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Abraham Accords

Volume 832: debated on Thursday 14 September 2023

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure the success of the Abraham Accords.

My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interests. Tomorrow marks the three-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham accords. On 15 September 2020, the world witnessed a remarkable moment in Washington, as the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel came together to sign the Abraham accords. A few months later, the Kingdom of Morocco joined this transformative accord.

I would like to take a moment to express my deepest condolences and unwavering support for the people of Morocco in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck earlier this week. I am deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of over 2,900 lives and hope for a swift and complete recovery for those injured or displaced. I pay tribute to the Minister for his leadership in getting aid to Morocco so quickly.

These accords were not merely ink on paper, they were a resounding statement—a pledge to normalise relations between nations that had once stood on opposite sides. It was a monumental achievement, initiated by the United States and one that many had previously considered an unattainable dream. Yet, I cannot help but observe that we in the United Kingdom were not, and are not, involved.

In a debate held in the other place in October 2021, Robert Jenrick posed a fundamental question about the accords. He said:

“what is the role for the United Kingdom, and for our Government in particular, in taking this forward?”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/10/21; col. 113.]

It is with a sense of disappointment and a desire for clarity that, nearly two years later, I ask His Majesty’s Government the same question. What is our role in the Abraham accords? What proactive steps are we taking to further the progress that has already been made? Are we actively engaging with neighbouring states, those nations that are close friends of the UK, to encourage their participation in the enterprise? What concrete measures are the Government undertaking to ensure the long-term success of the accords?

The Abraham accords represent a beacon of hope in a region that has endured decades of turmoil and division. They have already shown promise but their full potential is yet to be realised and it is incumbent upon us, as representatives of a nation committed to promoting peace, stability and prosperity, to take decisive action. We have a proud history of diplomatic leadership and it is my hope that we can harness that legacy to contribute significantly to the success of the Abraham accords.

Robert Greenway, president of the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, recently highlighted the crucial role of the accords in Middle East diplomacy—especially in countering the growing threat from Iran. The Abraham accords unite former adversaries around common interests. First, in security, particularly regarding Iran and the destabilising actions of the IRGC, the accords have created a strong coalition to counter Iran’s expansionist agenda and have enhanced co-ordination and intelligence sharing to respond to regional threats. I remind the Minister that I continue to urge the Government to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.

Secondly, on economic growth, the accords have prompted co-operation and resource sharing among participating nations. This has diversified regional economies, reducing reliance on oil and increasing resilience against economic shocks. Lastly, Robert Greenway suggests that the accords enabled the United States to maintain a leading role in promoting peace and countering China’s influence in the Middle East. Securing the region is vital for global energy and trade, and the accords help to deter Russian aggression by uniting participating nations.

If the Abraham accords play a pivotal role in aligning regional interests, enhancing security, fostering economic growth and ensuring that the United States remains a key player in promoting peace and countering global tension, where is the United Kingdom? The UK is not playing a role in these accords and, as a result, we are acting against our own interests and our own national security.

I have previously likened the Abraham accords to a peace train that journeyed to Jerusalem, continued to Dubai and Manama and, further, to Rabat. The train shows no sign of stopping; instead, it is gaining momentum, with suggestions that its next destination may be Riyadh. The UK boasts strong ties with many countries in the region, and we should play a pivotal role in encouraging neighbouring states to join—most especially the Palestinian Authority. It must board this train and embrace the enormous opportunities that peace can bring.

Together with my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, in September 2021 we cofounded the UK Abraham Accords Group, chaired by Dr Liam Fox MP, with the key aim of encouraging our Government to support, deepen and expand the Abraham accords to other Middle Eastern and African partners. Our hope is that His Majesty’s Government will not only secure more signatories to the accords but facilitate the expansion of relationships beyond normalisation into multifaceted economic security and cultural ties.

Let us just look at what has been achieved as a result of the Abraham accords. Total trade between Israel and the Abraham accords countries surged from $593 million in 2019 to $3.47 billion in 2022. Israel significantly increased its imports from those countries, going from $378 million to $2.57 billion in goods and services, and exports grew from $224 million to $903 million. Those are deep and significant achievements —things are happening.

What of Saudi Arabia? Although not yet a formal participant in the Abraham accords, a promising indication of the ongoing normalisation and relationship-building between Israel and other nations in the region has emerged. The development became evident when Israeli-founded smart energy tech firm Solar Edge entered only a few weeks ago into a joint venture with Saudi Arabia’s Ajlan holdings to deploy solar energy in the kingdom. This signifies more than just a step forward, improving environmental sustainability in the region. It represents the inaugural publicly acknowledged co-operation between the two countries, and I fervently hope that Saudi Arabia will normalise its relationship with Israel.

