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I end by quoting from another person, whose words were reported on 28 September in a Sunday newspaper in Paris. He said:

“This is not really a classic political conflict between two countries or peoples. The causes are above all human. For this is the story of two peoples equally and profoundly convinced—in a different historical perspective—of their right to live on the same tiny piece of middle eastern land ... It is thus necessary for both peoples to agree that both have this right. Then you follow up with all the practical points, the first one being should this be two states with two peoples or one combined state with two people ... But the solution cannot just be done by the politicians. The whole of civil society must be involved. Why should this not include musicians?”.

I quote Daniel Barenboim, of course. If this is not done, the Palestinians cannot be left in limbo without a state of their own. The UN would have to respond and persuade the Americans to avoid yet another of the 32 vetoes that they have made so far since 1968 to stop this process going ahead.

I ask the Minister in all sincerity to give us a positive, tangible and realistic answer today about what is really happening with these negotiations and give us hope for a conclusion of this business, even if it is not at the end of the year then pretty close to it, once the American elections have been returned.

7.59 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House appreciates the consistent way in which the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, keeps this issue before us—an issue that is so important not only for the people of the area but for international security as a whole. I declare an interest as a former director of Oxfam and as a member of the Friends of Oxfam, an organisation deeply involved in the area.

To those on the ground, the peace process still seems to be a virtual rather than substantial process. It has yet to deliver for ordinary Palestinians and Israelis.

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Certainly, there has been progress on reforming Palestinian institutions, but that will prove largely meaningless if the core issues are not addressed. There are now 630 movement restrictions in place as against 561 in November 2007. Indeed, Peace Now, the Israeli NGO, reports that tenders for 1,761 settlement buildings have been issued since Annapolis; a 38-fold increase on the previous year. It is all in danger of becoming a tragic charade, which has urgently to stop if peace is to be achieved.

Despite the very welcome reduction in violence by the Israeli Government and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza following the June truce, the lives of Gazans have hardly improved. Yes, increasing supplies of goods have been allowed into Gaza and Israel has allowed in more fuel, but draconian restrictions continue to remain in place for the movement of people and goods. No exports are leaving Gaza. According to the World Bank, that means that 98 per cent of all industrial operations remain closed. Some 80 per cent of the population are still dependent on aid to survive.

Diplomats from many Governments tell aid agencies and others that Gaza will not be open until Gilad Shalit is released. They explain that the politics are too difficult because of a growing split between Hamas and Fatah and they ask what Israel will do in any case if reconciliation is achieved. Frankly, that is not good enough; it amounts to condoning or de facto legitimising collective punishment. Urgent steps must be taken to open the Kami crossing, especially for exports, and stalled UN humanitarian programmes must be allowed to resume. Most of all, the international community must actively support Palestinian reconciliation and publicly support a national unity government if it is announced.

Of course I recognise that the UK has been very active, particularly around the quartet meeting last May, endeavouring to bring an end to the blockade of Gaza. But the Prime Minister did not mention Gaza in his speech to the Knesset during the summer; nor, on the same day that the quartet met on 26 September, did the Foreign Secretary in his speech to the Security Council. It would be helpful if my noble friend, whom I greatly respect, could tell the House what specific and effective steps the UK is demonstrably taking together with our European international partners to bring an end to the blockade.

8.02 pm

Lord Trimble: My Lords, I too, welcome the fact that we have another debate on this issue. I must confess that I began to worry when I saw in the Motion put down by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, reference to “new initiatives”. One thing that we do not need is a new initiative. We want the existing initiatives to make progress. That is what we should focus on. We should also remember that difficult though it is to achieve, it is clear what the objective ought to be two viable states—a Jewish state and an Arab state—living side-by-side in peace. That is the objective to which we wish to see progress going.

I was concerned towards the end of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, when he seemed to drift off towards a one-state solution, which is not a solution.

