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Volume 754: debated on Monday 16 June 2014


Asked by

My Lords, we continue to judge that a negotiated, two-state agreement remains the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all. That is why we are focused on supporting the parties in finding a way to resume serious dialogue. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state at a moment of our choosing and when it helps best to bring about peace.

I thank the Minister for her reply, but does she recall that in the Queen’s Speech, we were promised foreign policy,

“based on respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law”?

Should we therefore recognise the state of Palestine immediately to make up for time lost, encourage our European partners to do so too, and suspend the EU-Israel association agreement if Israel does not withdraw from the territories that it has occupied illegally since 1967?

My Lords, as we said during the Palestinian upgrade at the UN General Assembly in 2012, ultimately we would like to see a Palestinian state represented through all organs of the United Nations and recognised as a Palestinian state. However, we feel that the best way to reach a solution to these matters is through a negotiated process, and we still believe that Secretary Kerry’s proposal presents an opportunity to engage and to talk.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that progress towards a peace settlement would be enhanced if Hamas were able to secure the release of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank last weekend? Will the Government do all they can to seek to secure that objective?

The Government have strongly condemned the abduction of the three Israeli youths in the West Bank. We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence on the ground, and for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians I hope that further escalation can be avoided. We are still trying to find details of what is happening on the ground, but of course it has led to escalation, including, tragically, the death of a Palestinian child.

My Lords, given the instability, conflict and violence in the countries that surround Israel, is it not understandable that the Israeli Government are deeply concerned about a Government who might be led by Hamas and who are committed to the destruction of Israel?

My Lords, we welcome the new technocratic Government, who are made up mainly of people who are not affiliated to political organisations. We are heartened by the fact that the quartet principles have been endorsed by the new technocratic Government.

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that over the last two years she has stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House on many occasions—I think mainly during 2013—that this year was the last chance saloon for achieving a peace process in the Middle East? Given where we find ourselves, what is the United Kingdom Government’s position on achieving a peace process now that the Americans have more or less said that there is nowhere further to go? Will the Government consider replacing the current system of the Middle East quartet envoy and so on with a fresh impetus and a completely new look at whether a two-state solution is indeed the right answer?

My noble friend is right: I have stood at this Dispatch Box over the last 12 months, if not more, talking about the concern over the changing situation on the ground. We are running out of time to achieve a two-state solution because the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. That is why we were so supportive of the discussions that Secretary Kerry was leading. My noble friend is also right that we have to start looking at other options that are available to us, because what we want in the end is a two-state solution. That requires a safe and secure Israel, but it also requires a viable Palestinian state. As to the role of the quartet, my noble friend will be aware that it is not just for the United Kingdom to impose who leads it. I would be interested to hear from the Benches opposite whether they feel a change in personnel is needed.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that there is virtual unanimity, and not only in this House, on the urgent need for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem? Does she accept that the recent reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas offers the Israelis a unique opportunity to work genuinely towards a two-state solution? On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, if this story is true it is horrendous, but is the Minister aware that similar outrages are being committed daily by the Israeli Defence Forces and by the settlers themselves? This is the time to recognise Palestine as a state.

Of course, ultimately peace will be achieved only if there is a unified authority in the Palestinian territories to which we can speak—a unified organisation that represents both Gaza and the West Bank—as long as it abides by the quartet principles. I can stand at this Dispatch Box and give a list of things that the Israelis are alleged to have done and a list of things that the Palestinians are alleged to have done, but I am not sure whether that blame game is going to take us any further. What I am clear about is that a Palestinian life and an Israeli life are equally important. It is therefore right that what we do respects the sanctity of life, and the basic human rights that people require whether they are Israeli or Palestinian.

My Lords, is it Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to work with the new Palestinian unity Government? Presuming that it is, could the House be told what specific steps our Government are taking in that regard?

As I said earlier, we have recognised the technocratic Government; we feel that they provide an opportunity to take matters further. We give great credit to President Abbas, who has made sure that the technocratic Government have been set up in a way that is acceptable to the international community and are an organisation of government that we can work with. With regard to the UK’s approach, the noble Lord will of course be aware that we have been one of the biggest supporters of ensuring that a future Palestinian state is viable, not only through the work that we have been doing in establishing and supporting institutions but in relation to the humanitarian work on the ground with both financial support and expertise. We will continue to do that, because we are firmly committed to ensuring that there is a viable Palestinian state when that moment arises.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the biggest tragedy of all would be if these two countries did not come together and shake hands, similar to South Africa? Once that happens, they can work together to create a Near East common market, and peace will prevail for everyone.

I agree with my noble friend as a Foreign Office Minister but also on a personal level. As someone who has lived through this dispute for most of her life—it has formed so much of my own identity as I have grown up—there is nothing I would like more than to be in a Government who finally managed to resolve this matter.