Israel and Palestine — Question for Short Debate
Baroness Falkner of Margravine (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, this year marks 96 years since Arthur Balfour's declaration and 20 years since the Oslo peace accord. It took just over 30 years from Balfour's commitment to give meaning to the establishment of a state for the Jewish people. For the people affected, both Israelis and Palestinians, the past 65 years have not represented peace and security. In that period, three generations of Arab and Jewish people have grown up knowing the sorrow of bereavement, the insecurity of daily life and the uncertainty of their children's future.
The historical involvement of the United Kingdom and our responsibility for these affairs is not what I want to talk about today, other than to say that people on all sides of this debate will commiserate for lives lost throughout that period. We have witnessed all the scourges of conflict and all the treasure expended for an ultimately simple goal: to share out a relatively small part of the earth to live together in peace.
On the whole, the day-to-day efforts of groups of Israelis and Palestinians to work towards a peaceful resolution on the ground are unrecognised by the international media. These peace activists have not given up on the peace process, even while their Governments either wilfully backslide or are powerless to move forward. They know what peace will look like, and we know that a majority of both of them want peace. For the Palestinians, peace is an end to the occupation so that they can get on with their lives without either Israeli soldiers or Israeli settlers over their shoulder. For Israelis, peace translates into an improved quality of life of security and without fearing the next terrorist incident. Both populations accept that they have to coexist to share a very small portion of land, to grow food, to undertake jobs and to bring up children to lead better lives.
Both populations participate in numerous civil society groups and NGOs to work towards using similar methods: to create a better understanding of each other through familiarity so that stereotypes are broken down; to be constructive in the face of violence; and to work towards limited and concrete goals to promote peace.
Today I want to highlight the work of just two, while paying tribute to the many that there is no time to mention. One such organisation is OneVoice, a youth-led movement working to end occupation and violence in Israel and Palestine. Based in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, its campaigns have attracted over 650,000 signatories with over 300,000 Israelis and Palestinians each. They train youth leaders to prepare them for public life, and campaign with a vigour at election times that Western politicians can only watch enviously. OneVoice Israel's election campaign, Israel 2013, comprised events across the country to highlight the importance of electing politicians who were committed to the two-state solution. I am sure that when the election result is analysed in full we will see some link to their youth work.
OneVoice Palestine is at the forefront of peaceful opposition to illegal settlement activity, given that there are over 600,000 Israeli settlers living in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank-nearly 10% of Israeli Jews in total. I have been in parts of Area C and witnessed how Israel's annexation policy works in terms of closing off an area of agricultural land, after some time declaring it uncultivated and then expropriating it for settlements. To counter this, in February 2012 OneVoice Palestine brought around 150 Palestinian youths to plant dozens of trees and Palestinian flags in a barren area east of Bethlehem that was under threat of confiscation by Israeli military order.
One of the greatest obstacles to genuine collaboration between the two communities is the difficulty of a common language. Unless both sides speak English, the barrier of Hebrew and Arabic keeps them apart, so these movements tend to be dominated by the better educated elites on both sides. However, they find ways to reach beyond their own socioeconomic class into the wider public. In April last year, OneVoice Palestine youth activists released hundreds of helium balloons along the 1967 line bearing the text in Hebrew of the 2002 Arab peace initiative. In marking the 10th anniversary of the peace initiative in this manner, they ensured that while Israeli media might not mark the event, their actions and the coverage of it made it more widely known.
Operating at another level, defending civil liberties and human rights is the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, ACRI, Israel's oldest and largest human rights NGO, dealing with the entire spectrum of rights and civil liberties issues in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Since its inception in 1972, ACRI has been consistently successful in bringing precedent-setting litigation up through tribunals all the way to the Supreme Court. Its reputation for integrity and impartiality is widely respected within the legal community and among decision-makers, the media and the public.
ACRI is hands-on, too. Its education department produces material in both Hebrew and Arabic for use by key agents of change, who are teachers in the Jewish and Arab school systems, students, security forces personnel and social and community workers. In other words, building a more tolerant and just society has to be about working from the grass roots up to change attitudes and narratives.
Countering violence through emphasising rights and the rule of law is fundamental to raising awareness of the implications of harming a civilian population in the course of armed combat. In a landmark case that ACRI brought, a military judge has ruled that protesters in, and residents of, the West Bank are permitted to non-violently resist the unlawful orders of soldiers, and should not be viewed as having committed a crime. The importance of using the law in a democratic society to secure rights cannot be overstated. The mere fact of recourse to legal advice and assistance can serve as a hugely important confidence-building measure in divided communities.
I would mention dozens more organisations on both sides of the divide, but in the minutes I have left I will concentrate on some of the obstacles faced by civil society groups in mobilising for peace in such difficult circumstances. The first is the tendency on the part of donors, both on the ground and outside Israel and Palestine, to be deeply risk-averse. Stringent donor requirements result in a tendency on the part of NGOs to work with the converted rather than to work with these on the fringes: the extremists. It is for foreign donors to take the lead on this, and to provide funding that is less reliant on the "tabloid test" of what the headline will say if it transpires that we "backed" a terrorist. If we are to make a difference on the ground, we will have to take risks to support those who may appear extremist but who have sufficient leverage to be change-makers within their communities. Will my noble friend the Minister reflect on that?
A more specific constraint is the legal difficulty of establishing a joint structure when working in two parallel jurisdictions. Most NGOs have to have two separate structures. Travel between the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem is very difficult indeed. I have spoken to scores of OneVoice activists who told me how difficult face-to-face contact was between the two sides. If the idea is to break down barriers through personal contact, then the test of the state's commitment to peace has to be judged by its ability to facilitate people-to-people contact. What efforts are under way in discussions between the Israeli and Palestinian Governments to allow for these joint organisations to operate as a single legal entity?
Finally, on funding, while the tri-departmental conflict pool between DfID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence is there to deal with humanitarian emergencies and other protracted conflicts, what amount of FCO and DfID resources are dedicated to ongoing, long-term, grass-roots funding for civil society projects in Israel and the Occupied Territories? What funds are disbursed through the EU mechanisms to these bodies?
I end with the observation that while the peace process is often described as "dead", in the words of Aaron David Miller, the US negotiator on successive talks:
"It is not yet buried and it will be back".
When it returns, its foundations will have been laid by the thousands of activists on both sides who work day in and day out for that end. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
Lord Sheikh (Conservative)
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Falkner for securing this debate. Achieving lasting peace between Israel and Palestine remains a significant priority for the international community. I am a believer in arriving at a two-state solution, whereby Israel has a guarantee of security and nationhood but in return must ensure that Arabs are fairly treated and have full independence.
I have visited both Israel and the West Bank with a cross-party group of parliamentarians. While in Ramallah, we had a meeting with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the West Bank and with other Arab leaders. We also spent the best part of a day in discussions with an Israeli army officer and senior officials in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. We wanted to hear points of view on both sides. The Palestinians have achieved a great deal in strengthening the institutions and delivery of public services, but there is lack of growth-growth that will of course be attained if they get their independence.
