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The West has, alas, done much to divide the Palestinian side. It should support the Saudis and others who have worked to bring about a brief Government of national

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unity. The West should put its weight behind the Arab League peace initiative, which was first proposed in 2003. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, that the West and Her Majesty’s Government should back up the efforts of Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Germany in mediating distinct aspects of the limping peace process. Finally, we, and the European Union, should ensure that our money support is spent in the most constructive ways possible, which has not always occurred in past years.

8.01 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, one of the most odious aspects of the Middle East conflict is the continuous demonisation of one side by the other. Both Israelis and Palestinians are guilty, which is why so many of us, including OneVoice, are doing all that we can to bring young people of both communities together. There is a piece of graffiti that horribly and poignantly highlights this demonisation. I have seen it on the West Bank and I see it throughout Europe. It is the sign of the Star of David, followed by an equals sign, followed by a swastika. Its message is clear: by a perversity of logic, it is deemed that Israel, which was created by the victims of the Nazis, has become the new Nazi state.

The same mindset equally demonises Israel as being an apartheid state. Apartheid in South Africa was the legalised removal of most rights from all non-white people. That is not Israel. Indeed, the opposite is true. Within its borders, Israel has an Arab minority of more than 1 million citizens, who comprise 20 per cent of the population. All Israeli Arabs and Druze have full voting rights. Eleven Arabs are vocal Members of the Knesset; the Minister without portfolio is an Arab; so, too, is the Deputy Speaker. An Arab holds a seat on the Supreme Court. It is odd—is it not?—that in Britain, where we have more than 2 million Muslims, very few hold such high offices of state. But in Israel they do. Arabs can attend any university in Israel. They comprise 20 per cent of the student population at the University of Haifa. Israeli Arabs can eat at any restaurant they choose, go to any cinema they want or fall in love with any person they like and marry whomever they choose. Does that sound like an apartheid state? I do not think so.

8.03 pm

Lord Steinberg: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, for introducing this debate. I am a proud Zionist, who is filled with even more pride at Israel’s celebration of its 60th birthday. Israel is a vibrant society. It is completely democratic and desires peace more than anything else. If only its neighbours wanted peace, and believed in the sanctity of life and in democracy, then peace could be achieved. I welcome the Government’s efforts to achieve this objective, but Iran casts a giant shadow over the entire civilised world. It would help enormously if it would stop supplying arms and know-how to Hezbollah and Hamas. We cannot expect democracy to happen overnight in the area, but we should encourage it as far as we can.

We must not believe that some things are possible when they are not. Self-delusion is a terrible thing. So I must say loud and clear that the Palestinian refugee

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problem is the problem of the Arab states and not of Israel. We must remember that Israel took in nearly 1 million Jews who were kicked out of Arab countries. Israel believes that the refugees belong to the neighbouring countries and not to Israel. The problem of Jerusalem remains. Israel believes that it is the eternal capital of Israel and anyone who visits knows that all religions can practise their faith without impediment.

These few comments come as a result of my being in Israel on a regular basis and being aware of many conversations with the public and the politicians. I hope that the Government, through the Minister, will work hard to achieve the goal of peace and I wish him and all interested parties much success.

8.05 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, first, I must apologise to the Lord Speaker for my mobile phone going off. I did not even know that I had it in my pocket. I declare an interest as a long-standing member of Labour Friends of Israel and president of the Trade Union Friends of Israel. I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Turnberg not just for securing the debate but for the balanced overview that he gave, which has saved a lot of noble Lords from having to repeat some of his pleas and hopes for the various talks that are going on.

Mention has been made of OneVoice. I wonder whether the Minister is aware that these brave and courageous young people have collected 650,000 signatures from Israeli and Palestinian youth. They want the authorities to accept the need to get an understanding and to make the parallel state a reality; they want politicians to stop talking and to get on with creating a better future. Besides the 650,000 signatures, OneVoice has created 1,230 young leaders who are,

As it said in a recent publication,

Last week, I met some Palestinian doctors and teachers who were very concerned about the problems that they are facing in trying to teach deaf and dumb children in Jenin. The Jenin Charitable Society came here at the invitation of the Montessori education group and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, arranged for some of us to meet its representatives. Time is not available to go through what they drew to my attention, but I undertake to give the Minister a note of that meeting, so that he can address issues such as the confiscation of computers.

