Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I put in for the ballot for today’s debate just after the terrible slaughter of 62 Palestinians inside the Gaza fence, which included eight children. I should at the outset declare a former interest. I served for seven years as president of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians—and I am delighted to see that the current president, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, is to speak in this debate. During that time I visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza several times, once touring Gaza just after the Cast Lead operation, when I saw for myself the wanton destruction of hospitals, schools and factories in what was described by David Cameron as one vast prison camp.
Before anyone accuses me of being one-sided, let me also say that I spent an afternoon with the local Israeli MP in the Ashkelon area in the south of that country and fully understand the intolerable life of citizens there threatened by rockets fired by Hamas from inside Gaza.
In fact, long before I got involved with MAP, back in 1981, I first met Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, at a time when our Government would not speak to him on the grounds that the PLO was a terrorist organisation refusing to recognise Israel, a mistake that we have repeated with Hamas. As I got to know Arafat over the years, I recognised that he was a brilliant liberation leader but a disappointing failure as head of the Palestinian Administration. Indeed, it was the incompetence and even corruption of that Administration which led to the success of Hamas in the election in Gaza. But those of us who pride ourselves in democracy cannot just give them the cold shoulder because we did not like the result, and yet that is what happened. The lesson of the successful peace process in Northern Ireland should surely have taught us that the only route to peace has to be through dialogue with those we may not like, rather than confrontation.
That brings me to the policy of the current Israeli Government, backed by the United States of America and, sadly, by our own Government. Israel’s great tragedy was the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, who had been relentless in his pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians. The current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is very different. I met him once at a breakfast meeting in Tel Aviv. I admired his obvious ability and indeed swagger. He could, had he so wished, have gone down in history by heading an Administration to pursue a legitimate settlement with the Palestinians based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative, when every member state of the Arab League had offered to recognise Israel and host her embassies in their countries in return for the establishment of a proper Palestinian state. Instead, he has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.
It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit. Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.
I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem. When I was a student in the 1950s, many of my friends, not just Jewish ones, spent their vacations doing voluntary work in a kibbutz, such was the idealism surrounding the birth of the Israeli state, but that is no longer the case.
The reason I joined the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group was that I got fed up with being blamed, as Liberal leader, for the then Government’s Balfour Declaration encouraging the establishment of that state, people forgetting that the famous letter included the words,
“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
The conduct of its present Government is a clear betrayal of the basis on which the Lloyd George Government welcomed a state of Israel.
I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.
The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.
Recently some of us met a couple of Israeli professors in one of our committee rooms. They stressed to us the urgency of staying with UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed as recently as December 2016, which roundly condemns all the illegal activities of the current Administration. It is worth reminding the House of just three of its 13 clauses, beginning with this one:
“Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law”.
A second clause reads:
“Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”.
A third reads:
“Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the grounds that they are imperilling the two-State solution”.
Those are not my words: they are taken from the UN Security Council. My mind went back to 1967 when, as a young MP, I was present when our then UK representative at the United Nations, Lord Caradon, led the drafting of Resolution 242 which was supposed to be the building block for peace after the Arab/Israeli war. My complaint is that the international community, including successive British Governments, have paid only lip service to that and allowed Israel to defy the United Nations and trample on the rights of the Palestinians.
But there are signs of hope. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, knows how high he is held in the opinion of the House and we cannot expect him as the Minister of State to change United Kingdom policy, but when the Statement on Gaza was made in the other place, two senior and respected Conservative ex-Ministers gave strong voice objecting to our current stance. Sir Nicholas Soames hoped that our Foreign Office would,
“indulge in a little less limp response”,
“wholly unacceptable and excessive use of force”,
while Sir Hugo Swire said that,
“one reason it is a festering hellhole and a breeding ground for terrorists is that each and every time there has been an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the Gazans, by doing something about their water … or about their quality of life, Israel has blockaded it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/18; cols. 140-41.]
We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had,
“been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”,
which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.
We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, on securing this very timely debate. I agree with much of what he had to say. The Middle East is currently facing a struggle for hegemony between Iran, Saudi and Turkey. On this occasion, Israel seems intent on joining in. I do not believe that this is about preserving or strengthening Israel’s security but, on this occasion, about physical acquisitions with potentially disastrous implications for the Palestinians. The so-called American deal of the century, if what we hear about it is true, would permanently dispossess the Palestinians of the West Bank. It is an increasingly real threat and one of which we should be very much aware.
At the same time, Israel is my friend, but certain actions cannot pass without comment. We owe our friends our honesty. Over the years, I have often praised Israel and the Israeli people, for whom I have great admiration. But Israeli actions against the Palestinians which are legally and morally wrong should be condemned. It cannot be morally or legally right to lay claim to parts of someone else’s territory by building settlements on it or by building a wall across it, which effectively creates a new territorial border.
Nor is it right, with or without ill-judged United States support, unilaterally to proclaim the whole of Jerusalem the capital of Israel, in the process striking a vicious blow to the search for a two-state solution. Nor is it enough to pray national security requirements in aid of otherwise illegal or immoral acts. No level of threat from Palestinian protests on the border of Gaza can excuse the killing of innocent children or medical staff, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, referred to. Nor can the disproportionate and one-sided shooting of some 70 Palestinian protesters on that same border be anything other than totally unacceptable.
What worries me is the West’s reaction: concern, yes, but condemnation, no. I do not believe that it does anyone any favours to stay our tongue. Perhaps I may say to my noble friend the Minister that I do not believe it is enough to call them either disappointing or disturbing. I have long been a friend of Israel and I remain a friend because I believe in it, but I have no hesitation in condemning its recent behaviour. Equally, I condemn unprovoked acts of violence by those who oppose Israel, but many of them cannot be in the same category of friendship as Israel is to us. Democratic Israel should know better than what it is doing at the moment.
Just as I am a friend of Israel, I am a friend of Palestine. Just as I believe in Israel, I believe without qualification in the statehood of Palestine. I believe in a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. In short, I believe in the two-state solution because I can see no other lasting or fair alternative. But it must be based on fairness, and fairness to the Palestinians is today in very short supply.
My Lords, I am both a long-standing supporter of the Palestinian cause and a friend of Israel. As a British Minister for the Middle East from 1999 to 2001, I worked closely with both Israeli Government Ministers and Palestinian leaders. My background of fighting apartheid, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is recorded. For decades I have favoured the internationally supported two-state solution as the best plan for peace and the fairest outcome, but is this now in any way feasible? Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of his Government and MPs have recently spoken out against it, endorsed by the renewed “Greater Israel” discourse of the growing Israeli right calling for the annexation of Palestinian territories. Negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders have failed, as has a reliance on the US to deliver Israeli co-operation. Europeans, meanwhile, have been unable to deliver the settlement freeze they advocate.
Today, the situation of Palestinians living on their own land resembles a harsh civil rights struggle. Gaza is under Israeli siege. Palestinian life in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is untenable because they have little or no say over the running of a land that has increasingly become an archipelago of isolated Palestinian territorial islands in a sea of Israeli-controlled land, checkpoints, bases and settlements. If Israel’s relentless expansion into Palestinian territories cannot be stopped, we face one of two possible outcomes. The first is that all Palestinian presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem remains in a permanent and ever more formalised “Bantustan” status; islands of minimal self-governance with the continued denial of basic rights, facing perpetual insecurity and possible future physical removal, deprived of full access to water and subject to all manner of restrictions on land rights and free transport across their own territory. The second is that they are absorbed into a common Israeli-Palestinian state with the opportunity for pluralism and human rights advancement.
Tense and difficult though the current standoff may be for Israel, it is not going to be defeated and therefore holds the stronger hand. Would Palestinians, absorbed into their traditional homeland, albeit alongside Jewish citizens with a narrow majority over them, drop their historic grievance and quickly adjust to the new reality? That is optimistic to say the least. But if the window for the two-state solution has indeed closed, should the EU, the US and the UK make it plain to Israel that a one-state alternative may be the only one available to ensure its own security? If so, what guarantees might there be for Jewish citizens both within Israel and worldwide if they agree to this merger? Could the Arab nations join those in the West like the US and the UK to provide the post-World War Two guarantee of “never again”? Could a federal or confederal state provide a way forward, with common security, a unified economy, common civil rights and guarantees of religious freedom for Jews and Muslims, but considerable political autonomy for the territories within it of “Israel” and “Palestine”?
Is it not the blunt truth that we must either undertake a massive social and geographical reverse engineering to re-enable a genuine two-state outcome, with two sovereign independent states based on 1967 lines with equal land swaps—and without all the unreasonable Israeli caveats that drain the Palestinian state of any real meaning—or recognise a common-state reality and make it truly democratic, with enfranchisement and rights for all?
I am making a plea for honesty because it seems that the international community is publicly sheltering behind the policy of a two-state solution, while privately knowing that it has become a convenient mantra rather than a deliverable policy.
My Lords, I will start with violations of the Geneva Convention, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and international humanitarian and human rights law by both sides in the Israel-Palestine story.
Let us start with the Israeli Government. Their actions include: the demolition of homes for which planning permission was repeatedly sought but not granted by the Israeli authorities; the demolition of schools; forcible transfers; illegal settlements on occupied land; the forced evacuation of Palestinian villages such as Khan al-Ahmar, which is under daily threat; the confiscation of land in occupied territory; and collective punishment. The Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, claimed that,
“there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip”,
which has a population of 2 million.
The Israeli Government have also used live ammunition on civilians, including children and health workers. Recently in Gaza, 128 Palestinians—of whom 15 were children—have been killed and over 13,000 injured, many by tissue and bone-destroying ammunition. Among those killed was Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female carrying out humanitarian duties. She was wearing her first-responder vest. Forty ambulances were also hit. This killing of a health worker was described by Mark Regev as “surgical”. On 2 June, the Minister of State requested “urgent clarification” on the circumstances of the death of the young Palestinian, Razan al-Najjar. Has any clarification been given?
I will continue with my list of violations. There is the blockade of civilian populations. A 2012 UNWRA report found that without radical change, Gaza would be unliveable by 2020—many would say that it is unliveable today. Then there is the imprisonment of children, torture, the denial of clean water and the denial of sanitation development. Save the Children reported that three children drowned in pools of open sewage. Then there is the denial of medical assistance, the detention without trial of Palestinians and the restriction of basic construction materials, which runs counter to international classification of dual-use goods. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reports the denial of entry for materials essential for the maintenance and repair of fishing boats. Lastly, there is the imprisonment of conscientious objectors to military service.
Israel is a sovereign state. It has the right to self-defence. But the litany above patently gives a lie to the claim that Israel’s actions can be justified by self-defence. These are the actions of an occupying power, maintaining de facto military control over the occupied territory while brutally subjugating the citizens of the land it occupies.
Let me briefly address forcible transfers. Forcible transfer is a grave offence from an international humanitarian and criminal law perspective, since it amounts to a war crime under both the Geneva Convention and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Let me be clear that the same rules apply on the Palestinian side. However, it would be easier to catalogue abuses if access to Gaza were allowed. Currently, not even MPs can get in.
I ask three things: the Government should recognise the state of Palestine, with no more prevarication; support the UNOCHA humanitarian funding appeal for Gaza and help make up UNWRA’s shortfall since the US’s shameful pulling of support; and, lastly, pursue accountability for all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as violations of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for introducing this debate. I follow him in urging that we should stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in all their current suffering. Perhaps we can recall that Canning and Gladstone in the 19th century stood by the South Americans and the Bulgarians in their suffering.
I have two questions for Her Majesty’s Government. First, will there be a special British contribution to the current Gaza medical emergency? If so, how large will it be? The Minister will know, I am sure, that the International Committee of the Red Cross is providing two surgical teams to do half of the estimated 4,000 necessary operations resulting directly from sniper fire. Other Gazan people have suffered from inhaling tear gas and smoke. One just hopes that the medical system already in existence can cope with that. I support the many calls that have already been made for an independent inquiry into the clashes.