With the new Israeli Government and the re-election of Mr Obama, I hope that fresh efforts can be made to arrive at a peaceful settlement. Will my noble friend the Minister say what positive role we now are playing in the achievement of the peaceful settlement? A strong civil society is viewed as an essential component of a successful democracy. Increased social action through activities of social society organisations is at the heart of promoting tolerance.
There are Jewish and Arab people working towards achievement of a peaceful settlement. I organised a meeting, which was addressed by both a Jewish lady and an Arab lady. The remarkable point about the Arab lady is that several close members of her family were killed following the invasion of Gaza, but she bore no grudge against Israelis and talked about peace.
Several organisations in the region are doing amazing work. However, due to time constraints, I will focus on the efforts of two in particular. The YaLa forum has enabled young people in the region not only to discuss their political concerns but to find common ground in areas such as job creation and women's empowerment. The YaLa peace conference, which took place in January 2012, was the first ever online conference for young leaders in the Middle East. During the conference, the YaLa young leaders proposed an agenda for peace, which they aimed to achieve through projects in areas, including information technology, e-learning and training. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas; the Israeli President, Shimon Peres; and the former Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Clinton, have signed on to the YaLa forum web page with messages of support.
The OneVoice Movement focuses on ending the conflict by the establishment of two states. Recently, OneVoice Israel campaigned during the Israeli elections on the importance of citizens opting for moderate candidates who are committed to a two-state solution. OneVoice Palestine is the second-largest youth movement in Palestine. Last year, it led a rally of hundreds of citizens through deserted lands to the east of Bethlehem to plant a foundation stone for a peace park to be built in the future. OneVoice Palestine has recently started a programme to educate and empower women from towns and villages to become leaders in their communities.
In yesterday's debate on the Council of Europe in your Lordships' House, we spoke of the merits of local democracy and the importance of local and regional authorities. It is also important to recognise that civil society organisations in the Middle East deserve credit for the innovative steps that they have taken to play their part in the quest for lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. Civil society organisations have the potential to assume a greater role in ensuring that the Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority guarantee human rights and equality for every citizen. I sincerely hope that the international community continues to support these organisations in a constructive manner.
Finally I would like to state that I am a patron of a leading organisation that promotes peace and harmony between the Jewish and Muslim communities. We also discuss political issues affecting the communities.
Lord Judd (Labour)
My Lords, the noble Lord has made a very powerful speech, which we need to take very seriously. I am sure that I will not be alone in thanking the noble Baroness for having introduced this debate. Her commitment on this issue is second to none. Last week, I was in Gaza, heading up an international mission from the IPU. Our task is to try to draw representatives of the people in Gaza, the Occupied Territories, the West Bank and Israel into more active dialogue so that one can build up a context in which leaders are able to take necessary action. It would be quite wrong for me to report in detail because we must wait until we have visited the other territories, which we hope to do next month. Of course, our talks with Israel will be every bit as important as any other part of the mission.
I think I can say one or two things from a recent visit about the situation as I saw it, some of which has been put before the House before. In every aspect of what I am about to say, the role of civil society is obvious. You cannot build a strong democracy or a strong future without a strong, thriving civil society. That places a huge responsibility on civil society in our own country to get into partnership in that building of the role of the civil societies and the dynamic of society.
I start with water. Some 95% of the water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption. Noble Lords should think of the voluntary and other agencies in this country that operate in the sphere of water; WaterAid springs to mind. Organisations like that have a tremendous role to play in working with the local community to put that right. It will not be put right, however, until the strategic dimensions of water can be tackled. It is an alarming thought that, within two or three years, the aquifer will break down totally because of shortages of the necessary spare parts.
We saw the overcrowded schools and the wonderful, happy-it has to be said-and neatly dressed children going to and from school. There are great things to be done in building partnerships between schools here and schools there, if only they could get on with it. There are 700,000 people out of a total population of 1.7 million-to use the jargon-who are food insecure. That means that they are dependent on handouts by UNRRA and the rest. It became absolutely clear that the population does not want to be dependent; it wants to build a strong economy, and that is what it cannot do in the present situation. People have said, "Has there been no improvement on the supply of goods through the blockade since the ceasefire was negotiated last November?". I have a good deal of sympathy with people who said to me, "Wait a minute, do not start looking at the tactics. The principle is that somebody else has a hand on the tap and we are not able freely to get access to everything we need to build a balanced economy. We are not getting everything we need but we want to get on with the job.". There is plenty of evidence, even if you look at it very briefly, of people trying desperately hard to do constructive things for their society, but again, the role of civil society here in relating to all that is important.
I conclude by saying on a wider level, because I think I should share this with the House, that I was certainly encouraged by what I had not altogether expected: a lot of positive talk about coming together with Fatah and the people of the West Bank and the Occupied Territories. There really seems to be some hope that the talks that are currently getting under way, with thanks to Egypt for its assistance, can be fruitful. If we are going to do that, of course, there has to be a serious and positive response from the world by saying that these talks desperately matter in providing the context in which progress can be achieved.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Falkner asks an important Question. Civil society certainly has a role in promoting peace in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. However, real and elusive peace can only be reached by the Israeli Government and the Palestinians sitting down at the negotiating table without any preconditions. Civil society can pave the way but is not of itself a solution. Civil society groups offer Israelis and Palestinians a focus of identity and a catalyst for empowerment on efforts for peace and coexistence. Their activity is a vital part of encouraging their respective societies to engage in renewed negotiations towards a two-state solution.
The effectiveness and prominence of civil society groups is very much contingent upon the political environment. As a free and open democracy, Israeli civil society organisations are able to operate in a wide range of fields, including those very critical of Israeli government policy. However, it must be said that the lack of freedoms in the Palestinian territories and the political atmosphere make it harder for pro two-state organisations to operate there.
We have heard from other noble Lords, and I am sure we will hear more, about the position in Gaza, so perhaps I will concentrate on the Israeli part here-other than to say that my perception of Hamas is that it appears to have suppressed the development of civil society in Gaza by closing down NGOs, voluntary groups and charities which are deemed critical of Hamas rule. If you agree with Hamas, the situation is fine, but it has castigated those organisations that support normalisation with Israel. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, commented on water, which is an incredibly important subject. The way forward on that issue is to secure peace with Israel and to build desalination plants, organised by Israel, on the waterfront of Gaza. Israel is now getting vast amounts of its water from desalination.
Bilateral civil society peace initiatives are bolstered by Israel's domestic civil society and by those who are working to spread a culture of peace. In addition, the democratic political environment, including freedom of speech and of the press, helps to foster a vibrant Israeli civil society. We have seen this in the recent Israeli elections. By my count, 33 parties contested that election and 12 parties obtained seats in the Knesset.