My time is up. For those who criticise Israel, I have one statistic: not as many bombs fell on this city—some of us were living here at the time—in all the weeks of the Second World War as rain on Israel in one week now.

8.08 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, to whom we are indebted for this debate, I welcome the recent meetings between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert and I

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very much hope that they will bring the two sides closer together. Perhaps the recent ceasefire brokered by Egypt, which came into effect two weeks ago, is of more immediate importance, because there is now a pressing need to ease the blockade on Gaza as soon as possible to alleviate the dreadful humanitarian suffering there, with people being denied medicines and fuel.

Does the Minister agree that no party should take provocative actions that could break the ceasefire and that this should include the need to cease all settlement building in the West Bank, particularly in Jerusalem? I fully recognise that that is a two-edged sword, but I understand that Libya is to raise this issue at the UN Security Council in an attempt to seek a resolution on the subject. But the UK, the US and France are opposing the text. Will the Government propose an alternative text to the resolution so that at least the issue might be highlighted again in the context of the ceasefire?

If the two-state solution that many people want to see is to be achieved, it is incumbent on both sides to make meaningful concessions. I believe that there cannot be lasting progress without a halt to the settlement building, which recently, and quite remarkably, even President Bush has criticised in strong terms.

Last week in another place, the Foreign Secretary stated that there has not been a Middle East peace process for seven years. There is one now. It is precious and we need to ensure that we make some progress. I very much hope that the Government will play their part in bringing about that progress.

8.10 pm

Lord Haskel: My Lords, it seems to me that this debate is about the humiliation of the Palestinians by Israel and the response of the Israelis to terror and threats to their existence. I, too, am concerned that neither side seems to know how to stop before this leads to war, perhaps even nuclear war. That is the political situation that we hear and read about; that is what the negotiations, detailed by my noble friend Lord Turnberg, are all about.

However, there is another way. Away from the leadership, there is a lot of activity designed to encourage peace. My noble friends Lord Mitchell and Lord Clarke have mentioned the OneVoice youth movement, which brings young Israelis and Palestinians together to challenge their leaders. Physicians for Human Rights brings world-class medical attention to Israelis and Palestinians alike. My noble friend Lord Turnberg himself is active in arranging exchanges of Israeli and Palestinian medical students. Schools are being run with equal numbers of Israeli and Palestinian children. There are cultural and sports activities, as well as business activities and technology projects run from this country, designed to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. Inter-faith activities are also designed to bring them together.

Hardly a day goes by without our learning of some new activity or development of an existing activity to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. So my question to the Minister is this: what do the Government think about all this activity? Does it simply contribute to a feelgood factor, particularly among the organisers? Or

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do the Government think that eventually a critical mass might be reached that will overcome the leaders’ preoccupation with terror and humiliation and force peace from the bottom up?

8.12 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, who secured this debate, started us off with a thoughtful and wise speech, thereby encouraging the considerable interests in your Lordships’ House to respond in a reflective way. We owe him a debt for that. The number of noble Lords who wished to participate and the passion with which they did so show the interest that there is in this place and the concern not only for Israelis and Palestinians but for the wider impact on the whole region and, indeed, the wider world.

In the short time available to me, there are a few specific issues that I wish to raise with the Minister. The first was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He pointed out effectively that while you can have a political process among those who broadly agree on principle, a peace process must in essence involve those who have the most profound, deep and even violently expressed disagreements. Therefore, any process that is not inclusive and does not bring to the talks those who are responsible for at least some of the violence cannot truly, in the end, be a peace process.