My second question concerns self-determination. Will the Government do all they can to help the Palestinians decide on their own future? Palestinian leaders from the time of Haj Amin al-Husseini in the 1930s right up to President Abbas at the present moment have been much criticised. Some of this criticism may be justified, but the fact remains that Palestinians have never been able to exercise national self-determination. They could not do so in the chaos of 1948-49. It is significant that self-determination was not mentioned in UN Resolution 242 of 1967 or the later Resolution 338. The Oslo agreements were also silent on this point and in themselves did not provide self-determination. We all know that the Palestinian Legislative Council has long ceased to function. Also, millions of Palestinians in exile in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere have never been consulted about their long-term wishes. Israelis, by contrast, have enjoyed the fullest self-determination while Palestinians remain disfranchised.
I suggest that this country has a moral obligation following the Balfour Declaration, which has already been mentioned, and the terms of the Palestinian mandate. The UN also has a moral obligation to remove the causes of war and violence. I agree that it has been frustrated by vetoes in the Security Council, but I must ask: will Her Majesty’s Government honour both of their own responsibilities?
My Lords, in this immensely complex situation, I want to comment on three historic issues which affect contemporary circumstances. The first was what I will call a reaction of the indigenous Palestinian people 70 years ago not to accept the decision of the United Nations to support the establishment of a mainly Jewish state and a separate Palestinian state—we must remember that that was part of the 1947 resolution. It may be that it will not work, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said; it may not have been endorsed later, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, but that was the original plan, and not a later plan, to sort things out. Whether we look back 3,000 years to biblical times, 100 years to the growing Jewish resettlement of Palestine or to the Holocaust, there was, I believe, an inevitability and rightness about the emergence of the modern state of Israel. This clearly required, and still requires, a parallel Palestinian state.
I have visited Israel and the Palestinian territories seven times since I became a bishop. Perhaps the most obvious fact on the ground is Israel itself: an extraordinarily prosperous, modern state whose emergence in just a few decades has almost been a modern wonder of the world for those who see it and a great credit to the Israeli people. It is a tragedy that the indigenous Arab, mainly Muslim, people of Palestine, admittedly with the support of surrounding nations, thought that they could stop the establishment of the modern state of Israel or subsequently destroy it in the disastrous wars of 1967 and 1974. It is a tragedy that a two-state solution was more possible 70 years ago than it is today.
The second mistake was the failure of the United Nations in 1948 properly to manage the emergence of the two new states, as envisaged in the resolution adopted in November 1947. It needed money and a peacekeeping force, and neither was provided. The withdrawal of the British mandate simply left a vacuum, which is not a good story about the responsible action of the United Nations at the time. One result was the refugee camps, with all the problems that have arisen from them to this day. I believe that the international community bears a greater responsibility for today’s problems than we often recognise, although I am not sure whether the Palestinian Arab community could have been helped and persuaded to the two-state solution 70 years ago.
The third major error of judgment, to which reference has already been made, was the Israeli decision to create Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. We have to make some distinctions. The Gaza settlements were handed back to the Palestinian Authority in 2005, with 8,500 settlers removed, some very publicly and forcibly. I went and looked into those settlements at the top of the Gaza Strip a couple of years ago. It seems that nothing has happened on them. I would be interested to know why the Gaza people do not occupy the land that was then released.
Jerusalem is a special and unique case. I do not think that we could simply go back to the pre-1967 lines. However, on the West Bank, I regard the settlement policy as a major political blunder—in political terms, it is equivalent to apartheid; it is a similar type of political error of historic proportions. I cannot see peace without its reversal. Although the Gaza situation is currently in the headlines, the demise of Hamas and the reassertion of a co-ordinated Government of the overall Palestinian areas should focus attention back on the most fundamental obstacle to the two-state solution, the West Bank settlements. Those settlements undermine the moral authority of Israel to promote a lasting solution. Sadly, I have come to think that Israel cannot see a solution, and it is left to the rather brutal management of affairs, as we have so sadly witnessed.
My Lords, I agree with every word that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and find it hard to disagree with any of the speeches that have been made since then. It is an endless cycle of violence when we meet in this Chamber, year in and year out. Of course, we are absolutely right to condemn it, but at the same time we all know that, until there is a political settlement, this cycle will go on, will grow and will get worse.
It is easy to condemn and much more difficult to build. What are the prospects? They do not look good, as everyone so far has said. There is no will among the parties to talk and settle. The Palestinians are divided and weak. The Arab states are preoccupied by the Iranian problem. The Israelis are following the status quo, which means more and more settlements. I remember meeting Mr Shamir back in the 1980s and recording in my diary what he intended as a fait accompli: allow it to happen and then the whole of the West Bank will be settled by Israelis. We are fast moving to a one-state situation, rightly highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, with all the dangers that follow from it. The United States has undermined its own mediating role by moving its embassy to Jerusalem. The international community is supine. The European Union and, of course, the United Kingdom are preoccupied by Brexit. It is not a good situation.
In these circumstances, what should we do? I suggest three things. First, at a people-to-people and community-to-community level, we should help to build trust between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. Admirable organisations such as Forward Thinking are getting Israelis and Palestinians together to talk about practical problems and to impart our experience in Northern Ireland, which is very valuable to many of these people. Other organisations, including a new one called Tracks Of Peace, are creating projects on the ground between Palestinians and Israelis. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, plays a leading role in that and I certainly support him. These are practical things that are long-term and intended to build trust between people.
Secondly, I come to Her Majesty’s Government. Here, I agree with everyone who has said that we have a major responsibility to keep the flames of hope alive. That is our role. We helped to build and recognise Israel in 1948; we must now work vigorously to recognise a new Palestine. That is not happening at the moment. We must certainly do everything multilaterally, working with other countries such as France, Germany and elsewhere to ensure that all the Security Council resolutions are not eroded but maintained, including Resolution 242.
Lastly, we must prepare the ground for the recognition of a Palestinian state. I see no alternative to our leading the international community towards helping to create conditions among the Palestinians that mean they are more unified and we can recognise them internationally. It was a great Finnish mediator for the UN who said:
“Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal”.
It might help, however, if some leaders of the quality and vision of Mandela and de Klerk emerged to help the process forward.
My Lords, I am grateful, as I am sure the whole House is, to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for introducing this debate and for the excellent speech with which he did so. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, said that the question is: what should we, the United Kingdom, do now? I believe that it is time for us to recognise Palestine—that is, for Her Majesty’s Government to recognise it, as the House of Commons and so on already have.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester suggested, it would perhaps have been best if we had been able to recognise Palestine at the time we recognised Israel. That was, after all, the start of the two-state solution, when the United Nations set it down. It had been discussed a great deal but that is when it was first laid down by the UN. The two-state solution has existed since then and it goes on from there.
However, the reasons I support recognition now are not merely historical. The two-state solution, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is at risk because of the huge amount of Israeli building and development in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and because of the ruthless and brutal nature of the occupation, both generally and particularly, of course, in Gaza. The United States has long helped Israel ride roughshod over the United Nations’ authority in that part of the world, and now President Trump and his Administration have broken ranks again by moving the United States embassy. Peace can come only by wide agreement, and in my view British recognition of Palestine would help to redress the balance between the two and change the terms of the argument.
As a matter of fact, it is the symbolism of this that matters most—as it was, indeed, with the recognition of Israel all those years ago. It is the symbolism of moving the embassy that matters most. The present symbolism is of the United Kingdom refusing to recognise Palestine, which 130 out of 193 members of the United Nations have done. Palestine, after all, is a country which Britain told the Security Council in 2011 had developed the capacity to run a state; we said that that was the best way for it to live in peace with Israel. Above all, recognition would give the Palestinians hope. Over the 50 years that I have been going to Palestine and Israel as a result of my wife’s family connections, there have been times when hopes have risen. The Oslo accords were a prime example, when the PLO recognised Israel. But these days it is very difficult to see any hope in the present situation. Of course, when people have no hope they despair, and desperation is the seedbed of terrorism.
So we in the United Kingdom should not simply go round and round the old arguments, deploring the killings, the fighting, the settlements and so on. We should do what we can to move it all forward. We should recognise Palestine as soon as we can.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, all political problems are capable of settlement, however intractable, as we have seen in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Looking at the Israel-Palestine problem I am reminded of the old Polish question, what is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? A pessimist says, “Things cannot get any worse” and an optimist says, “Oh yes they can”. It is so easy to despair of any settlement, looking at the current problems, the continued Israeli control of much of the West Bank, the expansion of settlements, the building of new settlements, the division in the Palestinian leadership which allows Israel to say that there is no negotiating partner, the emigration of many young Palestinians who see no future for them in Palestine, and the threats of a further intifada because of the deep frustrations. All this at a time when Israel has the most right-wing Government in its history and when the US has abandoned any aspiration to be a mediator—as it was, of course, when President Clinton devoted such energy to a settlement and when Secretary Kerry criss-crossed the two areas so frequently.
Then there is Gaza, mired in deep social division, vacated by Prime Minister Sharon only to allow the firing of rockets into Israel. Hamas now admits that 50 of the 60 people killed on 14 May were actually members of that organisation, which plays into the Israeli narrative of their over-reaction.
Then there is the population explosion in Gaza, which is not frequently mentioned. In 1947 there were 250,000 people in Gaza. There are now more than 2 million in that small area. Yet international donors and the UN refuse to do anything serious about family spacing and tackling that population problem, which can lead only to further frustration and extremism.
Externally, the situation for the Palestinians has worsened recently due to a number of factors, such as the turmoil in the region and the fact that Arab Governments appear to have lost interest in the Palestinian cause and make common cause with Israel against Shia Iran. Israel now speaks from a position of enormous strength. Surely there is no better time to seek peace before the demographic problems for Israel mount and the threat from Hezbollah makes frontiers less relevant because of its great arsenal of rocketry.
Prime Minister Netanyahu parrots the possibility of a two-state solution—at least, he has until recently—while his settlements policy makes it impossible, creating facts. Clearly, there is no plan or vision with the objective of reaching any port; the objective is merely to keep the ship afloat, to manage the situation. The Palestinians are led by old men, imprisoned by the past and unwilling to modernise. Abbas plays to the gallery by implying that Jews were partly responsible for the Holocaust and is content to foster hostility towards Israel via the textbooks. There is a policy of illusion, not realism, as shown by the demand for the right of return, which would be the end of Israel. It is unreal, it is nostalgia. Until new leadership can take over, the problems will continue.
Alas, the only way forward is through the micropolicies mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Luce: that is, by building bridges; by exchanging universities; and through technical expertise, including the greening of the desert. All this is possible and is being done in preparation for what, I hope, will ultimately be a settlement. Blessed indeed are the peacemakers but they are all too few in this tragic situation.
My Lords, I would like to ask noble Lords to look at how to actually solve the problem—to provide security and recognition for Israel alongside a viable and non-belligerent state of Palestine. The problem is not only Israel; it is partly because the Palestinians believe that the route to independence is via international pressure on Israel. The Palestinian leadership must take responsibility and be given responsibility for the situation in the Palestinian Territories—which, after all, is the title of the debate.
This will not happen by debates in this House or even resolutions of parts of the international community. It will happen only if Israel and the Palestinians—including Hamas—sit down at the negotiating table without preconditions. Sadly, both sides say they have no preconditions—and then lay down their conditions. The international community has a role, as my noble friend Lord Steel so eloquently said. The role is also to bully or persuade both sides to the negotiating table and to get them to understand long-term realities. That is the role of the US, the EU, the UK, the Saudis, Egypt, the Gulf states and others.
The Palestinians have limited resources but the question is: are those resources used to further the peace process and thus create a Palestinian state or are the Palestinians misusing the powers they have, waiting for the wonderful international community to deliver? The desire to be a martyr seems so opposite to our feelings in the West, and indeed in Israel, where every life is sacred.
A recent report on education, just referred to, includes some graphic examples of this. In the mathematics grade 4 paper, Palestinian students are instructed to calculate the number of martyrs in Palestinian uprisings as part of a maths exercise. A photo of a funeral accompanies the question. Another such question gives the numbers of martyrs of two intifadas and asks students to add the figures together for an answer. Currently, the science grade 7 paper used by the Palestinians on Newton’s second law says:
“During the first Palestinian uprising, Palestinian youths used slingshots to confront the soldiers of the Zionist Occupation and defend themselves from their treacherous bullets. What is the relationship between the elongation of the slingshot’s rubber and the tensile strength affecting it? What are the forces that influence the stone after its release from the slingshot?”
