Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Resolution of the House of Commons of 13 October 2014 that “this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution”, and that this recommendation has also been adopted by the European Parliament, and the Parliaments of Sweden, France, Ireland, Portugal and Luxembourg.
My Lords, we might now add Spain to the words of the Motion. I am gratified that so many Members wish to take part in the debate, and I am conscious that the House expects to rise at seven o’clock. I join in that expectation, as I am booked on the last plane to Edinburgh, so I will attempt to be brief in my opening remarks.
First, I declare two interests. I was for seven years president of the excellent charity Medical Aid to the Palestinians. I am delighted that the current president, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton, will be taking part in the debate. Secondly, I am a paid-up member of the Friends of Israel, for the very good reason that I think that it is important always to distinguish between the State of Israel and the policies of the present Government of Israel. They are not the same, and too many people equate the two rather sloppily.
When I was leader of the Liberal Party, my Palestinian friends used to say, “It’s all your fault. It was under a Liberal Administration that the Balfour Declaration was first promulgated in 1917”. I am very proud of that, but I also remind people of the second part of that declaration, which states,
“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
I am afraid it is that section of the Balfour Declaration which has so often been forgotten.
As a young MP, I went on the parliamentary delegation to the General Assembly of the UN in 1967. I remember the excitement and enthusiasm of sitting in on the meetings with Lord Caradon, who was then our representative at the UN, when we secured UN Security Council Resolution 242. There was a sense then that this was the start of a really effective peace process, after the war in that area. How sad it is that more than 45 years later, we have to say that that optimism was completely misplaced.
Then in 1980, when I was party leader, I took a delegation of six colleagues around the Middle East to study the situation in detail. We were extremely well received by Heads of Government including President Assad in Syria—the dictatorial father of the current President—President Sarkis in the Lebanon, President Sadat in Egypt and King Hussein in Jordan. The one place where we were not received by the Head of Government was Israel. Why? Because Prime Minister Begin disapproved of the fact that in Damascus, we had had the temerity to have a meeting with Mr Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO. The fact that we had spent time in that meeting trying to argue him out of a section of the PLO covenant and into recognising the State of Israel was beside the point. We had spoken with the unspeakable. It is interesting how history repeats itself: just as it would not speak to the PLO then it will not speak to Hamas now, for exactly the same reasons.
On other occasions, I have visited the border towns in Israel of Sederot and Ashkelon. I therefore fully understand the sense of fear and terror under which they have to live, with the quite unacceptable raining down of rockets from Gaza on to these communities. These are not only disastrous but positively counterproductive for the peace process. The rockets of course inflict casualties on the citizens of Israel, but none of these casualties justifies the reaction of the Government of Israel in their two invasions of the Gaza Strip: in 2009, Operation Cast Lead, and, in 2014, Operation Protective Edge. In the first invasion, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and in the second some 2,500—500 of them children. I visited Gaza again after Operation Cast Lead and I find it difficult to describe in the House the scale of the devastation that had been inflicted, never mind the deaths. Houses, schools, factories and even hospitals were destroyed in that operation. Indeed, I am surprised that there has not been a stronger reaction among the taxpayers of the European Union and the United States, considering that the airport opened by President Clinton in 1998 was destroyed. That airport cost us $86 million.
In 2002, the Arab Heads of State launched the Arab peace initiative, which promised to fly the Israeli flag in embassies in every Arab capital. It was an amazing breakthrough, repeated in 2007. Last year, some of us had the privilege of meeting upstairs in a committee room a group of Israeli businessmen. I say that they were businessmen because they stressed that they were not politicians. They were launching an Israeli peace initiative in response to the Arab peace initiative, and arguing that the peace process really ought to be conducted at international level by the Heads of Government. That is still a compelling process, given that the Israelis and Palestinians seem unable to reach any kind of peace agreement themselves.
Unfortunately, the present Government of Israel under Mr Netanyahu have consistently rejected those initiatives and continue to build settlements on the West Bank, now occupied by half a million citizens of Israel. They are, of course, totally illegal, as defined by the international court. Mr Netanyahu rejects that court: he even rejects the Israeli Supreme Court when it criticises the route of the security wall. Israel does not like the reference to apartheid, but the separate roads on the West Bank that can be travelled on only by Israeli citizens, and which I saw on recent visits, are strongly reminiscent of what I used to find in South Africa, as is the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel itself. In 2012, the 27 European Foreign Ministers issued a report saying that the attitude of the present Government of Israel threatens,
“to make the two-state solution impossible”.
The truth is that, under the present Administration, Israel has been losing friends. The one stroke of comfort we can take is that current opinion polls indicate that the Government may lose office in the coming election and be replaced by something a good deal better.
Why should we now echo what the House of Commons has already done? I use the words of our consul-general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean:
“The voices of moderation on both sides need encouragement. Those Palestinians who eschew violence and practise security cooperation with Israel need something to show for their pains—to prove that their peaceful efforts, not indiscriminate Hamas violence, will lead to two states”.
We are sending a signal from this House that we welcome and echo what the elected House has already done.
I respectfully remind your Lordships that we have suggested an advisory time of four minutes to enable the House to rise at its customary time of 7 pm. It would be very much appreciated if your Lordships could keep to that advisory time.
My Lords, when we discussed this part of the world on 30 October, I explained my involvement with Palestine resulting from my wife’s family having settled in Jerusalem for Christian reasons 150 years ago. I have, therefore, been visiting Palestine for over 45 years. I have seen for myself the problems on the ground and I have seen them get worse. I believe it is time—indeed it is overdue—that the UK recognises Palestine as a country. We all know that the 1967 borders need land swaps by agreement, but that is still the internationally agreed border. Some countries with disputed borders have long been recognised as states, including Israel itself. Many other countries without our historic responsibilities for the problems she faces, which my noble friend Lord Steel referred to in his excellent and moderate introduction, have recognised Palestine.
I believe recognition by the UK would help towards a settlement. The two-state solution needs two states to negotiate and agree. The PLO committed itself to recognising Israel over 20 years ago, in 1993. However, Israel not only still refuses to recognise Palestine but builds all over it. As has been said, settlement building is against international law. It is highly aggressive and provocative, particularly just now around Jerusalem. In this dispute, the extremists on each side constantly quote the words and actions of the extremists on the other side and squeeze out the moderates in the middle. Like my noble friend, I believe that recognition would give the Palestinian moderates a real boost and encourage the Israeli moderates to try and get their Government to negotiate properly with their neighbours. Many Israelis, like those quoted by my noble friend, recognise the truth that aggressive, illegal occupation will not work in the end. It is not the road to peace. The world cannot accept, and has not accepted, that a state can steal other people’s land by force and build over it.
For the UK, recognition would mean that at last we had tried to redeem our historic pledges, in so far as we still can, to respect the interests of the pre-existing inhabitants in creating what was called the national home for the Jewish people. I sincerely hope that on 17 March the very difficult Israeli electoral system will result in a long-sighted Government who realise that without a two-state solution Israel will never be at peace with its neighbours. Meanwhile, let us show our support for the two-state solution by recognising the second state involved in it.
My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The present impasse in reaching a negotiated settlement is a tragedy not just for Palestine but for Israel. The failure of the peace process after 20 years leaves Palestinians as oppressed, stateless people, but it also leaves Israelis still fearful about their security and citizens of a country drifting towards becoming a pariah state because of their current leaders’ lack of respect for international law. Only last July, Netanyahu ruled out ever accepting a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Ever more illegal settlements make a two-state solution increasingly unviable, suggesting that he rejects its establishment. Can anyone believe that this is in the long-term interest of Israel, let alone Palestine?
All political parties in the UK have long supported a two-state solution. There is now a consensus that every effort should be made to establish this without greater prevarication and delay. Action, not words, is now needed. After many failures in the US-brokered bilateral negotiations, it is time to accept the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. I suggest that those speakers in this debate who will say it is premature are wrong. Perhaps they should be reminded of the history of the state of Israel. In 1920, as the holder of the mandate for Palestine, we made a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. For those who may argue later that Palestine does not have the attributes of a state, a reminder is needed about the circumstances in which Israel was recognised as a state in 1948: it had no effective Government; there were warring factions, including the terrorist Stern gang; its borders were unclear; and it had no capital city. Nevertheless it was recognised, rightly, and it is now right to recognise Palestine as a state, taking the 1967 borders as the basis for its territory.
I also want to refute the view that the Israeli Government have a right of veto over the future of Palestine as a state. In exercising such a veto, they are denying the Palestinian people the dignity associated with self-determination that they so deeply crave and which the Israelis also wanted after 1947. No wonder the Palestinians are now seeking a unilateral route rather than relying only on the increasingly futile bilateral negotiations. It would be easier to sympathise with the view that an agreed settlement involving Israel is the only right route had successive Israeli Governments respected international law, discontinued the blockade of Gaza and ended the occupation of the West Bank. Instead they have annexed more land, destroyed the infrastructure of Gaza last summer—killing many innocent people, half of whom were children—and continued the daily harassment of ordinary people on the West Bank.
I make a plea to those who have come to this debate to speak against the resolution: please think about what it is like to be a young person in Palestine. They have grown up experiencing oppression and misery, their older relatives being stripped of their land and a blighted economy. Their hopes of self-determination are dashed with every failure of the peace process. If we want them to reject violence, as surely we should, we must give them hope. To support the recognition of Palestine as a state will of course not be a total solution, but it will be a message to them of our belief in their right to self-determination and a symbol of our support for it. In politics, symbols sometimes matter.
My Lords, I share the views expressed by those who have already spoken of the importance of this House indicating that it agrees with the House of Commons on the question of the recognition of Palestine as a state. I will say just two things in the short time that I have.
First, those of us who care very deeply about the survival of Israel are extremely puzzled by how there can be any plan for survival in the outcome of the many, many years of argumentation—ending almost invariably in the breakdown of negotiations—that we have now seen over the last 40 years. That essentially means that there is no plan for a long-term dual state—Israel and Palestine—implicit in the discussions that are going ahead at the present time. If we believe that there should be a single state, that single state cannot be a Jewish state and cannot be a democratic state. It is very hard to see how we can bring those three essential things together: democracy, the existence of a Jewish state, and the survival of peace in the Middle East.
I therefore want to ask the following question: what kind of future without a two-state solution can we see? Is there any voice from the Israeli Prime Minister or, for that matter, any other of those concerned with peace in the Middle East, that suggests that there is any solution other than a two-state solution? That two-state solution is literally slipping through our fingers as we talk. There is probably only, at best, a few months left to see a viable Palestine that could survive. That viable Palestine is shrinking by the month because of the steady extension of settlements on the West Bank and, of course, in Gaza.
Secondly, one of the great opportunities that we now have is represented by the acceptance of Palestine as an observer state—albeit not a full state—of the United Nations, coupled with its signature of the International Criminal Court treaty. The International Criminal Court has had a hard time, but one of the things that it has clearly indicated over and over again is its objectivity and its willingness to look at both sides of the issues that come before it. The commitment of Palestine to the concept of international law that is implicit in its signature of the International Criminal Court treaty is of the greatest possible importance. It could pave the way to a recognition in other Arab states of the role that the ICC should have in the steady development of the rule of law internationally. The fact that the International Criminal Court has shown the courage to align people with bad records on human rights and records of tyranny, even in cases where the political weight is often against it, suggests just how important this step could be.
In conclusion—and I want to repeat it as strongly as I possibly can, not least in the light of what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—many of us deeply want to see the survival of Israel. We want to see it as a Jewish state; we want to see it as a guarantor that there is no future in anti-Semitism. However, we cannot hope to achieve these things if the state of Palestine continues to be unrecognised, dishonoured, abused, and relegated to a lesser marginal role. I, for one, would like to say to those of my colleagues from the United States who have had the amazing effrontery to suggest that there should be a punishment for the attempt of Palestine to receive membership of the International Criminal Court, which would involve the cutting off of American aid to the Palestinian Authority, that that is a complete distortion of what is meant by the rule of law and one that I hope that we in the United Kingdom will agree next time to stand up against.