Of course, there has to be a recognition that military solutions of any kind will not resolve the problem. That is why, interestingly, in speaking with some Iraqi parliamentarians recently, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr Martin McGuinness, made it clear that they would end up talking with each other. The only question was whether it would be in one year, five years or 10 years. He said that it was his experience that there was no military solution either for the British Government or for the IRA. I take the same view, with regard not just to Iraq but to the region that we are discussing tonight. In the end, those involved will talk with one another. The question is: how many lives will be lost and how much more destruction will take place before then?

The issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, is relevant. There was a time when the impression was given that Her Majesty’s Government were supportive of all talks; then it seemed that we would not accept and would exclude Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. Have the Government moved? Are they really committed to these kinds of engagements? It is possible to show support by explaining the painful process that Her Majesty’s Government went through as they found a need, in the end, to engage with the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries. They said that they would never engage with them but, for the cause of peace, they had to. That, perhaps, would be a real measure of support to Israelis and Palestinians in their profoundly difficult task.

8.15 pm

Lord Trimble: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, on securing this debate. I also congratulate the many noble Lords who took part and managed to keep within the time limit in a quite remarkable way. That is worthy of note.

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There was a considerable advantage in having a time limit, which the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice—whose contribution I enjoyed—might recognise. I refer to the term “whataboutery”. We used it in Northern Ireland about people who wanted to get into a debate about who did what to whom, when, who was right and who was wrong. There is no doubt that there is even more whataboutery available to people who wish to get involved with regard to the Middle East than even we experienced. I congratulate noble Lords on having a degree of restraint with regard to whataboutery tonight.

The key point that noble Lords came back to again and again was that there is a talks process in existence. A number of people were pessimistic about the talks process when it began; it seemed a forlorn hope. But, as noble Lords said, there have been significant developments. We have seen a ceasefire from Hamas, brokered by Egypt, and there are contacts taking place with Syria, facilitated by Turkey. It is significant to see two of the major powers in the region, in terms of size, population and power, involved positively. It is a pity that the third comparable power, Iran, is not involved and is not making a positive contribution. It could make a positive contribution.

I do not want to get involved in a discussion about the contacts, the distinction between contacts and talks and the question of whether people are being included or excluded. The key question is whether people are in a position to make a contribution, whether they are in the same ballpark, whether they will engage in serious discussions or whether discussions with them would send the wrong signals. That is a different issue entirely.

I had the pleasure of being at a conference in Jordan recently. It enjoyed wide participation and a good range of contributions. What stuck in my mind was a sentence from Shimon Peres, who addressed the conference. He of course said that he would not discuss the talks, except to say that in all practical matters they were close to agreement, but that the emotional matters had become heavier and more difficult. That is worth reflecting on; one could see practical matters being resolved. That view coincides with what many people have thought—that a deal is there to be made if people are able to make it, but what holds them back is that it would involve huge emotional shifts. For the Palestinians, it would mean the acceptance of a Jewish state; for the Israelis, it would mean the division of the state and the division of the city to which they are so strongly attached. Those are of equal weight.

I hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to overcome those emotional problems. I hope that the wider Arab community will support the Palestinians. I know that there is plenty of support in some elements within Israel for what is to be done and I hope that Her Majesty's Government are supportive of this. I fear that the problem, spelt out for us by noble Lord, Lord Bew, in the previous short debate on this subject, is the hatred that exists. That reinforces the emotional problems and difficulties. We all hope that they will be overcome and we look forward to hearing from the Minister what Her Majesty’s Government are able to contribute to the process.

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8.19 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I join those who have thanked my noble friend Lord Turnberg for tabling this Question. I assure everybody in the House that the Middle East peace process continues to be a high priority for this Government as well as a topic of great interest to this House. The UK remains committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, was going to suggest that we apply a two-minute rule to peacemaking in the Middle East because it would perhaps have produced a result in Ireland, too. I look forward to the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Trimble, proposing as a lesson from Northern Ireland time limits on peacemaking, because we have, after all, been working at a Middle East solution for a very long time and recognise that huge obstacles remain to be overcome. However, recent events have also shown that progress can sometimes be made quickly where there is the political will.