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It would be a disaster. Any attempt to encourage that would be wrong. If we are going to get a two-state solution, we need to have two viable parties negotiating—one on behalf of Israel and one on behalf of Palestine. At the end of the day, it will have to be done by them. Obviously, help and encouragement will be provided by the European Union and the United States and they are clearly doing that already, but there is no substitute for those two parties engaging. As I see it, the problem is the division that exists within the Palestinians between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

I welcome the fact that a truce was brokered by the Egyptians and that has led to a reduction in violence in and around Gaza, but some worrying signs are there. Reference was made to humanitarian assistance and the potential for humanitarian problems in Gaza, but I noticed that, recently, Israelis checking a truck carrying humanitarian aid about to go through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza found two tonnes of dual-purpose fertiliser, probably intended for the creation of explosives and explosive devices for the rockets that have come from that area in the past and to some extent continue to come from that there.

I am also concerned about reports that we heard on our own media this morning. A report on the “Today” programme said:

“Militant groups in Gaza are re-arming, training and preparing for a possible renewal of violence”.

If it turns out that the Hamas truce is tactical, that would be the greatest disservice that could be rendered to the people of Palestine. Although I appreciate the concern of the two noble Lords who have already spoken, I think that they are looking in the wrong direction to some extent. What we need is persuasion on Hamas to change and to facilitate genuine negotiations. The practical issues that have been mentioned so far are all capable of resolution. What we do not have are people who are committed to getting an agreement and speaking for the Palestinians. The potential exists for a solution. A solution along the lines that this House would welcome is one that the majority of Israelis now want—although not all. The majority of Israelis now want an arrangement that this House can be content with, but what we do not have is a viable party on the other side.

8.06 pm

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I first express my disgust that this House spent three and a half hours discussing one amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Bill and yet we have one dinner hour only to discuss a problem that lies at the very roots of terrorism itself.

A recent report from the UN rapporteur on human rights said that settlement expansion, the wall, checkpoints and military areas have rendered 40 per cent of the West Bank inaccessible or unusable for Palestinians. Forty per cent of their original meagre share of Palestine is now useless. Nothing changes there except for the worst. The appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza is well known to noble Lords and I will not detail it, but only today I had a report from the UK branch of the Welfare Association of which I am a board member showing how aid is becoming less and less effective

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because of the lack of availability of goods and water. Everything is difficult to obtain, costs go up and projects are rendered near impossible. The UK Government protest but do nothing. The EU and the United Nations do likewise. Why? My efforts to find out why have got me into big trouble with the lobby of Israel’s supporters and I am sure I will again many times, but I take heart in the truly courageous activities of Jewish groups such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Peace Now. I hope that the House will join me in paying tribute to Irene Bruegel, the founder of Jews for Justice who died recently. She was an inspiration to fair-minded Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Peace Now activist Professor Zeev Sternhell was recently injured in a pipe bomb attack on his home by militant settlers, yet continues to campaign for a fair, two-state solution based on 1967 borders. Israel now has her own home-grown terrorists who are active against the Palestinians around the settlements but also against anyone in Israel who dares to support a two-state solution, like the activists in Peace Now.

I will use my remaining time to ask some direct questions of the Minister. What is Tony Blair doing exactly? Is there any progress to report? When will Hamas be brought into talks? If the answer is the usual, “When they agree to the principles set by the quartet”, why does the same not apply to Israel? What action are we taking to freeze settlement expansion, which Israel has promised? Why has the European Union extended the EU-Israel agreement when Israel has not fulfilled the legal obligations originally imposed? Finally, does the Minister agree that Israel must realise that long-term peace requires her to abandon the Zionist’s dream of a greater Israel and make peace with the Palestinians before it is too late?

8.09 pm

Lord Luce: My Lords, land is at the heart of the intractable dispute to which the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, has referred. I therefore address my remarks simply to the issue of Israeli settlement policy in Arab-occupied territory post-1967. This is steadily undermining any prospect for longer-term peace. We all know that the Balfour declaration led to the creation of a Jewish homeland, but we also know that the declaration said that,

Ever since, particularly since the Second World War, there has been a steady erosion of those rights.

We know from the United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in occupied Palestine that there are now 500,000 settlers in this area and 250,000 of them live illegally in eastern Jerusalem. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said, 40 per cent of the West Bank is now made inaccessible and unusable for residential, agricultural, commercial and municipal development. The settlements began in this area in the 1970s, and have grown relentlessly ever since. We have a kind of fragmented Palestine—a kind of Middle Eastern Bantustan—which, ominously, was welcomed, according to a report in the Financial Times last week, by the leader of the Likud party, Mr Netanyahu.

