Israel and Palestine — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 16 June 2009.

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Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench 2:46, 16 June 2009

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their approach to the Middle East peace process should a two-state solution be unattainable.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, we continue to consider that a two-state solution is the only realistic way to achieve sustainable peace in the Middle East. Our vision is of two democratic states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace with secure and recognised boundaries. The Foreign Secretary reiterated this in his 21 May speech to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. It is also a vision shared by a majority of Palestinians, Israelis and a number of members of the international community.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, momentum must be maintained before further despair and greater poverty sets in with its inevitable consequences. Are the two states to be made up from the 1967 borders and not just in name and with no substance, or with the River Jordan as Israel's border? Is not the West Bank already de facto an extension of Israel, with a divide and rule strategy through strict border controls, settlement policy and road layout networks, compounded by the inability of the Palestinians to either administer or deliver effectively?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Viscount poses a number of questions. Certainly, the need for an early solution to this intractable problem is to be wished by all. The two-state solution that we envisage provides for a safe and secure Israel and a democratic and viable Palestinian state living in peace and prosperity with their neighbours. The reference to the de facto extension of Israel, I presume, is a reflection on the question of the settlements in the West Bank.

Events have moved on somewhat since the Question was put. We have had the remarkable speech of President Obama and the speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu only a couple of days ago. The Foreign Secretary, in responding to that, has welcomed the clarity from the Prime Minister of Israel that he sees the goal of an independent Palestinian state as an important part of the future of the Middle East. Fulfilment of all obligations includes a complete freeze on settlements as an obligation that needs to be applied to all parties in forming the road map.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord is surely right that a two-state solution is the only hope. The national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians require a two-state solution as the only answer to the conflict. Does my noble friend agree that any proposal that disregards the right to self-determination, which he has referred to, of both peoples is doomed from the outset?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, as I have said, it is a broadly international belief that the only lasting peace will come with a two-state solution. I believe that many people were disappointed by parts at least of the speech of the Israeli Prime Minister; but it is significant. He said:

"I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbours, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: 'Let's begin negotiations immediately without preconditions. Israel is obligated by its international commitments and expects all parties to keep their commitments'".

That is a message of some hope—the first time there has been recognition from the current Israeli Government of the need for a two-state solution. That is what we should seek to build on.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that Netanyahu's refusal to budge on the question of further expansion of settlements remains a real stumbling block in the creation of a viable Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution; and has he noted the recent reports that a senior member of the Israeli Cabinet has just turned down the master plan for the further development of Jerusalem on the grounds that it "imposes too much Palestinian housing"?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, although in his speech the Israeli Prime Minister said "no preconditions", many people have seen preconditions in the remaining parts of the speech. There are serious obstacles on the road to peace; but, having been through the experience that we have in this country, we know that, at the start of a journey, the most important thing is to identify the destination, then get the parties around the table to see how obstacles can be removed or avoided. We should take the hopeful part of the message. It is clear that settlements remain illegal. They are in violation of international law. Therefore, the UK and international position remains the same—to tell the Israeli authorities, both privately and in public, that they should be dismantled.

Photo of Lord Steinberg Lord Steinberg Conservative

My Lords, would the Minister agree that Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he and his Government will agree to a Palestinian state alongside Israel; but that it is also only fair to point out that President Obama, in the wonderful speech that he gave a few weeks ago, said that any democratic government must follow the will of the people, and the will of the people of Israel is for an undivided Jerusalem and no return of so-called refugees? Would the Minister agree with President Obama's statement, and Prime Minister Netanyahu's following it?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I certainly agree that the speech of the President of the United States was remarkable. What was also remarkable was his engagement early in his tenure as President. That shows a determination to solve something that will not be solved overnight; it may take a number of years. Therefore I believe that we should spend less time concentrating on the obstacles, and more time concentrating on how to remove the obstacles. What was said by Prime Minister Netanyahu was not the last word on this issue; just the latest word.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, it is very obvious that there is—