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Palestinian State: UK Recognition

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 13 February 2024


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what discussions he had with the government of the United States before his announcement on 1 February that the United Kingdom should recognise a Palestinian state in advance of the conclusion of any future bilateral talks between Israel and representatives of the Palestinian people.

My Lords, this Government have always supported a two-state solution, and that remains the case. Clearly, recognising a Palestinian state at the right time is part of that policy. My noble friend asked about consulting our allies. Of course, we discuss all issues relating to the conflict in Gaza, and Israel-Palestine relations, but I am pleased to tell him that ultimately the UK has a sovereign and independent foreign policy set by a British Prime Minister and a British Foreign Secretary in the British Parliament.

I welcome that Answer. Hamas is a genocidal terror group: for the benefit of the BBC, they are not militants. The Palestinian Authority has lost control of large cities in the West Bank to Iranian-backed terror groups, openly pays salaries to convicted terrorists, and is deeply corrupt and repressive. Palestinian statehood is, I trust, something all of us in this House wish to see, but does my noble friend share my very grave concerns that premature, unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state now risks rewarding Hamas, playing into Iran’s hands, and perhaps jeopardising the chances for a long-term, sustainable peace?

I absolutely understand where my noble friend is coming from. I just say to him that of course it is not rewarding Hamas. Hamas does not believe in a two-state solution: it believes in the destruction of Israel. My point is that the whole point of a two-state solution is to create long-term, sustainable peace. I think the last 30 years have shown that we will not solve this problem without a solution that gives dignity and security to the Palestinian people as well as vital security to Israel. I say, as a strong friend of Israel, that this is the right approach and we should pursue it.

My Lords, I welcome very strongly the continued emphasis by the Secretary of State on the two-state solution, and his condemnation of the Hamas terrorist group and his call for the liberation of hostages, as was echoed in a statement this morning from the Bishops. But it is not only in Gaza that we are seeing tragedy; we are seeing it in the West Bank, where it is almost forgotten that very large numbers of Palestinians have been killed by people who live in illegal settlements. One of the countries most affected by that is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. First, what support are His Majesty’s Government giving to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, given its vulnerability and its significant responsibility as guardian of the holy places? If it comes under significant pressure, that would widen the conflict appallingly and dramatically. Secondly, what are the practicalities for Jordan in preparing for or aiding a two-state solution, where the flow of refugees towards it—and it has taken something like half its population in refugees—would be a very threatening process for its destabilisation?

I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for his question. First, he is absolutely right to say that we should focus on what is happening in the West Bank as well as Gaza. It is a chilling statistic that since 7 October, 96 Palestinian children have been killed in the West Bank. There have been a series of very worrying developments and disturbances. That is why the Government are focused on this. Only yesterday, we announced for the first time some sanctions against violent settlers who are carrying out criminal acts in the West Bank.

The most reverend Primate also asked, rightly, about what we are doing to help Jordan. First, in terms of the incredible work Jordan does in looking after refugees, we have given a huge amount of aid and assistance to help it with the job that it has done. As he says, the crucial thing is to work with the Jordanians, as we are, towards the two-state solution, in which they can play a very big part. A crucial thing that needs to be sorted out is how you move from the current Palestinian Authority, which has a number of issues and difficulties, to a new technocratic Government who would work across the Palestinian territories. The Jordanians can play a big role in helping to bring that about.

My Lords, there are 200 land-based conflicts in the world, half a million dead in Syria, the world’s biggest humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, and millions slaughtered in Africa—yet the only conflict people in the UK seem to want to protest about is Israel defending itself against the racist, genocidal Islamists of Hamas. What does the Foreign Secretary think explains this irrational obsession with the world’s only Jewish state?

The noble Lord makes a very important point. If you look across the world and ask yourself, “Where’s the biggest refugee crisis?”, it is not in Israel or in the Palestinian territories; it is either in Sudan, where about 9 million people have moved into Egypt, or you could argue that it is in Myanmar, where Bangladeshis are looking after millions of Rohingyas in very difficult conditions. It is important that we try to keep a focus on what is happening around the world and look at the numbers. That said, the reason people are focused on Gaza right now is the level of death and destruction, and people want to bring that to an end, as do I. This is why we have made this proposal for the immediate pause, moving to the ceasefire, with the five conditions we need to put in place to help to bring that about and work towards a political solution.

My Lords, after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas was elected to power. Having been elected to power, it proceeded to terrorise and then murder its political opponents. Hamas remains very popular in Gaza and in the West Bank. How can we prevent an independent Palestinian state from being governed by Hamas, maintaining its policy of seeking to attack Israel and to murder, rape and abduct as many Israeli citizens as possible?

The noble Lord asks an extremely good question. We have to try to help to separate the Palestinian people from Hamas. One of the best ways of doing that, apart from making sure that, as I have said, our conditions should include the Hamas leadership leaving Gaza and the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure, is to offer the Palestinian people—not Hamas, because it is not interested in a two-state solution—a route to better governance, with a reformed Palestinian Authority and the long-term horizon of a two-state solution to give them the dignity and security that they crave and that would help to bring about peace in the region.

My Lords, when the Foreign Secretary made the original statement, he was very clear that we need to show irreversible progress towards a two-state solution—something that both sides of this House have talked about for a long time. My right honourable friend David Lammy welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s comments, arguing that recognition should not wait for the final status agreement but should be part of efforts to achieve one. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the day after those comments, what we are doing to translate the Foreign Secretary’s desire into discussions with our allies, particularly at the United Nations, and how we give that hope a sense of reality.

What my noble friend Lord Ahmad and I are doing—we are virtually joined at the hip when we are not travelling separately to the region—is talking to all the partners in the region about how we work towards making that a reality. Recognition is obviously part of a two-state solution, and it should help with the momentum. The point that I have been making is that it should not be the first thing we do, as that would take the pressure off the Palestinians to reform and to do the things that need to happen in the Palestinian Authority. But just because it does not happen at the beginning does not mean that it must wait right until the end. One of the things that is beginning to change and that I think is hopeful is the American posture, which, until now, has been that recognition can come only when Israel and Palestine agree on the creation of a Palestinian state. Doing that would give Israel a veto, in effect, over a Palestinian state, which is the opposite of creating the sort of unstoppable momentum towards a two-state solution that we all want to see.

My Lords, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the flexibility of recognising the state of Palestine before there is a full agreement with the State of Israel. I declare that I will travel to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah from tomorrow night. What message can the Foreign Secretary share with these Benches that I can take to those I will meet that he has persuaded like-minded countries and our allies, who have a long-standing view that recognising the state of Palestine before any long-term agreement is the best platform to get an agreement with Israel?

After I made my statement, which is absolutely in line with our long-standing policy that recognition should come when it gives the maximum impetus and input to a solution, the Americans announced that they were re-examining their policy and looking at options to see how recognition could best play a part in bringing about a two-state solution.