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The UK must continue to work closely with the quartet and with regional partners to negotiate, mediate, help strengthen Palestinian institutions and to improve security. We must offer President Abbas our full support in putting together a “moderate”

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Government of national unity that is critical to taking forward the peace process. We have made it clear that we would be prepared to move forward on the quartet’s three principles: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations. There are encouraging signs. At a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Ehud Olmert promised to release some $560 million in frozen tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, to free some 250 Fatah prisoners from Israeli jails, to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and to enhance Israeli trade with the Palestinians. Such actions are vital to the Palestinian people and will help to improve the humanitarian and economic situation, which is dire and critical. Greater freedom of movement would produce immediate and significant benefits. A lot of the violence is a result of frustrated Palestinians who are not able to obtain the basic necessities of life.

The peace process ought to be based and concluded on the basis of a two-state solution, and I believe that there is a glimmer of hope emerging for renewed engagement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I remind the House that when the clock reaches three, that means that three minutes have passed. This is a timed debate, and we are very short on time.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, just give me two seconds.

I am impressed by the One Voice movement, which is an organisation that is working towards achieving peace in the Holy Land. One Voice is holding a solidarity event on 25 July on Abingdon Green.

7.45 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, to address the issue of Palestine in three minutes is absurd, but I will do my best.

Among all the recent grim news from Palestine, why should we not be sitting back and letting matters take their course? We should not do so because the situation in the Palestinian territories is one of great instability, in a region that is already plagued by instability following the insurgency in Iraq and the fighting in Lebanon last summer. Things could easily spiral out of control again. The split between the West Bank and Gaza, if it continues and deepens, is a threat to the only viable basis for a solution to the Palestine problem; the two-state template to which all Governments and all Arab Governments and Israel are committed. Above all, a negotiated solution to the Palestinian problem is a necessary, if not a sufficient, element of any counter-terrorist strategy worthy of the name. Of course, a Palestinian settlement would not at a stroke bring terrorist attacks to an end; indeed any settlement and those who subscribe to it would no doubt be attacked with the greatest violence by the terrorists and their backers, but a settlement should drain away much of the support for extremism, which feeds on the present mood of helplessness and anger, and it would help to legitimise

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politically the actions that moderate Governments in Muslim countries take to resist the pull of violence.

What needs to be done urgently, if inaction is a poor option? First, Israel needs to release all the Palestinian money that it is withholding and loosen the stranglehold that its myriad of roadblocks is exerting on the West Bank. Outside donors need to resume structured efforts to build up the institutions of a future Palestinian state. That needs to be done in ways that do not deepen the split between the West Bank and Gaza and which do not deprive the inhabitants of Gaza of money that is rightfully theirs and of access to humanitarian aid. A policy of punishing the citizens of Gaza for the predicament into which they have fallen would be neither viable nor morally defensible. I would like to hear whether the Government share that view and, if so, how in practical terms they intend to proceed.

Short-term solutions will not be enough. There needs to be a resumed peace process that addresses not only the route to be taken but what is called the political horizon, which is current diplomat-speak for final status issues. Any such process needs to be inclusive, reaching out to and involving talking to all those parties, whether in government or not, who are involved in the politics of the region. I was really shocked to read in the fascinating report by Alvaro de Soto that he was forbidden by two successive Secretaries-General, no doubt under strong external pressure, even to speak to Hamas leaders. If we learnt anything from our experience in Northern Ireland, it was surely that exclusion does not advance the cause of peace. We must not fall into that heresy, which is so prevalent on the banks of the Potomac, that one talks to one’s adversaries only when they have fulfilled a whole list of onerous preconditions; that contact with us is something for which they have to make substantive concessions. Should we not be putting that sort of appeal behind us? I can see the noble Baroness rising to her feet; I am about to sit down.

There have been two appointments in recent days that have given some encouragement. First, Ehud Barak was appointed as the leader of the Labour party and the Minister of defence in Israel. The other is the courageous decision by the right honourable gentleman the former Prime Minister to put his efforts at the service of the international community. We need perseverance and inclusiveness in the period ahead.

