THURSDAY 28 MAY 2015
House of Lords Debate on the Queen’s Speech:
– Lord Collins of Highbury: On Israel and Palestine we need to continue to press for a two-state solution. (extract)
– Bishop of Southwark: Although media and political attention is understandably fixed on addressing the instability in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, it is important that we do not lose sight of efforts to secure a two-state solution that provides for the security of Israel, justice for the Palestinians and peace for all. This is a vital strand of the interconnectedness of the region, and bold moves in seeking to unlock this situation are needed if Israel’s security is to be guaranteed and the Palestinians enabled to flourish. This continues to be a vital building block for wider peace throughout the region and for the defeat of terrorism. Despite the expansion of Israel’s settlement programme and the unpromising signs emerging from the new Israeli Government, I trust that Her Majesty’s Government will remain committed to encouraging Israel to fulfil its international obligations as well as to the concept of a two-state solution. There remains no better alternative to the probability of the establishment of either a non-Jewish democracy or a Jewish non-democracy. At a time when the situation on the ground grows ever more dangerous, the Government need to look imaginatively at ways to move beyond the current stalemate.
The status of Palestine is likely to be an issue that reappears once again before the UN Security Council. I sincerely hope that the Government will be supportive of any draft resolution that creates greater equivalence between Israel and Palestine as political entities in the framework of any negotiations. The absence of progress will only allow for extremism to ferment. Indeed, I hope that the Government will draw encouragement from the growing support for the recognition of Palestine, in your Lordships’ House as well as in the wider international community. The Holy See’s recent intervention is but the latest example of this. The recognition of Palestine and upholding Israel’s security will be important stepping stones in securing a long-term peace in the Middle East. (extract)
– Lord Hannay: Thirdly, even if prospects for a two-state solution in Palestine look at best discouraging, will we nevertheless persevere with what remains, I believe, the only possible long-term way of avoiding further outbreaks of hostilities? Would it not make sense, as a recent vote in the other place suggested, to buttress our support for a two-state solution by recognising Palestine? Should we not be encouraging a return to the Security Council to set out the basic parameters of a settlement in that forum and thus encourage a resumption of negotiations?
– Lord Alderdice: One of the key difficulties is that our relationship with Russia has continued to deteriorate; therefore, at the level of the Security Council and every level below we do not have any way of working together on some of these key questions. That is true in the Middle East. It is true that those questions are spoken about with regard to Israel/Palestine. The position of the Quartet has never been a united one. Russia has always talked to Hezbollah, Hamas and everybody else, while the Quartet maintained that it was not talking to those people. However, the fact is, as many of us have been warning over the past few years, that the two-state solution is as good as gone, and we now have a Prime Minister elected on a mandate—whatever he said after the election—that says that there will be no two-state solution on his watch. There is no possibility of any simple negotiation of the kind we are used to unless we change the situation, and the only way I can see of changing the situation and permitting the emergence of serious discussions on a two-state solution is if this country—and even more particularly the United States—recognises the state of Palestine, and then we move to implement it. Anything else is only fiddling in the wind and, actually worse than that, creates a situation where people such as Hamas are regarded as wishy-washy liberals by young Muslims in the Middle East, who say, “No—we must turn to IS because the only thing the West understands is the kind of force that is really frightening to them”.
– Lord Williams of Baglan: The gracious Speech was also striking in that sadly it said nothing about what used to be termed the Middle East peace process—a term that now ill fits the situation in Israel and Palestine. I can think of no point in the last 30 or 40 years when one could have been more pessimistic about the situation on the ground. That is despite the fact that in the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority, Israel has a partner in Abu Mazen— President Mahmoud Abbas—who is probably more moderate than any other Palestinian political leader. He is certainly far more moderate than any Palestinian leader could afford to be after his period in power. Israel should be looking for opportunities to move forward with a peace agreement, and our Government should be supporting that. We need to see more evidence of that, and its absence in the most gracious Speech is striking.
– Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: I contest the argument made so often in your Lordships House that Israel is the source of all the Middle East’s woes. Iran’s regional ambitions are no longer just ambitions but reality. One needs only to take a snapshot of the region to see Iran’s fingerprints in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. Iranian officials continue to sponsor terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and, in recent months, have continued to incite acts of terror against not just Israel, but supporters of Israel across the world. I quote Mohammad Hossein Nejat, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard, who stated that,
“nowhere in Israel is safe now and the Israelis should wait for their death everyday … the Zionists shouldn’t feel safe in any part of the world”.
– Baroness Falkner: I turn to the two significant themes running through this debate—and I will be very brief. First, on the Middle East, one of the reasons we have failed to think through an effective long-term vision of our interests in the Middle East is that, as several noble Lords have mentioned, our diplomacy was constrained by the most ill-advised appointment of modern international relations: that of Mr Blair as the Quartet representative. It was bound to fail because of who he was—we have heard much about who people are, and their backgrounds—and because of the narrowness of his remit, and that narrowness was designated as such because of who he was. The second major flaw in our Middle East strategy is the lack of the publication of the Chilcot inquiry. It was the Liberal Democrats in 2009 who said to the then Labour Government that an inquiry of that scope and ambition could not successfully take place with any speed at all. I argued in this Chamber that we needed to have a two-part inquiry. Had we done so, now—some six years later—we might have had some method of ascertaining what our strategy should be towards the cauldron which the Middle East has now become. Alas, it was not to be.
The Queen’s Speech has also spoken about Britain’s role in the stability of the Middle East. I say to the Government that it will be on their watch in 2017 that we will have the centenary of the Balfour Declaration—100 years of the slow and painful erosion of the rights of those living in Palestine. I can only echo the comments of my noble friends Lord Alderdice, Lord Ashdown and others in their analysis of what damage is being done to our reputation as a UN Security Council permanent member by hitching ourselves to the US’s coat-tails in not awarding recognition to a Palestinian state. It is nearly 100 years since our attempts to help one people resulted in such palpable injustice to another, and that must weigh on our contribution to what can no longer be described as a peace process. [NB: Even though Lady Falkner said he did, Lord Ashdown did not mention Palestine as far as I could see.]
– Baroness Anelay: Several noble Lords raised the issue of Palestine and Gaza, and we will have Questions on that next week. I will say again that we remain committed to a two-state solution. It is the best way to deliver peace and security for both the Israelis and Palestinians. However, we would like to see an agreement that ensures that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end their rocket and other attacks on Israel and that Israel ends its expansion of its illegal settlements—illegal in international law.