In the debate that took place in the other place two years ago, the Minister for the Middle East, who is now the Foreign Secretary, answered Robert Jenrick’s question by stating:

“I look forward to working closely with my opposite numbers in the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, and, indeed, any other country that wishes to join and support the normalisation of relations, and bring peace, strength and stability to the region”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/10/2021; col. 118.]

However, I contend that since that statement, very little has been done by the Foreign Office to carry out that commitment. The political landscape has drastically changed over the past few years. Now is the time to grasp the opportunity to reassess policy on Israeli-Arab relations and, more broadly, our regional policies there. It is neither sufficient nor acceptable to use the same old words and policies that we have relied on for 50 or more years, which have continued to fail to bring about any practical help or change.

Earlier this year I was in Bahrain, at the Manama dialogue, when the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Minister Zayani, requested from our Foreign Secretary that the UK join the Negev forum. Has the FCDO taken any steps to ensure that the UK is involved in the Negev forum? Furthermore, I ask my noble friend the Minister a purely logistical question. How many civil servants in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are working on developing the Abraham accords? It is my understanding that currently, most shockingly and shamefully, not one official has the role of focusing on the Abraham accords.

As we approach the three-year anniversary of the historic Abraham accords, and the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, is upon us, there is a profound symbolism in considering the role of the United Kingdom in furthering the path to peace. Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection and renewal: a moment to set intentions for the year ahead. It is a time when the Jewish community worldwide gathers to pray for a better world, where the pursuit of peace and justice is paramount. In that spirit of renewal and commitment to a brighter future, I urge my noble friend and the entire Government to take bold and decisive steps in support of the Abraham accords.

Just as individuals at Rosh Hashanah reflect on past actions and set intentions for the year ahead, so too should our Government contemplate their role in promoting regional stability and co-operation. In the spirit of Rosh Hashanah, let us find the courage and determination to play our part in this historic endeavour, ensuring a more peaceful and prosperous future for all the peoples of the region. The time for action is now: in the pages of history, let it be recorded that we, the United Kingdom, played our part in advancing a brighter, more peaceful future in the Middle East.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a board member of the UK Abraham Accords Group and as one of the co-chairs of the All-Party Group on the Abraham Accords. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for his excellent speech and for giving us the opportunity to debate this. His personal leadership and role in developing our country’s relations with that region is well known to all and we thank him for that. In particular, he—I would say “my noble friend” —has been a great colleague and, on many occasions, a great servant for this country. I also associate myself with the words that he said about the situation in Morocco. A terrible tragedy has been unfolding there, and I too extend sympathy to its people. Whatever we can do to help them would be most welcome. I am sure that the Minister will touch on that in his comments.

The Question we have here is to look at the Abraham accords and how we should view them. I think we have to consider them as one of the single most transformational moments in the Middle East. That is not to say that in and of itself, that moment was everything. We have to acknowledge that the region has changed substantially in the relations between countries due to different factors. For those who remember the work on the development reports that the United Nations was doing in the early 1990s, there has been a whole series of changes, not least in the security situation. We have to say that the Abraham accords are set within the context of a changing region—which is taking a very different view about what people can do and how they can define their futures. That includes the visionary leadership in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which are intent on changing the course of their nations’ participation in society.

These are factors that we have to consider, so the question is then: why it is important to the UK? It is fairly obvious, not least for anyone who has read our own review of our strategy on foreign and defence policy. We want to be involved at the real heart of shaping the international order of the future. We have vital security interests, which are being challenged all the time, and of course our competitive advantage is based around where the science and technology of the future will go. This region is really coming on in leaps and bounds in participation, and the collaboration between countries is immense.

The next question is: what should we do? The answer is, of course, to fully engage. The point about the Negev forum, which is in a sense the diplomatic and economic grunt-work of this process, is that it is absolutely vital for us to engage properly. The Americans sent 40 people from across government to the previous one. It is not about just one issue or the Foreign Office; it touches on every single part. We in the UK Abraham Accords Group are going to try to do our part, ably led by the ex-Minister Liam Fox, who is well known to people in this House. We also have Ruth Parasol on the international advisory board and, most importantly, it is formally and strongly sponsored by the ambassadors of Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. However, I really hope that the Minister will agree that the UK could consider engaging with it much more as a forum, an opportunity and as a strategic interest for our country. That is the most important and vital step we need to take.