7.49 pm

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I was very glad that I could at least agree with the last few sentences of the noble Lord, which were after the end of his time. I remember a wonderful Arab proverb that says that one hand alone cannot clap. As an Arab leader said to me, we shall either all live together or we shall die together. What matters is what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, that Muslims and Jews in particular must work together.

There are issues on which we agree, one of which is to deal with peace in Palestine and Israel together. That is the view of Prince Hassan of Jordan, with

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whom I have worked very closely in the Coexistence Trust, in which Muslim and Jewish Members of Parliament from some 47 parliaments work together with some distinguished people from this Parliament, too. Yes, we work with Israel, but especially with Arab countries, most of which I have visited. If you want a really rough time, try to learn the Arab language and you will know how miserable you can be.

I pay my respects to Salam Fayyad, a member of that organisation, who has been appointed Prime Minister of the West Bank. We wish him luck and peace and we hope that Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, will now help to reunite the Palestinian Authority as a partner for peace. There has to be a two-state solution. Shimon Peres, who has pressed for that all these years, will be appointed President of Israel next week, and I am sure that we all wish him luck, success and health. We are proud that someone of his use can cope, as some of us still try to do.

As for the officers, including Prime Minister Olmert and Netanyahu—no, they do not agree, but there is a democracy in that place, unlike in most other states in the area. But they all want peace; they will all take different routes and they will all say that two hands alone are needed to clap. Yes, Olmert repeated last week that he hopes to withdraw from parts of the West Bank, but that must be part of an overall peace plan, so that the miseries that followed the Gaza withdrawal will not happen again.

Let us join in saluting Tony Blair and wish him the best of the luck in a hellish task. Let us hope that two hands will clap together. Let us hope that two sides will live together, not die together. Living in salaam and shalom together should be our hope. We should help in any way that we can and we must do all that we can to assist people in that aim.

7.51 pm

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, this is very like a Shakespearian tragedy in brief—I do not know whether you are familiar with them. However much some people like to deny the fact, the injustice which is Palestine is one of the major causes of the rise of terrorism in this world. Ever since 1948, Palestine has been used as a battle cry and a propaganda weapon for Islamists worldwide. I have witnessed this in some African countries and, more recently, in Bangladesh.

Palestine is what the West does to Muslims. That is the message. The Palestinians have been brought to their knees. A cultured and well educated society with high skill levels has been reduced to a third-world country. The statistics are there for all to see. If noble Lords do not believe me or any of the other speakers, the Select Committee for International Development in the other place produced a good report this year. I hope that noble Lords will read it. It tells of injustice—injustice to Palestinians.

The new Government talk of rebuilding the economy in Palestine and of getting the Palestinians back to work, which is very welcome. But how will they do that with road blocks, checkpoints and Bantustans divided by settler-only roads? How can an economy work in this situation? Even education is being destroyed as children are terrorised by raids on

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their schools. Exams in Nablus, for example, were disrupted only last week by the IDF. An unskilled and illiterate generation will emerge, capable of very little except low-wage labour. The economy cannot be rebuilt unless Israel changes its policies.

Therefore, the problem remains—how do we persuade Israel to change? We want Israel to be a secure and prosperous state—and I say that sincerely. How can anyone in Israel believe that the present situation will give them what they want, long-term security? I am not anti-Semitic, but I am appalled by the racist, apartheid state of Israel. I use the word “apartheid” in its literal sense—it means separation—because that is what is going on.

Policies of the western countries towards Israel must change. Israel must be made to understand. We must consider trade sanctions and boycotts, if necessary, to make that country obey international law. The present situation is a disaster for Palestinians. It is a disaster for Israel. It is a disaster for the whole world. It has to change.