What great education that is.
Other noble Lords ask Israel to vacate the West Bank but, in a land where history is often a guide to current thought, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza 13 years ago. This included the removal of 8,500 settlers —there is not one left there—but this was not met with any hoped-for peace. Noble Lords have spoken about the siege by Israel of Gaza but I remind the House that Gaza has a border with Egypt as well, and that border is more tightly controlled than the one with Israel. Egypt had a responsibility when it ran the Gaza Strip and it has responsibilities now. So yes, blame Israel for its border crossings but there is one with Egypt as well. Why does no one ever mention it?
As recently as 29 May, Hamas fired the largest amount of rockets and mortars since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014. One of those rounds landed in a kindergarten. Hamas uses its limited resources in the wrong way. It is clear that Hamas cares more about destroying the Jewish state, I am afraid, than about the welfare of the Palestinians under its control. It is very sad for those people of Gaza, and indeed of the West Bank, who are suffering. Life in the Palestinian territories cannot be improved by Israel alone. Ultimately there needs to be a two-state solution, agreed at a negotiating table without pre-conditions.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for providing us with this opportunity to express our views. This debate is timely and important not only because the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Robert Piper, has stated that Gaza has crossed the threshold of being unliveable in but because Mr Netanyahu is in London, trying to divert the international community’s attention from Palestine to Iran.
Gaza desperately needs our attention. Access to safe water through the water network plummeted to 3.8% in 2017, so 96% of the groundwater is unfit for human consumption. There is a chronic electricity shortage in Gaza. The WHO has warned that the health system is,
“on the brink of collapse”,
with 42% of essential medicines completely depleted. Permit approval is needed from the Israeli state for patients seeking urgent treatment outside Gaza. Many innocent people have died through denial or delay. Although there are no Israeli forces in Gaza itself, it remains the occupying force. Under international law, the primary obligation to provide for the humanitarian needs of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories rests with Israel.
Since 30 March and the demonstrations regarding the US embassy and the right of refugees to return, Israeli forces have killed at least 121 Palestinians and wounded 13,000, as was stated earlier, including the paramedic Razan al-Najjar. To the best of my understanding, firing on ambulance staff, paramedics and children is against the Geneva convention and is classed as a war crime. Last month, a resolution calling on the UN Human Rights Council to,
“urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry”,
was backed by 29 members, while two voted against and 14 abstained. Does the Minister agree that an independent international investigation is necessary to establish the facts regarding this and the killings of innocent people, with a possible ICC prosecution? Would the UK Government support such an investigation? I do not need textbooks to calculate that 3,838 Palestinians have been killed since 2005, many of them children and women. Last week we saw a draft resolution at the UN that deplored and demanded a halt to the use of,
“excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force”,
by the Israeli military. However, we have seen the Israeli regime flagrantly disregarding international law. State murder is rampant.
I join other noble Lords who have asked Her Majesty’s Government to recognise Palestine as a state alongside the state of Israel, which was promised by the British Government 68 years ago; to call for an end to Israeli settlements and support the right of return; to stop selling arms to Israel that are then used to kill Palestinian men, women and children; to ban British citizens from serving in the Israel Defense Forces; and to stop abstaining from UN and UN Commission on Human Rights resolutions supporting values that we claim are dear to us in this country. The UK Government need to stop treating the Israeli state as if it has some unique right that means it can do what it wants when it wants, including killing and maiming innocent children and women.
My Lords, those in this debate who are friends of Israel, including myself, have no need to fear criticisms of the Israeli government policy on this matter. What an enormous tragedy we face in the Middle East with this problem—an enormous, unconscionable tragedy that has now gone on for 50 years. Saddam Hussein was rightly expelled by the international community after his invasion of Kuwait one year later and everyone supported that, but Israel is still in occupation 50 years later. Many Israeli citizens are now fed up to the back teeth with this policy. The trouble is that the very right-wing newspapers in the British press rarely report anything other than what the Israeli Government say, and indeed what the American Government say. This unspeakable President is the worst in American history; what he has done in Jerusalem is disgraceful. Because of that reporting we get a false picture, but a lot of moderate Israeli people that I know of, along with a lot of the Israeli press and organisations such as Haaretz, B’Tselem and Peace Now, want a change. They want negotiations and they want to see a two-state solution.
Israel is quite rightly the unbeatable military power because when it first began it always needed protection. That having been established beyond all measurements, though—including the illegal holding of nuclear weapons, apparently—Israel is now an established state. It has been so for 70 years, and the celebrations of that were very joyous. Because of that, however, it has the solemn obligation to take the lead in these negotiations. It is not up to Israel to say, “Oh well, there’s no one to negotiate with”. It has to give the lead.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for securing this debate. I agree with everything that he said in his excellent speech; and the noble Marquis, Lord Lothian, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said very similar things: we are friends of Israel but nevertheless we are asking for proper negotiations. Those can come only by Israel taking the lead. It is no use waiting for the hopeless Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who has lost all authority over the Palestinian citizens in those territories. Hamas has made proposals that have been ignored. The 2002 offer by the Arab League was ignored and dismissed out of hand by the Israeli Government of the time, a disgraceful reaction to such a special offer of instant recognition of Israel by all the Arab League member states. That massive problem has never been repaired, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said.
The other part of the tragedy is that we have the two worst leading politicians in Israeli history dealing with this matter. Netanyahu is a hopeless Prime Minister, despite all the publicity that he gets and the glowing support for him from right-wing extremists in Israel. There is a growing number of the latter at the moment, which is a disturbing factor in an otherwise very tolerant and fair-minded country that I always enjoyed visiting, although I must say I do not like going there very much at the moment. Meanwhile I believe I am right that Mr Lieberman is the only Foreign Minister to live in a foreign country; he actually lives in the Palestine Occupied Territories, occupied illegally because the United States has now imposed 37 vetoes allowing Israel to ignore international law, disagree with the international community and do what it likes.
This cannot go on. It is not right for Israel to think that this is a good policy. Israel will suffer as well as this goes on and gets worse. Arab and other countries in the Middle East have different views about these matters and want some action on Israel so that there are proper negotiations. It can be done.
Where is the de Gaulle in Israel? Where is the Rabin? What a tragedy that he was murdered, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said. Where is the de Klerk or the Nelson Mandela? There is no leadership of that quality yet, but it will come as the Israeli public wake up and improve their electoral system, which is very flawed and seriously adds to the extremism of the present political process in Israel in a very disturbing way. It can be done: the will is there. The United Nations must be allowed to ask the international community to respond properly and faithfully in this case.
I refer the House to my non-financial interest as president of CFI and I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for initiating this debate.
Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Ali Jafar from al-Sawahera, near Ramallah. He had just completed his shift as a senior manager at SodaStream at Idan Hanegev industrial park close to Rahat in southern Israel. Among the 250 workers under Ali’s management on that shift were Bedouins, Palestinians, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, all working together in what they themselves call an island of peace. I urge noble Lords to take a look at their short video on YouTube. As of yesterday, they had 2,841,420 views.
Ali himself now has a two-hour commute each way. Previously it was 20 minutes when the factory was in Mishor Adumin. The factory was moved due to the pressure of the need to expand coupled with the pressure mounted by the BDS campaign, because Mishor Adumin is in the disputed territories. I guess that no one from the BDS movement consulted Ali, nor his 800 Palestinian co-workers who lost their jobs, before mounting their campaign. Today, only 90 Palestinians have permits to work at SodaStream. The news is better for the Bedouins of the south, where 500 have well-paid, secure jobs.
For the sake of people such as Ali, for the sake of the 800 Palestinians who lost their jobs, and for the sake of the overriding majority of people in the region, I ask my noble friend to consider the following ideas that are gaining ground and currency in Israel and beyond? I must at this point thank my friend Shlomo Lazar and his creative colleagues.
There may be an historic opportunity where peace can be negotiated now between moderate Sunni Arab states and Israel. The ideas suggest that the Palestinians could be granted a state with interim borders encompassing the vast majority of the Palestinian people. A peace treaty with Saudi Arabia and others could be an acceptable trade-off for Israel to accept the formation of a Palestinian state. Israel and those Sunni nations would enjoy not only enhanced security against common enemies; they could also transform the Arab petrol economies into high-tech powerhouses. Economic advancement could also be the catalyst to benefit the daily lives of the Palestinians.
Let me go one stage further. Peace between Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab states could be had on the basis of the formation of a Palestinian state with expanded access to the Temple Mount. Most experts agree that no true peace can be achieved without a long-term agreement for the Temple Mount. The goal would be that Israel would grant Muslims permanent access to and building rights on most of the Temple Mount, and the Jews be granted permanent access to and building rights on a much smaller portion of the Temple Mount itself.
Negotiations on borders and refugees could be held with the Palestinian state over an extended period and, at the same time, the UK could join the US, the Saudis and other allies to execute a new system of aid, the fund being controlled by the sponsor nations to be put into local infrastructure projects to enhance the Palestinian economy, thus improving the daily lives of Palestinian people to a point where they could demand from their leaders a “warm peace”.
These ideas are indeed creative and, in the time allotted, I have only scratched the surface. The UK and other western Governments must decide. Do we want more of the same policies that have achieved very little over the decades? The time has come to be bold and to seize an historic opportunity to help Ali Jafar and his colleagues. We must move away from the blame game. The UK can take a lead in moving world opinion towards creative solutions that are real and sustainable to ensure a better future for all the peoples of the Middle East.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Polak. There can be no doubt that the Palestinians deserve better. I feel as deeply as anyone about their parlous position, especially those 2 million citizens who exist in a limbo of deprivation in Gaza. But where I depart from some speakers is in ascribing their terrible situation entirely to Israel’s actions. Of course, Israel’s Government are far from innocent, but the Palestinians, and in particular Hamas, must bear some responsibility.
We should remember that in 1947 the UN partition plan divided Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. The Jews accepted what was an almost indefensible thin sliver of land along the coast, while the Arabs immediately rejected what then was a very much larger state, which included a huge piece of land that later became Jordan. What a huge mistake that was. It would have avoided so much pain, bloodshed and death on both sides, and it is unfortunately the case that the Palestinians have continued to reject the very idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Hamas constantly preaches death and destruction for the Jews, and even the seemingly more moderate Mr Abbas has never accepted the Jewishness of Israel. One only has to glance at the Palestinian Authority school textbooks to see how they are feeding their children a frightening anti-Semitic diet.
It is little wonder that attitudes in Israel have hardened and, unfortunately, turned to the right. It is hardly surprising, too, to find that the two-state solution is in very cold storage, when Palestinian attitudes have stalled and one looks at the threats that Israelis see surrounding them on all sides. While the UK Government’s policy is to support a two-state solution—quite rightly in my opinion, as it is the only show in town—for now it is impossible to imagine that it can be achieved when Iran constantly spouts a virulent anti-Semitic diatribe and a keen desire to see Israel and the Jews completely destroyed. The history of the Jews makes them take it very seriously when someone threatens to kill them off. Iran is creeping ever closer to Israel’s northern border, while its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, is pointing over 100,000 armed and increasingly accurate missiles at Israel, ready to fire when Iran dictates. Of course, there is also Hamas, funded and armed by Iran, posing its own threat to Israel from Gaza, not on the same scale, of course, but bad enough for local Israeli residents to rush to their shelters every day. While Israel builds shelters, Hamas builds tunnels.
So with all that going on around them, Israelis are not going to be too happy to have yet another independent Arab state on its long border with the West Bank without a reliable security arrangement. They see that an independent Palestine would soon be vulnerable to an influx of belligerent extremists, probably allies of Iran, as they seek to take over the whole of the Middle East. While Hamas knows that it cannot throw Israel into the sea, as it threatens, it can provoke the sort of response that brings opprobrium on Israel from the international community that we have heard about today. The more Hamas pushes its citizens into the firing line, the better—and the more they refuse medical aid from Israel, and the more they blow up the Kerem Shalom crossing to prevent aid from Israel arriving, both of which they did recently, the more they gain sympathy for their plight. A year or so ago, Hamas prevented the construction of a desalination plant in Gaza, built by UNESCO, because UNESCO wanted to use Israeli technology.