Israeli law provides for freedom of speech and a diverse and free media. Israelis-Jew, Arab, Christian or whatever else they are-can disagree with the Government and still live freely. The country has 13 daily newspapers, at least 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodicals and numerous internet news sites, many of them popular internationally. All are privately owned and managed. Among any three Israelis you will probably find at least four newspapers. In addition, there are no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events in Israel. What other countries in the region could host the gay pride celebrations?
Israel is an incredibly diverse country. While over 70% of Israelis are Jewish, they come from across the world. Approximately half of Israel's citizens today were born outside the country. In addition, Israel is home to Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze and Samaritans, as well as other religious and ethnic minority groups. What other country in the region allows such diversity? However, there is room for improvement. Minorities in every country, including our own, suffer discrimination and exclusion. Arab Israelis have served as elected representatives of the Knesset since Israel was founded and were elected in the recent election. They also serve on Israel's powerful Supreme Court, which a noble Lord mentioned previously. However, despite equality in the law, socioeconomic gaps remain-an issue which the Government of Israel, together with numerous Israeli civil society organisations, are rightly seeking to tackle. More needs to be done.
I will give one example which is relevant to previous comments. Hand in Hand runs a network of four bilingual Arabic/Hebrew schools that serve more than 800 Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish students in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Wadi Ara and Beersheba. Students study in Hebrew and Arabic simultaneously and each classroom is taught by both Arab and Jewish teachers.
In the short time available, one cannot deal with all the things in civil society within the region. Civil society plays an incredible part in creating the right climate both in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. I hope that the Minister will say how the UK Government are going to foster those civil societies on either side of the border. I hope that my noble friend will also say that, ultimately, there is no substitute for the two sides sitting down at the negotiating table without preconditions. I hope that the current Obama Administration, with this country and the EU, will foster those talks.
Lord Bew (Crossbench)
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for securing this debate. I listened to her initial remarks with the same pleasure and profit as always. I declare an interest as chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association and as the outgoing chairman of the British-Irish Association.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, made the point that 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a final status accord. The happy future that seemed to beckon in Washington in September 1993 has not come about. I want to make a point about this drawn from the Irish experience. The logic that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, which successfully underpinned the Irish process, cannot apply in this more difficult case, in part because the Middle East is awash with selfish strategic interest of great powers, while Ireland, frankly, was not; and in part because of the level of hatred involved, which makes the good work which goes on in civil society even more important. A very recent example which has come to light is Mohamed Morsi denying humanity to Jews and talking about them as descendents of apes and dogs. I am well aware that things have been said by Israeli leaders which would have been better left unsaid. However, I recall no such language, despite the bitterness, in the Irish case. We are dealing with something qualitatively different here, and it means that a different process is required. The lesson from the failures and disappointments of the last 20 years is that the concept that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed is probably suitable in one case, but not in another. Instead, we should be looking for incremental and indeed in some cases unilateral steps towards peace; that is, of course, what makes today's debate particularly important.
As has been remarked, Israel has an active and vibrant civil society. I want to mention and praise in particular NGOs such as the Alliance for Middle East Peace, which represents 70 leading NGOs that work to promote reconciliation; the Peres Centre for Peace; and of course those many groups and think tanks which focus on the possibilities for enhanced economic co-operation. On this subject, I particularly commend the ICSR Atkin series paper by Oday Abukaresh, which is included in the Library's very helpful briefing pack for this debate. All of this work helps to explain why, despite the tensions and the frequent, bitter tides of public opinion, the latest poll for the Abraham Centre shows that 67% of Israelis support a two-state solution. This is in part due to the work of so many in civil society to promote a more complex understanding.
I conclude by taking one possible, very simple area for enhanced co-operation. This was suggested by another Atkin Fellow, Gil Messing, in a recent paper. He points out that an earthquake in the West Bank, for example, would affect both Israelis and Palestinians. Joint drills and exercises would be beneficial to both sides. Israel has significant experience here, especially with fire marshals, earthquake awareness, and flooding, and it should share some of this knowledge with the very disadvantaged Palestinian emergency personnel. This may seem to be a small example, but these small examples which stress the common humanity-unlike some of the language which I referred to earlier-are of particular importance.
At the beginning I talked about the ways in which the path to peace is unfortunately more difficult. I remember how, in 1993, we in Northern Ireland were lectured on the lines of, "Look, Middle East peace is about to happen and you can't get your act together". Unfortunately, the path to peace in the Middle East is significantly more difficult, for very hard reasons. However, one analogy between the two processes holds. There was only one possible constitutional settlement to the Irish question: namely, power-sharing plus an Irish dimension. At various times people said that it was dying or gone, that the unionists were too angry to permit it now that such and such had happened, or that the nationalists' ambitions had gone too far and they would accept only something more radical. In the end we returned to what the human mind knew to be the only possible, logical compromise. In this respect this is also the case with the Middle East. The only possible, logical compromise that preserves the interests of both sides is a two-state solution. That is why the work of these groups in civil society that we talked about today is so important.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Bishop)
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity afforded by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, in this debate. Together with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, I recently returned from a visit under the auspices of Christian Aid to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, with the object of encouraging Israeli and Palestinian partners in the vital task of peace promotion.
Civil society is key to unlocking peace, and peace is the prize that all must seek for the welfare of generations of children growing up against the backdrop of uncertainty and fear. It ought to go without saying that advocacy for peace must include recognising the rights and security of both peoples, freedom of movement and access, and an end to aid dependency.
It was good to witness the work of Israeli pro-Palestinian bodies such as B'Tselem providing humanitarian efforts to restore dignity to all, regardless of ethnicity or religion, as well as offering support to communities seeking to develop economic resilience. However, as has been said in the debate, this is not a priority just for voluntary or pressure groups; Governments on all sides must increasingly see this as their priority.
Our delegation witnessed many people working at grass-roots level to help build conditions for peace by preparing communities through education and dialogue. I was particularly impressed and moved by being in the presence of a dozen or so 10 year-old Palestinian girls attending a post-conflict trauma group. Through pictures, writing and dialogue they articulated their dreams about the future. I listened as one after another spoke of their desire to be a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher; and watched, saddened, as some could only articulate their pain through dark drawings.
I found myself thinking, "How beautiful you are. Where can you be safe? To whom do you run when you are scared and confused? What kind of humanity leaves behind a child-any child-unable to hold on to its future?". I am not seeking to make a partisan point here but a humanitarian one. Unless we can see in the eyes of the other the same human identity that is in ourselves, we risk only demonising the other.
There are encouraging signs. It is said that hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change. Much of what is happening at the grass roots offers that hope, but it needs the commitment of Governments and those with power so that the fragile hope is not destroyed once again.
Building up a civil society requires that all abuses of power, human rights violations and discrimination, from whatever quarter, must be rigorously and consistently addressed. The recent ceasefire between Israel and Gaza offers hope for some measure of peace. As has been said, the forthcoming visit by President Obama offers possibilities of non-violent approaches to conflict resolution, not just between Israelis and Palestinians but for the region as a whole.
