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Volume 768: debated on Monday 1 February 2016


Asked by

My Lords, the United Kingdom retains the right to recognise a Palestinian state when we judge it can best help bring about peace. We strongly believe that achieving a negotiated solution to the conflict is a priority and that bilateral recognition alone would not end the occupation.

I thank the Minister for that Answer—the usual answer, if I may say so. Is she aware that, at the United Nations General Assembly on 22 December last year, the UK representatives voted for a resolution that recognised the,

“Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied … Territory, including East Jerusalem … over their natural resources”?

Could the Minister please explain to the House how the Palestinians can have this control unless we follow the example promised by the French Government in the last 24 hours since their offer of talks has broken down? Can we not do this and recognise Palestine as a sovereign state and persuade other countries to do so? Will the Minister also explain how, in the mean time, the Government will seek to protect the few remaining natural resources that the Palestinians have before Israel takes them all?

My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to a United Nations resolution. She may be aware that our team in the United Nations, led by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, negotiate the best terms they can with regard to resolutions so that the language is as close to being realistic as possible, but there always have to be compromises on those matters. We did so against the background of maintaining the policy that I set out in my first Answer: that it is important that we have a negotiated solution. That is when there would be a two-state solution, and that would be followed by a discussion about the ownership of resources. Sadly, we are not in that position yet. I note what the noble Baroness says with regards to the reports today that the French Foreign Minister, Monsieur Fabius, has announced that the French will try to organise an international conference on the Middle East peace process in the coming weeks. Whatever conferences we have, and however welcome an exchange of views, the only thing that will bring about peace is for both Israel and the Palestinians to come together to agree those terms; terms that I have set out in detail on previous occasions.

My Lords, history teaches us that, when an Arab leader has direct talks with Israel, the result is territorial compromise and peace—look at Jordan and look at Egypt. Does the Minister agree that, instead of political point-scoring, Members of this House—I draw the attention of the House to my non-financial interests—could use their influence with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to encourage them to stop inciting their young people, and really help the Palestinian people by encouraging them to return to the negotiating table without delay?

My Lords, all those who have the interests of peace at heart will want to bring together the sides that disagree to negotiate. I notice that, just recently, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made the following comment,

“as we continue to uphold the right of Palestinians to self-determination, let us be equally firm that incitement has no place, and that questioning the right of Israel to exist cannot be tolerated”.

My Lords, we all like the language of a negotiated solution, and sooner or later that is what must happen. But does the Minister agree that there is an increasingly uncomfortable comparison between the way in which the international community responds when Russia is involved in breaches of international law by violating its boundary with its neighbouring country and the response of the international community towards Israel, which for more than 50 years has violated international law by the occupation of a neighbouring country, by the building of a wall and by the continuing illegal occupation that makes a two-state solution nearly impossible? Is it not time that we had a more robust response to these flagrant breaches of international law?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point out that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories flouts international law. We have made that clear in the past. We have urged Israel to obey the law and have pointed out that it should withdraw. The position that Israel takes on occupying Palestinian territories makes it more difficult to achieve the two-state solution that we wish to see.

My Lords, did the Minister see the report in the Times last week that two Palestinian journalists in Gaza had been arrested and tortured by Hamas because they had written newspaper articles critical of that administration? Can she assure the House that there is no question of recognising a Palestinian state associated with Hamas until basic civil rights are respected?

My Lords, we have made it clear that Hamas needs to stop its aggressive actions and sending its rockets into Israel and that the Palestinian Authority needs to take responsibility and control of the administration in Gaza to avoid incidents such as that described by the noble Lord.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the position taken in October 2014 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England bishops that,

“it is the reasonable aspiration of all peoples to belong to a state and enjoy the merits of full and active citizenship”?

Although the security of Israel is an absolute requirement, would not a principled recognition of Palestinian statehood facilitate rather than hamper renewed negotiations?

My Lords, I do not believe that it would. It would not of itself bring about what we need, which is an agreement for a two-state solution. It would be throwing away a key negotiating card.