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Israel: United States Diplomatic Representation

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 7 December 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to repeat a Statement made today in the other place in response to an Urgent Question in relation to Jerusalem. The Statement is as follows:

“We disagree with the United States’ decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement. We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. The British Embassy in Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it. Our position on the status of Jerusalem is clear and long standing: it should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states. In line with relevant Security Council resolutions, we regard east Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

We share President Trump’s desire to bring an end to this conflict. We welcome his commitment today to a two-state solution, negotiated between the parties, and note the importance of his clear acknowledgement that the final status of Jerusalem, including the sovereign boundaries within the city, must be subject to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We encourage the United States Administration to now bring forward detailed proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. To have the best chances of success, the peace process must be conducted in an atmosphere free from violence. We call on all parties to work together to maintain calm”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question. Through this act, Donald Trump has abandoned America’s role as a peace-broker between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, and done serious damage to his country’s relationships with other regional powers. I therefore welcome the Government’s Statement and the convening of the United Nations Security Council tomorrow. Alistair Burt said in the other House that all the Government’s efforts were to support the move towards statehood for the Palestinians. He also said that this unilateral act would lead to a new role for others to play. Just what steps are the Government taking to work immediately with our other allies to try to fill the mediation role which the United States has now deserted?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. As I say, the position of the United Kingdom is consistent, clear and long standing: the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Jerusalem should ultimately form a shared capital between the Israeli and Palestinian states. We have made clear our disagreement with the decision of the United States. We are simply anxious that nothing should be done to possibly inflame tensions in the area, because the United Kingdom is committed to the Middle East peace process. Just to be absolutely clear, we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel, living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and with a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees. We shall work with our international partners to try to facilitate the attainment of that objective.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is the view of Her Majesty’s Government, and of the UN Security Council, that east Jerusalem is occupied territory? Will the Government not now consider this an opportune moment to follow the recommendation of your Lordships’ International Relations Committee and recognise Palestine as a state?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. Again, we have always taken the view that there has to be a precursor to such recognition, which is a negotiated settlement that offers the prospect of peace. Sadly, that is not where we are at the current time.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the response given in another place, but I hope she will understand that for many of us it is not an adequate response to the situation we find ourselves in. Many of my colleagues on these Benches still harbour hopes of a two-state solution. I have said on a number of occasions that I believe it is dead, and it may be, as some have suggested, that the President of the United States has just buried it. He has not so much released a genie from a bottle as unleashed the demons of the region—and by his actions, not his words. Do Her Majesty’s Government understand that words and disagreement are no longer enough? It is necessary to take action, and the only action this country can reasonably take is the one identified by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: to recognise the Palestinian state immediately, unequivocally and, if necessary, unilaterally because anything else will simply not be understood by the Arab world—indeed, by the Muslim world as a whole—and we will find ourselves conniving at terrible actions simply because we were not prepared to move and do something.

The noble Lord will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with him. The position of the United Kingdom Government is very clear regarding our approach to the Middle East peace process, and to the Israeli and Palestinian states and authorities. We are also clear that we can play a role in facilitating. On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we do act in concert with international organisations and are pleased to do so, but we can be merely facilitators. We cannot interfere or be coercive.

My Lords, will my noble friend answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and confirm that east Jerusalem is, in fact, occupied territory? In the light of the fact that this issue will affect communities across the UK too, will she commend the statement made by Jewish Voice UK? It stated:

“We at @J_VoiceUK would like to make clear that we are bitterly disappointed in @realDonaldTrump’s decision to recognise #Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy. He has effectively alienated the entire Palestinian people”.

I do not want to reiterate to the noble Baroness points that I have already made. The United Kingdom’s position is very clear. We believe that at the heart of this there has to be a negotiated settlement. We are disappointed by the United States’ decision, and that disappointment has been conveyed to the United States. We do not think it was a particularly helpful intervention. At the same time, we are very clear as the United Kingdom about what we are able to do and what we want to continue to do. I think what everyone in the Chamber wants to be reassured about is that the peace process is still alive, that there can be hope and that there are powers in the world acting in concert which want to make that peace process a reality.

My Lords, I, too, ask the noble Baroness to clarify whether the Government consider east Jerusalem to be occupied territory. I welcome the Answer that she repeated as a Statement. I hope the implication is that there is no impact from the Trump decision, and I hope Britain will stand steadfast against any complicity in destabilising the region. I am almost hanging on to the thread when I say that Britain itself has not played an adequate role in creating a peaceful Middle East. In the light of the Prime Minister’s brazen support for the Prime Minister of Israel in celebrating Balfour’s naked declaration, does she believe the prospect of peace in the Middle East and a free Palestine has been lost for ever?

I think I can really deal with only the last part of the noble Baroness’ question. The answer to it is no. We think the peace process is relevant and important and that there is international will and resolve to make it become a reality. We may disagree with the United States’ approach in this matter, and we made that disagreement clear, but that does not in any way detract from our willingness and our desire as a Government to do everything we can to support the continuance of the peace process, and to do that in a positive and optimistic manner.

My Lords, I give a warm welcome to President Trump’s announcement. Am I not right in thinking that in the past 50 years Israel has suffered three massive, unprovoked attacks by its Arab neighbours, who have tried to wipe if off the face of the earth, and is under constant attack by the terrorist organisations Hamas and Hezbollah? In these circumstances, why are we taking advice from Israel’s enemies on where the United States puts its embassy?

I refute the suggestion made by my noble friend that we are taking advice from enemies of Israel. I have made it clear that we do not agree with the decision of the United States. It is not a decision that we intend to support. We shall retain our embassy in Tel Aviv. The overstraddling and all-important issue here—and this is where I disagree with the previous question from the noble Baroness—is that I do not think this is detrimental to the peace process. If there is resolve on the part of Governments and powers to contribute to that process in whatever way they can, it can become a reality.

Does the Minister agree that it is time for a dose of realism? One hundred or so countries have recognised Palestine without it making any difference. Given that Israel has the right to choose its own capital, just as the United Kingdom does, and that all the instruments of government are in Jerusalem, what is the point of having an embassy far away? It is as if Chancellor Merkel had an embassy in Belfast.

The United Kingdom Government decide where our embassy will be. In Israel, it will be in Tel Aviv.

My Lords, is it not now very clear that the President is being advised by the wrong set of people and that soliciting opinions from a family member with close links to President Netanyahu to the exclusion of professionals is going to lead to unmitigated disaster and—I echo others in your Lordships’ House today—bordering on serious instability?

The noble Viscount will understand that it is not for the United Kingdom Government to tell the United States Government what to do. The United States has made its decision in this respect. President Trump has indicated that he still believes in a negotiated two-state solution. It is helpful to hear that. Clearly, he wants to contribute to the peace process if he can. People may have different views about the decision that he has made in relation to his attitude to Jerusalem and the location of the US embassy, but at the same time there is evidence that President Trump wants to make a positive contribution to the peace process.