal action in order to end this terrible conflict.
The Palestinian Authority has recognised this and has made progress in recent years. Under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad and with international assistance, the authority has turned a notoriously corrupt Administration into one of the most financially transparent in the region. The Palestinian Authority has built more professional security forces and has taken decisive action to tackle abuses. It remains firmly opposed to violence and firmly committed to credible negotiations. However, on a number of fronts, we need to see further progress; for instance, on the rule of law and on further financial reforms. There are plans to do so, but we should recognise how far it has come.
Just as a more effective Palestinian Authority is part of the solution to the conflict, Hamas remains part of the problem. In refusing to unequivocally renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previous agreements, it places itself firmly in the wrong. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that holding Gilad Shalit for over three years without contact with his family or access from the Red Cross is clearly wrong and makes peace building more difficult. He should be released immediately and unconditionally.
I reassure noble Lords that the Foreign Secretary speaks regularly to his Arab counterparts and urges them to make the case for talks and to make the compromises that will be necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the question of the Israeli barrier. The current route of the barrier seriously undermines the territorial contiguity of the West Bank and reduces the viability of a future Palestinian state. The noble Lord also talked about boycotts and sanctions. We do not believe that boycotts will help to engage or influence Israel, but we agree that we should instead use more diplomatic tools—
I did not raise boycotts or sanctions. I said that we should take political and diplomatic action. I think the noble Baroness is coming on to that point. I want to be clear that I do not believe in threatening sanctions that we will not apply. We have to bring home to the Israeli Government—the Government, not the Israeli people—that the present path they are on is getting nowhere.
I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. I agree that we should use diplomatic tools as our first priority. He raised the issue of whether we can make progress with the current Netanyahu Government. The Prime Minister has said that he is ready to enter proximity talks and to work towards a peace deal. We continue to call on all sides to refrain from provocation or efforts to disrupt the peace process. This means that the Palestinians and the Israelis, by their actions as well as their words, should continue to work towards that peace process.
I welcome my noble friend Lord Haskel’s welcome for my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary’s sensible route. I agree that Israel is a strategic partner for the UK, and we are determined to maintain and develop our ties. We also recognise the rights of the Israeli Government to protect their people, but they should do so in line with international law.
The Government have made, and are willing to continue to make, representations to the Government of Israel regarding their responsibility. We will continue to press the Palestinians to meet their responsibilities, and we will continue to make clear to all parties in the region that they must do everything in their power to refrain from provocative acts and to support the peace process.
This conflict has defied resolution for decades, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, intimated. Both sides can legitimately cite history in their cause. The Government will continue to support efforts to reach a lasting peace. That means that the Palestinians and the Israelis must show that they are serious about proximity talks moving swiftly from process to direct negotiations that will ultimately address the substantive issues dividing the parties. We will continue to work towards that lasting peace.