‘We condemn, but nothing follows’ – Baroness Warsi

House of Lords Debate on Middle East 30 Oct 2014

Lord Risby (Con): There have been no serious moves by the Israeli Government to a two-state solution. Indeed, through the settlement policy, all the moves have been to prevent such a realisation.

There is now a unity Government under Mahmoud Abbas. However imperfect that is, the Israelis are most unlikely to find a more moderate Palestinian leader.

(His) position and credibility is constantly being undermined by the continuing construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Demographic changes in Israel and Palestine point to the necessity of moving .. to a final acceptance of the Palestinian reality. It is, quite simply, in Israel’s interests to pursue this. No country can escape the reality of its own geography.

 

Baroness Warsi (Con): We condemn the illegal settlements. We say that they threaten the very viability of a two-state solution. But what consequences ever follow from that condemnation?

As Sir Alan Duncan has said, settlements are simply “an act of theft”, initiated and supported by the State of Israel.

The strategic planning, including the announcements on the E1 plan and other building programmes, display an even more dangerous intent. They create enclaves of Palestinians cut off from each other; cut off from their future capital and cut off from a viable existence. It is an organised and planned strangulation of what we call the two-state solution.

We continue to take the position that International Criminal Court (ICC) membership makes negotiations impossible. Why do we say that negotiations would be impossible if the Palestinians went to the ICC? Is it because Israel does not wish to be held accountable for any war crimes that may have been committed; or is it because we, who oppose immunity for such crimes elsewhere, are prepared to make an exception in this particular case?

If we are not prepared to pursue justice for those who are suffering now, how can we be trusted to fulfil our commitment to pursue justice for those who suffered and lost many decades ago? We condemn, but .. no consequences follow.

The Prime Minister said in July 2010  that “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp”. What has changed in Gaza since then?

In the light of the parliamentary vote in the Commons and the lack of any negotiations, will the Government move to a position of recognition? If we are not prepared to move to a recognition of Palestine, can we lay out the specific conditions that will need to be met? Will the Government set out a pathway in the interests of transparency?

What consequences have flowed from the strong condemnation by the Foreign Secretary in September and October of this year of the recent settlement announcements?

How have we, since the Gaza conflict, used the so-called influence and capital we built up during that conflict with the Israeli Government to change their position since then?

It was because of the concerns that I have raised today—and not, as some have disturbingly tried to suggest, because I am a Muslim—that, as the then Minister with responsibility for the UN, the ICC and human rights, I concluded that I could no longer defend our policy at that Dispatch Box. Our current position on this issue is morally indefensible.

It is not in Britain’s national interests and it will have a long-term detrimental impact on our reputation, internationally and domestically. It is time for us to start to be on the right side of history.

Lord Mitchell (Lab): I support the state of Israel because history has cruelly demonstrated that, at any time or in any place, Jews live in peril. However I am not saying “Israel, right or wrong”.

The Naqba was a catastrophe for the Palestinian people, and we Jews should admit it. The occupation of the West Bank is a stain. In my view, the building of settlements is wrong. The road blocks, the pass controls and the goading are all intolerable. For me as a supporter of Israel, they are hard to stomach. If history has taught us anything, you humiliate a people at your peril. Many Israelis yearn for a two-state solution but, in truth, some do not. I am sad to say that this includes many members of Israel’s current Government. I certainly support a Palestinian state, but not quite yet. It must be negotiated with both the Palestinians and with Israel.

Baroness Morris of Bolton (Con): We cannot uphold the right of others around the world to stand up for their freedom and self-determination and deny that same right to the Palestinians. Through our shared history, Great Britain has a special responsibility to Palestine, which we should discharge by recognising Palestine as a sovereign state alongside the sovereign state of Israel as an important step to peace.

 Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): What other armed forces in the world would send warnings to civilians living close to military targets that they are about to bomb? Israel does, even at the cost of exposing its own troops to greater danger in the process. The world community’s failure to give Israel credit for that shows just how hard it is for Israel to gain a fair hearing on the stage of international opinion.

What makes me despair is the absence of reporting in the media on the support that Israel has consistently given to the people of Gaza. Some formidable forces are lobbying against Israel in the British public arena. It is perhaps the unrelenting campaigns of such formidable forces that drown out the truth about what Israel is doing to help Gaza, even during hostilities.

I would like to give some examples. On 25 August this year, in the middle of a war in which a bombardment of Hamas missiles was forcing many thousands of Israeli men, women and children to run for cover whenever an air raid siren sounded—even in the middle of such a bombardment—111 trucks entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel carrying 2,190 tonnes of food. On that same day, three trucks entered Gaza through the same crossing from Israel, carrying 8 tonnes of humanitarian supplies.