It is hard to be optimistic. Mutual suspicion and fear run deep. The politics of the latest atrocity-post-intifada syndrome-appear almost to be hard-wired into the psyche of both peoples. What is hopeful is an increasing sense among the young that this situation cannot last for ever, killing the spirit and blighting the lives of further generations. Wherever one looks, whether at Israeli or Palestinian children, one sees both beauty and vulnerability. Throughout the region they fall under the weight of war, corruption and human anguish, waiting for someone to pay attention. May this debate be a contribution towards that paying of attention, as we remember the words of the Jewish thinker Spinoza:
"Sed omnia praeclara tam difficilia, quam rara sunt".
Everything that is great is as rare to find as it is difficult to do.
Lord Clinton-Davis (Labour)
My Lords, I begin by quoting the renowned Israeli author, Amos Oz. The first chapter of his book, How to Cure a Fanatic, which is recommended reading for those who are interested and involved in this tragic conflict, is entitled "Between Right and Right". In it, Oz explores the roots of the conflict, with all its rights and wrongs through the years, and describes it as,
"a clash between one very powerful, deep, and convincing claim, and another very different but no less convincing, no less powerful, no less humane claim".
Compromise, he contends, is the only route to peace.
This is, of course, an immense political journey. Wherever there has been a background of violent struggle, peace has had to begin somewhere. As the Question implies, the solution eventually has to arise from civil societies and the hearts and minds of both peoples. Palestinian and Israeli advocates for peace have to redouble their efforts to overcome the mutual hatred and suspicion, fuelled by fear, arising from false prophets and counterproductive actions and policies on both sides.
There is not a great awareness that some 20% of the population in Israel are Israeli Arabs. They have full citizenship and hold seats in the Israeli parliament. Nowhere in the Arab world is that replicated as far as Jews are concerned. Of course, faced with implacable hostility, many left their Arab homelands, often forcibly. I do not argue that all is well for Arabs living in Israel, although, by and large, they dwell under more favourable conditions than some of their brethren in Arab lands, and the legal protection of the Israeli justice system extends, rightly, to them.
Many Arabs, throughout the region and beyond, dream of Israel's demise. The continuous call for its total destruction has in turn led to some of the adverse reactions of a beleaguered nation, and we have to remember that, prior to its victory in 1967, there was a very narrow gap between implacable enemies and the sea as far as Israel was concerned.
If only the Palestinians had accepted the 1947 UN partition resolution, I feel sure that the two peoples could have lived in peace and prosperity, arising from mutual trading interests, the sharing of resources and scientific co-operation to the benefit of both. There is nothing, however, to be gained by rehearsing what is by now almost ancient history. However, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that wise and courageous leadership, backed by a sufficient number of people of good will on both sides, could resurrect the realisation of this imagined future.
Israel's recent elections provide a scintilla of hope. Netanyahu did not achieve the victory that he and his coalition anticipated. The eventual outcome is not yet clear. At least, free and fair elections were held, which is something of an exception in that troubled part of the world. However, I am not asserting that Netanyahu and his possible right-wing allies represent the aspirations for the peaceful two-state solution for which many Israelis yearn, contrary to the perceptions of some of our fellow citizens.
In the longer term, the emerging, left-wing Meretz-aligning itself, one hopes, with Labour and others, including the Israeli Arab party-points a possible way ahead. Compromise must be the goal. It may be difficult to attain, but the alternative for the hot-heads, both Israelis and Palestinians, is a very dangerous one-way street to nowhere.
Lord Janner of Braunstone (Labour)
My Lords, in my career and personal life I have been proud to work and continue to work for both Jews and Arabs in Israel and the neighbouring countries. I have spent much time building bridges between their communities, working together on their similarities and differences, and discussing how we live and more importantly how they can live happily together. This is why I believe it is essential that we work to support Israel and Palestine to create a two-state solution in which the Jews have their state, Israel, and the Arabs have their own state, Palestine.
The role of civil society is important for the continuing encouragement, stability and reconciliation of both Israel and Palestine, but this cannot be achieved without both parties emerging together through a combination of political agreements in conjunction with mutual trust and respect throughout all levels of society. Sadly, I feel at the present moment this mutual trust and respect do not solely exist.
We cannot ignore that both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist. It is important for the Palestinian people, but Hamas is still a strong influence within the region and is not there to benefit its people. It is not the Government; it is a terrorist group that uses its own citizens as shields to hide their operations and that publicly announces the annihilation of the State of Israel. That is impossible and very sad. We must acknowledge Israel's right to defend its own country, and, for peace, Hamas cannot have power of influence or status within Palestine. Whether you say shalom or salaam, the word is peace-the single word to which we must always return.
There are so many NGOs internationally and in Israel and in Palestinian territories working to promote and to develop communities for Arabs and Jews to live together. Today, I would like to tell the House of a wonderful initiative based in Israel called Hand in Hand, which was founded in 1997. This organisation has created schools that teach Jewish and Arab children side by side, in coexistence. The students learn together and gain understanding about one another's faiths, their traditions and their ideologies, because peace can truly blossom when it starts at the lowest possible level and not merely at our level and other higher levels.
At present there are four schools throughout Israel: in Jerusalem, Galilee, Wadi Ara and Be'er Sheva. The US Agency for International Development has provided Hand in Hand with a $1.08 million grant to help establish additional schools, because it recognises how important the existing schools are and how their number should be increased. Alas, these schools have not been welcomed by all citizens in Israel. Last February, their school in Jerusalem was vandalised by extremist settlers, as was a school building in Neve Shalom. These attacks are known as "price tag": extremists targeting Palestinians and Israeli Defence Forces. By attacking these places, the extremists are targeting the number of Jews who want to build bridges and relations with the Arab citizens in Israel.
I am honoured to have visited a Hand in Hand school, and to witness students sitting together, learning Arabic and Hebrew, becoming friends and working and learning together. A remark from a mother of a student attending one of these schools sums up their importance:
"Our political leaders talk about peace. The school that we have started together as Arabs and Jews ... is making peace, building it every day, every hour.".
That is certainly correct.
The role of civil society must continue to expand in partnership with proactive institutions such as Hand in Hand. We need to ensure that NGOs and other organisations have the essential funding that is vital. In February 2011, I asked our Government about our role in funding civil society groups for co-existence projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Minister replied that some £151,000 was distributed in 2009-10,
"through the bilateral programme fund in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem".-[Official Report, 7/2/11; col. WA26.]
I ask the Minister once again, some two years later, what current percentage of our country's aid to Israel, and to the Palestinian territories that are represented, is used to assist in the development of current and future co-existence projects. I believe that such projects can only promote and enforce the process of peace.
No one can argue against the rights of the Palestinian people to have their own home, and this is of course true for Israel. We must all continue to discuss how they live and, more importantly, how they can live happily and together in the future.
