Middle East Peace Settlement — Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 7:44 pm on 14th January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour 7:44 pm, 14th January 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what role the European Union is currently playing in efforts to reach a wider Middle East peace settlement.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, two themes underpin this very short debate, and I shall try to keep my remarks very brief, to assist others. First, and very obviously, the Middle East poses a major threat to world peace. There are appalling conflicts there at the moment and the humanitarian disasters are great. The second theme relates to the activities of the European Union, which have been growing in significance and are extremely important. One of the things that I want to suggest today is that we must use the influence of the European Union to get involved in some of the other disputes that trouble us in that region. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has played a particularly important role, and this House owes her a debt of gratitude as she has certainly put us on the map in that way.

In theory, the European Union does not have a foreign policy or a defence policy. What has been happening, particularly in the Iranian talks, is that you have the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany and Iran, but with the European Union playing a very significant role in those negotiations, precisely because it has enormous economic power. With economic power in a unified market, as some of us have been saying for some time, you inevitably get drawn into foreign affairs and security policy because you cannot run a single economic market without having a profound influence on the world. It is, by far, the most powerful economic bloc in the world and is therefore going to have a wider influence. That is important. With such economic power, I would argue, states are born. They may be very diverse and loosely knit ones, and it is hard to call the European Union a state, but it certainly has some aspects of a state.

The European Union’s role in the agreement emphasises that economic power, because it was as a result of those talks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, chairing them, that she was also able to deliver relief on some of the sanctions imposed on Iran, such as some of the nuclear ones, some of the financial ones affecting the insurance of the oil industry and so on. You could see economic power translating into political power by saying to Iran: “If you co-operate, we will move, as will the other states representing the United Nations Security Council, and Germany as an individual state with great interest in the area”.

Those facts are true also for the Palestine-Israel dispute. I could spend some time—I will not because of the shortage of time—listing what the European Union has already done for both parties in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Both parties have benefited from European Union involvement, which has been progressively growing. People will have noted that, if there is a final status agreement, the European Union has already promised a very significant economic and political package to try to underpin that agreement. Again, this is enormously important. It offers an attractive option for both parties to find a settlement and underpins the efforts by the United States to create that agreement. We ought to recognise that this is powerful.

Events outside the Middle East, which I would like to talk about at some other stage, also indicate this growing influence. When French troops went into the Central African Republic, fairly soon afterwards—indeed only the other week—the European Union asked its members to provide additional troops in that area. The reach of the European Union is becoming wider: it is not just the Middle East, although that, to my mind, is by far the most important area and the one where we can do the most at the moment.

It is my contention that we have gone so far in using the European Union as a tool of our foreign and security policy that we ought to think through additional ways in which we can use our influence within the European Union. We are a very influential player in it and by evolving a greater coherence on foreign and security policy we can have great influence. I stress that this does not mean that we have to rush to create a European army or a European Foreign Secretary, and I am sure the Minister will not be rushing to the Dispatch Box to say that that is what we want to do. However, there is a delicate but incredibly important balance where we can actually increase our influence in that way and develop it in a way that really benefits the whole region and enables us to act as though we had a foreign policy, but without actually creating the problems that would exist within the European Union if we tried to set that up formally. It is the informal but very co-operative approach that the European Union takes with its members that enables that to work.

I ought perhaps to put this into context as I was in the House of Commons when there were terrible problems in the former Yugoslavia. There was a growing desire to intervene in that situation as ethnic cleansing reached horrendous proportions. Eventually we did intervene, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was done by NATO but, significantly, nearly all the military assets were those of the United States. The vast majority of the air power assets—more than 85%—came from the US Air Force and US Navy. That brought home to Europe the fact that if it could not deal with ethnic cleansing in its own continent, what other threats could it not face down around the edges of its continent? That was a very important lesson and one that is continually being learnt.

I am a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which recently produced a very useful paper pointing out that it was incredibly frustrating for people in the defence industry and the defence world generally to see that the European Union did not have such a policy because it was increasingly marginalising the European Union forces as the world power balance shifts and new powers emerge—Brazil in aircraft production, and China, India and Russia will all come back into play in due course. Those factors are incredibly important and ought to be looked at in due course.

I want to focus on the Middle East and where it goes forward from here. The role of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in the Iranian talks is very important. I note that she is now being invited by Iran to visit the country. That invitation was issued the day before yesterday, I think. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether she has accepted that invitation. I think that there is a strong case for doing so not least because the discussions should widen as my Motion indicates, towards talking about resolving the dispute in Syria as well as the dispute with Iran over the nuclear weapons issue. There is a very real chance of the European Union playing a crucial role here. If the Iranians recognise, as I know they do, that the European Union is a different entity from the United States and from the individual great powers which it has dealt with so far, and if the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, does visit, the EU might find it a very useful way of seeing what role it can play.