So where are we with the two-state solution? The details have been on the table for many years, but we seem no nearer. Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue to suffer. The only glimmer of hope seems to be the Arab peace initiative, proposed by the Saudis, who may be able to exert some pressure on both sides to reach an agreement. The peace dividend is enormous. I fear that it will be entirely dependent on new and braver leaders on both sides.
My Lords, the 70th anniversary last month of Israel’s recognition as an independent state should have been an occasion for congratulation and for the recognition of Israel’s many achievements in the intervening period, since it struggled against the odds to establish its security and its economic and political viability. But, alas, it was an occasion that was stained in blood as a result of the disproportionate force used that day on the border with Gaza. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said it was,
“a great day for peace”.
If it was that, it was a Carthaginian peace, which is the peace of the grave. If some regard that view as a little harsh, then Israel and its US ally have only to permit an independent international inquiry into the events of that day which, up to now, they have done their best to prevent. Of course, such an inquiry should include the recent launching of rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel.
Israel’s wisest Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, used often to say that the Palestinians,
“never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”,
in the search for peace. For a long time, he was quite right but, now, that affliction has fallen on the Israelis themselves. As, by a long way, the most powerful state in the region, with improving relations with important Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Israelis could now move towards a two-state solution from a position of strength. But there is not the slightest sign of that. Instead, there is just triumphalism and the call for us to recognise what are called the “new realities”, which include the occupied territory of east Jerusalem being part of Israel’s capital. Well, those new realities include plenty of other breaches of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, expanding settlements principal among them. They also include a concept of a greater Israel which, in the not-too-distant future, is likely to leave a majority of Arab inhabitants. That sounds to me a little bit like an apartheid state; I do not think those who say that are wrong but, if that phrase grates, let us at least recognise that it is a colonial situation. This country above all others should recognise that colonial situations based on the use of force are not sustainable in the long term.
What can be done? I make no apology for revisiting the recommendation of your Lordships’ International Relations Committee that the UK should recognise the state of Palestine. In that way at least we could demonstrate that we would not accept anything that fell short of a two-state solution. I know the Government’s response by heart—that this will occur only as part of a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israel dispute. Indeed, I know it so well by heart that I used to use it when I was a working diplomat, and that was 23 years ago. That position had some credibility when there was an active peace process in being; today it has zero credibility and it is a shame that we are still deploying it.
What can be said of US diplomacy in the region, so long regarded—probably correctly under Presidents such as Carter, Bush senior, Clinton and Obama—as the indispensable ingredient to any peace settlement? Well it is not that any more. It resembles more the activities of a child with a box of matches wandering around a store room full of cans of petrol. Whether President Trump’s shift of the US embassy to Jerusalem was born of ignorance of the likely consequences or of a desire to please his evangelical electorate, it makes the prospect of any US initiative prospering vanishingly small. That leaves the Europeans, the UK among them, in a fix. Of all the outside powers, the Europeans have the most to gain from a settlement and the most to lose from a continuation of the present inflammable impasse.
The case for attempting, even in the present extremely unpromising circumstances, to keep some peacemaking activity in being seems compelling, as too is the case for continuing to support the UN’s humanitarian work in Gaza and the West Bank, and for filling in any shortfalls caused by US intemperant desistance. I hope that the Minister, in replying to this debate, will say that we intend to follow up all these points, including recognition.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for his powerful introduction to this important debate.
A couple of weeks ago, my son and his girlfriend recommended that I listen to the 2016 “Desert Island Discs” recording of a remarkable man called David Nott. A leading vascular surgeon in the UK, he also dedicates his time and expertise to help those in war-ravaged countries. He has worked in Syria and Sudan, and in 2014 he was in Gaza. I defy anyone who listens to him not to be moved to tears. In a week, among many weeks, where too many people have died, the inexcusable shooting of Razan al-Najjar, a young nurse volunteering to help injured demonstrators—who had her hands in the air—makes it hard not to cry again for the sheer waste of life we have witnessed.
I mentioned David Nott so that I could pay tribute to the extraordinary number of British medics, and those from other countries, who regularly and tirelessly travel to Gaza to operate, to train, to rehabilitate and to help mend the less obvious injuries—the broken minds of those living with life-changing injuries—and to treat the effects of life under occupation of some 290,000 children who, according to the UN, are in need of psycho-social support.
In this I declare my interests as set out in the register, especially, as already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, as president of Medical Aid for Palestinians. I am enormously proud of the wonderful work that it and other exceptional organisations undertake in difficult and often harrowing circumstances. Across the OPTs, MAP does many things, from mobile clinics to complex surgery, and in 2016, in answer to the urgent need of the then 11,000 Palestinians injured in Gaza, many who had lost limbs, we established, in partnership with the Ideals Charity, founded by leading British surgeons, a permanent limb reconstruction unit at the Al-Shifa Hospital. It is now run entirely by a dedicated team of Palestinian surgeons, nurses and technicians, and, tragically, will be greatly needed for many years to come.
All this, and all the extraordinary work that other British charities undertake for the dignity of the Palestinian people, would be impossible without the generosity of donors, many from the Jewish community. Here I also place on record thanks to all the Israeli organisations which do so much to help their neighbours. Thanks should also go to the Government—to the FCO and to DfID—for all that they have done over the years and throughout the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but particularly for the money they have just given to the International Committee of the Red Cross for help in Gaza with extra surgeons, equipment and desperately needed drugs.
Last week the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel into a kindergarten—where, thank God, no one was injured—was rightly condemned by Governments across the world. These actions of the Islamic Jihad movement and Hamas do nothing to bring about a just and lasting peace and, like all acts of violence, ultimately do nothing to help the Palestinian cause. But the Palestinians in Gaza have every right to protest against the circumstances in which they live. With over half the population living in poverty and with chronic unemployment, they suffer food and water shortages, only four hours of electricity a day, shortage of medicines and, too many times, denial to leave Gaza for cancer treatment or to accompany their children to hospitals elsewhere. Despite being well educated, entrepreneurial, resourceful, resilient and just decent, good people, they are powerless to change these circumstances, because they are not in control of their own destiny.
Palestinians in Gaza and throughout the Occupied Territories simply long to enjoy the civil rights which we all take for granted and the freedom to live ordinary lives. Recognition of the state of Palestine would be the first step in that long journey.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Steel for initiating this debate. As a staunch friend of Israel, and vice president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, I am adamant that Israel’s long-term security depends on achieving a just settlement with the Palestinians. Israel cannot be a healthy democracy when it lives alongside poverty, misery and despair and occupies the territory of a resentful people. A colonial occupation morally demeans Israel as well as harming Palestinians, so Israel needs a Palestinian state—but preferably as a result of a political negotiation.
While I have no problem in principle with unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, I never get an answer when I ask how that helps to catalyse the final-status talks. No answer has come so far today, either. I found the creative ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, very interesting and I will perhaps find out more about them from him afterwards. I am very clear about my own strong criticisms of the Israeli Government, whose political feelings are rather far from my own. These have been enumerated: the “Greater Israel” concept, which is total anathema to me; illegal settlements; disproportionate lethal force without independent investigations; the encouragement of the US embassy move to Jerusalem; withholding revenue from the Palestinian Authority; administrative detention, including of children—all these I deplore.
However, Israel has a right—as does Palestine—to live in security, and to have its existence recognised, including by its neighbours, as a homeland for the Jewish people and those of predominantly Jewish identity; these are terms I much prefer to “Jewish state”. I agree completely with my noble friend Lord Palmer and with much of what has been said by other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Turnberg, about the responsibilities and failings of the Palestinian leadership as well as those of Israel—not least, the glorification of violence and antisemitism. Many years ago, I went to a Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank—to a hospital; the walls were covered with pictures of AK47s, which I found completely wrong.
In the context of Palestinian responsibility, it is very unhelpful that the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories is mandated to look at violations committed only by Israel, not by the PA, Fatah, or Hamas, some of which have been well documented by bodies like Human Rights Watch. The UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process is, in my opinion, more balanced. He documents that, between 28 and 30 May, over 200 projectiles, rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza towards Israel. Most were intercepted but 77 were hits and, as other noble Lords have mentioned, one was on a kindergarten yard. Mr Mladenov called such acts “completely unacceptable”. He also pointed out that rockets fired from Gaza had damaged electricity installations on the Israeli side, resulting in a reduction of over 30% in the only electricity supply to Gaza, which is somewhat of an own goal.
This is not the fault of Israel; neither was the destruction of the infrastructure that the Israelis left behind in Gaza when they pulled out. The special rapporteur is obliged, alongside condemnation of Israel, to point out that punitive measures imposed on the authorities in Gaza by the Palestinian Authority continue to impact negatively on the human rights and humanitarian situation of Gaza’s residents—so there is more balance here. Therefore, although I very much agree with the weight of responsibility on Israel, I believe this is also shared by the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas.
My Lords, I am inclined to welcome the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, but my question is: how far would Mr Netanyahu’s Government support that initiative? The problem seems to me to be that there are two camps in Israeli politics and one is moving further away from a serious two-state solution. We hear from time to time, indeed increasingly, that that there is a God-given right—as with the whole territory of Gaza—for the settlements on the West Bank, which are growing apace, to be a permanent part of the state of Israel.
That sort of view is growing in Israel; I hope the noble Lord, Lord Polak, is right that an opposite or different view is also growing. I have to mention President Trump and, perhaps, Moscow here. We have to find out who can be party to this initiative. As has been mentioned, it obviously cannot be just Saudi Arabia. If we are not careful, with any such initiative, people will ask who is behind it—we all know the name of that game.
Let us consider the views of the man on the moon: the middle ground in Israel should reflect on whether he would say that Israel is being over-confident and paranoid at the same time. What would be the advice of the man on the moon? I have special contact with him, so I think the answer might be that this is an opportunity we must take to ensure there are some credible players who will go along with such pressure. I hope the Minister can respond to that, even though this may not be precisely what is in his brief at the moment.
I was very taken with the comment by my noble friend Lord Hain—who knows a thing or two about the Northern Ireland question—that some very interesting lessons can be learned, not least from the policy of “we never talk to the IRA” and other such analogies. Some big players, including the President of the United States, were heavily involved on the ground in the peace process there. Does the Minister think the European Union—which I believe in this sphere we should continue to be part of or, in the modern argot, closely aligned with—should take part in that strategic pressure?
Finally, on the point about Jerusalem, the UN co-ordinator says:
“Given its importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Jerusalem is a highly sensitive and charged issue for millions of believers around the world. Therefore, upholding the status quo at the holy sites remains critical for peace and stability.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury made the point, during an interesting debate recently about the position of Christianity in the Middle East, that we have to recognise there are three religions in Jerusalem—there have been for quite a few years now—and this should be a factor when we look at the future of Jerusalem. We have to have a balance of equals. At the moment, the question is: can we get the balance of forces from outside to recognise the need for that equality of recognition?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on obtaining this important debate and on his characteristically forensic analysis. I shall focus on Gaza, which I have visited several times, and on recent events there.
After a decade of blockade, Gaza remains an open-air prison—David Cameron’s description, I think—that was described by the UN as unliveable in. Half this prison population are children, who live without hope, and unemployment is at about 45%. Water is undrinkable and raw sewage pours into the sea. The great majority of people live on humanitarian aid. If they are lucky, they have four hours or so of electricity a day. The head of Israeli military intelligence, Herzl Halevi, has warned his Government that Gaza will “blow up” eventually.
Despite Gaza’s grim situation, the protests around Nakba Day on 15 May were relatively moderate. In so far as any protesters were armed, it was with catapults and stones, some Molotov cocktails, admittedly, and a few flaming kites. At a press conference on 10 May, the Hamas leadership congratulated its personnel on abstaining from gunfire—a rare event. It seems that only one Israeli soldier was injured. On the evidence available, little attempt was made to disperse protesters by non-lethal means such as tear gas or water cannon. In that situation, the Israeli military behaved like people auditioning for a Sam Peckinpah film, killing at least 50 Palestinians and probably more. Estimates vary upwards from 60 to 100 and include about 10 children. Many of those killed were shot in the back while running away or had their hands up. On Israeli intelligence’s own assessment, fewer than half of those killed were said to be, to use its own term, “Hamas militants”—whatever that means.