My Lords, it is always interesting to listen to the noble Lord. I served on the International Relations and Defence Committee with him and it was a pleasure to do so. I appreciate the usual channels facilitating the swap of my noble friend Lady Ludford and myself, as I am due to take part in and wind for my party on the next debate in the Chamber, which is on climate and migration—an issue affected by the region that we are discussing. Indeed, I will refer to Morocco and the region in that debate, so I apologise in advance if I miss the closing remarks.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that this is a changing region and there is a major shift. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are now seeing a growing sense of national identity. Indeed, the accords will provide an opportunity to ensure that that is not growing nationalism within the area.

We know, however, that there are areas of difference. These are all sovereign countries that have their own interests, and many of them compete both economically and militarily—we have seen that in Yemen already—but if this facilitates the reduction of tensions in that region, that is to be welcomed.

I therefore wish to make two points. First, what should we consider a peace dividend from the accords? That is hard to determine. We have not seen a reduction in the tension, violence and instability in Lebanon, Sudan or Palestine. Yemen continues to be a scar on the region and for humanity, with the challenges that the Yemenis face. What would we consider to be a regional peace dividend from the accords? At the moment, I would venture to say that it is hard to determine.

Secondly, we see not only a potentially declining UK position but a growing position on China. We have asked questions of the Minister regarding the Chinese-facilitated talks between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran. What is the UK’s assessment of the position that China is taking? I want to quote the accords. These are all fine words:

“We seek tolerance and respect for every person in order to make this world a place where all can enjoy a life of dignity and hope, no matter their race, faith or ethnicity”.

They also say:

“We … recognize the importance of maintaining and strengthening peace in the Middle East and around the world”.

However, that was signed by the dictator of Sudan. Words should mean something when people sign up to accords. Unfortunately, the Sudanese experience means that we have difficulty defining things. What is the Government’s assessment with regard to the Sudanese?

In my last seconds, I wish to refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and ask what the Government’s assessment is of the United States’s discussions with Saudi Arabia on a new security guarantee. It may also be for the house of Saud, not just Saudi Arabia. Is the UK supporting that initiative? Does the UK wish to be part of it?

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for securing this short debate and my admiration and gratitude to all those who have supported and championed the Abraham accords all across the Middle East and beyond. They are truly an historic achievement, and I applaud the courage of all those who seek to bring peace to this long-troubled region. I add my thoughts and indeed prayers for the people of Morocco as well.

Noble Lords have already mentioned a number of reasons for why the accords are so significant for the region as well as for the UK. I wish to add to this debate my observation that, at the same time as supporting peace efforts in the Middle East itself, we must be proactive in addressing the tensions which conflict in the Middle East can cause here in the UK. We saw an example of this during the May 2021 Gaza conflict, when there was a steep increase in hate crimes committed against both Muslims and Jews in this country. We cannot presume, therefore, that peaceful coexistence between Jewish and Muslim communities will come about automatically in the UK simply because we are at a geographical remove from the Middle East. It is by no means impossible, but it does not come of its own accord.

A poll done in 2020 found that 44% of British Muslims believed that British Jews were more loyal to Israel than to the UK, a belief counted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to be anti-Semitic. That is nearly twice as many as among the general public at large. However, that perception of dual loyalty was significantly less common among those surveyed who had friends who were Jewish. It is true integration, then, and the opportunity to build friendships, that can make living well with difference possible.

I could give many examples from my local context in Leicester that work across different faiths, particularly our St Philip’s Centre. We are doing a lot locally to build these friendships. However, we also need action from the Government. We need a robust long-term strategy for integration for each of the four nations of the UK, with clearly defined responsibilities for local authorities and funding allocated at national, regional and local levels.

I was encouraged recently to hear that, after the Government had decided to revoke the Inter Faith Network’s funding, they agreed to offer it financial support for one further year. But what is the Government’s long-term strategy for supporting interfaith relations in the UK?

The Abraham accords are an important framework that makes relationships across divides possible and fruitful. The UK Government should passionately support them, but we must also ensure that such frameworks undergird and nurture our common life here too.

My Lords, it is now three years since the signing of the Abraham accords at the White House, arranged by the United States between the UAE, Bahrain, Israel and, as we have just heard, Morocco. Sudan has not signed them but is in the process of doing so. I join noble Lords in conveying condolences to Morocco, a country that many of us have visited and are very fond of, on the tragic situation there.

