My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“As the Foreign Secretary made clear in the Statement on Tuesday, the Government welcome the release of the United States proposal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It clearly reflects extensive investment in time and effort. A peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that leads to peaceful coexistence could unlock the potential of the entire region and provide both sides with the opportunity for a brighter future.
Only the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian territories can determine whether proposals can meet the needs and aspirations of the people they represent. We encourage them to give these latest plans genuine and fair consideration and explore whether they might prove a first step on the road back to negotiations.
The United Kingdom’s position has not changed. Our view remains that the best way to achieve peace is through substantive peace talks between parties, leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees.
Our first priority now must be to encourage the United States, Israelis, Palestinians and our partners in the international community to find a means of resuming the dialogue necessary for securing a negotiated settlement. The absence of a dialogue creates a vacuum, which fuels instability.”
My Lords, the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is a two-state solution negotiated with the consent of both sides. I note that the Government have welcomed this proposal, but surely it is striking that it has been published after consultation with only one of those states. If we are to find a diplomatic resolution, the Palestinian Authority must be involved in the process. Does the Minister agree that the involvement and consent of Palestine is vital for any agreement?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point, and I believe I have covered that in part in the Statement I have just repeated: the UK’s
“view remains that the best way to achieve peace is through substantive peace talks between parties, leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps”
“Jerusalem as the shared capital”.
My Lords, this plan goes contrary to international law. It is an annexation plan and would give the Palestinians no control over their borders, water or security, no port and no airport—to mention just a few points. Yet the Government’s press release—I notice the Minister has added a few words to the end of it—welcomed this as “a serious proposal” that should be given “genuine and fair consideration”. How can the Government claim that in leaving the EU we will be better placed to fight for the rules-based international order and human rights? If annexation goes ahead, what will the Government do to protect international law?
My Lords, the noble Baroness suggested that I added certain lines. Just for clarity I should say that, as she knows from her own experience, that is not how government works. I have stated the Government’s position, which again restated that, as far as we are concerned,
“the best way to achieve peace is through substantive peace talks”.
She is right to raise concerns about annexation. We have always retained and sustained, and I reiterate again, that any annexation of any lands would be against and contrary to international law.
Can the Minister confirm absolutely clearly that this proposal involves further annexation of Palestinian land? Is there any other part of the world where the Government sanction annexation of neighbouring territories or even countenance it? Further, although he repeats the commitment to a two-state solution, as all Ministers of all parties have, can he confirm that this latest proposal manifestly makes any possibility of a two-state solution almost impossible?
My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly says, I have stated what the United Kingdom’s position is, as is entirely appropriate. This proposal has been put forward by the United States. Like any peace proposal or peace plan, it is worth consideration. It has been described as a first step. I agree with the noble Lord that, as I have said before and continue to say, any settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians has to be credible, has to be accepted and must involve consideration by both sides. We hope the current proposal on the table means that the Palestinians will also seek to engage on this, but as I have reiterated, from our perspective this is a first step.
My Lords, I share some of the reservations that have been expressed about the position that the Government have taken, but could I ask for clarification on two points? First, some press reports have said that the proposals actually double the land available to the Palestinians. Where is this extra land coming from? Is it just the bits in the desert bordering Egypt? Secondly, do the Government actually approve of the annexation of the Jordan Valley, thus cutting Palestine off from Jordan?
My Lords, I will not go into the specific details of the plan. I have stated what the UK’s position is. On the reported annexation and the plan for the Jordan Valley, the position of Her Majesty’s Government is very clear: the unilateral annexation of any lands is against international law.
My Lords, the Minister said that he hopes this will be the basis for taking forward discussions. Has there been any indication whatever from the Palestinians that they are willing to take forward discussions on this basis?
My Lords, I can share with the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke with President Abbas on these proposals earlier this week. I understand that my right honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East is also meeting the Palestinian representative. I hope that they will engage with the proposals. Like the noble Baroness, I have followed the statements they have made thus far, but as I have said before, we hope that this plan is a first step and will engage all communities towards the final objective of two viable states.
My Lords, is it not difficult for the Government to maintain what is essentially a position of neutrality on this matter given our responsibilities under, for example, the Balfour Declaration? The truth is that this is neither a peace plan nor a two-state solution. It is a fait accompli in favour of Mr Netanyahu, as demonstrated by his public response to it in the White House. It is an annexation not just of land on which illegal settlements have been based, nor of the Jordan Valley, but of the Golan Heights, all of which is contrary to international law. Why do the Government not give a robust response in favour of the principles of international law—the kind of response we gave when Mr Putin annexed the Crimea?
My Lords, on the point about annexation, the noble Lord mentioned the Golan Heights. When the United States made that statement in support of Israel, we made our position clear: we are against annexation, which is against international law. I reiterate that annexation of any territory unilaterally is against international law.
My Lords, it is a strange phenomenon that so many noble Lords are quick to reject the proposals. What do they know better than the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Bahrainis and the UAE, who have all welcomed the proposals? That is a promising sign, but most notable is the statement from Qatar. So often in the rejectionist camp, Qatar is now calling on the Palestinians and Israelis to sit down together. What efforts is my noble friend making with the Palestinian leadership to encourage them to sit down and talk rather than reject the initiative as, sadly, they have done too often in history?
My Lords, my noble friend is right that certain parts of the Arab world share the objective of the plan’s being a first step. Countries have made statements according to how they view it. On the issue of engagement with the Palestinians, and I have said, we hope that the Palestinians engage on the first step of the proposals. We are making efforts. As I said earlier, my right honourable friend has spoken to President Abbas, and we will meet the Palestinian representative to London later today.
My Lords, it would be no exaggeration to say that this proposal is controversial, but it is certainly not the endpoint. It is not even the beginning of the end, nor the end of the beginning. It being on the table might be the beginning of the beginning of a process. Surely both sides can discuss it, at the very least. Does the Minister agree that objecting from the outset, as the Palestinians have done, is not terribly helpful?
My Lords, I am coming to the beginning of the end of my time. Noble Lords have repeatedly and rightly raised issues; I am sure that we will return to this plan and the wider issues across the Middle East. It is important that there is something on the table. Countries across the region have sought to give due consideration and, as I said, this is not the UK plan but an American plan. The United Kingdom position, of a viable two-state solution with a shared capital in Jerusalem, has not changed.
My Lords, surely Her Majesty’s Government should be not neutral on this issue but on the side of peace. The period since the Oslo accords has been littered with missed opportunities, generally involving the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to engage. Everyone in this House with any influence on the Palestinian Authority should urge it to engage in this. A large part of the Arab world is behind this, and Her Majesty’s Government should do their best to facilitate this important peace process.
My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we are on the side of peace. I share his belief in the importance of all parties engaging. We are doing our utmost to ensure that the Palestinians engage with this proposal, but as I said, it is an American plan, which we believe to be a first step.