Middle East Peace Process — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:37 pm on 4th May 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Liberal Democrat 7:37 pm, 4th May 2011

My Lords, I was going to apologise this evening for drawing your Lordships' minds away from the tumultuous events in the Middle East, the dubious NATO campaign in Libya and the capture and assassination of Osama bin Laden, but I shall not in view of other developments over these past few days. This debate is very timely.

I want to make an appeal that we all remember the Palestinians and the injustice that has been meted out to them since 1948. It is an injustice which lies at the very heart of Arab Muslim angst against the West and which has allowed one country, Israel, supported by the USA and the European Union, consistently to break international law since 1948, when it was decided that the Palestinians would pay the price of the Holocaust even if they had had nothing to do with it.

Let us remind ourselves quickly of the facts on the ground. The wall or security barrier has been built between Israel and the West Bank. Fair enough, I would say. I witnessed during the second intifada the sheer terror of Israeli citizens as they experienced the suicide bombers-the al-Aqsa martyrs as they were then-encouraged and supported by Fatah. Let us remember that Fatah is now Israel's chosen partner for negotiations. The barrier was quite understandable, but what was outrageous was that the course of that barrier grabbed a huge amount of land and water in the West Bank from Palestinian farmers and families.

Palestinians have difficulty accessing healthcare and education, and humiliation continues daily at the check-points. The settlements go on expanding despite exhortations from the international community and repeated criticism from this Government. Farmers are attacked, crops are ruined and children are brutalised and imprisoned. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than at al-Walaja near Bethlehem. The town and its people are being strangled. I have no time to give noble Lords the details, but I hope that the Minister will comment on what is happening.

In Gaza, little has changed. Food is scarce if you are poor, as most Gazans are. Together with the terror of constant overflying and sonic bombing, and the poor education that the children are getting, the international community, by its inaction, is allowing a whole generation of children to grow up malnourished, undereducated and deeply traumatised by the actions of their neighbour, Israel. A more recent development is the targeting of children by snipers as they attempt to collect gravel for building purposes, because building materials are not allowed in. Gaza is an academy for the terrorists of the future: I cannot repeat this often enough.

We must not forget, in this overview of the situation, the plight of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians living in Israel, who are subjected to an apartheid-like regime of control and lack of freedom, let alone the 7,000 to 8,000 prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. Will the Minister update us on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and on what the Government intend to do about it?

There have been great changes recently in the situation. In March, after a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the Foreign Secretary said:

"The Peace Process must not be allowed to become a casualty of uncertainty in the region. It is too important to be allowed ... to falter".

He said that a big hindrance to any negotiations taking place was the divisions between Fatah and Hamas. He also cited the problems of the settlements, East Jerusalem and Gaza. William Hague looked forward to the upgrading to mission status of the Palestinian delegation to the UK, but did not comment on the fact that, a month earlier, the USA had vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the settlements, even though it used the same words that Hillary Clinton used a year before when the USA called for an end to settlement expansion. Is this yet more evidence of the power of the Israel lobby in the United States?

The Palestinians have made progress and, thanks to the good offices of the new Egyptian Government, and Mr Al-Arabi in particular, a reconciliation has been brokered between Hamas and Fatah, and promises have been made by Egypt to open up the Egypt-Gaza border crossing at Rafah. Mr Al-Arabi is a very distinguished man and a former judge at the International Court of Justice. He is to be applauded for his efforts and I hope that we will encourage him in every way possible.

The Israeli Government, predictably, has said that Fatah must chose between Israel and Hamas. They always produce another hurdle when one is removed, and never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They have also decided to withhold taxes worth $56 million that they have collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority on the grounds that the money may be used by Hamas to buy arms. Mr Al-Arabi has made it clear, as have the negotiators in Cairo, that a unity Government composed of independents and technocrats from the West Bank and Gaza will run the Palestinian Authority until elections have taken place. It will not be run by Fatah or Hamas. Israel must be told that this could be its last chance to get a two-state solution. A huge opportunity was missed after the Palestinian elections in 2006, when we refused to give the Palestinian people the Government they wanted after a monitored, free and fair democratic process.

Israel's fear of Hamas is based on the old Hamas charter, which is a relic, and on the fact that neither Israel's leaders nor ours have ever bothered to talk to Hamas leaders. On numerous occasions I and other parliamentarians have been assured by Hamas leaders, in particular Khaled Meshaal, that they will accept a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, and will maintain a truce. However, things are getting more difficult. The rockets fired recently were from dissident groups in Gaza, which get more numerous and better supported as Hamas is seen not to be able to make progress in its negotiations with Israel.

Finally, Israel has been indulged for too long in the interests of American foreign policy as well as its own. The rights of Palestinians under international law have been ignored, and much suffering and injustice have been endured. International law was not mentioned in the 2003 road map, which was meant to provide a framework for negotiations. The International Court of Justice ruling on the separation barrier was ignored, and President Obama, after he took office, ignored completely international law in his speech in Cairo on Israel and Palestine. Why?

International law is for everyone. It is for Israel, Palestine, Bahrain, Syria, the European Union-and even the United States of America. If we continue to apply it selectively, there will be no future for Israel, and the world order will ultimately collapse. I implore the Minister to tell the House that we will bring pressure to bear on Israel to co-operate with Egypt and the Palestinian negotiators in Cairo. We must not miss the great opportunity of the Arab spring-however difficult it is, and however many road blocks are put in the way-to bring justice also, at last, to the Palestinians.