These Abraham accords are crucial in promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue, peace, dignity and hope among the Abrahamic religions—and, quite frankly, among all humanity, not just in the Middle East but around the world. One cannot fault the accords’ intentions. It is clear, we hope, that other countries will join them. Oman was expected to sign; it then criminalised any relations or interactions with Israel, but has since opened its airspace to Israeli flights. I hope that these accords pave the way between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The US is very keen—as are we all—to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia. Is it the Government’s view that this is on the right track and will happen?

Concern is constantly expressed from the United States and the UK about the settlements on the West Bank. What is the Government’s view on this? There is a cycle of violence in Israel and the West Bank. I was privileged to be part of the delegation organised by ELNET in May to Israel, led by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg. We visited not only Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but the West Bank; we met the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and went to the Gaza border. If only we could have peace over there. We keep talking about the two-state solution, and the Minister has said that we should be committed to it, but how confident is he in the chance of it happening, given the circumstances that persist at the moment?

Finally, we have a big opportunity to take the Abraham accords further with COP 28 taking place in the UAE this November and December. This will be a phenomenal opportunity. The business champion is my friend Badr Jafar. The good news is that, for the first time, we will have a business and philanthropic forum right up front alongside the leaders’ meeting at the beginning of COP 28. One of the big objectives of the Abraham accords is to further trade, business and tourism in the region. Is the Minister confident that we will make the most of this great opportunity and will the UK be represented there?

My Lords, ever since I spent a year in the Middle East in 1967 as a volunteer in the Six Day War, I have been involved with schemes trying to bring nations there together for peace. The Abraham accords are exactly what my old company, Marks & Spencer, was trying to do in the region for decades—on a smaller scale, of course. In 1977, we started deliberately buying goods in volume from Egypt, as we already were from Israel; we hoped this would persuade President Sadat to visit Israel and make peace, and he did.

In the 1980s, we persuaded our Israeli manufacturers to manufacture Marks & Spencer goods in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. Delta Galil set up a factory in Cairo, employing 12,500 people making socks and underwear using the best Egyptian cotton, and another factory in Jordan, thus developing warm relations. Then, in the 1990s, Tony Blair asked if I would go to the West Bank and Gaza to do the same for the Palestinians. We did that successfully.

Why do I mention all this? It is because there is now a great opportunity, on a much larger scale, for the countries of the Gulf and north Africa to use their wealth and assets to include Israel in a massive transformation of the region, to move from oil and gas-producing industries to wind, solar and other clean forms of energy and greener technologies. By using the brilliant science, ingenuity and advanced technology in Israel, this can make them all very wealthy and create close partnerships, at the same time as saving the planet.

Specifically, to enhance the Abraham accords, Saudi Arabia can perhaps join in. It wants to recognise Israel but, at the same time, support Palestine. It can do this by combining recognition of Israel with a major, game-changing investment in Palestine—something spectacular that is not easy for Israel to agree to but doable. It needs to be something that Saudi Arabia can deliver, and be seen to have been delivered on the back of a recognition of Israel and benefits for Palestine.

Nabil Shaath had a plan for the redevelopment of Gaza Port with a “linked” port in Cyprus. This would mean Saudi recognition of both Israel and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Although the costs of such a dramatic gesture of this kind would be immense, there would be private sector investment and other Governments might contribute—perhaps the USA—but Saudi Arabia would be the main shareholder.

As the UK has expertise in all this, possesses great diplomatic skills and has good relations with countries across the region, we could play a vital role. Perhaps the Minister could suggest to His Majesty’s Government that we could host a series of meetings here and discuss all this with these parties in this very House.

My Lords, the prophet Abraham, after whom these accords are named, is remembered five times a day in the prayers of devout Muslims. He is a towering figure in Islam. He has the title Khalilullah—friend of God—and is seen as the ancestor of Moses, who watches over our proceedings stony-faced, Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad. However, he himself is not seen as Christian, Jewish or Muslim. He is rather a sort of primordial monotheist who lives instinctively within divine law and recognising divine justice.

In the Jewish and, by extension, Christian traditions, the salient fact is that he is a wanderer who settles down. The Bible says that Abraham

“spake unto the sons of Heth … I am a stranger and a sojourner with you … give me … a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight”.