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Being deprived of land and homeland breeds despair and, in turn, violence, making the long-term peace settlement even more difficult to achieve. We all know that this policy contravenes international law. Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring,

It contravenes numerous Security Council resolutions and endless appeals from the European Union and the international community; indeed, the road-map process in 2003 demanded a cessation of settlements. Above all, the Americans give something like $3 billion a year, yet fail to stop this settlement policy. James Baker, the Secretary of State in the early 1990s, said:

“I don’t think that there is any bigger obstacle to peace than the settlement activity that continues not only unabated but at an enhanced pace”.

I am a great believer in the wonderful aspects of the Jewish faith that its people offer to the world. I greatly admire the inspiring leadership of the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. In a lecture last week, he pointed out that Jews believe that what we possess, we hold in trust for future generations. The people of Israel must ask themselves how that admirable belief can be reconciled with taking other people’s land.

In the past few years we have seen a deplorable increase in anti-Semitism which I utterly condemn, as will everyone in this Chamber. Racism is despicable, but Israelis must be careful not to give an excuse to racists to foment anti-Semitism by their land settlement policy in Arab-occupied territory. I hope that the Minister will say what the Government and the European Union are doing about this.

8.13 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and agree with him that there must be movement on—indeed a freezing of—settlement activity. I also note, however, that he directed all his criticisms at Israel. To be fair, there must surely be movement on the other side as well.

I remind your Lordships that European Sub-Committee C produced a report in July 2007 on the European Union’s role in the Middle East peace process, and concluded that the EU must now play,

So what role can be commended to the Minister? First, that the EU is by far the largest provider of aid to the Palestinians must surely give leverage. We should therefore continue and enhance our humanitarian aid. We should encourage President Abbas to work closely with Arab colleagues. Indeed, one of the positive features of the past few years, from 2002, has been greater engagement of Arab countries in the region, encouraging them to promote an internal reconciliation process that would allow the creation of a technocratic Government, probably under Salam Fayyad, in the Palestinian territories and an agreed date for elections for the Palestinian presidency and the PLC.

There should be an attempt to give a widening mandate to President Abbas to negotiate with Israel on the basis of the quartet resolution. There should be preparation for the opening of border crossings between

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Gaza and Egypt, seeking to negotiate an international oversight and monitoring mission at the crossings, underwritten by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Of course, the European Union is already very involved, but this should allow controlled movement of goods and people, and the co-ordination of the three main parties on anti-terrorism and anti-arms smuggling activity. We should build on progress in expanding the PA’s security capacities. I note that former Prime Minister Blair was in Jenin. Jenin is a model of that activity, which also occurs in Nablus and the Hebron area.

Finally, the EU should support an economic package, including economically driven security arrangements, financial support, economic infrastructure and private business support, all in preparation for the conference to be hosted in London in December of this year. Time permits only those headings, but that is quite a massive agenda in itself. The stakes are high. I am convinced that the EU can play a most positive role, and hope that some of these suggestions can be furthered by my noble friend.

8.16 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I shall only make three points in this necessarily short but timely debate. First, it must surely be a high priority for the European Union to ensure that the incoming US Administration really throw their weight behind the negotiation of a comprehensive package to bring a durable peace to Israel and its Arab neighbours. Too often in the past, new US Presidents have simply put the Middle East peace process into the “too difficult” tray, or have sent their Secretary of State off on a half-hearted quest for peace, only to withdraw their support at the first whiff of opposition in Congress.

This time, the negative implications of continuing tension and conflict over Palestine for all the other US foreign policy objectives in the Middle East region—for the stability of Iraq and the Lebanon, for the handling of Iran and the fight against terrorism—must be even clearer than they have been for the past several years. So the European Union could be pushing against a less firmly closed door than in the past, but push it surely must, and I hope that the Minister will assure us that it will.

Secondly, I urge that the European Union pursues a genuinely inclusive approach to the negotiating process, not allowing itself yet again to be held captive to a set of rigid preconditions for involvement on the Arab side, as has been the case in recent years. Of course, it is right to insist that acts of violence against Israel by Hamas must cease, but there is now a de facto ceasefire in Gaza. Of course, actual negotiations must be contained within the framework of the Arab peace plan and not simply go back to square one. Of course, Hamas must in the end be prepared to sit at the negotiating table with Israel and to respect its right to security, but these requirements should no longer be a barrier even to talking to Hamas and seeking to draw it into a serious negotiating process.

