On Thursday 29 January 2014 the House of Lords debated the recognition of a Palestinian state. Seven Peers who have visited the West Bank and Gaza on Caabu delegations spoke in the debate, including Baroness Warsi and Baroness Morris who visited the West Bank on a Caabu / Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation in December 2014.
The House of Lords debate was moved by former leader of the Liberal party and Caabu patron Lord Steel;
That this House takes note of the Resolution of the House of Commons of 13 October 2014 that “this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution”, and that this recommendation has also been adopted by the European Parliament, and the Parliaments of Sweden, France, Ireland, Portugal and Luxembourg.
Introducing the debate, Lord Steel said:
My Lords, we might now add Spain to the words of the Motion. I am gratified that so many Members wish to take part in the debate, and I am conscious that the House expects to rise at seven o’clock. I join in that expectation, as I am booked on the last plane to Edinburgh, so I will attempt to be brief in my opening remarks.
First, I declare two interests. I was for seven years president of the excellent charity Medical Aid to the Palestinians. I am delighted that the current president, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton, will be taking part in the debate. Secondly, I am a paid-up member of the Friends of Israel, for the very good reason that I think that it is important always to distinguish between the State of Israel and the policies of the present Government of Israel. They are not the same, and too many people equate the two rather sloppily.
When I was leader of the Liberal Party, my Palestinian friends used to say, “It’s all your fault. It was under a Liberal Administration that the Balfour Declaration was first promulgated in 1917”. I am very proud of that, but I also remind people of the second part of that declaration, which states,
“it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
I am afraid it is that section of the Balfour Declaration which has so often been forgotten.
As a young MP, I went on the parliamentary delegation to the General Assembly of the UN in 1967. I remember the excitement and enthusiasm of sitting in on the meetings with Lord Caradon, who was then our representative at the UN, when we secured UN Security Council Resolution 242. There was a sense then that this was the start of a really effective peace process, after the war in that area. How sad it is that more than 45 years later, we have to say that that optimism was completely misplaced.
Then in 1980, when I was party leader, I took a delegation of six colleagues around the Middle East to study the situation in detail. We were extremely well received by Heads of Government including President Assad in Syria—the dictatorial father of the current President—President Sarkis in the Lebanon, President Sadat in Egypt and King Hussein in Jordan. The one place where we were not received by the Head of Government was Israel. Why? Because Prime Minister Begin disapproved of the fact that in Damascus, we had had the temerity to have a meeting with Mr Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO. The fact that we had spent time in that meeting trying to argue him out of a section of the PLO covenant and into recognising the State of Israel was beside the point. We had spoken with the unspeakable. It is interesting how history repeats itself: just as it would not speak to the PLO then it will not speak to Hamas now, for exactly the same reasons.
On other occasions, I have visited the border towns in Israel of Sederot and Ashkelon. I therefore fully understand the sense of fear and terror under which they have to live, with the quite unacceptable raining down of rockets from Gaza on to these communities. These are not only disastrous but positively counterproductive for the peace process. The rockets of course inflict casualties on the citizens of Israel, but none of these casualties justifies the reaction of the Government of Israel in their two invasions of the Gaza Strip: in 2009, Operation Cast Lead, and, in 2014, Operation Protective Edge. In the first invasion, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and in the second some 2,500—500 of them children. I visited Gaza again after Operation Cast Lead and I find it difficult to describe in the House the scale of the devastation that had been inflicted, never mind the deaths. Houses, schools, factories and even hospitals were destroyed in that operation. Indeed, I am surprised that there has not been a stronger reaction among the taxpayers of the European Union and the United States, considering that the airport opened by President Clinton in 1998 was destroyed. That airport cost us $86 million.
In 2002, the Arab Heads of State launched the Arab peace initiative, which promised to fly the Israeli flag in embassies in every Arab capital. It was an amazing breakthrough, repeated in 2007. Last year, some of us had the privilege of meeting upstairs in a committee room a group of Israeli businessmen. I say that they were businessmen because they stressed that they were not politicians. They were launching an Israeli peace initiative in response to the Arab peace initiative, and arguing that the peace process really ought to be conducted at international level by the Heads of Government. That is still a compelling process, given that the Israelis and Palestinians seem unable to reach any kind of peace agreement themselves.
Unfortunately, the present Government of Israel under Mr Netanyahu have consistently rejected those initiatives and continue to build settlements on the West Bank, now occupied by half a million citizens of Israel. They are, of course, totally illegal, as defined by the international court. Mr Netanyahu rejects that court: he even rejects the Israeli Supreme Court when it criticises the route of the security wall. Israel does not like the reference to apartheid, but the separate roads on the West Bank that can be travelled on only by Israeli citizens, and which I saw on recent visits, are strongly reminiscent of what I used to find in South Africa, as is the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel itself. In 2012, the 27 European Foreign Ministers issued a report saying that the attitude of the present Government of Israel threatens, “to make the two-state solution impossible”.
The truth is that, under the present Administration, Israel has been losing friends. The one stroke of comfort we can take is that current opinion polls indicate that the Government may lose office in the coming election and be replaced by something a good deal better.
Why should we now echo what the House of Commons has already done? I use the words of our consul-general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean:
“The voices of moderation on both sides need encouragement. Those Palestinians who eschew violence and practise security cooperation with Israel need something to show for their pains—to prove that their peaceful efforts, not indiscriminate Hamas violence, will lead to two states”.
We are sending a signal from this House that we welcome and echo what the elected House has already done.