The return of Jews to Israel was with an overriding wish to be welcomed home—to have nothing more than peace with their neighbours. Finally, that prospect is on the horizon. It is a great cosmic irony that, just as Israel is improving its relations with its Arab neighbours, it is worsening its situation with many western and European countries, but that is a topic for a different debate.

I think these accords came about because other Arab states realised that it was no longer feasible to give an effective veto to the most hard-line elements in the Palestinian leadership. They saw that, even when offers were made, as under Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert, that would have given 95% or an equivalent of 100% of the territory with land swaps and control of east Jerusalem, that was not enough and they decided to go further, over the heads of some of the Palestinian leaders but in the interests of the Palestinian people. That creates a new situation and a new opportunity, if Israel will now have the imagination and generosity to grasp it and if Palestinians will come on board with the process.

I am not saying for a moment that this is easy, but imagine a situation where there are no physical barriers around the Palestinian territories; where that country can be integrated into the world economy and can trade its way to prosperity—an embourgeoisement of Palestine, if you will; where you will have a propertied class that will not tolerate lawlessness or freelance rocket launchers but will want to remain on good terms with its customers, most of whom will find themselves in Israel. As Milton Friedman said, there is nothing like trade to make people who do not get on get on.

I appreciate that taking down the barriers to get there is not an easy thing, but is it not worth the effort? Is it not worth at least considering the Palestinians as an entity capable of making their own decisions—whether they want confederation with Israel or with Jordan or whatever—and recognising them as a unit? Surely Abraham has buried enough of his dead out of his sight.

My Lords, noble Lords have referred to the incomprehensible earthquake disaster in Morocco, but let us not forget the equal horrors in Libya and Turkey.

Sustainable and lasting peace in the Middle East is an elusive goal that has been bedevilled over the decades. I reflect often on a long-ago meeting in Amman, discussing the role of Israel in the Arab world and the necessary building blocks of partnership that could come to fruition with a focus on security and intelligence. In essence, it was what Israel could bring to the Arab world and the Arab world could bring to Israel.

What gave the Abraham accords impetus was Iran, along with other security concerns. However, one should never forget that the elephant in the room—the Palestinian plight—remains. However, I am encouraged that US and Palestinian officials are in Riyadh for talks on a Saudi-Israel deal, but also remembering that it is now the 30th anniversary since the PLO signed the Oslo accords that officially recognised Israel—how time flies. Now is the time for the Oslo accords to be merged with the Abraham accords and come full circle, bringing equitable and purposeful closure of all the inequities, which would bring real, sustainable peace and partnership to the region.

Where do we go from here? Without any question, we are living in a changing world, where new players on the block are expressing that enough is enough of the ways of old. We must commend the historic Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement signed yesterday between the US and Bahrain, which enhances co-operation in areas from defence and security to emerging technology, trade and investment —useful building blocks indeed in the region. Nothing now can be taken for granted. You see it in the Chinese-brokered Saudi-Iran rapprochement, in Africa with the BRICS enlargement that more increasingly will drive self-interest, and in a China pushback with the proposed India-Middle East transport corridor.

On the Abraham accords themselves, undoubtedly a regional trade agreement must be on the table. But where is the UK in all of this? Why, with all our past associations and deep sense of understanding, has the US shuttered us out of the Negev process? Disrespect, I would call it, for what we could bring forward, and for what in reality we need in a post-Brexit world. The accords have been successful for the signatories, and this is an opportunity for the UK to make an impact in the Middle East. The UK should be viewed, as we are, as a rock-solid friend who is forward-thinking and an innovator.

The Abraham accords should be seen as a platform to demonstrate leadership, and with our financial, legal, and enterprising expertise, the UK should be moving full steam ahead in supporting trade and FTAs with the Abraham accords membership. The deeper the relationship with these countries, the better for the UK and the West generally in terms of security, peace, and prosperity, with the additional plus of it becoming more likely that more countries will join. I join with others in encouraging the Government to task a dedicated official at the FCDO to advancing the Abraham accords.

My Lords, given that we have time, and with the leave of your Lordships, I will make an executive decision and suggest that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, should have four minutes rather than three minutes.

My Lords, I am so shocked—I am recalling life in the European Parliament, where we were lucky if we got two minutes.

I am pleased that we are having this debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Polak, on securing it, almost on the third anniversary of the signature of the original accords. In fact, the anniversary is tomorrow, which is also the festival of Rosh Hashanah, so I wish Jewish colleagues and the community in general a happy new year and shanah tovah.