In addition, it was claimed by Time magazine in its edition of 28 May that,
“Israeli soldiers methodically cut down some 2,700 Palestinians”.
That number has subsequently risen. Some of the victims were children playing football too close to the border and some were health workers. This was not Israel defending its homeland; it was an international atrocity that needs to be investigated by the United Nations. Does the Minister agree that the UN should be involved?
We should not be surprised by this episode, because the IDF have form on the use of disproportionate force. For example, in 2014 another 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli invasion of Gaza, when Israeli deaths were about 50. The truth is that, after 50 years of illegal Israeli occupation, Palestinian lives now have a very low value for many Israelis. To many outsiders, Israeli soldiers look a bit like James Bond and seem to be licensed to kill by their political and military command structures. Those in authority politically know only too well that they face no effective deterrent response from the Governments of the US, the UK, Europe or other Arab countries.
We should perhaps reflect on the views expressed by the late and—by me—lamented Gerald Kaufman MP, who was the son of Polish Jews and whose grandmother was killed by the Nazis. Gerald once described Israel as a “pariah state” requiring the application of economic sanctions. After recent events in Gaza, I think that he had a point. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, the UK Government should now follow Parliament’s lead and recognise a Palestinian state as a response to this latest Israeli outrage.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for his distinguished leadership.
Although I welcome yesterday’s report that our Prime Minister has raised concerns with the Israeli Prime Minister about the state-perpetrated and indiscriminate violence by Israeli forces against unarmed women and child protesters, I cannot fathom why the UK Government abstained last month in a crucial vote on the UN Human Rights Council resolution seeking an independent investigation following the killing of an estimated 110 unarmed Palestinian protesters and the injuring of more than 12,000.
The abstention by our Government was utterly unjustified. It was said to be on the basis that the investigation would not include an investigation into the actions of what they referred to as “non-state actors”—Hamas. I find it extraordinary that the Government refuse to accept that the investigation is a direct response to what the UN Security Council refers to as,
“the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians”.
Our Government must surely be aware that such a request for an extension to the terms of the investigation to include Hamas will be seen simply as an irrelevant, politically driven diversion to avoid accountability, and that Britain will be seen only as safeguarding Israel and being devoid of any care for the plight of Palestinian people.
What assessment have our Government made of the implications of failing to challenge such breaches by Israel, not only in terms of international human rights laws and the potential impact on the ever-growing international terrorist threat but in terms of the long-term danger of repression, state-inflicted killings, such as the murder of Razan al-Najjar, and the brutalised generation of young people growing up imprisoned in the appalling inhumane conditions inflicted on every man, woman and child in Gaza?
Does the Minister accept that it is time to stand up to the truth that the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by Israeli forces is morally indefensible—a charge repeatedly made in this House and outside by many, including the former Foreign Office Minister and chairman of the Conservative Party, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, in the aftermath of merciless killings in 2014 by Israeli forces, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip dead?
Does the Minister accept that the Government’s current position does not stand up to scrutiny in this regard and that it is inconsistent with our values, specifically our utmost commitment to uphold the rule of law, which we rightly advocate at home and internationally? Given that Israel appears on our list of countries with a human rights record “of significant concern”, is it not time for Britain to review its position on selling arms to Israel, which is at odds with our laws and our fundamental British value of protecting innocent citizens globally?
Will the Government condemn outright Israel’s announcement this week that it intends to build 3,900 new illegal-settlement homes on the West Bank? It is worth noting that one of our own Ministers, Sir Alan Duncan, last year claimed that the West Bank settlements were a “wicked cocktail” of illegality and occupation, and that those who supported them should be barred from public office? Do the Government accept Sir Alan Duncan’s advice that only the illegal settlements stand in the way of lasting peace in the Middle East?
Is it not time for our Government to accept that their complicity and silence are wrong, and that continued blind appeasement of Israel is untenable, while we justify our inaction and not calling for sanctions by demonising Hamas, which has a democratic mandate, whether we like it or not? Will the Minister accept the legitimate right of occupied Palestinians to protest and to demand an end to the crippling Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade of Gaza?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has been in Parliament since 1965 and has espoused many causes since that time, I remember, including Palestine. Like him, I have been a supporter of voluntary organisations such as MAP and I have great pleasure in joining him in this debate. The background is that, while they were remembering those important dates of 1947 and 1967, at least 116 Palestinians, including 14 children, were killed by Israeli troops, and 13,375 have been injured in clashes on the Gaza-Israel border during the weeks since March. That happened during demonstrations against two terrible but distinct situations: Gaza’s deteriorating living conditions and the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
I visited Gaza as a member of Christian Aid’s board some years ago and I can well remember the conditions there and the organisations involved. We have already heard that ambulances and medical staff were targeted in that event. One of those killed last Friday was a 21 year-old volunteer medic, Razan al-Najjar, from Christian Aid’s partner organisation, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. Razan was shot by Israeli forces as she provided vital medical assistance to injured protesters in Gaza.
I fully understand that our primary concern today is humanitarian. We have heard on that side that the ICRC is sending surgeons and trauma experts and we urgently need to help 11 hospitals to cope with the increased need for surgical equipment, drugs and dressings. For the longer term, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned UNRWA, which is in need of more support. However, it is events like these that should also focus the minds of politicians in Israel, in the US and in the EU. There is a much wider danger to Israel involving Hamas, Hezbollah and others, but that is not for today. There was an event in Westminster Hall about Hezbollah yesterday. We cannot expect the people of Gaza to tolerate, as they have, such disproportionate and destructive action for much longer. Many people in Israel too are demanding a rethink of policy, whether it is a two-state or a single-state solution, and I hope that our Government are rethinking their own interpretation of Balfour and what that might mean for a new state of Palestine.
Christian Aid and 12 other aid agencies have made a strong protest on behalf the Palestinians. Many of those organisations are in Palestine. The statement says:
“Palestinians in Gaza are demanding their rights and dignity, which cannot be achieved under permanent closure, occupation and displacement. We call on the UK Government to reconsider its position on the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry. In addition, the UK Government must call on Israel to fully adhere to its international legal obligations as the occupying power in Gaza, and work intensively with its international partners to bring the closure and the occupation permanently to an end so as to finally realise the rights of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and dignity”.
That speaks for itself.
I have just one question for the Minister about creeping diplomacy. How can we ensure that, with the US decision, our consulate and consulates of the EU will not inevitably be upgraded into embassies?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for securing this debate and refer to my entries in the register of interests.
We may differ in our opinions, but this debate surely shows that we are united in our sorrow at the tragic situation that the world saw played out on the Gaza border only a few days ago. I seek neither to judge nor to justify the Israeli response, only to attempt to rationalise why a country would seek to defend itself so robustly. Israel has been accused of using excessive force. Fear often informs the use of force, so I simply ask: can anyone accuse Israel of excessive fear? What might excessive fear look like? I wonder whether it might look like the reaction I had when I saw the crematorium at the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp on my recent trip to Poland with March of the Living. Abandoned intact by the Nazis as they fled the rapid Soviet advance, the ovens, the pipework and valves were practical and almost pristine, a model of German engineering—so much so that the ovens looked as if they could be turned back on tomorrow. I saw the unimaginable with my own eyes and it terrified me.
It is so much easier to criticise Israel from the safety of this Chamber rather than imagining ourselves as Israelis in one of the 28 communities living within five kilometres of the Gaza border fence. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, and my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton mentioned the Israeli kindergarten that was fired on with a mortar recently. I wonder whether we would accuse the parents of the young children attending that kindergarten of excessive fear. The leader of Hamas recently declared that he would,
“take down the border and tear out their”—
the Israelis—“hearts from their bodies”. Was he talking about soldiers? No. In the 24 hours before infiltration attempts on 14 May, maps were distributed on Gazan social media detailing the fastest route to reach Israeli civilians in the closest communities to the fence.
I cannot accuse Israel of excessive fear. The Hamas terrorist regime hates Israel just for being. It is a hatred that we have never encountered. Israel’s citizens’ fear is commensurate with the actual threat and with the trauma of knowing that their people were victims of attempted annihilation within the lifetimes of some noble Lords; we are honoured to be joined by a Holocaust survivor today.
Like all who have spoken, I long for peace, but would the Minister agree that the Hamas terrorist regime’s violent rejection of Israel’s right to exist is a recipe not for peace but for the perpetuation of suffering?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for having secured this debate and for the masterful way in which he introduced it. I also want to put on record my appreciation to a number of organisations deeply involved in the issue, there among the people struggling with the situation, and thank them not only for their work but for the excellent briefs that they supply based on the authority of experience.
Firing rockets on Israel is wrong and counterproductive, but we must see it in context—years of harsh and highly damaging blockades, which leave Gaza struggling to survive, its health service tottering, its schools in a parlous state.
There is the issue of the military courts which are still being operated by Israel, particularly for the young, and operating in contravention of the Geneva conventions and international law. There is the constant daily harassment of people living in the West Bank and recently we have seen the United States, significantly, in its human rights report for the area fail for the first time to mention the term “occupied territories”.
There are certainly two sides to this story. We need to thank a lot of people, among them the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, who does a valiant job on our behalf; UNICEF for its telling observations that remind us of our overriding moral responsibility for the well-being of children; the incredible work of UNRWA over the years with limited resources, particularly in the sphere of education; and UNHCR. I was glad to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, make the point about the very many people within Israel itself who courageously and selflessly put themselves voluntarily at the disposal of the Palestinian people to help their well-being. We need also to take the OCHA appeal very seriously and I hope that the Minister will update us on our latest response to that appeal and what we intend to do to increase our support.
We cannot escape the issue of Jerusalem and the provocative action by the President of the United States which was designed to destabilise the region. I am convinced that we have to stay with the two-state approach, but if we are to do that, the recognition of Palestine cannot be delayed. It is absolutely imperative that if we mean what we say about a two-state solution, and if we really respect the Palestinian people, we have to give them equal status with the people of Israel, and that involves recognition.
I too would like to record my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for securing this important debate. I believe that the Bible has something to say about the difficulty of trying to build a structure on sand. It is equally difficult to try to build peace on the politically motivated prejudice and hatred that we see in Israel and Palestine. Seeing others as lesser beings through the distorting lens of prejudice has long been a cause of conflict in much of the world. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, was a witness to terrible suffering from claims about the superiority of one belief over those of others and he bravely declared that despite superficial differences of diet, dress and faith, we were all equal members of one human family. A world reflecting on the horror and carnage of two world wars also gave expression to the same sentiments in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which emphasises the common humanity, dignity, equality and human rights of all members of our one human family.
The root cause of the tragedy of Palestine today lies in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which contained two irreconcilables. In the questionable belief that Jews could prosper only in a country of their own, it promised a Jewish state in the land of Palestine while paradoxically stating that nothing would be done to harm the civil and political rights of those already living there. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have seen a constant erosion of their rights and the seizure of their land by the new state of Israel, sadly helped by the United States, Britain and other European powers. Nothing can justify Israel’s expansion of its borders to twice its original size or the creation of dozens of settlements in the dwindling remaining area of Palestine. Legitimate anger against these policies is met by brute force, often against unarmed civilians. We have seen the systematic demolition of Palestinian property and the eviction of Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank. In Gaza, with 40% unemployment and people starving, all access by land, sea or air is controlled by Israel.
The much talked about two-state solution, with large Israeli settlements dotted right across Palestinian territory, is now completely unviable unless Israel withdraws to its 1948 boundaries. Even if that were possible, I would still be concerned. Two-state solutions are a sure way of converting transient suspicion and distrust to permanent hatred. Think of India and Pakistan with two full-blown wars, Cyprus and, closer to home, the partition of Ireland and the ensuing century of violence. I believe that the way to more enduring peace lies in a single state in which both communities enjoy equal rights and recognise common interests of peace, security and economic well-being, as well as the support of the western powers. That can begin with small initiatives and lead to wider collaboration and a lasting peace built on mutual respect.