Baroness Tonge (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, it is 10 years since I made my first visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories of Palestine, which turned out to be a life-changing experience. Since then, the illegal settlements in the West Bank have made it increasingly difficult to envisage a viable state of Palestine, and some Israelis and Palestinians are now calling for a one-state solution, with all citizens having equal rights and opportunities.
The recent elections in Israel have shown a shift in mood among the people there, even though it was depressing to see how few Arab Israelis voted, despite exhortations from the candidates. On the other hand, the World Service this morning had what could be some good news, saying that Khaled Meshaal had told the BBC in the past 24 hours that Hamas was close to forming a unity Government with Fatah. Let us hope so. However, despite these tender green shoots, we see little real progress. That is why I congratulate my noble friend Lady Falkner on securing this debate and allowing us to explore the possibility of a solution that is enforced not from the top down but by civil society in Israel and Palestine getting together and insisting that their representatives do things differently. UNESCO has done sterling work in this area over the past 10 years, looking at the willingness of civil society on both sides to work together. However, that organisation points out the difficulties of working together, particularly the restriction of movement and action for Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Although it is a fairly unusual suggestion, I ask quite seriously whether it would be possible for our Government to plan a conference here in London to encourage this process of civil society getting together, inviting representatives from groups in Israel and Palestine as well as from our own Jewish and Palestinian diasporas in this country. My suggestions for invitations would of course include organisations such as B'Tselem, Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel that work for human rights in the Occupied Territories and within Israel. There is a long list of organisations doing sterling work in both countries. The three great religions must be represented, and perhaps we could make amends for the appalling way in which the Arab Israeli Sheikh Raed Salah was treated, on the advice of the Community Security Trust alone, when he came on a lecture tour in this country. He is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel and had wanted to highlight the difficulties for the Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel and the discrimination that they suffer in education, property rights and healthcare. He knows civil society in Israel, whether you approve of him or not, and he should be listened to and invited to a conference.
Another organisation should also be there. Last year I was privileged to meet-I believe through the activities of the noble Lord, Lord Stone-a group called the Israeli Peace Initiative, led by Mr Koby Huberman and other prominent business leaders in Israel. They expressed their frustration at the lack of progress towards a solution, which was affecting business investment and their activities in the region as well as presenting a danger to peace in the wider Middle East. They suggested that civil society should engage with partners all over the Middle East and build on the Arab peace plan, the so-called Saudi initiative. I understand that Mr Huberman is currently in the United States, trying to gather support for this plan.
It may be just a dream but a conference like this could be game-changing, and could show that our country still cares about the Israeli and Palestinian people nearly 100 years after the Balfour Declaration.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale (Labour)
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for presenting this subject. Like her, I believe that the role of civil society is of the utmost importance in promoting peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
Peace will not be achieved by violence but, as we all know, by a combination of political agreements based on mutual trust and respect, as my noble friend Lord Janner said, which have to be carefully, slowly-and, unfortunately, probably painfully-established at all levels of society. However, happily, as this debate has shown, we are not starting from zero. There are lots of good tales to tell, and there are some marvellous organisations working in the area for the achievement of a two-state solution and for a peaceful and happy life for the inhabitants of both a future Palestine and of Israel.
If more NGOs and organisations that one talks about are based in Israel, that is not because of any bias or anything other than the fact that Israel is home to some very highly regarded NGOs that promote peaceful coexistence and seek to foster greater understanding and collaboration between the two communities. There is greater freedom for this kind of activity in Israel even than in the West Bank, and certainly now in Gaza since Hamas took over, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has said in more detail, has closed down NGOs and any voluntary organisations or charities that seem to support, to quote Hamas, "normalisation with Israelis". That is an offence that means that you get closed down there.
Around one-third of Israelis are involved in social activism of one kind or another, and 25% of those are young people. Therein lies our hope. It is natural that they have this inheritance because, after all, the establishment of kibbutzim was a central part of the foundation of the Israeli state, and young Israelis are at the heart of nearly all the peace movements, especially, as noble Lords have already mentioned today, OneVoice, where you find a great majority of the young, both Palestinians and Israelis.
As other noble Lords have said, we do not have time to go through all the wonderful organisations that do great work in that area, sometimes in slightly dangerous circumstances for themselves. I cannot, for example, go into the trade union movement and what it is doing; the Israeli Histadrut and the Palestinian PGFTU have many projects together. There are many medical projects and co-operation between hospitals on the West Bank, and many religious organisations doing great work.
I want to speak about my favourite organisation, Hand in Hand, which has been mentioned more than once already. It is a marvellous organisation and deals with the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, raised in her speech, when she spoke about the terrible problem that the two languages present to any class of society that does not automatically have English or a mutual language. Hand in Hand does so well in that because it has bilingual schools in Arabic and Hebrew.
I had the same sort of emotional experience as that mentioned by the right reverend Prelate when I met young Palestinian girls. When I looked at the children in those schools together, I was filled with admiration for the courage of the parents and the teachers. There is an Arab and Jewish teacher for each class. The courage they show against prejudice inside their own communities brought back memories of a similar experience-the only other time that I have had such an experience-in Belfast. I visited an integrated school in Belfast where the parents and the teachers were bravely facing the pressures and threats from two communities. That is exactly what the Hand in Hand people do in Israel. I am very proud that the British Council now supports Hand in Hand. When I saw the bravery of the parents and teachers I felt that they were true peacemakers and deserved to be blessed in whatever religion one is a member of.
Baroness Deech (Crossbench)
My Lords, on all sides of the House noble Lords are united in willing peace in the world, whether it be in Israel, Palestine, Syria, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, and also Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran-the list is only too long. Indeed, in the previous parliamentary Session there were no fewer than 706 Questions on Israel and Palestine.
What contribution can and is being made by NGOs and the civil population? Are there instances when NGOs fan the flames rather than promote peace? Peace will come when Palestinian refugees are treated like other refugees in the world. Why are they kept in the state they are in, unlike the millions displaced at the end of World War Two, for example, from Pakistan, Cyprus, India, Germany and Jews from Arab countries? The NGO that militates against peace is the UN Relief and Works Agency-UNRWA. To an outsider, UNRWA seems a humanitarian group helping Palestinian refugees. In reality, it undermines the chances of Arab-Israeli peace and holds Palestinians back from rebuilding their lives. It was set up to take care of the Arabs of the British Mandate. It began with some 700,000 charges and now has more than 5 million. It perpetuates their refugee status, unlike the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that takes care of 50 million refugees with half the budget of UNRWA.
The issue is that UNRWA counts as refugees not only those displaced in 1946-8 but their descendants down to the fourth generation, including many who have never-and whose ancestors never-set foot in Israel and who are not in need. There are actually only 30,000 refugees properly defined under the UN definition of a refugee. The UN definition specifically excludes any person who has acquired a new nationality. UNRWA is the only refugee organisation in the world that considers citizens of another state to be refugees, and includes all descendants of original male refugees. On that basis, there will be a lot of refugees sitting in this House.