I strongly welcome the Abraham accords as a factor of peace and development in the Middle East region. In the 1970s, I visited Israel on a scholarship from the Anglo-Israel Association. This led me on a journey to being today a vice-president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, so I am deeply committed to the security and flourishing of Israel at peace in its region.

I wrote a pamphlet as a result of that trip which urged regional economic integration. Yes, I was inspired by the then EEC and I was thinking of Israel’s neighbours, not Gulf or North African countries beyond Egypt, but the destination is more important than the route. People-to-people contacts as much as official ones will help to normalise relations. Beside trade and tourism, support in bad times can help. We are, of course, particularly thinking, as the noble Lord pointed out, of Moroccan, Libyan and, previously, Turkish victims of terrible disasters. I understand that several Israeli teams are assisting with the rescue effort on the ground in Morocco.

The largely positive picture from the Abraham accords is marred by a deplorable rise in extremism in some quarters. This includes the absolutely shocking recent remarks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Hitler murdered European Jews in the Holocaust not because of anti-Semitism but because of Jews’ “social role” in society. Those remarks have been greeted with widespread horror, including by leading Palestinian public figures in an open letter in which they

‘unequivocally condemn the morally and politically reprehensible comments’.

Sadly, we also have shocking extremists sharing in government on the Israeli side. While I will always be a friend of Israel, this has not made me a friend of all Israeli Governments, but the current Government are the worst I have ever witnessed. The make-up and domestic policies of this Netanyahu Government in encouraging illegal settlements and failing to stop settler violence against Palestinians are surely deterrents to reinforcing the Abraham accords—although they in any case bring their own headaches, such as how to treat Saudi Arabia’s leader Mohammed Bin Salman—and to any peace with Palestinians. Of course terrorist attacks by Palestinians on Israeli civilians as much as Israeli settler violence are deplorable, and I condemn both. The prospects for peace and a two-state solution with the Palestinians have rarely looked worse, and the Abraham accords are not an alternative to that.

On a trip last November with Caabu, I found it sobering to hear the alienation of young Palestinians from not only Israel but their own Palestinian Authority, which was last elected 15 years ago. It is interesting and possibly hopeful that a recent poll found that while only just over one-quarter of Palestinians in the West Bank had a positive view of the regional impact of the Abraham accords, this rose to almost half in Gaza and nearly two-thirds in east Jerusalem, and a majority of the respondents in all three places agreed with the statement

“Arab governments are neglecting the Palestinians and starting to make friends with Israel, because they think the Palestinians should be more willing to compromise”.

That is food for thought.

I conclude with the obvious questions for the Minister, who can perhaps report on the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Israel. They are: where do the Government think the Abraham accords are going? What is the UK Government’s role in them, as the noble Lord, Lord Polak, asked? Do they offer any hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace? What shoots of peace can he discern for us to deliver a happy new year?

My Lords, I too start by mentioning the natural disasters: the earthquake in Morocco and the horrendous floods in Libya. It looks as though there were even more deaths in Libya than in Morocco. We have to give every possible assistance in both cases; I know the Minister is actively involved in that. I too mark the new year—Shanah tovah—and hope that our prayers will be heard.

The normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states is an important step forward that I wholeheartedly welcomed when the accords were first agreed, and they have improved the economic prosperity of the countries involved, as we have heard from the noble Lord, and facilitated co-operation and positive dialogue. Emphasis needs to be placed on using the accords as a springboard for meaningful and lasting peace to be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I know the Minister and the Government share the view that this can only really be achieved through a two-state solution. The commitment by the US and others to expand the Abraham accords and organisational agreements are very much to be welcomed, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Polak, I urge the Government to use their strategic influence in the Middle East and north Africa to offer political leadership for peace and reinforce the Abraham accords.

Will the Minister outline how he believes the improvement in relations between Israel and its neighbours can be used to bring about a renewed focus on a peace process for Israel and Palestine? As my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn mentioned, neither the Government’s integrated review nor the refresh mentioned the Abraham accords, so how will the Minister ensure that the UK’s approach to the Middle East and north Africa is co-ordinated and that the UK’s international policy is fully aligned? I certainly believe that they are a positive move and I hope will form a positive start for peace.

Like the Minister, I visited the West Bank not too long ago with a cross-party delegation. I visited exactly the same areas as he did and witnessed some of the violence that was perpetrated against some of the Palestinian villages. I hope he will agree to meet that delegation as soon as possible. Whatever is going on in those areas, we need to ensure that the people who speak for peace are properly heard and that we reinforce the accords as a way of achieving that.