My Lords, there is of course another side to this debate. The United Kingdom is in good company in not recognising a state of Palestine. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark and many other European nations have not yet recognised a state of Palestine—and for good reason. Sympathetic though we all are to the sufferings of the unfortunate Palestinian people, recognising a state of Palestine at this time would hinder rather than promote a peace settlement. It would hinder a peace settlement because what is needed on both sides is to focus attention on the painful compromises that have to be made in bilateral negotiations. Yes; painful compromises are required from the Israeli side, and I know how difficult they will find it—I have an Israeli wife.
On the Palestinian side, which of course we are debating today, instead of the distraction of grandstanding international gestures, Palestinians need unequivocally to accept that the State of Israel is here to stay. They must give up the notion of a right to live in Haifa or Be’er Sheva. They need to throw away the schoolbooks that demonise Jews and deny that the Holocaust occurred, and unequivocally to condemn the attacks from Gaza and the suicide bombers, who are responsible for the blighting of the lives of other Palestinians, which we have heard about today.
Perhaps most of all, they need to recognise that Israel, for all its faults—and which society does not have faults?—has much to teach Palestinians, if only they would listen, about how a society born out of tragedy can promote free speech, democracy, the rule of law, scientific and literary achievements and, yes, prosperity for its people, with standards achieved in very few other places in the world, and of course none in the Middle East, all in the 66 years since its creation—a quite astonishing achievement in the most difficult of circumstances, surrounded by people who wish to destroy you.
Last week, a Palestinian man from the West Bank stabbed 10 people in an unprovoked attack on a bus in Tel Aviv. The New York Times reported that the assailant told police he was hoping to reach paradise—I assume he had not intended Tel Aviv to be his final destination. The London Times reported the response from Hamas. It was, it said, a “heroic and daring operation”. I will tell the House what would truly be heroic: for the Palestinian leadership to abandon gesture politics in the United Nations and take the hard and painful decisions that are necessary to secure peace in the only place it can be achieved—at the negotiating table.
My Lords, I start with the premise that in an ideal world a negotiated settlement between any two parties in a dispute is preferred. However, let us try today to understand why the Palestinians have adopted the UN route, and why Israel opposes that route.
I visited Israel and Palestine in December with Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab-British Understanding, with my noble friend Lady Morris, as declared in my register of interests. I met with international agencies, human rights campaigners, lawyers and politicians, but the most moving meeting was with a group called Breaking the Silence. They are former Israel Defense Forces soldiers, now speaking out against Israeli government policy in the Occupied Territories. They wanted neither praise for their bravery, nor sympathy for the abuse they receive in Israel for speaking out. They simply wanted us to be informed about the reality of the occupation—which has so changed the landscape of the Occupied Territories: the territorial area which, according to the 1993 Oslo accords, would be the future state of Palestine. In 1993 there were 110,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories. There are now 400,000 settlers—and more than 500,000 if we include Jerusalem.
Desperate times make people take desperate actions. In the past the desperate actions were violent, and we were right to urge the Palestinians to forgo violence for diplomatic means. Yet when they did, we continually rebuffed them for it. When Palestinians see all around them the reality of a two-state solution diminishing, if not already over, they start to fight for the Palestine that they want to exist, even if it exists simply on paper, out there in the abstract. That is the desperation that we see among the Palestinians. When we visit the Occupied Territories—with communities that are being choked, livelihoods that are being lost and basic needs that are not being met—it is not hard to understand the feeling of hopelessness.
I know that many noble Lords whom I consider to be friends will stand up today and argue that no Palestinian state must ever come about without Israel’s agreement. I accept that as their sincerely held view. So the question I ask my colleagues who will make that argument today is: what are you doing, as the two sides continue to flog the dead horse of negotiations, to preserve the physical integrity of a future negotiated state of Palestine? Do you campaign against the illegal settlements? Do you condemn those, even in our own parties—extremists, as my right honourable friend Alan Duncan so ably argued—who do not condemn illegal settlements? And how do those of you who have the privilege of a close relationship with the Israeli Government use it to encourage the Israeli Government to respect international law?
Our abstentions display a terrible lack of moral character. Our continued lack of support at the UN puts us at odds with our own—oft cited, these days—British values of the rule of law, justice and fairness. Our Government’s decision to ignore parliamentary and public opinion makes our Government complicit and responsible for the ever closing window on the prospect of a two-state solution becoming a physical reality. The desperate attempt by the Palestinians to get a state on paper, even if not in reality, is something that we have an obligation at least to recognise.
My Lords, I hope that I am not making too much of an assumption if I say that most of the speakers in the debate support a two-state solution, and do not support settlements. The Palestinians deserve support, and one needs to listen to the many campaigns they promote to put political pressure on Israel, to try to erase its historical context and to challenge its supporters in any and every way as a form of resistance. That is legitimate, and it is the voice of a predicament, and indeed suffering, which are yet to be met with justice. But that does not mean that it makes good foreign policy to support it or to adopt it. Nor does it show indifference to oppose it.
I have always believed that there is little point in being a pessimist when discussing the Middle East. We have to be optimists, albeit sometimes optimists having a bad day, or a bad series of days. We are right to take notice of the increasingly complex and difficult place that the region is becoming, and of the challenges of development, security and the weakened state structures, civil society and secular notions.
Certainly things have moved on since the optimistic days of the 1990s, when peace looked within grasp. But even since 2000 we have had three, possibly even four, serious moments and opportunities. In fact, since 1973 we have had, on average, one major initiative every year that tried to advance peacemaking in the region. This is why, despite all, we must remain optimists.
The Motion fails to provide us with a useful framework to advance the cause of peace. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is unhelpful. If we want to play a successful role in achieving a settlement, that needs to involve how we work with those who will have to make the agreement. The international community cannot substitute for them, and any conception that this is something that can be imposed—as if once an agreement is inked, the matter is settled—is looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. The hard work actually starts after a deal is signed, and does not stop for at least 50 years.
That is why our role has to be to support the participants in the Middle East and not to press them when it is not possible to make progress. Direct negotiations are the only route, and when they are not available our efforts should be to make them possible and easier, not less likely and harder. That does not, in this form and at this time, assist the moderates in Israel. Most significantly, I believe that it will restrict the opportunity for, or place greater obstacles on, the ability of any Palestinian leader to make concessions in the future. Given where the pressures on President Abbas were during the Kerry process, I do not think that this will benefit the cause of peace.
I am sure that many think that massive external pressures and the will of the West or the international community can force any Government of Israel to commit to what they do not believe is a viable peace. It is, of course, in Israel’s interests to advance towards the creation of a Palestinian state and to break this and other diplomatic deadlocks. That point is recognised by most of the political spectrum of Israel, and by those who do not also have a unilateral strategy.
We need a re-energised peace process. A number of steps can, and could, be developed to ensure that this is possible. However, the current process of Palestinian unilateralism will not do it. We are not at the last throw of the dice and we are not in the final minute. There are no obstacles that effective political will cannot overcome. However, that is not to underestimate their difficulties.
On occasion, I hear it said that an individual is a candid friend of Israel. This acts as a means to preface something which clearly indicates that they are not. However, Israel needs candid friends who have little fear of raising uncomfortable truths and are prepared to place interesting and challenging ideas before it. However, far fewer people are prepared to say that they are candid friends of the Palestinians and tell them some hard truths. I accept that it is not easy to challenge the representatives and the people who have suffered as they have, but it is necessary. Candid friends of the Palestinians can be the greatest friends of peace if they can convince them that, despite the apparent impasse, the path that leads nowhere is not the path worth following.
Candid friends need to say that fundamental questions regarding normative character, institutional capacity and sustainability of the Palestinian polity cannot be ignored as an inconvenient truth or kicked down the road as a post-independence issue. Candid friends need to tell the leaders that they need to make peace for what happens the day after an agreement is made and that the international community is a tool to support the settlement, not a substitute for it. A candid friend has to tell them that they should not take every opportunity to miss an opportunity. In my view, it is really of no matter to the cause of peace if they do or do not decide to change, increase or cease much of the rhetoric. But anyone who cares about making progress towards peace knows that we need to use diplomacy as a tool to help the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve fundamental and difficult issues. A process needs to be designed, crafted and finessed for the time in which it operates.
Most strikingly, I remember that during the heyday of the 1990s, at the signing of one of the agreements, Chairman Arafat sought and did amend the completed document on the podium in front of the world’s press and those assembled for its final signature. It has always struck me that we need to think carefully about how we support or create such a relationship. This Motion fails that test.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Steel asks the House to “take note” of a recent resolution in another place. Whatever the intention, in no way does “take note” mean “endorse”, unless noble Lords have a different dictionary from mine.
There is to be no vote in this House at this time recognising the state of Palestine, because that is not what we are doing. I support the creation of a state of Palestine in due course alongside Israel as being the current policy of recognising Palestine once it has been created in negotiations between the parties. I do not welcome the resolution simply because, as a friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians, I do not believe that there is any alternative to those two nations, with the support and pressure of the outside world, sitting down and settling their differences in negotiations, with painful compromises being made by both sides.
The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who cannot be present today, said on “Thought for the Day”:
“Peace is a duet scored for two voices; and someone who thinks that one voice can win by drowning out the other just hasn’t understood what a duet is”.
Painful compromises would be on issues including borders, security, the compensation and resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Arab refugees and the vexed question of Jerusalem. Israel has welcomed refugees, including 850,000 who fled Arab lands, those who fled eastern Europe and elsewhere, and currently the flood of refugees from France fleeing anti-Semitism. Likewise, the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza need to be granted full citizenship and rights in a new Palestinian state.
Passing a resolution in another place to recognise a Palestinian state in territory now controlled by Israel would do absolutely nothing to resolve those difficult issues, nor would it actually create a Palestinian state, as my noble friend Lady Warsi said. That is why I believe that the Palestinians’ attempts since 2011 to secure a unilateral declaration at the UN have been fundamentally mistaken and should not be supported. Nothing has changed since President Obama said three years ago:
“The only way that we’re going to see a Palestinian state is if Israelis and Palestinians agree on a just peace. And so I strongly believe that for the Palestinians to take the United Nations route rather than the path of sitting down and talking with the Israelis is a mistake; that it does not serve the interests of the Palestinian people”.
Indeed, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, when he met Mahmoud Abbas in 2013, said that,
“the UK stands ready to do all it can to reach a negotiated agreement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state”.
The tragedy is that we know what a peaceful settlement to the conflict would look like, and a lot of compromise is needed, as other noble Lords have said. The four settlement towns, just on the wrong side of the 1967 truce line, would have to be incorporated into Israel with land swaps, and all the rest of the settlements would go. I think it would surprise some noble Lords, and certainly other people outside this House, to know that there is no dispute about the border with Gaza. Forty years ago, few would have believed that Israel would enjoy peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan. That peace was achieved not by unilateral gestures by one of the parties but by both sides reaching out to the other in a genuine spirit of compromise. When one looks at other territorial conflicts that have resulted in the creation of a new state, East Timor, South Sudan and Bosnia are examples of such states being created through negotiations and the hard work of the international community, not as a result of a divisive and confrontational unilateral declaration.
Finally, when my noble friends the Minister and Lord Steel reply, I hope that they will answer this question: how does Israel negotiate peace with a so-called unity Government including Hamas, whose declared aim is the annihilation of the State of Israel and which, since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, has launched more than 11,000 rockets at Israeli towns and villages? Certainly, I support a state of Palestine, but by a negotiated agreement, with pressure from all friends and enemies of both to get the two sides to sit down and actually hammer out an answer. That is the only way that we will have the realism of a Palestinian state.
My Lords, of course we should recognise the state of Palestine—when that state exists. It patently does not exist at the moment, so what is the purpose of recognising an unreality? The resolution in the other place suggests that it would be to contribute to the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution—in other words, to help the process rather than to circumvent it. If that is the case, one has to ask: what are the current obstacles to such a solution, and would recognition help to overcome those obstacles?
There are certainly obstacles on both sides of the argument, and it is undoubtedly true that a number of these have been created by the Government of Israel. This has naturally led to immense frustration and to a sense that something must be done to change the thinking of the leadership in that country. I agree, but will recognition of an as yet barely embryonic Palestinian state achieve that aim? The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, has rightly talked about signals, but we need to think about the sum total of the signals that we send.
