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Backbench Business — Palestine and Israel

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 7:53 pm on 13th October 2014.

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Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:53 pm, 13th October 2014

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Grahame M. Morris on securing this historically significant debate. I will seek to limit my remarks and I hope that Members will forgive me if I do not refer to them by name. I do, however, want to refer by name to the right hon. Members for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) and for Faversham and Mid Kent (Sir Hugh Robertson). They made significant interventions and I thank them for doing so.

To clarify the Labour party’s position, the motion will be supported by the Labour party because it reflects our long-standing support for the principle of recognition of Palestinian statehood. Labour will also support the manuscript amendment, because it makes clear our support for recognition of Palestinian statehood as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution. Labour is clear that it is, of course, a matter for any Government to recognise another state at any point of their choosing. It is a matter for this Government, just as the former Foreign Secretary the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) made clear as long ago as 2011. The Minister has just said that there now needs to be urgent progress towards peace. There now needs to be, to use his word, a catalyst. I urge the Minister and the Government to listen to the tenor and seriousness of this debate, and to judge their own policy on the views being expressed tonight.

The timing and the mechanism to decide whether to recognise Palestinian statehood is a matter for this Government. It will be decided by Labour in government if the decision has not been made by this Government before Labour comes to power. We have made it very clear that we will always work with partners multilaterally to advance the two-state solution agenda. We fully support two states living side by side in peace, recognised by all their neighbours. We are clear that Palestinian statehood is not a gift to be given, but a right to be recognised. That is why—Dr Offord should heed this—since 2011, when the Leader of the Opposition made Labour policy clear, Labour has supported Palestinian recognition at the United Nations. The weeks of bloodshed witnessed in Gaza this summer, and the breakdown of meaningful negotiations in April this year, are a painful and stark reminder of how distant and difficult the prospect of a peaceful resolution to this conflict remains.

I was in Israel and in Palestine at the end of July and the beginning of August, and heard directly from Israelis and Palestinians about their view of the position on the ground. One conversation with an Israeli general stayed with me. He said that the conflict would end sooner or later, and that how many die would depend on how quickly resolution was reached. That was true for Gaza then and it is true for the wider middle east conflict now. Urgent steps need to be taken to stop people dying.

The steps that need to be taken to resolve the conflict are political steps. That is why it was right for the Leader of the Opposition, in 2011, to instruct my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary to write to the Foreign Secretary to ask the UK Government to support the Palestinian bid for recognition at the United Nations. That is why it was right for Labour, in 2012, to call on the UK Government to vote in favour of Palestine’s bid for enhanced observer status at the United Nations General Assembly, a vote on which this Government abstained.

I have never understood how, in the context of a conflict in which so many have died, it can be wrong to use political steps and the United Nations to make progress. Indeed, this principle has been widely supported, as my right hon. Friend Mr Straw said earlier when referring to the road map in 2002-03, where

“creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty, based on the new constitution, as a way station to a permanent status settlement” was endorsed by President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon. The road map set out that Palestinian statehood was part of the solution. Since then, much progress has been made. We heard from Mr Clappison that President Abbas is a true partner for peace and that much progress has been made in the west bank during that period. It is therefore crucial, at this time when help is needed, that President Abbas receives support for the political path he has chosen. We need to support President Abbas to follow the path of peace and not the path the terrorists of Hamas inflict on the people of Israel, something I have seen with my own eyes in Ashkelon and in Sderot.

We should, as we stand today, support peaceful, political steps. This is why the Labour party will maintain its support for a two-state solution to the middle east conflict by supporting this motion. Labour is clear that this conflict will be resolved only through negotiations. However, after decades of diplomatic failure, there are those on all sides who today question whether we can actually achieve peace. This is why Labour believes that, amid the despair today, we need to take a dramatic step. The Government have rightly stated that the goal of all diplomatic efforts must be a two-state solution brought about by negotiations, but no negotiations are taking place. How can the Government’s current position on Palestinian recognition help bring about resumed negotiations?

The Labour party supported Palestinian recognition at the UN and we support the principle of recognition today, because we believe it will strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence. Labour urges the Government to listen to the House of Commons—listen to the voices on the Conservative Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Labour Benches, all the Benches—and give Palestinians what they have as a right: statehood. This it not an alternative to negotiations; it is a bridge for beginning them.