Following her visit to the West Bank with Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians, Baroness Warsi called on the UK to recognise Palestine in an interview with the Independent. In the January 29 2014 debate in the House of Lords, she said:
My Lords, I start with the premise that in an ideal world a negotiated settlement between any two parties in a dispute is preferred. However, let us try today to understand why the Palestinians have adopted the UN route, and why Israel opposes that route.
I visited Israel and Palestine in December with Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab-British Understanding, with my noble friend Lady Morris, as declared in my register of interests. I met with international agencies, human rights campaigners, lawyers and politicians, but the most moving meeting was with a group called Breaking the Silence. They are former Israel Defense Forces soldiers, now speaking out against Israeli government policy in the Occupied Territories. They wanted neither praise for their bravery, nor sympathy for the abuse they receive in Israel for speaking out. They simply wanted us to be informed about the reality of the occupation—which has so changed the landscape of the Occupied Territories: the territorial area which, according to the 1993 Oslo accords, would be the future state of Palestine. In 1993 there were 110,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories. There are now 400,000 settlers—and more than 500,000 if we include Jerusalem.
Desperate times make people take desperate actions. In the past the desperate actions were violent, and we were right to urge the Palestinians to forgo violence for diplomatic means. Yet when they did, we continually rebuffed them for it. When Palestinians see all around them the reality of a two-state solution diminishing, if not already over, they start to fight for the Palestine that they want to exist, even if it exists simply on paper, out there in the abstract. That is the desperation that we see among the Palestinians. When we visit the Occupied Territories—with communities that are being choked, livelihoods that are being lost and basic needs that are not being met—it is not hard to understand the feeling of hopelessness.
I know that many noble Lords whom I consider to be friends will stand up today and argue that no Palestinian state must ever come about without Israel’s agreement. I accept that as their sincerely held view. So the question I ask my colleagues who will make that argument today is: what are you doing, as the two sides continue to flog the dead horse of negotiations, to preserve the physical integrity of a future negotiated state of Palestine? Do you campaign against the illegal settlements? Do you condemn those, even in our own parties—extremists, as my right honourable friend Alan Duncan so ably argued—who do not condemn illegal settlements? And how do those of you who have the privilege of a close relationship with the Israeli Government use it to encourage the Israeli Government to respect international law?
Our abstentions display a terrible lack of moral character. Our continued lack of support at the UN puts us at odds with our own—oft cited, these days—British values of the rule of law, justice and fairness. Our Government’s decision to ignore parliamentary and public opinion makes our Government complicit and responsible for the ever closing window on the prospect of a two-state solution becoming a physical reality. The desperate attempt by the Palestinians to get a state on paper, even if not in reality, is something that we have an obligation at least to recognise.
Baroness Morris, President of Medical Aid for Palestinians also visited the West Bank for Baroness Warsi in December 2014. You can read her Christmas message, written from the West Bank, as MAP President here. In the House of Lords Debate, Baroness Morris said:
My Lords, in a powerful speech at RUSI last October, my right honourable friend Sir Alan Duncan said:
“No one who has travelled to Israel and Palestine … can fail to become emotionally engaged in the rights and wrongs of the arguments between the two. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is one of the most polarising and vexed issues in the world”.
How right he is.
I declare my interests as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the Palestinian territories, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council and president of Medical Aid for Palestinians, in which role I follow in the illustrious footsteps of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes, who I am pleased to see him his place, and my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Steel for giving us the opportunity to debate the indivisible right of the Palestinians to self-determination.
I travelled to the Occupied Palestinian Territories twice in December. Just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of travelling with my noble friend Lady Warsi on a Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation.
Earlier in the month, as trade envoy, I visited Gaza. I had not been to Gaza since 2011 and I was shocked not only by the devastation caused by last summer’s bombing but by the general deterioration. There is hardly any fuel, people cannot keep warm, and every other mode of transport is a donkey and cart—and most of the donkeys are lame. The international donations promised at the Cairo conference to rebuild Gaza are not materialising, and young children are dying from the cold. We are honouring our commitment, and many people have found a warm home through the money that DfID has given to pay rents.
In the West Bank, I witnessed ever-increasing settlement building, the threatened removal of the Bedouin from their lands to townships and a proposal to extend the wall—or the separation barrier—in the Cremisan Valley, a most beautiful part of Bethlehem, which will separate the land from local farmers and religious communities.
I also witnessed the work of and pay tribute to some amazing and dedicated Israelis who are working tirelessly for Palestinian dignity and self-determination. I never fail to be impressed by the resilience and good humour of the Palestinian people, but it is hardly surprising that they have had enough. It is also hardly surprising, when they are constantly told that the time is not right, that they have sought to take matters into their own hands. In an article in the Guardian on 9 November 2011, just before the Palestinians applied for full member status at the UN, my right honourable friend Sir Nicholas Soames and I warned:
“The UK cannot support the right to self-determination in every country in the Middle East and then deny the same right to the Palestinians. The World Bank, IMF, UN and EU have all assessed the performance of the Palestinian Authority and reported that it is ready for statehood”.
Recognition will bolster those Palestinians who believe that the path of non-violence will lead to a state coming into being through diplomacy and democratic expression, not destruction, a state which lives side-by-side with Israel in peace and prosperity.
There are those who seek to make recognition of Palestinian statehood dependent on the conclusion of successful peace negotiations. I believe that such negotiations will not come to fruition without Palestinian statehood. Time is running out for all the conditions to be met. How can we talk about a two-state solution when we recognise only one state?
In 2010, President Obama promised in his speech to the UN that Palestine would be a new member of the United Nations by September 2011. That promise was endorsed by the United Kingdom. We should fulfil that promise now.
You can read more about Baroness Warsi and Baroness Morris' visit to the West Bank with Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians here.