The majority of people in Israel still support a two-state solution, and many of them are frustrated by the actions of their own Government. However, they are also frustrated by the lack of vision and leadership among the Palestinians. They understand that a negotiated settlement requires political courage, and they see little of that on either side. That is why, despite supporting a settlement, most of them are pessimistic about the prospect of one being achieved in the near term. What is likely to be the reaction of these people to international recognition of a Palestinian state? We can judge this from their response to the parliamentary Motions already passed. They acknowledge the mistakes of their own Government, but they feel that the international community is acting partially and unfairly towards Israel.
In the context of the aim of this Motion, it does not matter whether that is a fair judgment. What matters is the perception of Israeli citizens, citizens who are also, at this critical moment, Israeli voters. International recognition of a Palestinian state, when the foundations of that state—most critically, the long-term security arrangements—are left unresolved, plays straight into the hands of those in Israel who argue against concessions to the Palestinians. It will make the Israeli Government more, rather than less, intransigent.
On the Palestinian side, it will make the leadership less willing to address seriously the difficult concessions that they will have to make if there is to be a lasting two-state solution. They have already shown a marked reluctance to face up to these issues. If they believe that, more and more, the international community will press their case for them, I fear that the chances of their summoning the necessary political will and courage to take on the rejectionists in their own community will become vanishingly remote.
For these and other reasons which I regret I cannot adequately cover in four minutes, I do not think that the timing of this resolution is helpful—indeed, quite the opposite. But I do not wish to end on that negative note. The plight of young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is too serious for that, not to mention the wider implications for international security. So I will respond to the challenge thrown out by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi.
We do not have to, and nor should we, simply sit here and cry into our beer over the failure of the Kerry initiative. There are things that the international community can and should be doing to move the situation forward, short of a full settlement—things in which I believe this country can play a major role. There is no opportunity to discuss them today, but on 5 March, my noble friend Lord Luce, who could not be in his place this afternoon, has secured a debate in Grand Committee on the two-state solution. I hope that we can take that opportunity to look in detail at the further initiatives that Her Majesty’s Government might pursue in this very difficult and very sad case.
My Lords, I was privileged earlier this month to spend a week in Gaza and the West Bank. I went as an Anglican participant in the annual visit of the Holy See’s co-ordination group of bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. It was very challenging to see at first hand the current situation in Gaza and more widely in the West Bank.
The recent cycles of violence in the Gaza region represent the worst kind of failure in human relationships. The terrible destruction means that families continue to live in extreme temperatures in the shells of their homes. Indeed, we heard of the death of two infants that same weekend as a result of exposure. The halting of rebuilding due to a lack of funding from the international community and external restrictions, coupled with the hardship that the continued closure imposes on the ordinary people of Gaza, means that the tense peace grows ever more fragile. The international community cannot and should not stand idly by. I hope that DfID takes note of this and works towards increasing aid provision to UNRWA.
Despite this, it is also clear from the many people whom we met that, even in these terrible situations, the human spirit still has hope. It is humbling to see, yet, without change, that hope will eventually ebb away. Throughout the visit, we heard skilled people saying that, while they would remain, for their children there was little hope. Emigration is seen as the only answer.
Emigration affects in particular the rapidly diminishing ancient Christian communities of the region. They are a vital building block for a long-term, sustainable peace. Continual marginalisation makes the prevailing political situation more difficult, especially in Jerusalem. The separation barrier and the accelerating settlement activity are also matters of considerable concern. These divide communities, making peace much harder, as well as breaching international law and, therefore, breaching the responsibilities of nationhood. Difficult as it will be, energy needs to be directed into building and rebuilding bridges of trust, not walls that divide.
The two-state solution is the only credible outcome. On the occasion of the debate in the other place, Anglican and Catholic Church leaders in this country signalled their support for the recognition of Palestine. The joint statement by the Catholic Bishop of Clifton, Declan Lang, and my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, reflects also the desire of the churches in the Holy Land. Recognition is essentially a diplomatic decision that needs to be taken at a moment that either results from negotiated peace or helps to relaunch that process, which may well be preferable. However, we need to be sure that the rights and responsibilities that go with statehood can be honoured. Part of this is the essential recognition that Israel has a right to a secure and peaceful future in which its continued security and existence are guaranteed.
Crucially, when recognition comes, as I believe it must, we need to have a care for the minority communities of Israel and Palestine; they must have hope and security about their place, too. The recent experiences of Sudan and the Balkans demonstrate how easy it is for ethnic or religious minorities in new nations to be squeezed out in a bid for a common national identity. In a region where ethnic and religious pluralism has long been part of the fabric of communities, yet is under increasing pressure in both Israel and the West Bank, this is a considerable concern. Indeed, the concerns of Arab Israelis and non-Muslim Palestinians are often unheard in these discussions. I ask the Minister what Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment is of the dangers minorities face as a result of the emergence of two states, and what work is being done to bolster and support the fragile ancient Christian communities that are, in my view, so vital for peace.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly support and hope for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. Make no mistake though: this process requires the involvement of both Israel and the Palestinians. Peace talks require the participation of both parties and, as my noble friend Lady Warsi pointed out, the friends of both parties. A peace agreement requires the signature of both parties; a lasting peace requires commitment from both parties.
Unilateral actions are profoundly detrimental. First, unilateral steps undermine the accepted framework of direct negotiations. They run counter to every argument, resolution and road map produced in the last 20 years—a framework that has brought peace tantalisingly close on several occasions. Secondly, Palestinian unilateralism fails to take into account the complicated, key permanent-status issues that have been mentioned, including borders, security, water and refugees, which can be settled only by the agreement of parties in direct talks. Thirdly, unilateral recognition of statehood would reward the PA, at a time of heightened terrorism and official PA incitement against Israel, for choosing Hamas as its partner—as has been mentioned, the recent attack in Jerusalem was supported by Hamas. Unilateral recognition would fail to dissuade Hamas and other Palestinian factions from using violence and terrorism to advance their agenda. Fourthly, unilateral Palestinian actions allow the Palestinians to ignore Israel’s legitimate concerns, especially regarding security issues and the basic need to recognise the right of Israel to exist.
The topic of Israel and the Palestinians never fails to provoke strong feelings in advocates and in your Lordships’ House. Regrettably, it seems there is an obsession by some to return constantly to Israel and Israel alone—0.01% of the world’s land. Israel is perceived as the purveyor of bad deeds, while the evil perpetrated by others in so many states is ignored. The French Prime Minister was recently moved to point out that such anti-Zionism was a thin veneer for anti-Semitism. The tweets of certain MPs have unhelpfully stoked the flames. Conversely, Israel is the only democracy and meritocracy in the region. It does not allow its citizens to be lashed every week for expressing democratic views on a website, does not throw political opponents from the rooftops of tall buildings and does not deny the equal rights of all its citizens, including gays, Christians and Muslims. It is safe to say that these are not principles universally upheld by Israel’s neighbours and, sadly, in particular by the Palestinians.
How quick people are to forget that Hamas recently expressed remorse for the tragic killing in Paris of French journalists and policemen, but not for the deaths of the Jews who were slaughtered. Hamas makes no secret of its desire to destroy Israel and the Jewish people. This horrifying goal is, after all, at the front and centre of its charter. The leaders of this same group decide to use the scarce resources they are given by countries and taxpayers such as ours not for the intended construction of schools and hospitals, but, rather, for the construction of tunnels to carry out further indiscriminate killing of innocent Israeli civilians. It should worry everyone in your Lordships’ House and beyond that too many in the Palestinian camp are committed to violence and undermine every peace attempt.
In that context, one can, perhaps, understand Israel’s apprehensiveness over the genuineness of the PA’s commitment to any resumption of the peace process. Israel will be—and should be—expected to make difficult and painful concessions in peace talks. It accepts this, and we have a role to play in making it accept it. Our Government must be commended for their principled assertion that they look forward to recognising and welcoming a Palestinian state upon the successful conclusion of direct peace talks. This position may not necessarily be universally popular but it is the only one liable to bring peace for all parties concerned.
The Government should be congratulated on taking the high moral ground rather than pandering to short-term political manoeuvring, as was seen with the divisive and most unfortunate Back-Bench debate and Motion on Palestinian statehood in the other House last year. It upsets me that this sensitive issue is being treated as a political football by politicians who should know better. Peace will come from open, honest and direct negotiations, rather than by grandstanding from distant parties who have no real awareness of the life and death implications that Motions such as this can have in emboldening extremism and intransigence.
My Lords, in introducing this debate, for which I thank him, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, referred to that very impressive article by Sir Vincent Fean. I believe it should be compulsory reading for all who take an interest in this subject. It is a model of experience, wisdom and considered analysis.
Sir Vincent underlined the importance of both parts of the Balfour Declaration. We in Britain have a special responsibility because of all we did to promote the Balfour Declaration. Many on all sides of the debate would agree that nobody paid a higher price for the creation of the State of Israel than the Palestinians. We cannot forget that because it is a reality in their approach to everything.
There has been some dispute about the relationship between the two parties. I am afraid that my experience of visits to the region underlines what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said about the almost classic colonial relationship. I do not hesitate to use that word because the evidence is there. The checkpoints on the West Bank, the illegal settlements, the control of water and of access to Gaza, the punitive scale of the bombardments of Gaza and the suffering of its people as a consequence underline not only a perception but, I believe, the objective reality of the relationship. That is not to deny the good will and commitment of many Israelis, of whom quite a number, I am glad to say, are my friends.
As a friend of Israel, I believe that candour in conversation and dialogue is essential, which means speaking up about what we know is wrong and about what must be confronted. I am chair of the Middle East committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Only last week we had to cancel a mission to Ramallah and east Jerusalem because at the very last moment the Israelis said that they could not guarantee access to those communities. They had known about the visit for many weeks. They knew that it was the first part of a two-part mission and that we were going to return to Israel as soon as possible after the election, yet still this high-handed action was taken at the very last minute. That underlines the point that I am making.
I can think of nothing that would help to take the negotiations forward better than to put the Palestinians in a position where they could have confidence in their identity—so that they are not second-class players who must be accommodated in the discussions but have confidence that the international community recognises them as a people with their own nation. I lament the failure to be able to start tackling the immense contribution that those two nations, Israel and Palestine, working together, could make not only to their own future but to security and stability in the region.
The dog that has not barked so far in this debate is the Holocaust. We have been commemorating the Holocaust acutely in recent weeks. I was 10 when those camps were liberated and I was left with an indelible impression. I remember the utter distress of my parents at what was being revealed. It was a terrible, terrible thing that happened, and it could happen again so easily, because it took place in a supposedly previously civilised European country. The point is not that these people were Jewish but that they were people with the rights and dignity of all other people. I simply say that if we are not prepared to stand up and put muscle into our stance on the question of the people of Palestine, where on earth will we be the next time the Jewish people come under attack?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Steel for introducing this debate. The resolution overwhelmingly supported by MPs was very welcome. I believe that this issue is one of human rights and the rule of international law. We hear a lot about British values. Although these have not been entirely defined, we must surely all agree as British parliamentarians that the cornerstone of those values must include democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. There is also a need for consistency when we apply them in our foreign policy, especially when we talk about other countries around the world which lack these fundamental values.
The inconsistency that we sometimes see has swung public opinion here in the United Kingdom and across Europe towards the recognition of a Palestinian state and against the appalling injustices and humiliation inflicted upon the Palestinian people indiscriminately—Christian and Muslim alike, as we have heard. Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for nearly 50 years and it has failed to meet its clear international legal obligations as an occupying power. The continuing expansion of illegal settlements that we have heard about is a flagrant violation of international law. All that has contributed to the loss of Palestinian confidence in the peace process.
More and more people in the United Kingdom and across the world have grown tired and outraged as we have witnessed terrible suffering. Anyone with an ounce of human sympathy was absolutely sickened by what we saw in the war last summer, when thousands of innocent people, including 500 children, were killed and schools and hospitals were blown up. This was abhorrent to us all.