My Lords, I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Polak for tabling this debate. I put on record my sincere thanks to him for what he has done, not just since the accords were signed but, in advance of that, in strengthening security and stability. I share very much the belief of those, including my noble friend and the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Mendelsohn, who say that stability and security lead to economic prosperity. That can only be good for the region and the world as a whole.

I join those who have expressed their thoughts and prayers for the people of Libya. I have spoken to the Libyan President and, this morning, to Martin Griffiths at the UN. We are co-ordinating our efforts. I know we will discuss that in the Chamber next week.

I join others in saying that we stand in absolute solidarity with Morocco. For most of Saturday night and Sunday morning I was working through the logistics of our response to the earthquake. I am delighted that, through the co-ordination we have and our investment in those relationships—it is not just the Government; many noble Lords here today have played their part in that—we were one of the few countries that were first in to make assessments. I pay tribute immediately to our search and rescue teams, which are doing such a sterling job. I assure noble Lords that we have other offers in place in place for both of those tragedies, and I will update the House accordingly.

Today we are discussing the Abraham accords. I was taken by my noble friend Lord Hannan’s contribution, when he reminded us of what looks over us and, indeed, that God minds over us. I totally align myself with his comments because that is something that we as people of faith—whatever faith we follow, but particularly those who follow the Abrahamic faith—should always reflect on.

My noble friend’s Question is equally poignant today, on the third anniversary of the historic Abraham accords. Regarding the UK role, I can put this simply to my noble friend. He rightly challenged the Government, but a lot has been done. I took on this brief in November last year and, by the sheer count of visits to those countries that are within the Abraham accords, Israel and the Palestinian territories, but equally to those countries that have not joined them and which are necessary to ensure stability and security, I can say that the Abraham accords are very much central to our dialogue.

As several noble Lords have pointed out, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has just completed his visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I have not had a chance to speak to him because he is currently in Turkey, but I hope to catch up with him tomorrow morning on the outcomes of his visit.

I assure my noble friend and indeed all noble Lords that the accords that were signed unblocked new relationships: they were truly historic. We always talk about the real conflict between Israelis and Arabs, but we are seeing that narrative change, and these accords have been central. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friend Lord Polak that the work being done by Liam Fox and his team is very much part and parcel of our thinking. The accords formed the discussions in bilateral conversations I have had with Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE. Equally, I assure noble Lords that we have had strategic dialogues with all these countries, either in that country or here, led by either the Foreign Secretary or me. In all these respects, the Abraham accords have been pivotal to where we stand and the role we play.

Several noble Lords raised the issue of the Negev courts. This has indeed been part and parcel of our engagement and conversations with the United States and all those participating, including the likes of Morocco, which is to host the next key meeting. We have also scoped where the UK can really add value, including on common areas relating to climate. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that we can use the opportunity of COP 28 in the UAE to again demonstrate our commitment in this respect.

As I said, this week, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Importantly, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the right reverend Prelate reflected on this. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, it was an opportunity to mark the 75th anniversary of the strong UK-Israeli bilateral relationship and our close collaboration across a range of priorities. My right honourable friend engaged with both the Prime Minister of Israel and my dear friend the Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen. The relationship includes extensive security and defence co-operation, which continues to safeguard the UK and Israel’s national security, as well as our ambitious science, technology and sustainability partnerships, epitomised by our UK-Israel tech hub. I have a really positive story from when I visited Israel. One city that I think the noble Lord, Lord Collins, did not get to was Haifa, where there is a real demonstration of technology and community cohesion working so well.

The right reverend Prelate reminded us about the challenge we all face not just internationally but domestically. What happens in that part of the world—in the Middle East—plays out in the United Kingdom. I put on record my absolute abhorrence of those who seek to use anti-Semitism or Islamophobia and divide communities. That is not our way, and it should not be the way anywhere in the world. We will continue to stress that. That rhetoric has rightly been condemned by this Government—by me and my colleagues.

During his visit to Israel, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met key leaders but also community leaders. He also made clear the UK’s position on the Middle East peace process and called on both Israelis and Palestinians to take meaningful actions and steps forward, first and foremost, to reduce tensions and secure peace. If we do not reduce tensions, we will see a continuation of the current tragic trajectory of loss of life on both sides. Stability leads to security, and security feeds economic prosperity.