My Lords I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on obtaining this debate, but sadly it gives me no pleasure to take part because this matter has gone on for far too long.
It is some 50 years since the Six Day War, when the intentions of the Zionist movement became clear: to carry on expelling and killing Palestinians, and grabbing their land and their homes until the ambition of a greater Israel is achieved from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. It is not fooling us any longer. Our Government have stood by feebly, often abstaining on UN resolutions while slaughter and dispossession continue, bleating about a two-state solution and refusing to recognise the state of Palestine. We recognise Israel, of course we do, but which Israel is that? Where are its borders? What are we recognising? If that is the excuse for not recognising the state of Palestine, it applies to both states, and both states should be recognised as soon as possible, as many noble Lords have said.
The most recent excuse given by the Government for abstaining from UN resolutions and taking no action against the Israeli Government is, of course, the activities of Hamas. Most recently, our Government would not condemn Israel for the killings during the “Great March of Return” in Gaza because Hamas might have had a hand in it. Slings and stones were used against one of the strongest armies in the world with a nuclear arsenal. The Israel Defense Forces were shooting indiscriminately at children and medical personnel, as well as other Gazan people. Shame on them and shame on us for not reacting.
What if Hamas did have a hand in it? What if it did? I would remind this House that the Government of Israel helped to create Hamas. It is the product of Israeli Government policies, not the cause of them. A legitimately elected Hamas Government were prevented from taking office in 2006—never forget that—and we are supposed to be democrats.
Gaza, as we have heard, is a toxic slum and will be uninhabitable by 2020, according to the United Nations. Nearly 2 million people, over half of them youngsters, are being slowly squeezed to death, with no prospects of a future. Of course they protest, and they do so as violently as they are able. Many of them would rather die than continue as they are.
But we say, “It’s not our fault. Balfour was a long time ago. We have to have the international community with us. We cannot do anything”. We listen to the Government of Israel trying to make Iran the object of our attention. We obey our masters in the United States of America, who obey the Israel lobby, as I suggest we do here. Of course, we must listen to the trade gods of Brexit.
For the sake of Jewish people who do not support the present Government in Israel, for the sake of the Palestinians, for the sake of the wider Middle East and for the conscience of our nation, I beg this Government of ours to take action, stop selling arms to Israel, impose sanctions and support justice for Palestine.
My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in introducing the debate was quite outstanding. It is not the first time that I have heard him speak here and in the other House on both this issue and apartheid. If only people had listened to some of the things that he has said on these issues over the years.
One thing struck me in particular, which I think is worth repeating. My memory in Parliament does not go back as far as the noble Lord’s—although I speak from 40 years of experience—but he mentioned how the mood has changed and how it was dramatically different when such debates took place. Overwhelmingly, debates 40 years ago did not recognise the rights of the Palestinian people. Most of them were described as terrorists for wanting a Palestinian state. This time, the position has been dramatically reversed. I have noted that as the speeches have gone along. By my reckoning, 17 of the 25 speeches so far have been massively understanding of the unremitting plight of the Palestinians. I hope that that, if nothing else, might occasionally make people on the other side of the argument think. I have to put it in those terms to acknowledge that opinion is moving—and not, either here or internationally, to the side of the position that has been adopted by the Israelis.
For all that, the debate, although important, has been profoundly depressing. I do not think that anyone seriously expects anything to change. In the four minutes I have, my message is this: something has to change. With great respect, I am afraid that I know what the Minister will say: that he supports the two-state solution, condemns violence on both sides and wants to support the Middle East peace process. I have read those words from where he is sitting from time to time over the years, but something must change. What can the British Government do? Things are not static; they are getting inexorably worse. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, the International Relations Committee in the Lords—which I am very pleased to be a member of—said this a year ago about the two-state solution:
“On its current trajectory, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is on the verge of moving into a phase where the two-state solution becomes an impossibility and is considered no longer viable by either side”.
Will anyone in this Chamber say that its assessment was not accurate? No.
Nor can anyone say that things are not now substantially worse than they were 12 months ago when that statement was made, apart from the almost predictable number of Palestinians killed in the 12 months following that statement, the US declaration on Jerusalem and the continuing growth of settlements. Occupation and settlements are somehow treated differently when Israel is doing it. Israelis ask why the world picks on them, but when states occupy neighbouring states, the international community takes action, by and large—it certainly did when Russia was occupying neighbouring states—but 50 years down the track I can see no such action here, other than people saying, “Please don’t build these settlements”. Well, the Israelis have long since not bothered to take much notice of that.
We can do one thing, which the International Relations Committee recommended. We could be just one country, among the 136 states of the United Nations, or 70% of its membership—although we are not among them at the moment—that recognises a state of Palestine. We will take as read the Minister’s commitment to the two-state solution and the condemnation of the settlements, but I ask him—I know that he cannot do this on his own authority, but perhaps he can with the rest of the Front Bench—to listen to the many voices in this House asking him to give the Palestinians, amidst all the suffering and bloodshed, the dignity of hearing that we recognise their right to a state and will join forces with the vast majority, and increasing number, of UN states that know that this is the right and proper thing to do.
My Lords, I entirely support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I also thank my noble friend Lord Steel for securing the debate. I agree with him that although this is a profoundly depressing debate, it is important for our concerns about the worsening situation in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people to be put on record in this House again. This issue seems to be so easily forgotten by the outside world. Like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I hope the Government will support the state of Palestine. I also hope, as has already been said, that they will condemn the action taken on 14 and 15 May; provide immediate access for urgent relief, medical supplies, food and water; and support an independent inquiry into the recent events.
At this stage of the debate, when a great deal has been said, I want to highlight the plight of children in particular. A UNICEF report from 2017 stated:
“The 2014 Israel-Gaza war took a heavy toll on Gaza’s children: more than 500 were killed, 3,374 were injured—nearly a third of whom suffer permanent disability—and more than 1,500 were orphaned. Hundreds of thousands were left in trauma”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said the same thing. The report also stated:
“The war devastated infrastructure that was already teetering on the brink of collapse. The … health sectors were particularly hard hit … 258 schools and kindergartens were damaged, including 26 schools that are beyond repair. Seven health facilities were destroyed and 67 hospitals and clinics were damaged”.
I would ask noble Lords who spoke earlier about schools to consider that.
The report described Gaza as,
“one of the most densely populated areas on earth”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, Gaza will soon “blow up”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said, we cannot allow the complete misery and desperation of the people who live there to continue. Gaza has an unemployment rate of nearly 44%. Nearly 80% of the population is dependent on international aid. It is even worse for people between the ages of 15 and 29: more than 60% of them are out of work. So, there are plenty of reasons for protests to continue. The people of Gaza are justifiably angry. They have no wish to see their children die in a fruitless struggle but they are cooped up in what they often call the world’s largest prison.
In highlighting the plight of children and young people, we have to consider that any peace or solutions to the problems must involve them. The younger generation, who have heard all the old stories and history, need special investment to enable them to build trust and harmony. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, talked about various initiatives and the noble Lord, Lord Polak, mentioned some of the schemes that he knows about where successful partnerships have been initiated. Of course, we all recognise the need for security, but occupation is the fault line that undermines a successful democracy such as Israel. History shows that military occupation cannot be sustained indefinitely, and it is hard to see how any peace initiative can be sustained with the current situation in Gaza. It is essential to restore public services, education, health, water and fuel. Before any peace process begins there must be confidence that this will happen and that the blockade will be lifted. As I said at the beginning, I also support recognition of the Palestinian state. I hope that the Government will take a strong and active lead in making progress.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, very much for tabling this Motion and his incredibly powerful speech. Before saying more, I assert that concern for the people of Palestine is entirely legitimate. It is quite strange that one feels a sense that one needs to say that. It is shocking that anyone who expresses such concerns is dismissed by some as anti-Semitic. Some of the people I most admire in this House and in the wider world are Jewish. I am no anti-Semite. However, as a supporter of human rights and fair treatment of all people, I strongly support the substantial minority of Israeli citizens who are profoundly embarrassed and, indeed, profoundly angered year on year by the unlawful and cruel behaviour of their Government.
The UK, of course, has a huge responsibility for the unfolding disaster in the Palestinian lands. We need to remind ourselves, as others have done, of the British commitment to the Palestinian people at the time of the Balfour Declaration. We know that Commander Hogarth was sent to Jordan to provide assurances to King Hussein. These assurances were incredibly important. Had the UK honoured those commitments the situation in Palestine and Israel would never have developed as it has. Commander Hogarth’s assurances will have been quoted in this House many times over the years, but I will quote them again. The UK said at the time that,
“we are determined that no people shall be subject to another”.
Britain supported the right of the Jews to go to Palestine, but only in so far as this was compatible with the freedom of the existing population, both economic and political.
As a British person, if I am honest, I feel ashamed of my country for our treatment of the Palestinian people at the outset of this saga. In the end, Britain’s failure to deal with the Israel-Palestine conflict fairly from the start has not been in the interest of either community. The UK, more than any other country, surely has an obligation to the Palestinian people.
One entirely cost-free action, as others have said, would be the recognition of Palestine as an independent state. There are overwhelming reasons for us to take that action. Parliament voted in favour of recognition of Palestine by 274 votes to 14 in October 2014. Why did we not honour that commitment by our Parliament at that time? More than 136 of the 193 UN member states already recognise Palestine, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, quoted. What on earth has Britain been doing remaining outside that overwhelming majority of UN member states? We have already waited far too long. When we recognise Palestine, the remaining European laggard countries may well join us.
The recognition of Palestine has become urgent to sustain the two-state solution, which, as many noble Lords have said, is being eroded before our eyes by illegal settlement expansion on an unprecedented scale. The US is no longer a reputable international player while the current President remains in office. The role of Europe has become far more important than ever before.
The recognition of Palestine is important to differentiate legally and politically between the legitimate Israel founded in 1948 and the Israeli settlers in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which, of course, are illegal under international law. Our Government consistently condemn the settlements but up to now have taken no meaningful action. Again, recognition of Palestine would send a very strong signal to Israel’s Government: get on and sort out the two-state solution. I urge the Minister to support the call of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for UK recognition of Palestine without further delay.
My Lords, I begin with the usual declaration of non-financial interests as in the register. I have been to Israel dozens of times since my first trip in 1972 and have come to admire the only country in the Middle East where Jews, Christians, Muslims, gays and atheists can flourish in total equality and freedom. I also chair the Jerusalem Foundation in the UK, which invests substantial funds to promote coexistence and relief from poverty for all citizens of Jerusalem, including east Jerusalem.
How did we get to this position where living cheek by jowl is one nation that is booming, prosperous, free and self-confident, ranking 11th in the happiness ranking—the UK, by the way, is 19th—next to the desperate and heart-wrenching sight of its closest neighbour and near twin at birth, many of whose people are clearly suffering and desperately unhappy? Arguments over who had historical sovereignty over the land is futile when trying to consider some positive ways ahead. There has been massive displacement of people, much discussed in this House. Less discussed is the 850,000 Jewish people who were forcibly expelled from their Arab homes—the Jewish nakba of people who had lived in their host countries peacefully for some 3,000 years. There have been injustices all round.
What hope is there? Can there be any prospect of peace negotiations to achieve what many people believe is the ideal of a two-state solution? Like the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I am not so sure that that will be the way forward. The three-hour speech that President Abbas gave on 30 April before the Gaza incidents was widely condemned as anti-Semitic. It is hard to see how an Israeli Prime Minister can continue to talk to someone who claims that the Jews have no real historic ties to the Middle East. Abbas, who, when originally elected, seemed like a partner for peace, has, at the age of 83, clearly given that up. In Gaza, as has been mentioned, rocket attacks have returned. It is clear that the tragic loss of life on the border was largely caused by Hamas inciting its activists and others to what they knew would be suicidal acts. Tragically, the leadership in Gaza refused to accept humanitarian aid of medical equipment and supplies specifically because it came from Israel.