However, UNRWA does not push for citizenship in the host countries of others. Its budget is $1.23 billion over two years-98% of which comes from Europe, the US and Canada, while the oil states give only 2%. It has become an industry in itself, with 29,000 employees, overwhelmingly Palestinians, while the UNHCR has a mere 7,600 employees. There is one worker for every 157 Palestinian refugees. It needs reform. By limiting its largesse to those in need it should ensure that it is not partisan and that the children in its schools get a balanced and discrimination-free education and are not taught to hate Israelis and to glorify terrorism and suicide bombings. It should accept, and teach children to accept, the right of self-determination for all people, Israelis as well as Palestinians. In fact, UNRWA's functions would be better transferred to other UN agencies and to the Palestinian Authority and it would be better if it were dissolved.
I do not have time to mention the noble NGOs other noble Lords have described, but I want to draw attention to the magnificent collaboration going on in medical research, in particular in Ben-Gurion University in Israel where researchers collaborate with Arabs on identifying a defective gene that causes a fatal calcium deficiency in Arab children. Professor Margalith of that university won the Tyler Prize for work on malaria and collaborated with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists to eradicate mosquitoes.
The Government should be spending their cash-and I hope the Minister will answer-on NGOs that work for coexistence, not those that are partisan. What can civil society in Britain contribute? Unfortunately, in the view of some, anti-Semitic language has entered the mainstream of political discourse here. You could argue that Israel behaves in the way she does in part because the lessons learnt from the Holocaust were that she can never rely on the armed strength or support of others. Trying to play down the goal and intention of the Holocaust, as we saw recently, or throwing around the word "apartheid" simply reminds Jews in Israel, and maybe elsewhere, how fragile is the barrier against their destruction in every generation. Support for Israel by churches and politicians here would do more than anything else to encourage Israel to take the brave steps it needs to take-steps that it thinks will endanger its existence.
Lord Stone of Blackheath (Labour)
My Lords, elected leaders everywhere are politically limited. Consequently, they refrain from taking brave initiatives and yes, it is the role of responsible civil societies to engage with like-minded people across the region-to present new ideas, to develop worthwhile collaborative projects, to educate and together create hope for the next generation.
I want to use my time by listing briefly more civil society projects that are showing the way and in so doing I declare my interest in them, which is all non-financial. The first aims to press Governments to break the impasse and to agree a peace deal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, mentioned, Koby Huberman came here from the region to present the Israeli Peace Initiative-the IPI-to a cross-party group. The IPI was developed through an apolitical movement of prominent Israelis in response to, and based on, the Arab Peace Initiative-the API. The IPI's mission is twofold-to encourage the Israeli leaders to present an official response to the API and to communicate with civil societies in the Arab world to promote regional solutions jointly.
During the past 10 years, no less than 17 peace plans have been submitted but politicians on both sides have failed to listen to the voice of the majority of their citizens who want to live in peace in a two-state solution. Can we in your Lordships' House help the IPI team to link with its Arab counterparts to get these two plans to become one?
On the ground, in the region, at OneVoice, which was mentioned earlier, John Lyndon and his team are now also looking at using civic, economic and media milestones as part of an ambitious programme called the Peoples' Blueprint. They are persuading manufacturers, businesses, infrastructure and property developers, hospitals and universities to pledge that they will invest across the region once certain steps towards a peace deal are in place. Your Lordships may know others who might like to make similar pledges.
On food, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd, Moon Valley has been helping Palestinian farmers to improve quality standards and efficiency to enable them to export their goods. Now master chef Yotam Ottolenghi and his team are helping us develop a wider range of traditional foods: freekeh, maftoul, grape molasses and olive tapenades. We will set up a factory in Jordan in partnership with Olives et Al, a UK-based fine-food manufacturer, and we are working in Lebanon with several women's co-operatives. In the West Bank, to ensure that the Palestinian farmers themselves benefit we will embed our technical manager, Yamin Younis, inside a collection of co-operatives there called the New Farm Company. We are about to start selling these delicious Palestinian goods for them in the Gulf States as well. This is a true social enterprise and again we could do with more support.
This brings me to water, recognised by the World Economic Forum as the second most important risk factor in the world and again mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd. This week Julie Arts spoke to me from Amman, where future leaders from Arab and European cities have been taking part in an itijah-which means "direction". That was a four-day venture run by an international leadership organisation, Common Purpose, tackling this common challenge. During the four days, the group met with organisations such as the Red Sea-Dead Sea project, USAID and UNRWA, with the aim of producing innovative new solutions for the region's water. The cross-region group came from 10 different cities including Benghazi, Alexandria, Istanbul, Amsterdam and London, and represented organisations as diverse as the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, the Institute of Islamic Banking & Finance, the Libyan Centre for Consultancy and Human Development and Coca-Cola.
Included in civil society are the media and press. They can be responsible for stirring up war-like emotions and presenting biased sensation, or they can choose to report factually and mindfully. In this context perhaps one of the most heartening events is the International Media Awards, held annually here in London under the auspices of the Next Century Foundation. The awards bring journalists from Israel and the West Bank, Gaza and the wider Middle-East together with their counterparts from the West, who all enjoy each other's company. I believe the media have a responsibility to promote peace, if only through honest and constructive journalism. It is a singular privilege to host these awards each spring. Noble Lords who are interested are invited to come to them.
I mention these civil society projects that thousands of earnest and well meaning citizens are engaged in because they need our support. They show the way to those politicians in the region who should be there to change the world for the better, rather than just playing out strategies to hold together their precarious, dubious and politically convenient coalitions. I ask noble Lords and Her Majesty's Government to give support to these types of initiatives.
Lord Beecham (Labour)
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the New Israel Fund UK, which supports a wide range of civil society organisations in Israel, including ACRI, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. My late wife was heavily involved in and I support an organisation called Windows for Peace, which brings together young Jewish and Arab Israelis and Palestinians. It is precisely the kind of joint venture involving young people that, as others have said, can contribute so much to the future. Finally, I declare an interest as a member of the UK Task Force on issues relating to Arab citizens of Israel. On Sunday, I will be joining a third mission from that organisation. This year, we will look at mixed towns and cities and how the two communities and the political structures around them can work together, often with the support of local civil society.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence proclaimed unequivocally the right of equal treatment for all the country's citizens, irrespective of gender, ethnicity or religion. Ten years on from the Orr Commission report following the second intifada, it must be said-and successive Governments in Israel have acknowledged-that there has been insufficient narrowing of the gap between the two communities. It is right to say, as others have said tonight and on other occasions, that in general the condition of Arab citizens in Israel is probably better in many respects than many of their brethren, but of course that is not the comparison that they make. They make the comparison with their Jewish fellow citizens. It is right that they should do so and that those gaps should be narrowed, not least in the interests of Israel itself.