Israel has been unwilling to offer a viable Palestinian state through negotiations. It seems oblivious to the damage that the occupation is doing to its society and to the reputation of its country abroad, and that is a tragedy. It is the systematic denial of rights that incites violence among Palestinians. The failure to find a resolution and justice for Palestinian victims in Israel plays as a factor in the radicalisation of militants. This is a fact. We cannot brush it aside. I have heard it said many times that this resolution is premature. Well, 40 years is surely long enough. It is hardly premature.
Last summer I met a group of 14, 15 and 16 year-old ordinary Palestinian boys who came here on an exchange visit. One of them talked about a footballer who was walking home from Ramallah after playing football. He was shot by an Israeli sniper in the legs while walking home. It was tragic hearing his story. He will not be playing football again but it has left him with a hatred.
Britain cannot simply turn its back on the people of Palestine, issue warm words of restraint and proportionality, or repeat a theoretical mantra about two states from the sidelines. As we have heard, Britain has not only a unique historical connection but a moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine. To make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel’s agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination. We cannot sit by and tolerate occupation, the blockade, further expansion of illegal settlements, and the never-ending cycle of violence, causing fear on both sides of the conflict.
We hear a lot about how Britain has apparently given away sovereignty to the EU. British people would surely feel that it was completely wrong in principle and in practice, if another sovereign state, be it Israel or any other country, determined our foreign policy. That is what the Government in their wisdom could be in danger of doing with recent abstentions. The majority of Palestinians are under 20, growing up stateless in intolerable conditions. We must offer them hope. We must encourage voices of peace and moderation in both Israel and Palestine. Recognition is morally and politically right.
My Lords, as chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association, I listened with great respect and interest to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as he introduced the debate. I was particularly struck by his reference to the words of Sir Vincent Fean, a fellow countryman of mine, who was formerly our consul in Jerusalem and before that our ambassador in Libya. Indeed, I spent a very instructive time as part of a delegation sent by the previous Government to negotiate certain matters with the then Gaddafi regime. I spent a lot of time listening to Sir Vincent’s advice, and I know that he is an expert on the affairs of the region.
The test for projected acts of good authority by this Parliament is an important one—the test of strengthening the moderates on both sides. It is three and a half months since this Motion was debated in the House of Commons. It is interesting to look at the impact, such as it was, of the Motion and the vote. For example, on the Palestinian side, in the wake of the recent murders in Paris, the Palestinian Daily—not a Hamas propaganda sheet—declared that it was the work of Mossad, which was the only force that would benefit from this. That tells us something about the quality of opinion—84% of Palestinians, according to polling, agree. That is the response to what happened recently in Paris within that community. There is no indication that moderates have been strengthened as a result of the projected act of good authority of our Parliament three and a half months ago.
If we look at Israel, noble Lords will be aware that there is an intense debate in Israeli society about the peace process and the future strategy in that area. It is an intense debate, above all—as it should be—about negotiation with Hamas, and whether or not it is plausible. Noble Lords will be aware that the intelligence services are divided. Senior people in the intelligence services are well known to take views different from those of the current Government. They will be well aware of the fact that senior military people take different views and that the political class in Israel is divided on these matters.
There is an intense and vigorous debate. Is there any indication whatever that the debate in our own Parliament three and a half months ago has played into this in any particularly positive or interesting way? I detect absolutely no sign of that. The debate went on before; I see no sign, however, of moderates being strengthened in any particular way. There is a reason for that. It is very hard to perform a moral airlift in a situation where there are incredibly complex, difficult, strategic decisions to be made—most of all, negotiating with opponents who pledge themselves to your destruction. It is very hard to achieve a moralistic input from outside in such a sharp and difficult situation.
I conclude, however, by saying something about a two-state solution, which I, along with so many Peers, strongly support. I urge against pessimism on that subject. In general, I do not accept analogies with the Irish peace process, because the situation is so much more bitter in the Middle East and because of the selfish strategic interests of a number of outside powers—something we have not talked about—selfish strategic interests that did not apply in the Irish case. However, one analogy I will accept is that for a long time, since the first serious attempt to do it in 1974, it was clear that there was only one way to achieve an historic compromise in Ireland. There had to be power sharing, and there had to be respect for an Irish dimension and respect for the principle of consent. It took 28 years to get back to that and it is now the basis of a settlement. If intelligent, rational opinion looks at the problem and says that there is only one possible outline of an historical compromise, that is because there is only one possible outline of an historical compromise. It is the case in the Middle East. It sometimes takes far too long to achieve it and it is not just around the corner, but it is still the case.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on securing this debate. It is not like me to quote from Hamas’s Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, dated 1988, but I think it is highly relevant to this debate. After all, Hamas is an important and influential part of Palestine. So I will start with Article 11, which states:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up”.
Article 13 says:
“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with”.
Finally, the highly relevant Article 22 says:
“For a long time, the enemies—”
by enemies, I think it means the Jewish people—
“have been planning skilfully and with precision, for the achievement of what they have attained. With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without them having their finger in it”.
That leaves not much room for doubt as to exactly where Hamas stands and how it views negotiation. And do the words not sound familiar?
Israel has initiated its fair share of unilateral withdrawals, all of which have come back to bite it hard. In 2000, it unilaterally withdrew from all of south Lebanon. Today, this land is run by Hezbollah, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from all of Gaza. In less than a year, Fatah was overthrown and Hamas took over. We know the outcome of that move.
Were Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank, the results are entirely predictable. In just a heartbeat, Hamas would overthrow the PA, just like it did in Gaza, and just as its charter commands. Even more rockets would be targeted at Israel and even more tunnels would be built. This time they would be just a few miles from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For Israel, this would be suicide and it is simply not going to happen. Why would it contemplate another flawed withdrawal?
Ever since 1967 I have supported a two-state solution. Even then, at the tender age of 24, I can remember saying that there is no such thing as a benign occupation. I abhor the settlements and I think that the current Israeli Government are totally wrong in their approach to the Palestinians. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi—who is a friend—that I campaign against the settlements. But I have to say that resolutions to unilaterally back the creation of a Palestinian state are not the answer.
What is the answer is negotiation between the parties for a just and durable peace. Three times Israel has offered a peace settlement based on 1967 borders, and three times the Palestinians have rejected it outright. Yet no matter how difficult or frustrating it may be, negotiation is still the only game in town.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians. I would like to speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, whose commitment to peace in the region is of very long standing and widely respected.
Like others here today, I have been following events in the Middle East for about 50 years. Indeed, my studies of Arabic were interrupted by the 1967 war. But we now face a situation in which, after some 20 years, the peace process has yet again ground to a halt. That has three inevitable consequences. First, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim frustration can only grow, driven in considerable part by the perception of double standards and by the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, so forcefully described. Secondly, the arguments of Islamic extremists can only be strengthened. Thirdly, the risk of disorder in the Occupied Territories can only increase. I cannot see how those outcomes can possibly be in the interests of Israel itself.
There must now be some sign of progress, however limited, some indication that the West has heard their grievances. The recognition of Palestine by the UK would be such a sign. It would be a sign, not an instant solution and certainly not a proposal for unconditional withdrawal. When the Swedish Government recognised Palestine last year, they gave three reasons: to make the parties to the conflict less unequal; to support the voices of moderation in Palestine; and to sustain hope in both countries at a time of increasing tensions and when no peace talks were taking place. I would add one further reason: to confirm the permanence, and indeed the inevitability, of a Palestine state. Those are the reasons why Britain should now follow suit. We should not exaggerate our influence, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, indicated. Our influence is now very limited in the region. But symbolism has its own importance, particularly from a country that played such a leading role in the establishment of Israel.
HMG have made it clear that they are not opposed in principle to Palestinian statehood. They regard the timing as a matter of judgment. Regrettably, I find myself once more in disagreement with the Government’s policy in the Middle East. I was strongly and publicly opposed to the invasion of Iraq, the attack on Libya and the bombing of Syria. I venture to say that my judgment was not too far out on any of those issues. More recently, I have warned that the situation in the Middle East is more dangerous than it has been for two generations. We can no longer disregard the pressures building up in the Arab and Muslim world, with their inevitable implications for our own society. The time for movement on this issue is now.
My Lords, in a powerful speech at RUSI last October, my right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan said:
“No one who has travelled to Israel and Palestine … can fail to become emotionally engaged in the rights and wrongs of the arguments between the two. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is one of the most polarising and vexed issues in the world”.
How right he is.
I declare my interests as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the Palestinian territories, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council and president of Medical Aid for Palestinians, in which role I follow in the illustrious footsteps of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes, who I am pleased to see him his place, and my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Steel for giving us the opportunity to debate the indivisible right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
I travelled to the Occupied Palestinian Territories twice in December. Just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of travelling with my noble friend Lady Warsi on a Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation. Earlier in the month, as trade envoy, I visited Gaza. I had not been to Gaza since 2011 and I was shocked not only by the devastation caused by last summer’s bombing but by the general deterioration. There is hardly any fuel, people cannot keep warm, and every other mode of transport is a donkey and cart—and most of the donkeys are lame. The international donations promised at the Cairo conference to rebuild Gaza are not materialising, and young children are dying from the cold. We are honouring our commitment, and many people have found a warm home through the money that DfID has given to pay rents.
In the West Bank, I witnessed ever-increasing settlement building, the threatened removal of the Bedouin from their lands to townships and a proposal to extend the wall—or the separation barrier—in the Cremisan Valley, a most beautiful part of Bethlehem, which will separate the land from local farmers and religious communities.
I also witnessed the work of and pay tribute to some amazing and dedicated Israelis who are working tirelessly for Palestinian dignity and self-determination. I never fail to be impressed by the resilience and good humour of the Palestinian people, but it is hardly surprising that they have had enough. It is also hardly surprising, when they are constantly told that the time is not right, that they have sought to take matters into their own hands. In an article in the Guardian on 9 November 2011, just before the Palestinians applied for full member status at the UN, my right honourable friend Sir Nicholas Soames and I warned:
“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. The World Bank, IMF, UN and EU have all assessed the performance of the Palestinian Authority and reported that it is ready for statehood”.
Recognition will bolster those Palestinians who believe that the path of non-violence will lead to a state coming into being through diplomacy and democratic expression, not destruction, a state which lives side-by-side with Israel in peace and prosperity.
There are those who seek to make recognition of Palestinian statehood dependent on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations. I believe that such negotiations will not come to fruition without Palestinian statehood. Time is running out for all the conditions to be met. How can we talk about a two-state solution when we recognise only one state?
In 2010, President Obama promised in his speech to the UN that Palestine would be a new member of the United Nations by September 2011. That promise was endorsed by the United Kingdom. We should fulfil that promise now.
My Lords, I think that it would be a profound mistake to recognise Palestine in the present state of affairs, for a very simple reason. I am certain that all of us want peace in the Middle East, and most of us believe that the only realistic means to achieve that is through a two-state solution, but that will require the most difficult and intricate negotiations. The Palestinians will have to give up a large amount of land on the other side of the security fence. The Israelis will have to withdraw settlements from the rest of the West Bank, including some extremely expensive agricultural investments in the Jordan Valley. The Israelis are going to have to accept that, contrary to their principle that Jerusalem should never be divided again, east Jerusalem will become the capital of the Palestinian state and that there is reasonable access to it. Not only issues of land will arise: there will be the need to make generous compensation to the 1948 refugees and, on lesser scales, to their children and grandchildren. No doubt we will all be invited to contribute to that, if and when the time comes.
One of the prizes will undoubtedly be recognition of the Palestinian state and to take that element out of the deal in advance and give it away free, with no countervailing concessions being required from the Palestinian side, seems an elementary mistake—in fact, an incompetent way of conducting any negotiation. There is another reason why it would be extremely dangerous: it would inevitably reinforce the absolutely fatal besetting illusion of the Palestinian leadership over the generations—for nearly 100 years now—that it somehow does not need to confront the reality in which it lives. The illusion is that it does not need to deal with Israel itself and can always hope that some deus ex machina will come from outside and solve its problems for it, giving it the concessions that it requires.
Way back before the Second World War the Jewish Agency, then led by David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, made several attempts to enter into a negotiation with the Palestinian leadership of the time— the Arab leadership, as it was then called. No doubt an interesting deal might have been done, certainly one on far better terms than were available subsequently to the Palestinians. But these initiatives were completely rejected and the Grand Mufti, the leader of the Palestinians or the Arabs as they were then called, proceeded to believe that either the British or the surrounding Arab states—or, in his case, Hitler—would come to their rescue and solve their problems for them.