Thirdly, the EU could play a much more prominent and proactive role in any eventual settlement arrangements that are agreed. After all, no third party stands to gain

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more from a Middle East peace settlement than the European Union, and none stands to lose more from the continuation of the present stasis. Hitherto, the European Union has been a generous donor to the Palestinians and has backed a number of imaginative, if somewhat marginal, schemes to underpin the peace process, but has left all the running on the main issues to be made by the US. Is it not time for the European Union to indicate the role it could play in any post-settlement security arrangements for the region? Is it not also time for the EU to sketch out the sort of deeper and wider relationship it would wish to develop with Israel in such circumstances? Is it not essential that the EU pulls together all the disparate elements of its policies towards the Middle East peace process, and those of its member states, into a concerted and coherent effort, and not just sit around waiting for the Lisbon treaty to come into force?

I know that the points I have raised are not easy or simple ones to handle, but the present opportunity for the European Union to turn over a new leaf in its involvement in the peace process will not last for long. It would be good to hear from the Minister that we do not intend to let it slip, as we have so often done in the past.

8.20 pm

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, just over three months have passed since our previous similar debate—three months of relentless occupation and three more months of despair for the Palestinian people. So far this year 436 Palestinians have been killed directly in the conflict, mostly by the Israeli Defense Forces, but some by settlers. This compares with 29 Israelis killed in the same period. The stark difference between these two figures shows clearly the balance of force used, even if the figures are looking a little better at present.

This year so far the number of checkpoints and closures has increased by 12 per cent. We heard other figures earlier. Many Palestinian homes have been destroyed while more Israeli settlements have been built in the Occupied Territories—the noble Lord, Lord Luce, gave us figures in that regard—contrary to international agreements and international law, deliberately making the peace process more difficult, as he eloquently said. It is no wonder that Palestinians lose faith in the ability of their leaders to deliver a peaceful life.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, I read Mr Olmert’s remarks given in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth a week or so ago, in which he said clearly that Israel should agree to return most of the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem. As others have said, it is a pity that he did not say that before he resigned, but at least it shows realism about what is necessary for peace. We all know the outlines of a peace agreement with two viable states, but what is happening to the peace process? That is what we are asking the Minister to bring us up to date on. What has Tony Blair been able to achieve in his very difficult mission in Palestine? We await to hear that with interest.

Like the Psalmist, we all,

but oppression will not achieve it. Negotiation and agreement can and, I believe, will.

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8.22 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, with diplomatic friends I visited Jerusalem, Gaza and Nablus last July. Nablus was, and I believe still is, almost sealed off by Israeli forces, with access on foot through a humiliating checkpoint. Gaza remains an open-air prison, with restricted access from the north and almost no movement to or from Egypt through the Rafah crossing. Gaza still has no air or sea port. The successful ceasefire has allowed a small increase in supplies by land of fuel and other essentials. No exports are moving out of Gaza, hence the massive unemployment, dependence on food aid and almost certain malnourishment among children. Because the local water supplies are polluted by salt, kidney diseases are common. In spite of all those problems, some normal life continues; we visited a joyful graduation ceremony at the university.

Since last summer, it has been obvious that the Gaza ceasefire should be extended to the whole of the West Bank. Alas, that has barely been discussed. Will the Government devote some effort and energy to that matter? Will they try harder to secure the release from detention in Israel of some 40 Palestinian parliamentarians and others who are still held without charge?

Our Government and the quartet’s special representative have set out to improve the economic situation of Palestinians. That has proved an impossible task while Gaza remains blockaded and the West Bank is divided by Israeli checkpoints, which have increased in number since the Annapolis conference.

When will the Government give a full account of their policy towards Israel and Palestine? They cannot claim that it has been in any way successful. Fifteen years of negotiations by the PLO and then the PA have not ended a military occupation that has lasted for 41 years. Increasing colonisation of the West Bank has inevitably led to despair and violence, as Prime Minister Olmert recently recognised. How much has this country spent since the Oslo agreements to shore up a disastrous status quo? The total world amount of aid and relief to Palestinians has been put at $9 billion.

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