Baroness Deech (CB): A great deal of time has been spent on the recognition of Palestine as a state. The Palestinians could have had a state in 1947 and on many occasions since. I now wonder whether the demands for statehood, as an end to occupation and refugees, are genuine. Is it, as its leaders have stated, designed to be merely one more step in the ultimate goal, in keeping with caliphate ideology, of overrunning Israel—where, conveniently, 6 million Jews are gathered?

Palestine, if recognised now, would be just one more failed state in the area, an area not currently wedded to national states. Its leaders have declared that it would be forbidden for any Jews to live there, and one can well imagine how any religious minority would be treated there. It would be a state with no minorities, no income, no support services and, unbelievably, no citizens or returned expatriates. So what would it be for, other than as a launching pad for attacks on territory and in the ICC?

Lord Cope of Berkeley (Con): We need a dramatic gesture from this country to shake the peace process out of the mothballs. I believe, with Sir Vincent Fean, until recently our consul-general, that recognition would advance the peace process by giving hope to Palestinians and by helping the moderates on both sides: that is, the Palestinians who believe in peace and work for peace in co-operation with Israel; and the Israelis who hate what is done in their name—the separation wall, the house demolitions and the imprisonment of thousands without trial—who think about the long-term future and who do not think it inevitable that they should for ever live behind walls in a permanent state of war with their neighbours.

If we believe, as I do, that the two-state solution can bring lasting peace to the Holy Land, we should act on that basis and recognise Palestine as the second state, just as we recognised Israel all those years ago. Sometimes it seems as if we British are bystanders who can have no influence on what happens. But we helped to create the situation and we have a special responsibility in all this. My father was a soldier in Palestine under General Allenby in 1918. In 1920, we—the British—undertook the mandate to guide Palestine to independence. Recognition is our last duty under the mandate.

Baroness Tonge (Ind LD): The propaganda coming out of the Israeli embassy now is to concentrate on Hamas… Hamas was helped in its creation by Israel, which did not like Fatah, and Hamas won the European Union-monitored election in 2006. Hamas was then refused permission to lead the Government in Palestine. Hamas had its MPs arrested and put in Israeli prisons. Most of them are still there. Yet since 2009, Hamas has been saying—and this is from Khaled Meshaal—that it will recognise the state of Israel in the 1967 borders. No one likes to publicise that.

It is time to be honest and ask what the real reason is. Why do we give this rogue government our support? There are several reasons people will mention: Holocaust guilt—quite right—oil and security. But in my opinion and the opinion of many people who are afraid to say it publicly—but I will—there is none so important as the thing that dare not speak its name. I am talking about the activities of the lobby, in this country and in America. AIPAC in America and BICOM here, plus the groups called Friends of Israel in supporting and cajoling and fundraising and launching websites and letter-writing campaigns and e-mail storms, and not supporting MPs or parties if they refuse to give Israel support. Those of us who challenge the lobby are threatened and disposed of by our leaders as best they can. David Ward, my colleague in the Commons, is currently fighting yet another battle against the lobby as I speak.

All lobbies are dangerous and undemocratic; the pro-Israel lobby is not the only one, but it is particularly dangerous in this context. Money and influence win over truth and justice, and the West sinks lower and lower in the world’s esteem because of it.

The Middle East descends into hell, and we will follow if we do not do something to stop the slide.

Lord Weidenfeld (CB): The Gaza campaign was not a routine punitive expedition. To Israelis, it was an existential necessity to prevent the ever-increasing and increasingly effective rocket campaign from burgeoning into a decisive war, endangering major cities and the country’s one main airport. Those of us who lived through the Second World War know what aerial warfare can mean and what it meant to people living in Coventry, Berlin and Dresden; they will understand what has happened in Gaza.

Baroness Anelay (FCO Minister): We are urging both parties to avoid all actions that undermine the prospect of peace. That is why we were particularly disturbed when Israel brought forward advanced plans for 1,060 new housing units in east Jerusalem. We consider that to be an ill-judged and ill-timed decision, which makes it harder to achieve a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital. Such announcements make it more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it against accusations that it is not serious about peace.

The EU sanctions remain in place. We have consistently made it clear through the EU that there will be consequences to further announcements on settlement. Discussions are under way in Brussels at this moment on what further measures the EU could take to discourage any further settlement expansion, including in Givat Hamatos, E1 and Har Homa. The EU is working closely with other member states to that end.

A one-off recognition of the state of Palestine is not something that we wish to pursue at this stage. We are saying clearly that negotiation is the way forward. We want to recognise Palestine, but we want to do so when there has been an agreement with both sides that we end up with two states that can live alongside each other.

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