Then in 1947 we had the partition resolution of the United Nations, which the Palestinian leadership rejected, preferring a war. It got a war and lost it, then found itself in a far worse position than it had started off with. In the 1950s and 1960s, under the terrible leadership of Ahmad Shukeiri, the Palestinians again rejected any recognition of Israel’s existence and believed that terrorism and war would solve their problems. They had another war in 1967, and once again found themselves in a far worse position than they had previously. Then we had the Camp David meeting, when Yasser Arafat refused even to consider an offer which would have resulted in 97% of the West Bank being handed over to a Palestinian state, to the amazement and consternation of President Clinton and everyone else who was present. Arafat thought that a second intifada would solve his problems. Needless to say, he eventually found that that did not work either.
It has been a terrible history. We will only reinforce that history and that absolutely fatal obsession of the Palestinian leadership, with its belief that it can delude itself and not accept reality, if we were now to offer it that concession in advance. I hope that we do not do that. I am not suggesting that there is much chance of a settlement in any circumstances at present. Quite clearly, Benjamin Netanyahu is a prisoner of his coalition and Mahmoud Abbas, unlike the Grand Mufti or Yasser Arafat in their day, does not have the position and prestige in the Palestinian community to be able to carry off a settlement. We will have to wait a while but, while we wait, we should not destroy the future basis of what might be the only framework for peace. We would do that if we were to adopt the course of recognising the Palestinian state prematurely.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has asked me to apologise for his not being able to participate in this debate. This debate is timely and I strongly endorse the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in that regard. It is timely because there is now no peace process and this debate will be helpful in perhaps moving towards a peace process again in the future.
Here I declare an interest, as I worked for both the former Government and the United Nations as a special envoy on the Middle East for several years and got to know both parties—the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority—very well. I saw the former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice working against the clock in 2008 to secure a peace agreement between the then Government of Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Alas, her efforts did not succeed.
This year, President Mahmoud Abbas will be 80 years old. Israel will not find a more moderate leader and should be using this time to secure an agreement with President Abbas, working with zeal towards that end, instead of continuing with a profoundly destabilising programme of settlement building throughout the West Bank. All friends of peace in the region must ask what the purpose of that programme is. What is the purpose of building roads in the West Bank on which Palestinians cannot travel? Self-evidently, those measures, those roads and those settlements clash with the goal of peace.
The resolution recognising the state of Palestine will be a step in the right direction, reinforcing the status of the Palestinian Authority. We speak of two parties—some noble Lords spoke of two nations—but they are, of course, not equal. One is a state now approaching its 70th year, with enormous economic and military resources unequalled in the Middle East, and the other is an authority unable to challenge encroaching settlements that are being built apace. Recognising a state of Palestine would go some way to rectifying this imbalance. Our actions will strengthen the hands of those genuinely seeking a peace agreement on both sides.
The United Nations itself could do much more. The UN is the convenor of the peace process and of the contact group bringing together the US, the Russian Federation, the EU and the UN itself. The Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, is now in his penultimate year of office and not seeking a further term. He should use the ample political space that is now before him to take a real initiative, be bolder in the search for peace and work towards a conference such as the one held by President Bush in Annapolis in 2007. Sadly—and this in itself tells us so much—President Obama is not able to do this, because of his own very fraught relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Perhaps the Secretary-General might do so alongside that great Israeli statesman, Shimon Peres, for whom President Abbas has deep respect. Recognising a Palestinian state, in line with other great democracies, would be a great step forward.
I will end by referring to a recent film, “The Gatekeepers”, which some noble Lords will be familiar with. It is an extraordinary testimony to the strength of Israeli democracy. I do not think we could see a film like it in this country, at least not yet. The film’s producer was able to interview six former heads of either Shin Bet, the internal intelligence service, or Mossad, the external service. I will quote the words of one of the former directors, Ami Ayalon, who subsequently went into politics and whom I know well. In the last moments of the film, he says:
“My son, who served three or three and a half years in the paratroopers, took part in invading Nablus at least two or three times”—
the word invading is his. Nablus is a city on the West Bank of course. He goes on:
“Did this bring us victory? I don’t think so”.
In the final frames of the film, he says that the “tragedy” is that,
“we win every battle, but we lose the war”.
We have to help both sides—Israel perhaps in some respects more than the Palestinian Authority—to advance towards peace.
My Lords, I would like to take a slightly different tack in this debate: I want to talk about Joseph ben Ephraim Karo. He was a very distinguished scholar who was born in 1488. His family was expelled from Toledo in Spain by Ferdinand II and Isabella I as a result of the Alhambra decree. Most of the family died on their travels across the Mediterranean. Rabbi Joseph Karo, as he later became, survived and ended up writing one of the most important books of Jewish literature, the Shulchan Aruch, which is still regarded as the definitive description of Jewish law. Among other things, it is a model of moral attitudes to other people, which is one of the issues that it discusses.
After Portugal we lose exactly where Karo went, but after travelling through Turkey and, briefly, Greece, he went finally to Israel—where he intended to go all the time—landing in a place now called Tzvat, or Safed, in the north of Israel. There he established a synagogue, which I have visited, and his tombstone is there. I think that my family are the 21st generation of his direct descendants. They came to this country in 1680 and I regard myself as totally British in every way, respecting British values in absolute terms and delighted to be here rather than anywhere else. However, I am also a Zionist.
Karo lived in Safed, which I visited for the first time in 1958, at a time when Israel was the most liberal democracy anywhere in that part of the world, an extraordinarily socialist democracy that believed altruistically in the right of all people to live. Incidentally, I was very surprised to hear the right reverend Prelate talk about the status of Christians in Israel; after all, in Israel Christians are protected in a way that they are not in any other part of the Middle East, so it was a shock to me that he felt the way that he did.
I have been many times to Safed since 1958 and saw the gradual erosion of those principles as the reality of constant threat ground Israel down and threatened it more and more. It started with the fedayeen.
Safed is six miles from the Syrian border—a walk—and we know what is happening on the other side of that border. About 10 miles to the north is Lebanon, where we know that there are child soldiers, of whom we have seen photographs only this week in the British press, carrying automatic weapons and machine guns. One absolutely understands the horrible situation of the Palestinian people; no one could possibly tolerate what has happened to them, and no one can do anything other than despair at their plight and their despair and the shock that they suffer. The problem seems to me to be rather well expressed by the situation in the town of Safed at the time when Karo lived there, when there were around 14,000 Jews. We know that, incidentally, from a Syrian who visited him, one Yahya al-Dahiri, who wrote a very interesting essay about Safed.
A state has a duty to protect its citizens. Seeing people being beheaded on the border across the way, seeing absolute anarchy in all the states surrounding them and hearing the kind of language that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, referred to from the people who are currently in charge in Gaza—which of course Israel evacuated—the Israeli Government, wrong though I think they are, continue to dig their heels in. As my noble friend Lord Davies said, we cannot possibly give way to the idea of recognising a Palestinian state at this stage; I believe strongly that it would make the situation worse, and would justify the continuation of the kind of threats that we have seen.
I think that there are few people in this Chamber who read Arabic; I know that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, does. Anyone who does will know that since 1948, six and seven year-olds have been subjected to the worst kind of anti-Semitism in the writings they are given in their schools—far worse than anything that the Nazis put out at the time of Auschwitz. We have to say that that really is a very serious problem.
There is hope. A few months ago, I went to a wedding in an Arab village in Israel and there an Arab man was hosting a strictly Jewish, kosher wedding. He had a partnership with a kosher caterer to make certain that his guests loved what they saw. It was a terrible tragedy for him because, as noble Lords might remember, in the Middle East last January there was a massive snowstorm. The reason why the bride had chosen that Arab village was that it was a totally safe, wonderful place where one felt completely at ease looking over the hills—but at one moment, all his vines were destroyed in the snow. He then went out and replanted them, because he wanted to try to satisfy that Jewish bride.
There is hope in Israel. We have to try to nurture that hope, and I do not believe we can do it by strengthening what are already the resolutions that are going to lead to violence.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Steel for securing this debate. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston—although he might not have thought that I would say that—but I have to tell him that I do not read Arabic or Hebrew and therefore I cannot judge what either side says to the other.
It is an irony to me that our Ministers and most of the media call the bunch of murderous criminals waging war in the Middle East at present Islamic State, when they are neither a state nor Islamic. Why do we inflate their importance in this way? I find it insulting to the Palestinians that, after 48 years of occupation and 68 years since the Nakba, they cannot also be called a state—the state of Palestine.
The Palestinians have tried—oh, they have tried—non-violent demonstrations, violent intifada and talks upon talks upon talks, with the goalposts always being moved by Israel, the USA or the quartet. They have held well monitored and fair elections, with the result not acknowledged by the Government of Israel or the West because the wrong side won. They have shown that they can run their own affairs. They have even recognised the State of Israel, as has Hamas, within the 1967 borders. Because they were said to be divided, they formed a unity administration with Hamas, only to have that rejected too. Now, having secured observer status at the United Nations, it is, of course, the wrong time for full recognition: it is always the wrong time for Palestine.
Palestine has now applied to join the International Criminal Court to seek justice for its people, so what happens? Taxes and funds are withheld by the Government of Israel and the USA. In the mean time, the reconstruction of Gaza, paid for by the international community following the murderous war in the summer, is being obstructed by the Government of Israel. Gaza festers and anger is building. I wonder what the Palestinians should do next.
The continuing injustice to the Palestinians and the hypocrisy of the West in regard to international law have sown the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, and we are now seeing the consequences. Continuing failure to create a state of Palestine and stand up to the Government of Israel is causing trouble for us all. Israel is becoming a pariah state, and, because of its cruelty towards the Palestinians, the general public are conflating the Jewish State of Israel with Jewish people all over Europe; and so anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head again. When those of us who criticise the Government of Israel are accused of anti-Semitism by the Israel lobby, it further reinforces the view that Jewish people everywhere support the actions of the Israeli Government. Can the Jewish community not understand this? It is not responsible for Israel’s actions: of course it is not. Why, therefore, do its leaders not speak out in condemnation of the injustice to the Palestinians at this time? Why, oh why?
I admit that the situation has probably gone too far for a gesture towards the Palestinians to have much effect, but if we led Europe into calling for a Palestinian state now—“no ifs, no buts”, as the Prime Minister loves to say, and no more conditions—it would show that we were on the side of justice and wanted to uphold international law, which should be our guiding star.
I conclude by asking the Minister: if the answer is again, “No, it is not the right time”, will he tell us what the Palestinians should do now?
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for this debate. I must acknowledge that many among your Lordships know far more about this long-standing conflict than I do. However, the shakiness of the implicit premise of this debate concerned me so deeply that I felt unable to keep silent.
I am deeply uneasy about glossing over the very real stumbling blocks that justice prevents us from treating as minor irritations, most notably the statements in the Hamas charter of murderous intent towards its neighbour, the State of Israel. We are being asked to treat the Palestinian state as equally valid with Israel when there is an explicit commitment to destroy the people who live across its borders. I am fully committed to the Government’s approach of working toward a negotiated and meaningful peace agreement that results in an independent Palestine thriving alongside a safe and secure Israel, but both of those are essential.
How can Israel be safe and secure when Palestine is committed to its destruction? Further, I have grave concerns that this would be a state that violated the human rights of minorities living within its borders to practise their religion freely. The recognition of Palestine, without a negotiated settlement with security for adherents of all faiths at its foundation, would exacerbate the already precarious situation for Christians in the Palestinian territories, and especially in Gaza. Under Hamas, the official religion of Gaza is Islam, the country exercises sharia law, and the expression of other religions is challenged.
The Guardian and other newspapers report how in Gaza public displays of faith and the open practising of Christianity is extremely risky, and that Christians avoid celebrating festivals such as Christmas in public places. Along with accounts from Reuters a couple of years ago, there is ongoing evidence to suggest that Christians are strongly compelled to give up their faith and become Muslims, whether through the inducement of jobs and houses—which is powerful, as many Christians live in poverty—or through social and more sinister pressure. Proselytisation by Christians in Gaza can be punishable by death. Fear is growing that the population will be completely eliminated through Christians fleeing the territory and forced conversions, whether through the influence of militant Islam or economic pressures.