The Palestinian minority in Israel is potentially a valuable economic force. The Palestinian diaspora has shown in many parts of the world that it can contribute significantly to economic and other developments. Moreover, it is inconceivable that a lasting peace, which we all seek, can be established on the basis that Israel treats its Arab citizens as in any way second-class. That is not what the Declaration of Independence proclaims and, in fairness, even the present Government have taken some steps towards narrowing the gap, although a great deal more remains to be done.
Last year the task force spent some time in the Negev in the south of Israel looking at the Bedouin community. We were disturbed but also in some respects encouraged by the activities that we saw there. I recall one particular visit to a co-operative run by women-and it is often women who take the lead in these matters-which is now one of the main providers of meals on wheels across the country, to the extent that the Ministry of Education has contracted with them to supply many other places. That is an example of a community-based organisation making a significant difference in its own community and beyond.
My noble friend Lady Ramsay referred to the trade union movement. It is sometimes forgotten-in this country, never mind in Israel-that trade unions are part of civil society. The Histadrut is very active on behalf of its Arab members-of which there are many-and also supports the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. I find it disappointing that some trade unions in this country seek to boycott the Histadrut. They should be supporting the Histadrut and the Palestinian federation in their joint work.
Another civil society organisation, or NGO, is Friends of the Earth Middle East. Last year, in what passed for our summer, I was pleased to host on behalf of the New Israel Fund a reception and discussion with Friends of the Earth Middle East, which is the only joint organisation embracing a Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli component. Of course, it looks in particular at environmental issues, touching very much on the issue of water, particularly the state of the River Jordan, which brings in all three components. It is another kind of organisation which certainly needs the support of the UK Government. Some concern has been caused by moves within Israel by the unreconstructed right to limit donations to civil society organisations from outside the country. I hope and assume that the Government will urge Israel not to do so.
Two years ago I was privileged to visit the amazing Bialik-Rogozin school in Jaffa, which has both Jewish and Arab students but also about 40% of its pupils are children of refugees or migrant workers. It is an amazing place-children of a rainbow range of colours and different languages all get along famously with the most wonderful staff. I have a strong visual memory of this fine example of Israel at its best. I was being shown round the playground and saw some structures about three foot high scattered around. When I asked what they were, I was told they were the vents from the air raid shelters beneath the school. Civil society in Israel has a great part to play, with support from inside and outside the country, in ensuring that those vents will one day be removed.
Lord Triesman (Labour)
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and all the other speakers in this debate. There is a need, I believe, for realism about the weight of expectation that we place on civil society and institutions in any peace process. Civil society institutions in the region do a quite remarkable job and they should not be judged when the states or emerging states within which they work fail on the path to peace.
I have tried to understand the role of civil society over about three decades, principally because the whole process of making peaceful life the norm so often rests with them. I have tried to understand it in Israel, on the West Bank, in Gaza and when it reaches across boundaries.
About one third of Israelis are said to be involved in civil organisations. I suspect that, if you included sport, the proportion would be a good deal higher. In a diverse country, many of the most significant NGOs comprise Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, Samaritans, Jews and small minorities. The complete inclusiveness of those organisations is sometimes remarkable.
As my noble friends Lady Ramsey and Lord Beecham said, I have always seen that inclusiveness as part of the DNA test of the trade unions in those countries. They have repelled any government interference and ensure that they are inclusive. That is now guaranteed in law. Histradut and the PGFTU in 2008 signed an agreement that has bound them closely together.
Like other noble Lords, I can identify several organisations which I think remarkable-the New Israel Fund, Kulunana, and many others. There are many other examples in the media, political life academic life and elsewhere. It would be foolish to say of any of them-or of Israeli civil society as a whole-that it exhibits no discrimination. However, I would like briefly to identify how the people of the region are coming to confront discrimination with potential momentum for peace.
First, Netanyahu's Government attempted to curtail some of those freedoms. It was a hot general election issue. Israeli voters moved to support centrist and leftist parties and, at that macro level, that shift is significant. Secondly, there is a telling micro-example close to my heart-it is about football. One of the right-wing football clubs, Beitar Jerusalem, had a bunch of arrogant supporters who objected to Arab players representing the club. The club owner, Arkady Gaydamak, with a good deal of support from Shimon Peres, and Ehud Olmert, who, as it happens, is a supporter of the club and, in Gaydamak's case is not a known softhearted political liberal, denounced that discrimination to the widespread support of the football community around the world. In that sporting environment, we see real change.
On the West Bank, where free movement is unacceptably restricted, it is clear that civil society organisations work much harder. The work of EU project under the investing in people programme and the gender equalities programme is truly impressive. Organisations are now in place to promote women's rights in health, justice, property, at work, in universities and we have seen a great deal of development using €1 billion of EU money between 2007 and 2013 towards those objectives.
The developments in Gaza appear far weaker. Hamas does not often encourage plurality. What courses through the veins of many successful civil society institutions is that they are robustly independent. They do not want to be told what ideology they have to embrace. Anti-collaboration threats make it much harder. With EU support, there is work on literacy, vocational development, disability programmes and many others. I believe that they can all contribute to peace if it is possible to deal with ideologies of hatred.
Perhaps we can learn from what has been achieved across borders. OneVoice has been mentioned. That is obviously a remarkable organisation. YaLa Forum has been mentioned. The economic projects between the West Bank and Israel, pioneered, among others, by the remarkable Sir Ronnie Cohen, give people an economic incentive to promote each other's success-an investment which works because it is to mutual benefit. The interesting intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stone, was about another remarkable enterprise with which he is so closely associated.
That is the seed corn of regional, common market approaches building the through economic success of one another. The private and, I have to say, usually out-of-region discussions between senior Palestinian and Israeli academics, where the United Kingdom's Association of University Teachers brought people together early in the Oslo process was a remarkable environment for peaceful work. What a sad, counterproductive turn of events that the AUT's successor organisation has supported academic boycotts, blaming Jewish academics for the faults of which it accuses the Israeli Government.
Quiet and consistent work is being done elsewhere. I mention again the Football Association; developing football coaches and referees sponsored through the United Kingdom; proud of doing it; never easy; always rewarding; and perhaps giving a real meaning to the word "united" which is so often the word that comes up in football club names.
I ask the Minister if he could say specifically which organisations do Her Majesty's Government support-and with what resources? What instructions does the United Kingdom ambassador in Israel have to support civil society organisations? Which organisations receive help in the United Kingdom from the Government or the Westminster Foundation? What is the Government's attitude to academic boycotts and other disruptive and divisive measures?
Demands of civil society for peace may start with mutual suspicion, but it often moves to mutual interest-economic; intellectual; sporting; and anti-discriminatory. As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, put it, it is a journey of incremental peace.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, this has been a very encouraging debate and it is good to hear how many of the Members of this House are themselves engaged in working with enlightened civil society across the divide in the Middle East conflict; I am gratified to hear that. I knew, of course, quite a lot about it before and I hope that everyone will be talking about it as widely as possible and encouraging others to come in.