Listening to the contributions this evening, I was struck by the need for all of us to be realistic about the role of Her Majesty's Government. We have a role which comes from our history and knowledge of the region, from our diplomatic energy and from the values that we apply. It comes, too, from the interest taken in this House as well as in another place and by so many Britons whatever their political persuasion. Nevertheless, despite deep yearning on all sides for peace in the Middle East, we must recognise that we are not a front-line player, but a supporter of the quartet and the friends of peace on both sides of this dispute. We can play a role in providing diplomatic support and suggestions as to creative means for moving issues forward; we can, as is being seen in Gaza, help generate and stimulate private sector activity; we can support security sector reform. However, we are dependent on our ability to work with the quartet, with our EU partners and with other friends and allies.

That is one reason why we were encouraged by the Annapolis conference. Not only did it see substantial political movement from both sides but it recreated a framework where people of good will could press to move things forward. We saw President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert commit to fortnightly meetings. We saw them both restate their commitment to the road-map obligations, which means improving Palestinian security but also a freeze on Israeli settlements. The US undertook to monitor this process as the country best placed with both sides to play that role. All parties agreed to seek to conclude negotiations by the end of 2008. The conference was a signal of renewed international commitment to the peace process. It was remarkable for a particularly strong Arab attendance. I say in response to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the moderate Arabs were there in force.

We are deeply committed to supporting these peace negotiations. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been engaged. Both have spoken regularly to the key actors involved. The Foreign Secretary visited the region on 8 and 9 June, which was his second visit this year. Both he and the Prime Minister

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have been very clear in their message: we support the Annapolis process and expect all parties to fulfil their road-map obligations as part of it. I therefore repeat for the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and others that this means Israel must freeze all settlement activities and that the Palestinians must work hard to improve their security sector.

London has supported that in every way in which it is able. We were the stage for discussions on the political process. On 2 May, the Government hosted the ad hoc liaison committee meeting of major donors to the Palestinian Authority. The quartet also met on the same occasion, as did the Arab quartet. The Foreign Secretary met key figures involved in the process, offering our support.

One area in which we can make a particularly significant contribution is support for the Palestinian economy, because if there is to be a two-state solution, we must have a viable Palestinian economic as well as political state. Economic and social development in the Occupied Territories remains a cornerstone of the Government’s approach. We have committed to helping the Palestinian Authority through very difficult economic times. We continue to do all we can to support Prime Minister Fayyad’s Government, who have the necessary experience to implement difficult and far-reaching reforms that will create the viable Palestinian state that is necessary if peace is to be sustainable. In December last year, the international community pledged, as noble Lords know, a remarkable $7.7 billion at the Paris donor conference in support of Prime Minister Fayyad’s plan. The UK has committed £243 million in support of the Palestinian Authority over three years, linked to political progress, which represents a substantial increase in the Government’s assistance.

While we recognise that the private sector is stunted by the Israeli occupation, we felt that more could be done. There must be a viable private sector. Investors need to be drawn in early if we are to create the right climate for the private sector that will underpin the Palestinian state. Therefore, in May, the UK co-sponsored with the United States the Palestinian Investment Conference, held in Bethlehem. The Prime Minister spoke at a curtain-raiser earlier in the month with Tony Blair and Prime Minister Fayyad. Investment agreements worth £70 million were initialled. That saw more than 500 Arab businessmen and 100 Gaza businessmen enter Bethlehem, which sends an extraordinary signal.

The third crucial element to progress between the Israelis and Palestinians is Palestinian security. One of the key obligations set out in the road map, Palestinian security, is vital. The UK has long been at the forefront of supporting reform of the Palestinian security sector. In June, Germany hosted an important conference in Berlin to galvanise support in this area. The UK announced that it will spend £2.7 million in 2008 on security sector reform and has set aside more for the next three years to improve civil justice and public prosecution.

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