7.54 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the tenor of this Question, in particular that of the previous speaker, is very critical of Israel. They fly in the face of history and the facts as they exist today. The noble Lords ignore the peace negotiations which Israel initiated over the past 40 years. They ignore Israel’s unilateral evacuation of the Gaza Strip and their hope and expectation that various settlements in the West Bank will go. They ignore the discussions between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, which are crucial if peace is to be procured. They ignore the dramatic and historic meeting on 25 June between the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, at which they agreed the release of 250 Fatah prisoners from Israeli jails, the remission to the Palestinian Authority of £300 million of its funds and humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza. Already a great deal of that has been accomplished.

Above all, noble Lords ignore the shrill cries of Hamas that it will not rest until Israel is driven into the sea. They also fail to mention the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas from Gaza—more than 1,000 in 2006 and nearly 300 in May this year—claiming lives and inflicting injuries. This situation persists.

I do not argue that Israel is without fault. One day, when Hamas renounces its present destructive stance, talks with Israel can take place. But what has been advanced by the noble Lord who asked this Question and, in particular, by the previous speaker, is distorted, one-sided and cannot possibly play a worthwhile role in securing an enduring peace for the region. For all of these reasons, it is puzzling why the supporters of this Question have not backed the Saudi Arabian plan for peace, which only Syria, Iran and Hamas have declined to support.

7.57 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, very slowly my speech has been salamied as other speakers have made similar points, but it gives me an opportunity to

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address the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. The bit of her speech to which I take particular exception is her comment that Israel is an apartheid state. Perhaps we have all forgotten what an apartheid state was like. But, let me say just this about Israel: it has an Arab Minister in the Government and in the Cabinet. There is no ban on races mixing with each other. If you go to any hospital in Israel, you will see Arabs, Israelis and Druze whether they are being treated or whether they are doctors and nurses. In particular, the Weizmann Institute, of which I am the UK chairman, has Arabs and Arab professors who mix closely. Apartheid is a very dangerous word; it has all sorts of meanings and it is absolutely untrue to say that of Israel.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I explained that I used the word in the literal sense, meaning separation.

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, as I said, it is a very emotive word. Perhaps I may say a few words on the nature of peace. After the 1967 and 1973 wars, Anwar Sadat, a man of vision and strength came to Jerusalem and met with another man of vision and strength, Menachem Begin. They signed a peace agreement. Israel withdrew from Sinai. Another man of vision, King Hussein of Jordan, signed a peace agreement with Yitzhak Rabin. It is beyond dispute that Israel wants peace and will withdraw from the remaining occupied territories to get it. But, as we know, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, there is nothing but the hostility of which we have spoken tonight. They came close to peace in 2000, but Arafat walked away. He was not a man of vision and strength.

Today, we have a better situation. The West Bank is occupied by Israel, and maybe in Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party the Israelis have a partner for peace. Does he have the strength to deliver? I hope so. In Gaza, there is a Hamas mini-state. It will not recognise Israel, abide by previous agreements or renounce violence. Until such time as a Palestinian leader can negotiate and deliver a deal that will endure, it is clear that neither the British Government nor any other Government will be able to make that happen.

8 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, 40 years on from the 1967 war and UN Security Council Resolution 242, which followed it, it is fair to say that were the situation not now so tragic, it might be described as ironic that, rather than getting closer, the two-state solution appears to be receding with the prospect of a three-state outcome looming ever larger. Hamas’s military takeover of Gaza last month signalled the de facto partition, perhaps, of any future Palestinian state, setting back the prospect of real negotiations with Israel and, with it, a two-state solution.

I fear I am not alone in my concern that the tide may now be shifting towards a situation where President Abbas, unable to bridge the widened gap between Fatah and Hamas, will use the release of the

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tax revenues by Israel as a stepping stone to attempt to establish a sovereign West Bank state. Though it is a generalisation of course, it is nevertheless being suggested that, with the more educated, advanced and secular Arabs living in the West Bank while Gaza is home to many radical Islamists, separate Palestinian entities may evolve into separate states themselves. That would surely be a road to disaster, with Hamas retaining support, as it does, in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus, while there are more than a quarter of a million Israelis living in illegal, it should be said, settlements in the West Bank, as well as around 185,000 living in annexed East Jerusalem.