Without wishing to idealise Israel, in terms of tolerating other religions it stands in stark contrast particularly to Gaza. At a recent lunch I attended, the Prime Minister remarked that Israel is a vulnerable country and yet, against all the odds, it has become an oasis of freedom where the call to prayer mingles with church bells—where Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic echo down narrow souks.
Creating an environment where Christians are free to worship and flourish is no mean feat in the Middle East given that other countries are also seeing their Christian populations dwindling. Writing in the New Statesman, former British and UN diplomat Gerard Russell describes the decline of Christian populations right across the Middle East, whether in Egypt, Iran, Jordan or Iraq. In 1987 Christians in Iraq numbered 1.4 million. Nearly 30 years later the country’s population has doubled, but its Christian population has dwindled to 400,000. Of those who remain, many have been forced to leave their homes as a result of militant Muslims’ efforts to establish an Islamic state, or caliphate. Russell paints a picture of an impoverished cultural landscape left in the wake of this flight. Historically, Christians have contributed greatly to the preservation of the heritage they share with Muslims, whether that is the Aramaic language in Iraq or Pharaonic hymns in Egypt. The schools run by Christians in the Middle East have educated generations of Arabs and other Muslims.
In summary, I am deeply concerned about what Christians’ fate would be in a Palestinian state, given that Hamas is grounded in radical Islam. This, alongside the deeply troubling commitment to the destruction of Israel, which would of course sweep away Christians and other non-Jews, raises questions that have to be considered head on, and can by no means be made the subject of wishful thinking. They will certainly not be made to go away by unilaterally acknowledging Palestinian statehood; in fact they could become harder, not easier, to resolve after that had happened.
My Lords, the Foreign Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Tobias Ellwood, recently reminded another place that it is 67 years since the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, recommending that two states be formed from Mandate Palestine. The Jewish Agency accepted the recommendation but the Arab League did not, and five Arab armies invaded on the day the new Jewish state declared its independence. That is a bit of history worth remembering, but now we have to fast-forward to today.
I know from my career of more than 22 years in government service that, for the FCO, recognition of a state is not an exact science. There are, however, some well known givens and some very specific requirements—and whatever one thinks of the Palestinian Authority, it does not have those qualifications for recognition. The objections to recognition are even more serious than the lack of those qualifications, because recognition would, above all, be detrimental to the peace process, and the end we all desire. As our ambassador to the UN said last month, we want to turn,
“our ambition—the creation of a sovereign … and viable Palestinian State living in peace and security side by side with Israel—into reality”.
You will not get that by Palestine having at its shoulder terrorist allies.
I stand second to no one in wanting two prosperous and peaceful states, and I am absolutely prepared to accept the bona fides of President Abbas. But a declaration of recognition now would appear to reward Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation still calling for the destruction of Israel and raining thousands of rockets on her civilian population from the south, while its ally Hezbollah, another terrorist organisation, threatens the same from Israel’s northern border, also calling as recently as a few days ago for the extermination of the Zionist entity. With respect, it is nonsense to think we can create a state just by declaring it to be so. Just because we all want two states, we cannot just conjure one into being. It takes much hard work and negotiation by all those directly concerned.
On an official visit to the region in December 1993 with the late John Smith, then leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition—I was his foreign policy adviser—we found that in that post-Oslo euphoria, detailed planning was under way for the economy and development of the Palestinian state, with Israeli and Arab businessmen, planners and entrepreneurs all busily and enthusiastically making ambitious plans for linking Gaza to the West Bank, and much else I do not have time to go into. Given good will and the considerable talents of both peoples, great things could have been achieved then—and they could be again. But recognition as proposed now is gesture politics of the worst kind. Instead of helping the peace process, it would hinder and damage it. Both sides need to be negotiating in good faith; one side cannot have by its side terrorists vowing to exterminate the other side.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for initiating this debate. I admire the great courage of the MPs on 13 October last in reaching, with a very substantial majority, a decision to recognise a Palestinian state. It is time to make progress on this long-standing dispute, which has become agonising for more and more people.
A long time ago, when I was an MP in Harrow, I was brought in as a peacemaker to deal with two main feuding groups on the local council. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I sound boastful because, to my surprise, we succeeded in that aim. I said at the meeting that there were two vital conditions which had to be met: first, it must last only an hour and a half maximum; and, secondly, no one on either side was allowed to refer to the past. Someone asked, “What is the past?”, and I replied, “Two minutes ago; that is the past”. That is what you have to do when you are making peace with these two factions—one a government and a state, and the other a partial state, which hopes soon to be a state, and its ruling group in the Palestinian Authority.
Before we hear the winding-up speeches, three of my distinguished friends who, like me, are enthusiasts for Israel—the noble Lords, Lord Gold and Lord Turnberg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—will speak. I want them to help me. Since I became involved in politics, I have been a lifelong friend of Israel. I went there in 1970 and helped many Soviet Jews come to Israel from Russia. Some of them went to the United States instead, but most went to Israel. I helped them with Aliyah and all that. I have been a tremendous friend of Israel over many years. However, I do not like going there anymore. I do not enjoy it, although I used to. When I first went there in the 1970s and 1980s, it was a terrific, pleasant and agreeable country, but it is a country based on unfair politics towards the Palestinians. The Palestinians have so little, the Israelis have so much. There must be geopolitical generosity and realism in these matters.
The other regard in which the Israelis are privileged, and why the balance between the two peoples is unfair, concerns the behaviour of the United States. The United States did not say, “We regard you both as equal entities in this dispute and we want to help you resolve it”. It said, “No, we are automatic preferential friends of the State of Israel and that is our priority, and always will be”. There has been the grotesque invitation to Netanyahu to stir up trouble with Iran. Of all things, we least need that of stirring up trouble with Iran and making provocative noises about it in the US Congress just because the Iranian question is enmeshed in the long-standing dispute between the Democratic and Republican parties. The United States Government did not need to do that and Barack Obama has disappointed us all by resuming the vetoes which allowed Israel to misbehave repeatedly and disobey international law completely. That shows the lack of balance between the two sides. We did not expect that all the way through. I think that there have been 36 vetoes since 1968, most of them under Chapter 7.
Israel completely ignores the UN Security Council resolutions. The recent very moderate Jordanian resolution could easily have been accepted by the United States. Britain abstained as well. What kind of lead is that? The EU quartet has behaved grotesquely and let everybody down. I agree that Israel needed protection at the beginning when it was starting out as a state and after 1967 as well. But once defences were rightly built up to protect Israel, which you have to do realistically, and Israel became an unbeatable military power, the precondition the other way is that Israel then negotiates sensibly with the Palestinians to give them a place in the sun as well, and a state alongside Israel, not this nonsense of waiting yet again. Almost 50 years have passed now.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he was rightly expelled after a year by the international community. Everybody approved of that. Israel’s invasion of the West Bank took place in 1967. “Invasion” was the right word used by the general who was mentioned by a previous speaker. Israel is still there now after nearly 50 years. This is a grotesque injustice. Most of my Israeli friends know that it is wrong and a lot of them are campaigning against it. We welcome what is done through B’Tselem, JJP and American Jews for a Just Peace, and now a new group has been formed. The AIPAC grip must be lessened in the United States as it is disastrous for the Congress. We should beware of the inexorable rise of the military-industrial complex, as has happened in Israel as well.
We want to make Israel again a pleasant and fair country to visit. I hope that my three colleagues who will speak before the winding-up speeches will help me by making some constructive suggestions, thinking about the future and not harping again and again on the past.
I begin by expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I support wholly the noble Lord’s Motion. Indeed, his record and commitment to pursuing a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is widely respected. In fact, following the Israeli attack on Gaza last summer, the noble Lord made the much welcomed point that our Government are vulnerable to the well oiled and efficient Israeli public relations machine, saying:
“It’s a tragedy that our response to the crisis has been framed by the discourse of rocket firing from Gaza … whilst almost ignoring the cruel devastation of the constant cycle of incursions”.
There have been more than two dozen Israeli deaths over the past decade. As a mother and someone who has experienced war, I believe that any one death is tragic and causes untold sadness. Unacceptably dreadful though this figure is, it has neither moral nor political equivalence with the 1,600 civilians killed by the might of the Israeli military in Gaza last summer and the 1,400 killed in 2009. There have been three incursions in six years, killing thousands of innocent men and women and recently killing more than 500 children. They have injured 3,000, and destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, factories and utilities. Only this morning, the Telegraph noted that 370,000 children have been left shell-shocked.
It should plague the consciences of all right-thinking individuals when they acknowledge the little that has been done to prevent the almost medieval—and internationally recognised as illegal—land, sea and air blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza citizens since 2007, rendering them inmates in what our Prime Minister, David Cameron, referred to as an “open prison”.
Recently, a former senior Minister aptly suggested that we have been guilty of looking at the peace process implicitly through the wrong end of the Israeli telescope. It is shocking that we have had silence from our Government, who have been unable to condemn the barbaric, indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, that our Government’s current position remains morally indefensible, against Britain’s national interest and not consistent with the rule of international law.
Many of us have spoken out in this House over the past decade on behalf of those millions dispossessed and displaced from their homes and lands, while Britain looked the other way. The ugly truth is that not just this Government but successive Governments have failed to stand with justice and have done nothing to hear the call for an arms and trade boycott of Israel. I remind the House that the former Minister for International Development, Sir Alan Duncan, uttered his rebuke to Israel last October about the building of illegal settlements, making clear that he regarded these actions as “theft”, “annexation” and, by international standards and laws, an illegal “land grab”.
These standpoints have marked a clear shift in both parliamentary and public opinion. I believe that many noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris, eloquently reflected this. A growing consensus had seen the folly, as Sir Alan Duncan put it, of sticking rigidly to the “false dawn” of a process in which:
“Year after year, in cycles of hope and despair, we dwell incessantly on what we all call the Peace Process”.
This failed process has been the excuse consistently used to render the two-state solution increasingly untenable and to deny Palestinians their right to a viable independent state.
We cannot demand that communities and countries display the loyalties of one being either with us or against us in another context and profess our friendship to both the occupier and to those who are brutally oppressed and occupied. The vote taken at the end of last year in the other place on the recognition of Palestine saw an unprecedented 262-vote majority in favour. Our historic leadership in the current Israel-Palestine crisis places an obligation on us to take a lead in resisting the obvious attempts by Israel to destroy any chance of a two-state solution. While we remain stuck in the rhetoric of the so-called road map to peace, Israel continues its annexation of what has been mandated by the UN as the future lands of the sovereign state of Palestine.
Must we unwittingly become participants in the vision of Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser, Dov Weisglass? He boasted back in 2004 that,
“when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state … Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission”.
We must cease to give that authority and we must cease to give our permission. Let not the chronicle of history show Britain’s role in denying a whole race of people their birthright.
Let us recognise the historic initiative of the unity Government formed last summer in Palestine, which finally brought together the divided factions of Hamas and Fatah. Now is the time to take the initiative to put an end to decades of human suffering and apartheid. Let us not find that, through our inaction, we have contributed to a process of ethnic cleansing, continued deprivation and inhumanity in the Middle East. It is already an almost impossible prospect to consider the relocation of the 550,000 illegal Israeli settlers who now occupy Palestinian land. What shall we do when this number becomes 1 million? It is time for us to stop dragging our feet and to stand on the right and just side of history.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, not only on securing this debate but on finding a neat way of dealing with the difficult issue of how you negotiate with a terrorist organisation. One thing is sure: if we recognise Palestine as a state now, there will not be any need to negotiate with the terrorists because they will not negotiate with Israel or any other country seeking to broker a settlement. Negotiation inevitably means compromise. Why should the terrorists compromise? They will have achieved their main goal, without giving away anything. They will have statehood without conditions and without compromise, and, most of all, without having to recognise that the State of Israel exists and is entitled so to do. All they need to do is sit back, set off a few more rockets and wait until the UN resolves to give them even more.
