My Lords, the UK is committed to seeing an independent Palestinian state. We will recognise a Palestinian state at a time of our choosing, when we think it can best bring about peace. A negotiated end to the occupation is the best way to meet Palestinian aspirations on the ground.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer and I congratulate her on her new job. Could the Minister detail the specific conditions or criteria that would need to be met for this Government to recognise the state of Palestine? What is the Government’s response to the overwhelming vote for recognition that we saw in the House of Commons on Monday?
My Lords, first, it would look churlish of me to thank my noble friend for wishing me well, but we both know what we mean. I am delighted that she remains a colleague in this House and a good friend.
My noble friend referred to the debate on Monday which caught the attention not only of this country but of the countries in the Middle East. The vote showed that Parliament considers the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict urgent. We agree with that. The issue is and will remain a foreign policy priority for the UK, but, as I said, we need to judge when it is right to take that decision. What we need to do is to find a negotiated end to the occupation. That is the most effective way of proceeding. My noble friend asked about criteria. Clearly, you judge criteria on a fluid system. You watch, you wait and you encourage the Middle East process to continue—and one does not give up.
Does the Minister agree with me that a premature and unilateral declaration of recognition would not only not aid the peace process in the Middle East towards a two-state solution but would in fact appear to be rewarding Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel and rains thousands of rockets down on her civilian population?
Do Her Majesty’s Government understand that many people not just in the region but in this country and, increasingly, in Israel itself believe that the only way to save a two-state solution, if it is not already too late, is to recognise a Palestinian state immediately, and that without that Her Majesty’s Government unintentionally may be contributing to the intractability of the problem rather than its resolution by giving a veto to one side through their policy on recognition?
My Lords, I understand my noble friend’s strength of feeling. I also understand that there is a lot of public concern and, indeed, more than interest—rather, engagement—in all of this. However, one has to say that the Middle East process itself has not failed; it proceeds. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas continue to say that they are committed to a two-state solution. That is the way forward, whereas this country recognising Palestine now would not achieve anything. It would not remove the occupation or give everyone the opportunity to do what we need to do now, which is to focus on the people of Gaza and the rebuilding of it.
My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that if a state of Palestine were to be recognised, the Palestinian residents within it would cease to be refugees, that those Palestinians living in other countries would have a right of return and would also cease to be refugees, and that there would be no more call for UNRWA and the refugee problem would be ended?
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt from the Dispatch Box again. If noble Lords are very brief, we can hear from the noble Lord on the Labour Benches and then from my noble friend.
My Lords, various references to the problem of recognising a Palestinian state indicated that it would somehow inhibit the peace process. I ask: what peace process? What achievements can be chalked up to this alleged peace process? All we have seen from the process over the past 50 years is a continued diminution of the prospect of a Palestinian state because of the constant settlement activity in violation of all international law which the Israeli Government seem to be able to pursue with impunity.
My Lords, the developments with regard to settlements clearly have lost Israel many of its friends and it has a duty to rebuild trust by looking again at its policy on settlements. However, I do not agree with the noble Lord that we should give up hope on the Middle East peace process. As I said in answer to another noble Lord, the two main actors in this process wish to be engaged in it and will be engaged in it—and we will encourage them to do that.
Given the fact that Arab citizens, together with members of all religions, are free to live in the state of Israel, does the Minister agree that the same must be the case in a Palestinian state in which all members of society, no matter what their race or religion, should be afforded absolutely equal rights in order to practise their respective faiths without any fear of persecution?