I am a disillusioned liberal. Not all civil society organisations promote peaceful harmony, just as not every charity is charitable to everyone in the society in which they operate. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, referred to those who fuel the flames. There are civil organisations that fuel the flames on both sides, as we are aware-the extremist settler organisations and some of the more extreme organisations, particularly in Gaza. Therefore, we are talking about enlightened civil society, which we all wish to support and wish our Government to support in beginning to heal this embittered conflict.
Since the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, dozens of Israeli, Palestinian and international non-governmental organisations have been, and continue to be, active in the field of promoting peace between the two peoples. Camp David and Annapolis were also usefully supported by civil society think tanks and experts. We need their help.
Of course, this cannot be separated from the wider issue of the Middle East peace process. I hope that all noble Lords are aware that the UK Government consider this a very urgent issue over the next year and a half, and give it one of their highest priorities in foreign policy, as my honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has said on a number of occasions.
We fear that the time left to preserve and reinstate a two-state solution is now limited. If we fail to make progress in the next 18 months to two years, it may possibly be too late. We welcome the announcement that President Obama will be going to Israel; indeed, the new US Secretary of State will be going to Israel and to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We want to see intergovernmental negotiation back on track. However, fostering peace is impossible without a society that is willing to embrace it. Our fear is that with each passing day, month and year without progress, the prospect of peace becomes less likely and both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples lose hope that it is possible.
During these times, when formal negotiations remain stalled, it is very important to ensure that both societies continue to foster an environment for peace. Civil society organisations play a vital role in fostering that environment. Through our embassy in Tel Aviv and consulate-general in Jerusalem, we engage with two main groups of civil society organisations: first, those that are actively involved in promoting peace and coexistence as well as promoting a final settlement of the conflict; and, secondly, those focused on managing the conflict with a focus on monitoring, legal work or advocacy against certain practices that increase tension on the ground.
In the past year the Conflict Pool, the joint fund of the FCO, DfID and the MoD, has contracted just over £1 million to Palestinian and Israeli civil society organisations. This is in addition to wider FCO bilateral funding.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, also asked about the EU. Its Partnership for Peace programmes disburse between €5 million and €10 million to 15 or 25 projects each year. Other Governments are of course involved. A recent joint study of textbooks in Palestinian and Israeli schools by scholars from Yale, Tel Aviv and Bethlehem Universities was funded partly by the US State Department.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about moves to limit funds from the outside. I am well aware that this has been mooted within Israeli political circles. To follow the example of Russia, which has done so, would be regarded by all as deeply damaging to Israel's reputation around the world. I sincerely hope that the new Government will not give in to their own right wing on that.
I hope that noble Lords will understand if I cannot mention in this short speech all of the organisations with which we engage. I hope to give noble Lords a sense of the breadth of British engagement with civil society, both in the region and in the UK. Our embassy in Tel Aviv is close contact with many of the organisations mentioned, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, OneVoice and the Peres Centre for Peace. I had not heard about Hand in Hand; it sounds fascinating and I look forward to hearing more about its work in future. The British Government have taken important steps to support such organisations, including contracting funds to various organisations that monitor settlement expansion and continue to work with the Israeli legal system and law enforcement authorities to reduce illegal settlement activity and violence against Palestinian civilians. As we have seen, one of the barriers to finding a way through the conflict is the increasing lack of belief among both Israelis and Palestinians that a solution is possible.
On the ground in Palestine, the situation continues to work against the achievement of a final status deal. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the Geneva Initiative and Addameer all do important work to increase the prospect of reaching a two-state solution in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security. Work also continues to be done to address the immediate issue of Palestinian rights under international law. Palestinian civil society plays a vital role in highlighting and helping to address some of the most negative aspects of the Israeli occupation, including human rights violations.
The UK firmly believes that the focus between the Israelis and the Palestinians should be on steps to rebuild trust, with the aim of giving momentum to restart negotiations. House demolitions and the evictions of Palestinians from their homes cause real suffering to ordinary Palestinians. We have made our position on this issue clear to the Israeli authorities. Our consulate-general in Jerusalem has supported the international peace and co-operation centre, implementing urban plans and community surveys that help prevent house demolition and land confiscation. In December, for the first time, five IPCC master plans for Palestinian communities in Area C were approved. This is a major milestone for Palestinian planning efforts and the development rights of Palestinian communities.
I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said about UNWRA. I do not entirely accept what she said, either on that or on the position of Palestinian refugees. The FCO funded an independent report on Palestinian children in Israeli detention, which was released in June 2012. It was written by a team of respected British lawyers led by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. The FCO funded and provided diplomatic support throughout the visit, on the shared understanding that the delegation was to be entirely independent. The content, conclusions and recommendations of the report are the delegation's own.
The report's conclusions focused on the legal disparity between how the Israeli justice system treats Israeli children on the one hand and Palestinian children on the other. It concludes that Israel is in contravention of various aspects of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it asserts applies to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It also notes that the transportation of child prisoners into Israel and the failure to translate military orders from Hebrew are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, as a fellow lawyer, will particularly wish to discuss that with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland.
We continue to promote respect for human rights in the OPTs through work with local Israeli and Palestinian implementing partners. This year the Conflict Pool has contributed to the dismantlement of illegal outposts on Palestinian land, along with the return of hundreds of acres of Palestinian agricultural land in Areas B and C of the West Bank. It has funded groups that monitor and provide access to justice for victims of settler violence and lobby for more robust law enforcement. It has supported work to challenge Israel's West Bank-Gaza separation policy and litigation to the right to education, livelihood and the freedom of movement on behalf of Gazans who wish to seek educational and economic opportunities or family reunification outside the Gaza Strip. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned the extremely important area of water; as he well knows, a great deal of work is going on regarding that but there are severe obstacles.
There are also a number of civil society organisations within the UK that do important work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The FCO has a regular dialogue with a wide range of UK-based civil society organisations at both official and ministerial level. The British Government consistently raise our concerns with the Israeli authorities regarding human rights abuses under the occupation. We value enormously the role that civil society can and does play in monitoring such issues. The UK will continue to work with civil society organisations and research groups to advance the powerful case for peace on both sides of the Green Line.
The role of British civil society, including our Jewish and Arab diasporas, is clearly an important contribution in getting away from this frozen conflict. We cannot leave the resolution of this embittered conflict to government alone. I pay tribute to all those, including many here, who do so much work on this issue. I am particularly glad to hear mention of my very old friend Ronnie Cohen-I think by the noble Lord, Lord Stone-who continues to do really superb work in this area.
Yes, of course, this is only palliative. Civil society can do only so much. Resolution of the conflict requires direct negotiation. That is urgent and, I repeat, Her Majesty's Government consider this to be an urgent priority for the next year.