Acknowledging that Israel exists and is entitled to exist has been the major stumbling block previously when the Palestinians have been offered a peaceful way to achieve their own state. They were offered and rejected statehood three times. The first occasion was, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said, in November 1947, when by Resolution 181 the UN called for the creation of both a Jewish and a Palestinian state. The second was in the summer of 2000, when Yasser Arafat rejected the Barak peace plan. That plan offered the Palestinians all of Gaza, most of the West Bank and no Israeli control over the border with Jordan or the adjacent Jordan Valley. There was a small Israeli annexation around three settlement blocs, but this was balanced by an equivalent area of Israeli territory that would have been ceded to the Palestinians. In 2008, Prime Minister Olmert extended the Barak proposal by offering to split Jerusalem. President Abbas rejected this, too.
In its 1988 charter, Hamas, which controls Gaza, called for the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine in place of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel. That demand has never changed. On that issue, Hamas has been and remains uncompromising.
All here want peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Most would support the two-state solution, but this is not the way to achieve it. Just as we are debating here, in this mother of Parliaments, the proposition—
I am coming to the future right now. As we are debating here, in the mother of Parliaments, the proposition that we should unilaterally recognise Palestine as a state, I challenge those supporting this resolution to persuade their friends to reconvene the Palestinian Parliament—the future is in the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has not met since the Fatah-Hamas dispute in 2007—and table a similar resolution, that the Palestinians should recognise the State of Israel and its right permanently to exist. However, this is Alice in Wonderland. We all know that such a proposition is fanciful, and that it could never happen. I apologise for my unparliamentary language, but let us get real and acknowledge that, far from making progress, recognising a Palestinian state now would set the peace process back indefinitely.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, I want to look forward. In this House and in the other place there are many friends both of Israel and of the Palestinians. If we use those friendships and that influence to persuade both sides to resume negotiations, we will be giving peace a far greater chance than through one-sided, unhelpful resolutions that will have the opposite effect, of setting the process backwards.
My Lords, at this late stage in the debate it is pretty clear that there are very few in this House who do not wish to see a solution that includes safe and secure Palestinian and Israeli states, least of all me. I know I would be far from alone among the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians themselves—certainly the ones I meet, on both sides, when I visit the region.
Leaving aside the unfortunate exception to this overall wish for peace which lies in Gaza—where Hamas constantly repeats its desire to see Israel wiped off the map—why do I believe that, despite this strong desire to see a Palestinian state, this bid to the UN is so counterproductive? Even the Arab League and Jordan are now urging caution on the Palestinian Authority. I have several reasons. First, the so-called unity Government contains Hamas representatives, who have made it clear that not only do they have no intention of recognising Israel’s existence but they have great difficulty in accepting that the PA should have any sort of contact or co-operation with Israel. It is difficult to see how their ideas of Palestine would include a place for Israel. There is then the issue that, if Palestine gained international recognition, it would still have to negotiate with Israel. That very recognition would make it feel that it does not need to make any concessions. That makes a nonsense of a two-way negotiation.
A bid to the UN now would not achieve what everyone wants: two secure states living in peace with each other. Only direct negotiations can achieve that. This is not for want of trying. It is not difficult to understand why Israelis and Palestinians—indeed, everyone else who cares about the Middle East—are losing faith and patience. As the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said, it is not much use looking back at the failures of the many efforts to resolve the differences or at the near successes that were thwarted when, for example, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, when Mr Olmert fell from grace or when Mr Arafat had cold feet after Camp David. Nor does it help to try to assign blame when we want to move forward.
If, in seeking judgment at the International Criminal Court, Mr Abbas wishes to seek retribution or revenge, that is a very risky ploy that is likely to give rise not only to accusation but to counteraccusation of crimes against humanity. That is hardly likely to help to build any bridge on which peace negotiations can take place.
I fear that a bid to the UN will serve only to drive a bigger wedge between Israel and the Palestinians. For all his faults—I am far from the greatest admirer of his policies—Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he wants to see a two-state solution, pace the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Mr Abbas also talks about two states, but I fear he may be talking about two Arab states, with an Arab Israel. It is worrying that he is so adamant that he will not recognise that Israel is a Jewish state. Israel, which already has a significant 20% Arab population, would in his view become a homeland for Arabs to which Jews could hardly expect to be welcome. That is hardly conducive to meaningful dialogue and negotiation.
Our efforts, in the UK and in the UN, should be not to drive a wedge between the parties but to drive them together to the negotiating table, lock them in a room and persuade them both to make concessions that everyone knows will be necessary. That is what both populations are desperate for their leaders to do before it is too late.
Of course, it may have to wait until we have stronger leadership on both sides. Anyone who has followed the history of previous efforts to get agreement has seen optimism followed by despair. However, strange things can happen in the Middle East, and we should never give up. If the right circumstances—or, more importantly, the right leaders—are in place, anything can happen. I cannot believe that a unilateral bid to the UN can do anything but interfere with efforts to restart the negotiations which, sooner or later, will be essential if we are to see Palestinian statehood.
My Lords, with unfortunate timing, this debate is taking place two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, despite the millions spent on Holocaust education and remembrance, the museums and memorials and the school visits to concentration camps, there is a gap in memory and education that needs to be bridged. The desire and opportunity to murder 6 million people of a different religion whose presence on his territory the murderer resents must not arise again. The message Jews took from the Holocaust was that their nationalism was necessary. It has been a success. Israel is not Saudi Arabia; it is not North Korea, Iran or Pakistan. It is a flourishing and democratic outpost in the desert with an astonishing record. It is a safe haven, an imperative for existence that can be applied to no other country in the world.
Yasser Arafat declared an independent state of Palestine in 1988 and recognition followed from 100 states. The subsequent failure to change anything on the ground demonstrates the truth of the international law on recognition: namely, that statehood has to be founded in fact, not in numbers of recognitions.
As far as this Motion goes, almost every word of it is dubious. There can be no contribution towards a two-state solution because recognition of Palestine, falsely based, will only make the situation more dangerous. There can be no two-state solution unless Palestine recognises Israel, which she has steadfastly refused to do. There is no statehood attaching to Palestine in international law because it does not meet the criteria. A sovereign state of a Muslim Palestine has never existed—not before 1948, and not before 1967. It was Egyptian and Jordanian territory. Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state was rejected in 2009. The intention of many of the players in the region has always been the elimination of a Jewish presence in the area, not the establishment of yet one more Muslim state. The problem with Israel is not that it has displaced anyone; according to its neighbours, the problem is that its population is largely Jewish.
The practical result of a premature state of Palestine would simply be to free up the import of arms into the new state. The aim underlying this move is the takeover of Israel. Why is there no preparation by the Palestinians for statehood? There is no governance structure, no independent administration, no industrialisation and no negotiation of trade agreements with its neighbour, Israel. The state would not be a state in any recognisable form. Its leaders have declared that the current residents, whose status as refugees defies all logic, would remain defined as refugees. They would not be granted citizenship, nor would the state of Palestine open its doors to the Palestinian diaspora—those Palestinians whose miserable lives in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region are worse than the lives of those in Gaza and the West Bank. It has also declared that it would be a Judenrein state, unlike the 1.8 million Arab residents of Israel who have chosen to stay there.
So if a state has no citizens, and will not grant them citizenship in defiance of international law, what would it be for? It would be for a closer jumping-off point for the demolition of the State of Israel in pursuance of the alleged right of return. As other noble Lords have said, Fatah and Hamas want a one-state solution. Why should Israel recognise Palestine if there is no reciprocity but only a step towards elimination in return?
In the climate of extremism that is sweeping Europe, why should a country want to take a step that risks feeding it more? The only purpose is manipulative—to allow Palestinians to pursue claims against Israel at the UN and other international bodies. In the face of what is happening in Europe, what agenda do the proponents serve? Would it not be a good idea to examine the excesses of this position and turn to state building on the ground as an alternative?
Israel’s antagonists often accuse her of apartheid. In the worst times of genuine apartheid in South Africa, Mandela was planning his future independent country’s constitution, educating its leaders, preaching peace, not vengeance, and acting as a statesman. In the early days of Zionism, before statehood, the Jewish residents of what was to be Israel prepared their governance structure, set up the organs of a state, created universities, made the desert bloom, prepared a legal system and a free press, trade unions, hospitals and charities. None of this is present in the Palestinian leadership; nothing is readied. It is not a state under international law, but I have no time to describe that.
The worst element, of course, is that the residents will not be citizens but will be regarded as refugees whose aim is to return to a different state—Israel—rather than establishing citizenship in their own state, and the new state would be wholly dependent on international funds. For it to be recognised now—by the General Assembly, for example—would simply send the message to every other non-state entity in the world, such as the Basque country, Northern Cyprus, the Kurds and even Scotland, to bypass normal laws and claim to be a state. Let there be a two-state solution by all means if the Palestinians will create a homeland, accept the refugees, lay down their arms and be a country of peace.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for introducing this important debate—a debate which has provoked some very strong and powerful presentations on both sides and in which I think both sides of the argument have been equally represented.
We have now had decades of turmoil in the Middle East and see continual brutal and bloody conflict. The events in the summer of 2014, with attacks on both Israel and Palestine, served to underline the need for a return to meaningful negotiations. It was a painful and stark reminder of how distant and difficult the prospect of a peaceful resolution to this conflict remains.
The two-state solution has been the UK’s stated policy for decades, as my noble friend Lady Blackstone indicated. Labour fully supports two states living side by side in peace, with the need for this to be recognised by all their neighbours. However, this conflict will be resolved ultimately only by both sides engaging in a negotiated peace process moving towards that two-state solution.
The tragedy is that today there is not only no peace but no process, and in this environment despair dominates as hope struggles to survive. Labour believes that statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given but a right to be recognised. That is why since 2011 Labour has supported Palestinian recognition at the United Nations and has called on the Government to support this important principle.
A key principle of establishing the State of Israel was that it should be a place where Jewish people could feel safe. I am sure that many Israelis—in particular, after the indiscriminate bombings on buses, murders in a synagogue and targeting of missiles on residential areas—would argue that they still do not feel safe. Of course the rise of anti-Semitism in western Europe should also concern us all. Israel has an absolute right to defend itself but many would argue that last summer’s indiscriminate bombing and massive destruction of Gaza was wholly disproportionate.
This week, as a good Welsh socialist, I have been reading a new biography of Aneurin Bevan, who, in relation to the Suez crisis, stated that military success would,
“only prove that we are stronger than the Egyptians. It won’t prove that we are right”.
I believe that the same could be said of some Israeli attitudes towards the Palestinians. What we really need to ask is how we can practically move the debate on in the region. Recognition will ultimately succeed only if it is a part of a significant peace negotiation covering mutual recognition, secure borders and general security.
If we really want traction in the area, we need to be aligned with our allies. We need to act where possible with our EU partners and work with the quartet. There are balances we must advocate. The Israelis must act in accordance with international law. They cannot colonise other people’s land, deny them a contiguous economic territory, and build barriers on that land. The Palestinians on their part must take active steps, if necessary with regional neighbours, to stop terrorist attacks, and should unify in a political authority in a form which renounces terrorism. Palestinians must recognise the right of Israel to exist as a permanent entity within secure borders. We must be aware that either side can create or seize on any excuse for fighting or stopping talking.
We also need to engage in a more practical approach to building bridges between the two sides, providing aid and capacity building. We should promote economic co-operation in a very practical way, and we should do more with the near and more distant neighbours as a stimulus to security and economic development. The world has waited for the Oslo accords to deliver and has watched the dispute over territory for 66 years.
Particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, where 56% of the population is under 24 and where unemployment among the youth stands at 38%, how do we encourage those moderate voices in Palestine who are suffering from extreme poverty? How do we ensure that people who have had their homes and communities destroyed and can see no prospect of a lasting peaceful solution through diplomacy continue to follow a path of non-violence? How can we make them believe that there truly is a solution which can be worked out if there has been no prospect of a negotiated settlement for more than 20 years? Building a more vibrant economy must surely be part of the answer.
After decades of diplomatic failure, there are those on all sides who question whether a two-state solution is any longer possible. That is why Labour believes that, amid the undoubted despair and disappointment, the international community must take concrete steps to strengthen moderate Palestinian opinion. Of course we take note of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, who suggested that that would be extremely difficult to achieve, but it is the only hope. We must encourage all Palestinians to take the path of politics, reject the path of violence, and rekindle hopes that there is a credible route to a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel which can be achieved through negotiations.