I did take some comfort from the Minister's assurance in your Lordships’ House on 18 June that the Government would not wish to have anything to do with a three-state solution, but I hope that she will be able to say in her reply this evening what steps have been taken since then to assist in averting such an outcome. I think that many noble Lords will agree with me that Tony Blair’s appointment as the quartet’s envoy is a positive development.

A Palestinian state can be achieved only by uniting the Palestinian people, but the emergency Government sworn in by President Abbas two weeks ago have, it seems to me, made that less rather than more likely. How can unity be achieved with 2.5 million Palestinians on the West Bank separated from the 1.5 million in Gaza, leaving it more than likely that Israel will feel the need to protect its own interests by reoccupying Gaza?

I have neither the time, nor indeed, I should say, the inclination to engage with the argument as to whether dealing with Hamas is the better long-term option for our Government and other Governments. What I will say is that the current impasse might have been avoided had the policy of the quartet been less inflexible towards Hamas, who, like it or not, were democratically elected by the Palestinian people. Those Palestinians were then punished for that by the withdrawing of aid. At the very least, I hope that the Minister will signify how she intends to ensure that the inhabitants of Gaza are not deprived of the tax revenues, which are rightly theirs, as well as their share of the aid from the EU and other sources that is so vital for their day-to-day existence.

8.03 pm

Lord Bernstein of Craigweil: My Lords, shortly after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians launched rockets from there into Haifa, Israel’s second largest city. An equivalent for us would be the Welsh Assembly suddenly deciding to launch rockets at Bristol. I do not think we would take too kindly to that.

Israel’s other major cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, are out of range from Gaza, but they would not be out of range from the West Bank. Is it unreasonable for the Israelis to fear that what happened in Haifa could also happen to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv?

I do not think that the Israeli army is such a great deterrent as one might think. Although it is the best

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trained and best equipped army in the Middle East, it was quite unable to achieve its objectives in its recent offensive in the Lebanon.

We simply cannot ignore the real security issues facing the Israelis. Last week our new Prime Minister said:

That applies to Israel as well as to us.

This is not an argument against the Palestinians having a viable stake in the West Bank and Gaza. As we have heard, most Palestinians have a wretched life, and they, too, are entitled to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, and to do so without going in fear of their lives. Nor is it an attempt to justify the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which, it is now clear, has been a disastrous policy. But it is an argument against, I would say, simplistic appeals to the Israelis to hand back territories in the West Bank without considering the wider issues.

The Israeli Government can negotiate only with a Palestinian Government who, first, recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel, secondly, genuinely desire a political solution, and, thirdly, can persuade their own people to honour any agreements they make. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, certainly satisfies the first two conditions, but, as events in Gaza have shown, he is unable to satisfy the third.

Our task in the West is not to make unrealistic demands on Israel or, indeed, on the Palestinians but to lend our support to Mr Abbas in his attempts to run the Palestinian state, and who is, after all, a sincere and decent man. We should recognise that both the Israeli and Palestinian Governments have enormous problems to overcome with their own people. We should also try to support organisations for coexistence such as One Voice, which is working very hard in hazardous circumstances with both Israelis and Palestinians.

8.05 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate the issue and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for providing the opportunity. I hope the Government will take a more balanced approach to the Israeli Government, given the sensitivity of the current situation.

If we are to make progress towards a two-state solution—there seems to be consensus around the Chamber that we want to—which would enable peace and justice in the Middle East, surely the role of the UK Government is to encourage dialogue between those parties that are willing to work towards a peaceful solution. We cannot ignore the recent appalling events in Gaza, with which I cannot attempt to deal in a short contribution. However, I hope my noble friend Lady Royall will state whether the Government are supporting efforts by Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to restart the peace process based on the Saudi plan, which was supported by the Arab League at the Riyadh summit in March.



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