Israel has remained committed to negotiations to peace, with the only condition being recognition of its right to exist. Interestingly, when Egypt and Jordan recognised Israel’s right to exist, peace came immediately. Settlements are cited as a roadblock, but they are not. All those in Gaza were given back, as the right reverend Prelate said, and the ones in the West Bank can and will be as well. The people of Palestine deserve peace negotiations but in my view they will not get them. Abbas is too weak and regards his legacy as steadfastness—he has used the word himself. It means that he wants to be seen, like Arafat and the Arab leaders in 1948, as someone who consistently says no to everything.
Increasingly in the West Bank other options are emerging. One is some sort of Palestinian country or autonomous place within an Israeli state. Interestingly, opinion polls in the West Bank show younger Palestinians looking to the Israeli system as the one they want for themselves, with equality, rights, a system of benefits to all citizens and an independent judiciary. Will they ever get it from their current leaders? I doubt it.
Arab states are turning away from the Palestinian cause towards Israel throughout the region and against Iran, so new thinking is needed in the region. It is a brave Palestinian who raises this route, but it has many attractions, as Israel will look at anything that guarantees its security, as Mr Netanyahu said only a few hours ago this morning at One Great George Street.
It is perhaps up to those of us who care—I believe all speakers in this House do care—for the welfare of all those in Palestine and Israel to allow new and imaginative routes to be explored as the only short-term options available. Given our historical responsibilities, as some have mentioned, it is the least we can do.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend, Lord Steel, for securing this debate and his immensely statesmanlike introduction to it. All contributing have expressed their hopes for a peaceful way forward, even if there is disagreement over what that route forward might be and what the underlying issues are. I share the view of noble Lords that this is a very dangerous situation for Palestinians and Israelis, as well as their neighbours in the region and far wider than that—for all of us.
This has been an intractable problem: a homeland established for one group after the horrors of the Nazi period, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, rightly referred, while displacing another. But both my noble friend Lord Steel and the noble Marquis, Lord Lothian, referred to the only partial delivery of the Balfour Declaration.
I, like others, pay tribute to Israel’s success in establishing itself so quickly as a prosperous nation in the region, but the UK Government have long contributed through their aid to the consequences of that settlement, the history of which noble Lords have referred to, through their support to those now in the West Bank and Gaza, or in refugee camps elsewhere in the region. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, I pay tribute to DfID and many organisations for their work in Gaza and the OPTs.
Recognising international law, the UK Government condemn illegal settlements which undermine the possibility of a two-state solution. They have objected to the inflammatory move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, to which my noble friend Lady Ludford and others referred. Many here seem to agree that the best resolution is a two-state solution, even though things are reaching a point where this may no longer be viable, as the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Singh, so clearly outlined.
One strong recommendation has emerged in this debate: that one step towards establishing that two-state solution must be to recognise Palestine. I urge the Minister to get the UK Government to do what 130 other Governments around the world have done; that is, to recognise the state of Palestine, as my noble friends Lord Steel and Lady Sheehan, the noble Lords, Lord Cope, Lord Hannay and Lord Warner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and others have urged. This is my party’s position after much fiercely argued debate. I know the government formulation, as I used it in the coalition: “when the time is right”. When my noble friend Lord Steel describes the language as weak, the Minister will understand; I have seen his wry smile and that of his officials, to whom I know I should not refer. Sir Vincent Fean, Britain’s official representative to the Palestinian Authority until he retired in 2014, has said that,
“the time is right for the United Kingdom to recognise the state of Palestine … If we choose to act decisively, we change the dynamic in the EU and at the UN … a further abstention is abdicating responsibility”.
The region is a tinderbox—we have often said that. Syria, the outflow of refugees into neighbouring states which have supported Palestinian refugees for decades, the instability across the MENA region, the pulling of the rug from the Iran nuclear deal, unpredictability in Saudi Arabia, the blockade of Qatar: all should concern us.
This spring has marked 70 years since the time that the Palestinians mark as a disaster, and protests have built on the Gazan border. As Oxfam notes, while Hamas may have then endorsed and encouraged such protests, there is no doubt of the asymmetry on the two sides of the Gazan border. The excessive force used by the Israeli forces has been shocking and disproportionate, as others have said. Since the first Gaza protest on 30 March, Israeli forces have killed more than 128 Palestinians and injured more 13,000. Fifteen children have been killed. One Israeli soldier has been lightly injured.
According to WHO, 245 health personnel have been injured and, as we have heard, 40 ambulances have been hit. Noble Lords have referred to the death of the first responder. I echo my noble friend Lady Sheehan’s questions as to whether the Israeli Government have clarified that and what action is being taken to hold to account those responsible for her killing.
Israel has argued that Hamas has manipulated the protests to present a threat to the border and intended to attack Israeli civilians inside Israel. Human rights groups have argued that Israel has failed to demonstrate a clear threat to life that warranted the use of lethal force. That is why a full independent international investigation is required. Surely the Minister agrees.
This must also be a time to address not only the immediate crisis in Gaza but the deep-seated challenges there, as my noble friend Lady Sheehan, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, spelled out. Since 2007, Gaza has been blockaded. The economy of the territory has collapsed. As noble Lords have referred to, David Cameron noted in 2010 that Gaza had become a “prison camp”.
As other noble Lords have noted, in August 2012 an UNRWA report found that, without radical changes, Gaza would be unliveable by 2020. In 2015, the World Bank reported that the unemployment rate in Gaza was the highest in the world—not a recipe for stability. Others have spelled out conditions there. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, gave a moving account of the psychological damage done to those in Gaza, especially children, as did my noble friend Lady Janke. It is in Israel’s as well as the Palestinians’ long-term interest to build the economy of Gaza and not to strangle it.
Although Gaza has seen the acute recent crisis, the ongoing challenges in the West Bank remain unresolved. Illegal settlement expansion continues. Only a few days ago, on 30 May, almost a further 2,000 settlement housing units were approved. A European Union report from the end of last year found that Israel added nearly 8,000 housing units in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, in the first half of 2017. New guidelines for settlement building have been issued, allowing for faster expansion with greater geographical spread than before. Demolition of Palestinian homes continues. I note that the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stated on 1 June:
“Palestinians have found it virtually impossible to obtain building permits in Area C of the West Bank, an unacceptable situation that leaves them with little option except to build without permission”.
Then there is the issue of Jerusalem. Trump’s unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as simply the capital of Israel has serious implications for the peace process. At the end of last year, the UN General Assembly rejected Trump’s action. We know the threats made by the Americans to countries that received aid. President Trump has cut funding to UNRWA—again, noble Lords have referred to that. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, pointed out, the US has abdicated its position as a mediator. President Trump cannot act as an honest broker in this situation, capable of delivering a two-state solution. Indeed, the Vice-President, Mike Pence, has said publicly that,
“we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides … America’s on the side of Israel”.
I note what the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said about the need for new and braver leaders on both sides. Surely the noble Lord, Lord Luce, is right when he argues that it is in everyone’s interest that European countries take the lead. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made the point that Europe has the most to lose and the most to gain from such engagement. Clearly, our pulling out of the EU does not help, but to leave it to the two parties to the conflict to resolve this by themselves does not recognise the imbalance of strength between them and is therefore unlikely to lead to a stable settlement. I note what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester said—that Israel cannot see a solution—and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, noted that the Israeli Government seemed to have “no plan” in this regard, as settlement expansion undermined lip service paid to a two-state solution. There is often in these debates an element of whataboutery. It is because of that that we need international engagement that is not partisan, as the US has now declared itself to be.
This has been an intractable problem leading to instability, fear and lack of security on both sides in the region. That is why the human rights and dignity of all individuals must be recognised and international law respected. Full international engagement, especially from Europe, in this situation is essential so that brave steps are taken, progress can be made and we do not have to have endless repeats of this debate today.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for initiating this debate, prompted by the terrible violence we saw on 14 and 15 May. The majority of injuries were caused by live fire rounds designed to destroy every organ of the human body. Why does the IDF use such lethal rounds when, clearly, non-lethal crowd control means could have been used? Human Rights Watch described Israel’s response as “disproportionate and illegal”, a theme echoed by noble Lords. As noble Lords have also pointed out, however, Human Rights Watch also said that Hamas certainly supported the protest and that criticism of Hamas can be met with arrest and torture.
The UK Government have said that they fully support the need for an independent investigation into the Gaza protests and the response to them. Yet during the United Nations Human Rights Council session last month, the UK abstained from calls for a commission of inquiry, arguing that the substance of the resolution was not impartial and balanced. The UK’s response now is to call directly on Israel to carry out a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border fence, to ensure its independence, to make its findings public and, if wrongdoing is found, to hold those responsible to account. I ask the Minister: did the Prime Minister raise this call with Mr Netanyahu this week and what was his response? What is the Government’s view now on the commission of inquiry that has been set up? Alistair Burt suggested just before the Recess that,
“as supporters of commissions of inquiry in general”,
“will encourage parties to engage constructively with the HRC”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/5/18; col. 475WH.]
What is the Minister’s current assessment of this approach?
As we have heard, the restrictions imposed on movement in and access to Gaza have caused infrastructure and services to collapse. In such a critical situation, it is more incumbent than ever on the global community to act to safeguard the health and well-being of the residents of Gaza. It is therefore appalling that the Trump Administration have chosen this critical moment to halve their funding of UNRWA. Its budget last year was $760 million and, as a direct result of its work, tens of thousands of children in Gaza received schooling and tens of thousands of their parents received healthcare that would not otherwise have been available to them. Others have tried to plug the gap, including the Saudis, but when all they can offer are one-off contributions the funding crisis is only delayed rather than stopped. That is why Labour calls on the Government to take the lead in a longer-term solution by initiating a special global funding conference such as those held in response to humanitarian emergencies—the difference in this case being that we must not wait for the emergency to strike before acting.
As we have heard so eloquently in the debate, Gaza has endured three wars in the past 10 years—a spiral of violence to which we must respond that has created a toxic cocktail of hopelessness and desperation. Our collective failure over the years has left people wondering where their hope will come from. I am a patron of Labour Friends of Israel; there is no doubt that Israel has a right to defend itself. The role of Hamas has certainly not helped that situation but a two-state solution is the only way forward, which is why the Labour Party completely supports it. I hear what my noble friend Lord Hain says about this and I totally accept the need for action more than simply words. The international community must respond, and we need ideas. Certainly, we need the ideas that have been discussed in Israel itself, including those from the Israeli Labor leader for economic aid from Israel and Arab neighbours, which could be positive in rebuilding the economy of Palestine. It is appalling, however, that a lot of these initiatives are being ignored and thwarted by the Government of Netanyahu.
I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce. On Monday night I attended the launch of Tracks of Peace, which promotes human, racial and religious tolerance among communities and nations in conflict. Interestingly, that event was addressed by both the Palestinian and Israeli ambassadors: both spoke of the importance of engaging people in projects of common interest, in areas such as business, education, the environment, health and religion, thereby advancing friendship among individuals and communities. The assumption that underpins that project is that an integrative approach that involves all levels of society will develop trust between nations in conflict, paving the way for politicians to make concessions and reach a peace agreement. I know from previous debates that the UK Government have supported intercommunity initiatives. Certainly, many of my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Turnberg, have been involved directly in these initiatives. I hope the Government are able to tell us what their assessment of this project is and whether they will support it.
It is the Labour Party’s policy, if elected, to recognise the state of Palestine immediately. I wish the Israeli Government would do the same. It would go a long way towards building a two-state solution in the region. My question to the Minister is: why do the Government not recognise Palestine now—and if not, when?
My Lords, I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for tabling this debate and introducing it in such an exemplary manner, drawing on his insights and wide experience. I also thank noble Lords for all their contributions. As has been said, there may at times be differing opinions but I think the common cause is to bring peace, stability, prosperity and progress for all people across both Israel and Palestine. In this regard, let me say at the outset that while I have heard the opinions expressed in your Lordships’ House, the UK and the Government remain committed to supporting a negotiated peace settlement that leads to that viable, sovereign and stable Palestinian state, living alongside a safe, secure, prosperous and progressive Israel. Indeed, those adjectives we use for either side apply to both.