We are clear that Palestinian recognition at the UN would be such a step. Our support for the principle of UN recognition is not a means of bypassing the need for talks, nor an excuse for inaction in seeking to get negotiations restarted. The Motion before the House in October did not commit Labour to immediate recognition of Palestine or mandate the UK Government to immediately bilaterally recognise the state of Palestine, but the vote supported by Labour underlines the party’s belief in the principle of recognising Palestinian statehood. The timing and mechanism by which Palestinian recognition takes place will continue to be a matter to be decided by an incoming Labour Government.
My Lords, it has been a passionate debate and I am conscious that the time is late, so I shall do my best to sum up the many contributions. We have heard here, as in the earlier Commons debate, some passionate concerns from all sides and the rising concern that the situation is getting worse and not better. I wish I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, that we have to be optimists. We struggle very hard to be optimistic in the circumstances we are facing.
Sir Richard Ottaway, in his very powerful speech in the Commons debate, said that,
“to be a friend of Israel is not to be an enemy of Palestine”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/10/14; col. 69.]
The reverse is also true: to be a friend of Palestine you do not have to be an enemy of Israel.
The problem we face is partly, as some of us who have been in discussion with our friends in the Israeli embassy know, that the current Government are losing friends. They are losing the battle of public opinion in Britain and across Europe. If the use of disproportionate force on Gaza, or perhaps on Lebanon, is the only way in which Israel maintains its security, its long-term security is bleak.
That is not to say that the Government of Palestine, let alone Hamas, are gaining unconditional friends or supporters. We thus face a range of difficult and often unpalatable choices. We have heard a lot about the long, sad and contested history leading to bitter grievances on both sides, but the future is equally worrying. The status quo is not sustainable, either within the Occupied Palestinian Territories—let alone within Gaza—or in the region around Israel and Palestine. The Middle East is increasingly unstable. We see conflict within Syria overlapping into Lebanon and Iraq, a different but linked conflict in the Sinai and the collapse of Libya. That makes the need for change and movement towards a solution all the more necessary.
We have seen, in recent days, the threat of firing between Israel and Hezbollah potentially leading to a higher level of conflict. We hope that that has now been contained. We see the Egyptian Government dealing with terrorism in the Sinai, which affects their whole attitude towards Gaza. We see Palestinian refugees who were in Syria becoming refugees for a second time in Jordan or Lebanon and we see the increasing strain on Jordan and Lebanon—as well, incidentally, as on Turkey, where there are now 1.5 million Syrian refugees from the conflict spilling over the boundaries that we, the British and the French, left behind in drawing the map after the First World War.
We also see partisan exploitation of this issue within the United States, raising the existential threat to Israel that America’s unquestioning support might begin to come into question, as some in the Israeli press have remarked in recent days. Behind all this, we also see population growth across the Middle East as one of the drivers of the conflict. We all know that a surplus of frustrated and underemployed young men drives radicalism. We have to accept that that is part of the problem all across the Middle East. In these circumstances, Britain remains firmly committed to the two-state solution: a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security, side by side with Israel.
We see negotiations towards a two-state solution as the best way to end the occupation and to meet the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. That is why the British Government were such strong supporters of Secretary Kerry’s efforts in the Middle East peace process, in which progress was made but not sufficient progress. We urge the parties to resume serious negotiations and to show the bold political leadership necessary to reach a final deal.
The Palestinian Authority, in contradistinction to what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, has made important progress on state building, which has been recognised by the World Bank and the IMF. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development said in September, the British Government also believe that the Palestinian Authority has the capability to run an effective, inclusive, accountable state. That is why it is so important that the PA now returns to Gaza to ensure that good governance is extended throughout the territory that is intended to become the Palestinian state.
The UK is committed to recognising a Palestinian state and we are moving towards the recognition of a Palestinian state. That is part of how we see the process towards the only viable long-term solution, which is a two-state solution. We understand that it is only through negotiations that a Palestinian state can become a reality, including on the ground, but we see the process of recognition by the United Kingdom and other friendly states as part of that process. We do not judge that now is the right moment to give that recognition, but we are waiting for the point at which we consider, with others—our colleagues and allies—that it has become appropriate. I hope that is entirely clear. Of course, bilateral recognition in itself would not end the occupation—only negotiations will lead to a final settlement between the parties—but it may be an important part of the process.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, suggested that the United Nations should do more. The United Nations is, as he well knows, fully engaged. We were discussing a UN Security Council resolution that we thought could command an overwhelming majority of the UNSC members but, for various reasons, the Palestinians decided that they wished to have an earlier resolution, which did not meet the criteria, and that is why we abstained. We are of course concerned to get as much consensus as possible. We recognise that the Palestinian Authority will move towards accession to other UN agencies.
Of course, we should not forget the quartet. The quartet is often made fun of now within the United Kingdom but, importantly, it is the United States together with Russia, which unavoidably is an important player as it has very close links to Israel as well as closer links to Assad’s regime in Syria than many of us would wish it to have. Britain works within the quartet together with our EU partners, in particular France and Germany.
We cannot exclude the Arab League. Little mention has been made in the debate so far of the Arab peace initiative, which is still on the table and which we still need to pick up to bring the moderate Arab states into any agreement that we can achieve.
Alongside all this work among Governments, the bilateral relationship between Britain and Israel remains strong and friendly, and we wish to maintain that. Of course, we wish to maintain a democratic Israel within secure and recognised boundaries. Indeed, this week a new multimillion-pound investment fund has been set up for Israeli scientists at the University of Cambridge, enabling Israelis to pursue post-doctorate research. I look around and I see others here who have been actively engaged, as I have been, in promoting exchanges between British academics, British young people and young Israelis, and that is something that we absolutely want to promote.
We all recognise that there are implications for communities within the United Kingdom. The spillover of the Israel-Palestine conflict into the domestic politics of other countries is one of the real dangers that we all face. The Government are absolutely clear that we wish to maintain the security of the Jewish community in this country. We value immensely the contribution that the Jewish community in this country has provided over many years and we wish to ensure that it remains secure and fully integrated into the United Kingdom community. We have recently provided £2 million to support Jewish state schools to ensure the security and safety of British children.
We also have substantial Muslim communities in this country. Some of them have been here for well over 150 years; others have come a great deal more recently. We also wish to maintain the security and stability and to promote the integration of the Muslim community in this country. I look round the Chamber and I know many of us are also working actively towards that. On Sunday my wife and I will be attending a service in Westminster Abbey—a Christian church—to commemorate the Holocaust, and there will be active Jewish participation in that Christian service.
It is also popular in the tabloid press to make fun of the Prince of Wales for talking about Britain’s other faiths. I am proud, as someone who has a close association with Westminster Abbey, that I have been to a number of services there where several of Britain’s faiths, in particular the three Abrahamic faiths, have played a part in the service. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to Britain’s three Abrahamic faiths in the speech he made the other week. I think it is very important that we dig out that phrase—less used than it was when I was a child—and ensure that we help to understand what is shared between Islam, Judaism and Christianity and not what is incompatible.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Warsi for the work that she did as a Minister in promoting interfaith dialogue, and the work that my noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lady Anelay are still doing on it. My noble friend Lady Anelay told me yesterday about a recent visit that she made to Morocco, talking to the Moroccans about what they are doing to train imams from not only Morocco but other countries in their particular Sufi, moderate version of Islam.
There is a great deal to be done here, and we are concerned to keep separate how we resolve the Israel-Palestine problem from the importance of maintaining an integrated community on a multifaith basis within Britain.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about the future of the ancient Christian community in Palestine and within Jerusalem. We are also much concerned about that. We note, in particular, the problem of the Cremisan Catholic community at present, and the threat posed to that well established community by the extension of the border wall. We have the right to say to all sides that the maintenance of that ancient Christian community in Palestine and Israel must be assisted.
Jerusalem itself is a very important part of that. Jerusalem is a holy city for all three Abrahamic faiths. I say that with particular passion because, when I went on behalf of Nick Clegg to talk to the Board of Deputies during the previous election campaign, when I said that, one of those present shouted: “No, it isn’t. It is the eternal capital of the Jews”. We have to learn to share. We have to share Jerusalem. The provocations which we see going on on both sides in Jerusalem are extremely worrying and could easily get out of control. There is the demolition of Palestinian houses and disturbances on the Temple Mount. We are much concerned about that. We are grateful that the Israeli Government have taken positive steps to calm the situation in recent weeks.
Several noble Lords have asked: “How can Israel negotiate with a Palestinian Government that includes Hamas? Palestinians have to accept Israel’s right to exist. Schoolbooks promote hate”—and so on. There are problems on both sides. There are those within the Israeli Government who deny the right of a state of Palestine to come into being, who want to have a single state. There is hate language in some elements of Israel, as well as in Palestine. There are problems on both sides. We must recognise that and deal with it. We must deal with it very carefully in the middle of a rumbustious Israeli election campaign. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said, both sides must negotiate in good faith, and that needs people on both sides—including some of the more right-wing Israeli parties—to change their rhetoric and approach.
We all know that settlements, which some noble Lords did not mention, are a major part of the issue. The question of international law and Israel’s behaviour in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is something against which we constantly stub our toes. We cannot ignore Israel’s abuse of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
I have figures which suggest that in the nine months when John Kerry was engaged in negotiation, Israel increased by a factor of three the number of new tenders for settlement in the West Bank. We know that they are beginning to enclose Jerusalem. As my good friend William Hague said three years ago, when he was Foreign Secretary, we know that the expansion of settlements will in time make a two-state solution impossible. That is part of the ticking clock against which we have to move.
The previous British Government have introduced voluntary guidelines to enable produce from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories to be specifically labelled as such. The EU has agreed that all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate that they do not apply to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. In December 2013, we placed advice online to UK businesses, underlining the key security and political risks which they may face when operating in Israeli settlements. Further discussions are now under way with retailers in Britain and within the context of the EU.
The noble Lord, Lord Leigh, argued that we were assisting Hamas and that funds were going to finance Hamas. I assure him that no British funds are going to any of the organisations associated with Hamas, as we do our utmost to assist a stronger Palestinian state and the process of state building.
What can we do within Britain, where we have all protested against the deteriorating situation? First, as I have suggested, we have to build tolerance and understanding here. That is extremely important in a dangerous situation. Secondly, we have to work with other friendly states to bring influence to bear on all sides in the conflict. Thirdly, we have to continue to provide financial support to assist the construction of a viable Palestinian state; equally, we have to continue to impress on the Government of Israel that their long-term security depends on security within boundaries that provide a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. At the appropriate time, we have to join with others in recognising a Palestinian state as part of the painful process of working towards the only viable resolution of this long-standing conflict: two states, sharing the historic land of Palestine in peace.
My Lords, I thank everybody who has taken part in this debate. It has been a very serious and sombre debate, and a very constructive one. I noticed two threads on both sides of the argument where we are in agreement. First, I think that everybody who has spoken spoke in favour of a two-state solution. That is quite important because so many commentators outside have rather given up on that. I thought that was a common thread in this debate, which was significant. Secondly, everybody agreed that we must reach the peaceful situation that we want to see through negotiation. That is not a quarrel between us and I quite agree that we have to get into negotiations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, reminded us at the beginning that the recognition of the state of Israel came into being when it was not really in a fit state, so the same would be true of the state of Palestine. However, my mind goes back to the meetings in 1980, to which I referred. Although we did not meet with the Government of Israel, we met with the official opposition, which was then led by Shimon Peres, for whom I have always had a very good regard.
I will end by quoting something that was said by Abba Eban, who was Israel’s first representative at the UN and its Foreign Minister. He said this about the 1967 aftermath:
“The Jewish people fail to understand that there was something contractual in our entry into the world. We promised to share the territory. The present position (that is occupation of the Palestinian territories) is a deviation from our birth. I never knew of a country that could successfully throw its birth certificate away”.
I just hope that in the coming elections in Israel, we will find other statesmen of that calibre to replace the present promoters of government in that country.
House adjourned at 7.19 pm.