As I said, the Abraham accords were historic and remain so. In March this year, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary signed the UK-Israeli bilateral road map with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Cohen. The historic significance of the Abraham accords is rightly in that document—their potential to nurture profound advancements for security, coexistence, prosperity and peace for the region and all its peoples. The road map also sets out our shared ambition to strengthen our partnership with Israel, boost our economic, security and technology ties, advance our co-operation on the environment and climate change and leverage our combined strengths to address global health challenges.

The UK also continues to work with other Abraham accord countries on some of these priorities. We work with partners across the region, including those who are yet to join or sign agreements with Israel. We believe that we need to build on the positive and historic progress made at the Negev summit in March 2022. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about his visit. I am always keen to meet, so we will of course schedule in a meeting with the delegation that went.

However, we are negotiating positive relationships with all countries. In Israel alone, we have started negotiations on an upgraded trade agreement and our tech hub has now facilitated hundreds of innovative partnerships. Today, Israel supplies one in seven of all medicines to the NHS.

While my noble friend Lord Polak is a great advocate for dedicated resources in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, I assure him of two things immediately. He has a very dedicated Foreign Secretary and I hope, with all humility, he would also recognise a dedicated Minister who is absolutely committed to the Abraham accords. Equally, from today’s debate we can see the dedication across your Lordships’ House to ensuring that the Abraham accords are not just sustained but strengthened, and that they deliver. My noble friend Lord Godson sought to interject, and I regret that he arrived late; but I know that he, too, is committed to the important actions we see with the Abraham accords.

Whenever I hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stone, he gives a positive picture and his experience is well documented. He remarked that the Abraham accords are a great opportunity for the region. I agree. He said that we want to explore these opportunities for regional co-operation and development. I agree. We can all commit to this co-ordinating with the emerging regional architecture in the areas of security, stability and economic progress. We continue to work with Israel through the British Israel investment group, exploring opportunities to combine UK and Israeli expertise to tackle technological and sustainability issues across the Middle East.

On the other Abraham accord countries, I have already alluded to the extensive programmes, visits and engagements we have had. In December 2020, the UK Government warmly welcomed the normalisation of relations between Israel and Morocco. We also value the normalisation of relations with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan that the accords enabled. The accords have led to a substantial increase in trade, as my noble friend Lord Polak highlighted, between all the countries. Just this month, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Bahrain further to strengthen economic and cultural tries.

I can report to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who has had to leave, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that we are very much committed to this. Earlier today, I had a very good meeting with the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and part of our wide-ranging discussion was on the important support that the United Kingdom lends to normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel. We are working very closely in several respects.

However, we must not forget the importance of current Israeli peace agreements, such as those with the Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt, which are crucial partners and neighbours of Israel. We have seen great benefit to all these countries. Great courage and conviction were shown by the leaders of Israel, Egypt and Jordan in signing peace agreements, and we must ensure that they too deliver. That is part of the security and stability for resolving the Palestinian issue.

My noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, talked about encouraging other countries. Of course, we are committed to that. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, that we are equally committed to finding a lasting solution to the current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This month is the 30th anniversary of the Oslo accords, a moment of hope that showed us what is possible in the peace process, and we are committed to that.

I thank all noble Lords for their insightful and expert contributions. We believe that the Abraham accords have generated new momentum and have brought greater stability and security to so many. The UK is committed to ensuring that normalisation delivers benefits for the Palestinian people. It was a historic milestone that brings us closer to the goal of shared prosperity and peace throughout the region.

I shall end with a personal anecdote which my noble friend Lord Polak knows all too well. My noble friend Lord Hannan talked about the prophet Abraham. I remember as a born-and-bred Brit Muslim by faith attending a Church of England school, returning home looking rather confused and asking my mother “What is Judaism?” Like all good mothers, she gave me something to eat, and after food for the stomach, she gave me food for thought. She said: “Tarik, when we build a house, we lay a foundation, then we put in the walls, and then we lay the roof on top of that house. As Muslims, we believe the foundation of our faith is Judaism. Without the foundations of Judaism, the walls of Christianity would not have been erected and without the walls of Christianity, the roof of Islam would not have completed what we call the house of Abraham. The other doors and windows represent other faiths and beliefs and how, ultimately, to find peace, security, stability and progress, we must come together in the house of God”. In that spirit, on the occasion of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, I, too, wish everyone of the Jewish faith here in the UK and across the world shanah tovah u'metukah.

Sitting suspended.