That is why we strongly support the state-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority in particular. When I visited Israel and Palestine recently, I made that very specific point, about the importance of the UK’s continuing support, to Prime Minister Hamdallah in Ramallah. That is why we continue to encourage the US Administration to bring forward detailed proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. The Government remain committed to the two-state solution as the best way to bring about stability and peace in the region and to realise the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.
While there was some talk of this debate being somewhat depressing at times, as an eternal optimist I never give up hope. In the contributions we have heard today, there is hope. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Hain—I address him directly—that I totally agree with him, as do the Government: we believe that the occupation in the Palestinian Territories is unacceptable and unsustainable. Anyone who has visited Israel and Palestine would make that assessment. A just and lasting resolution that ends occupation and delivers peace for both Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue.
My noble friend Lord Lothian also made the important point about commitment to the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Let me assure noble Lords that we are so committed. The recognition of the Palestinian state was raised by many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in opening the debate, my noble friend Lord Cope, the noble Lords, Lord Ahmed, Lord Hannay, Lord Dykes and Lord Judd, and many more.
It is important that we see the creation of a sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state. Our commitment to that vision is why the UK has been a leading donor, as many noble Lords have acknowledged, to the Palestinian Authority and such a strong supporter of the state-building efforts. For example, in 2017-18, UK aid to the Palestinian Authority helped pay the salaries of up to 30,000 teachers, doctors and nurses, midwives and other essential educators and public servants on the vetted list. I listened carefully to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who said he had had sight of my notes in the response I would give on recognition. The position of the Government, of course, remains the same at this time: we will formally recognise the state of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace.
I am the Minister for Human Rights, among my other responsibilities at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I have listened very attentively to the expressions and sentiments of your Lordships’ House in what I believe has been a very meaningful and constructive debate: those sentiments have registered quite significantly. Recent events have prompted the tabling of this debate, and the events in Gaza are a case in point—the shocking violence at the border in mid-May, which tragically resulted in many Palestinian deaths and injuries, and the barrage of rocket attacks last week from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians.
On our arms policy, as I have said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box, we always ensure that the most rigid processes are applied in terms of arms sales, not just to Israel but to other countries. We also seek those assurances when we are negotiating any deals we have with international partners.
I sought to visit Gaza on my last visit to Israel. It was extremely regrettable and, indeed, tragic but because of the escalating nature of the situation, that visit had to be cancelled literally in the morning. Nevertheless, I went to the Palestinian Territories and saw for myself in areas such as Hebron the challenges and the causes of suffering of many people across the Palestinian Territories. This is not something that Israel wants to see: Israel wants to see a resolution because resolutions require peace and peace will ultimately mean peace for both people. Both sides know that peace efforts will not be advanced by violence. As the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, started the account in his very poignant contribution I thought I was listening to “Thought for the Day”, but he made the very pertinent point that peace efforts cannot be advanced by violence.
Turning to some of the specific questions, the noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady Northover, raised the issue of the Human Rights Council and the resolution that was passed. The UK’s position was articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. We listened very carefully to the debate which ensued and the reason we took the decision to abstain was that we did not feel that the resolution was balanced. It did not call for an investigation into the action of non-state actors, a point made in various ways by noble Lords during this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the statement from my right honourable friend Alistair Burt on the United Kingdom’s co-operation with any such inquiry. As my right honourable friend stated, we are supporters of the Human Rights Council and continue to support the inquiry in this respect. The detail is still being worked through by the Human Rights Council.
On the specific case of Razan Al-Najjar, the medic who was serving in the Territories, in Gaza, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, among others, I stand with all noble Lords in decrying any loss of innocent life anywhere in the world—Gaza is no exception—particularly those medics who put themselves in the line of fire. We stand together in solidarity in recognising their service and, in the case of Razan, her ultimate sacrifice. I assure noble Lords that in the meeting between Prime Ministers May and Netanyahu issues around Gaza were specifically raised. We understand there was a preliminary Israeli military investigation into this, but yesterday the Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s support for an independent, transparent investigation into events in Gaza during her meeting. The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Warner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, all spoke of its importance. The Human Rights Council has made this resolution, as I said earlier, about a commission. While the UK is not required formally to take any further action, as a supporter of the commission’s inquiry in general we will encourage parties to engage constructively with the Human Rights Council and all its mechanisms and processes.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to the ICC referral. We respect the independence of the prosecutor and her role in undertaking a preliminary examination into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. On 8 April, the prosecutor made a statement explaining that recent events and any future incidents may fall within the scope of this preliminary examination. In any event the UK fully supports and recognises the need for an independent and transparent investigation into the events that have taken place in recent weeks, including the extent to which Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement are in line with international law, and the role that Hamas played in the events.
On the issue of leadership on the Middle East peace process, the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, raised the role of the United Kingdom. On the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, both parties must show bold leadership to help move us closer to the shared goal of peace. This includes taking steps to build an environment that is conducive to negotiations. In the first instance, that means both sides avoiding actions that undermine trust and threaten the viability of the two-state solution. On the Israeli side, this includes settlement activity and the demolition of Palestinian structures. This was mentioned specifically by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. As noble Lords will be aware, the UK Government consider Israeli settlement activity illegal under international law. Just last month the Israeli Government announced they are advancing plans to construct over 3,100 new settlement units, many deep within the West Bank. These include 120 housing units in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, and over 90 units in the settlement of Kfar Adumim next door to Khan Al-Ahmar. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his Statement, the UK is gravely concerned about further settlement in the West Bank. We urge the Israeli authorities to reconsider plans that undermine prospects for a two-state solution. Indeed, I made a point, when I visited Israel and Palestine, to visit one of these Bedouin camps.
I assure noble Lords that we have constructive dialogue with our Israeli counterparts. I have always found my engagement with Israeli Ministers to be constructive—yes, challenging at times but very respectful. I raised our concerns about the occupation when I met the Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, in April. The Minister for the Middle East raised his concerns with his Israeli counterparts during his visit last week, and the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister have also made clear the UK’s opposition to the policy of settlement expansion to Prime Minister Netanyahu during meetings this week.
We have also repeatedly made it clear that we consider the demolition of Palestinian structures in the West Bank to be entirely unacceptable. In all but the most exceptional cases, demolitions are totally contrary to international humanitarian law. Every single demolition, or eviction of a Palestinian family from their home causes unnecessary suffering and calls into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution. The Government are particularly concerned by the imminent threat of demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar. This would pave the way for future settlement expansion in E1, directly threatening a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital. This community has lived there peacefully for many decades. We believe that demolishing the village is unnecessary and not the way to treat people with whom you want to live in peace.
The UK has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities not to go ahead with these plans. The Minister for the Middle East, my right honourable friend Alistair Burt, visited Khan Al-Ahmar just last week, spoke about his concerns publicly in media engagements and raised them with Deputy Foreign Minister Hotovely. The Foreign Secretary released a strong statement setting out the UK’s position. Once again, we urge Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and stop its plans to demolish the community of Khan al-Ahmar.
As we know, Israeli settlements and demolitions are not the only obstacles to the two-state solution—or indeed to peace. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, and my noble friends Lord Leigh of Hurley, Lord Shinkwin and Lady Morris reminded us, terrorism and incitement also pose grave threats. On two days last week, 216 projectiles, rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza towards Israel—the worst attack since the 2014 war. They were fired indiscriminately at civilian targets, including towards a kindergarten—and a few landed in the kindergarten. We reiterate our belief that Israelis have the right to live free from the threat of terrorism. That is a view that I believe we all share. We therefore call on Hamas and other terrorist groups to end their attacks on Israel once and for all.
We also strongly condemn the use of hateful language that stirs up hatred and prejudice among communities, and incites violence. We therefore encourage both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel to reject hate speech and incitement, and to prepare their people for peaceful coexistence, as the noble Lords, Lord Luce and Lord Anderson, called for, including by promoting a more positive portrayal of each other through education, cultural and human rights exchanges between civil society groups. I listened carefully to the contribution of my noble friend Lord Polak about the importance of economic co-operation. I will speak to him after the debate about the details of his proposal to provide that hope to Ali Jaffer. Violence against Palestinians by extremist settlers in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, is also deeply concerning, despite stronger law enforcement by the Israeli authorities. We condemn this violence in the strongest terms.
All noble Lords talked about Gaza, and rightly so. It is a complex situation and we recognise Israel’s legitimate security concerns. At the same time, the restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt on movement and access into and out of Gaza contribute significantly to the dire humanitarian situation. The UK will continue to work with Israel to get more goods into Gaza to alleviate the situation and stimulate economic activity. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, talked about Egypt’s role in this process. We are encouraged that, during the holy month of Ramadan, which we are in the final and most poignant 10 days of, Egypt has opened up the Rafah crossing for this period. We therefore urge Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to work together to find a lasting solution to the situation in Gaza. In this regard, the UK welcomes the proposals of Nickolay Mladenov, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General.
I am conscious of time and there are many issues still to be covered. I will write to noble Lords. On human rights, the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, raised the issue of children. As Minister for Human Rights, I raised this issue directly with Ministers during my visit, particularly the military detention of children in the Occupied Territories, which is of particular concern to me. I pressed the Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, for improvements in their treatment when I met her in April. The UK continues to fund a number of human rights projects on this issue, including providing legal aid to minors, and capacity building.
Finally, I will set out what we are doing financially to support the Palestinians. My noble friend Lady Morris, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord Hylton, spoke poignantly about this. We continue to support the Palestinian Authority. Last year our support enabled around 24,000 young Palestinians to get an education, and provided up to 3,700 immunisations for children and around 185,000 medical consultations. We recently announced a further £1.5 million of urgent humanitarian funding to the ICRC appeal to provide medical treatment for Gazans. This is in addition to our support though the United Nations Children’s Fund, to provide clean water and better sanitation for up to 1 million Gazans. We also remain a steadfast supporter of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, which provides basic health and education services to 1.3 million people in Gaza, as well as 800,000 refugees in the West Bank. Last year the UK provided £50 million to support this initiative.
The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Lea of Crondall, among others, raised the specific issue of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is often cited as a centre of conflict. It is also the centre, poignantly, of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Its significance to those three faiths and those three peoples is immense. I remember as a young child, as a Muslim in a Christian school, being taught about Judaism. When I returned home, my mother put it poignantly to me: “The foundation of our faith, Tariq, is Judaism. Without the foundation of that house, the walls of Christianity could not be erected, and without the walls of Christianity, the roof of Islam would not complete the house of Abraham”. Perhaps therein lies the solution: Jerusalem, the city of peace—by name, by definition—bringing people together. I believe that this debate has added to the constructive and progressive dialogue that we are having on this important issue. As a good friend to both parties, the United Kingdom Government and I, as Minister for Human Rights, believe that there is a pivotal role to play in building that hope, for Israelis and Palestinians alike, for people of all faiths and none, to ensure that we build that peace—to build that Jerusalem.
My Lords, I shall be very brief in response to the debate, for two good reasons. One is that the debate itself is strictly time-limited and the other is that I am booked on the 4 pm flight to Edinburgh. I thank the Minister for his speech, particularly the closing part of it. I think we are entitled to ask him one more thing: will he please convey to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister the mood of this House during the debate? He nods in agreement. I think that is important. I do not agree that the debate was depressing. There was a nugget of good sense in every single speech—and that is not something you can always say about debates in this place. It was quite remarkable.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that something has to change. The thing that has to change is the recognition of the state of Palestine. Really, we have missed an opportunity. This was a good opportunity to make that decision now rather than waiting until some indefinite time in the future.
I have time to mention only one or two speeches. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said about access to the Mount and what the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said about the need for Israeli security. I have always believed that in future Jerusalem can be the capital of both states, provided there is an international force there to police it. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Singh, who argued for a single state, as a federal democratic process, as an alternative to the two-state solution, that that is certainly possible in the future, but I believe that the two-state solution is still there on the table. It is the policy of the Government, of the United Nations and of nations around the world. We should not lose sight of it or give up on it yet—if at all.
I will end with a quotation from Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s very experienced Middle East editor. He wrote this recently:
“The pattern will continue until there is some hope, some prospect of change, some chance for Palestinians to live in peace and freedom alongside Israel”.
I think he is right. What we need is hope, and the debate was full of hope.