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Volume 813: debated on Wednesday 7 July 2021


Asked by

My Lords, the United Kingdom will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace, as we have stated before. We of course continue to encourage progress towards a negotiated settlement between the parties, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary reinforced that position during his visit to both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories from 25 to 26 May.

My Lords, if for this Government recognition of Palestine requires a peaceful solution, do they now accept that every rocket fired from Gaza into Israel and every additional illegal settlement on the West Bank undermines the government policy of a two-state solution? Are the Government content to allow their own policy to wither on the vine and hence provide an obstacle to the recognition of Palestine, or are they now willing to step up to their historical and moral obligations, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we remain very much committed to a two-state solution: a secure and safe Israel and a safe and secure and viable Palestinian state. I am sure the noble Lord acknowledges that bilateral recognition will not end occupation, but we remain very much committed to engagement. That is why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in his most recent visit after the current conflict—[Inaudible.]

With little prospect of negotiations resuming, will the Minister accept that the continued settlement building programme amounts to an incremental and de facto annexation of the West Bank? The international community needs to promote the rights of all Palestinians, including the Christian community. Does the Minister agree that a strong endorsement of Palestinian aspirations by the Government would demonstrate to the Palestinian public the possibility of international political process and show that Her Majesty’s Government are committed to active peacemaking rather than merely to conflict management?

My Lords, I agree that it is important that we restate and re-emphasise the importance of the two-state solution. On the issue of the OPTs, we remain committed to ensuring that we lead towards a process which leads to an independent and viable Palestinian state. I also endorse the right reverend Prelate’s point about the different communities within the Holy Land; of course, the Arab Christian community is an important voice in the peace process.

Does the Minister agree that our Government cannot consider recognising a territory while it is controlled by proscribed terrorists whose only stated purpose is to wipe their neighbour Israel off the face of the earth, no matter what the cost to their own people?

My noble friend refers of course to the situation in Gaza and the role of Hamas. We do not engage with Hamas, and I agree with my noble friend that for anyone to come to the table it is important that they recognise the other party’s right to exist. Hamas does not, and if it wants to be a party to peace, it needs to ensure that that recognition is extended.

My Lords, the UK certainly should recognise Palestine as a state, but as important is the need to introduce economic incentives to induce Israel to end its illegal building of settlements on Palestinian land. Are the Government giving consideration to such economic incentives with our western allies and, if not, will the Minister raise this issue with his colleagues?

My Lords, on the issue of economic incentives, we believe that it is important that we progress our economic relationship with both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. We do not hesitate to express our disagreement with Israel whenever necessary. However, on the specific issue of sanctions against the State of Israel, which the noble Baroness may be alluding to, we stand very firmly opposed to such boycotts or sanctions.

I refer your Lordships to my interests as recorded in the register. Recognition of the state of Palestine is an internationally significant concern. I would like to ask the Minister today about an urgent concern. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Government of Israel about the house evictions and demolitions in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, which appear designed to change the demography of the holy city?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness and we have been very clear on our position on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. It is a threat to the communities currently in Sheikh Jarrah and we urge the Government of Israel to cease such actions permanently. Indeed, these points were very much raised and discussed during my right honourable friend’s visit to Israel and the OPTs.

Is the noble Lord aware that this morning, Israeli forces demolished more structures in the Jordan Valley? Does he agree that that the time really has come to move beyond that old phrase that he has used once again and to recognise Palestine, and that this must be for a viable, sovereign and independent state and not a splintered, semi-sovereign version, as, for example, in the Trump plan?

My Lords, on the Trump plan, as I have said before in your Lordships’ House, that was a first step. However, I totally recognise the picture that the noble Baroness paints and we agree as a Government that we must have a viable, functioning Palestinian state. On the important issue of the demolitions, we have made our position absolutely clear to the Israeli authorities. They should not be taking place. The settlements in the OPTs are illegal and they, and indeed the evictions, go against international humanitarian law.

I refer the House to my interest as president of Conservative Friends of Israel, as set out in the register. It seems that some noble Lords are failing to experience and comprehend the winds of change in the region: the Abraham Accords, and a NATO drill this week which included Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and the UAE, alongside Israel. Does the Minister agree that the most helpful contribution towards peace and prosperity would be for noble Lords to use their influence with the Palestinians to urge them to sit around the table with the Israelis and create that peace and prosperity?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend; I think we all welcome the important progress made with the Abraham Accords, and we pay tribute to all those who have come forward. However, it is also important, as my noble friend rightly articulates, that there can be no solution to the challenges and the conflicts in the region until we see meaningful progress on the peace talks. For that to occur, Israel and the Palestinian Authority need to sit down and agree a way forward and progress. We all desire peace in the Holy Land, and the talks between those two sides are essential to make that happen.

My Lords, the Opposition share the Government’s commitment to the two-state solution, and with the new Administrations in the US and Israel, there are opportunities. Can the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to help address the drivers of insecurity and injustice in the region, especially if they will not accept the recognition of Palestine?

My Lords, we continue to work with key partners, including the US, which is of course very important for progress. We continue to engage with both sides, as I have articulated, but, equally, we are supporting efforts such as the work being done with UNRWA in supporting education and skills in the Palestinian Territories. It is important that we continue in that respect to provide hope for the future and the basis of a future independent and viable Palestinian state.

Does the Minister agree with the opinion of our two most distinguished international lawyers, the late James Crawford and Professor Malcolm Shaw, in whose opinion Palestine is not a state under international law because it does not begin to conform to the criteria set out in the Montevideo convention? It does not have the right requirements to be a functioning lawful state.

The Government’s position is very clear. We believe that the best and the only way to ensure peace in the region is to have two states side by side, and a Palestinian state must be viable. We continue to invest our efforts in making that issue a reality but, ultimately, it needs both sides to sit down and begin the negotiations so that we can see those two states living side by side in peace.