It is difficult for the United States and others to accept that Iran should be present at the table when the discussions take place on Syria. I have doubted for some time whether those discussions will take place, as the Minister will know from other questions that I have asked her in the past. If we can get that conference going then there is a case that Iran should be there, subject to certain limitations. Perhaps the European Union can be helpful in that regard. Even if it does not work out that Iran is present then the European Union can act as a conduit between that conference and the Iranians. If the Iranians do not co-operate on a settlement within Syria, the problem will continue to trouble us, and the horrendous sights of what is happening in Syria that we see on our televisions will continue unhindered.

I said that I would keep my remarks as brief as possible but I have one final, important point, particularly for the Eurosceptics. The European Union magnifies our influence; it does not diminish it.

Photo of Lord Carrington of Fulham Lord Carrington of Fulham Conservative 7:54 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on this extremely timely debate, and on his work in bringing Arabs and Jews to a better understanding via his Arab-Jewish Forum. This debate comes at a time of mourning for the life of General Sharon. His life in some ways is an exemplar of the problems that have bedevilled attempts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He moved from freedom fighter—terrorist to some—to being a successful general, to being accused of war crimes and to becoming a hard-line Prime Minister who removed the settlements from Gaza. His was a life that many, including me, would like to interpret as a progression from a belief that the conflict could be solved through violence to a realisation that the only solution is through compromise, negotiation and magnanimity.

Finding that compromise and magnanimity is the problem. As some of your Lordships may know, I have spent much of my working life outside politics doing business in the Middle East, often with devout Muslims. I am also a strong supporter of Israel and its right to exist, and to do more than exist: to prosper as a beacon of enterprise and democracy in an otherwise very challenged part of the world.

In this dispute, sadly, facts and truth often do not matter and perception is everything. Among many devout Muslims who believe in the teachings of the Prophet, which are peaceable and loving, the perception is that American and—perhaps to a lesser extent—EU support for Israel is absolute, and as too often in the region “my enemy’s friend is my enemy”, it is hard for either to act as an honest broker in any negotiations.

It would be wrong to say, as some Arab commentators claim, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all the problems in the Middle East. However, the conflict is certainly not divorced from the Sunni-Shia war and the persecution of Christians in some Arab countries. Without a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, it is impossible to see how the other conflicts in the region can start to be resolved. I would like to think that the European Union role, or the American role, in the negotiations could be seen to be benign and impartial—but, sadly, that is impossible.

The Middle East desperately needs a fair solution to this problem in the short window in which a two-state solution is still possible, but there can be no honest brokers and possibly not even guarantors. The two sides have to come to a realisation that neither one has any alternative to a fair two-state solution. Once that is agreed, we will have the best chance that the men of violence will lose support and that peace will become a reality. The role of the EU has to be to support and put pressure on the Americans, and to make it clear to both the Israelis and the Palestinians that only a two-state solution is possible and that no other solution will be acceptable if money, technology and arms are still to flow to the region.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Liberal Democrat 7:57 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I will first echo my noble friend Lord Carrington’s comments about Ariel Sharon; I shall not dwell on the matter more than that. I will address the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and perhaps flesh out some of the things he did not have time to go into in his speech.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council announced in December that in the event of a peace agreement it would offer both Israel and a future Palestinian state a special privileged partnership with the EU, including increased access to European markets, closer cultural and scientific links, facilitation of trade and investments, promotion of business to business relations and enhanced political dialogue and security co-operation.

The council also said that the EU would,

“contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a peace agreement. The Council will work on concrete proposals, including by building on previous work undertaken on EU contributions to Palestinian state-building, regional issues, refugees, security and Jerusalem.

We constantly hear a lot about what Israel must do to reach a peace settlement, such as stopping the expansion of settlements—the list of actions that Israel should take goes on. I have no problem with some of these demands, but demands should also be made of the Palestinians as, without give and take on both sides, no progress will be made.

The UK Government and the EU frequently endorse a key Palestinian demand with regard to the 1967 lines being the basis for a territorial agreement. They have not acknowledged one of Israel’s key concerns: namely, that an agreement must be along the lines of two states for two peoples, as my noble friend Lord Carrington outlined. It is important to set realistic expectations for both sides regarding the end game, and in particular to reassure the Israelis that a peace agreement will secure, not threaten, Israel as the only state in the world with a Jewish majority.

What does Israel see? The glorification of terrorism and violence in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas media, along with a denial of the Jewish connection to the land and any right to statehood. That sends out a very negative message to Israel about Palestinian intentions regarding a negotiated two-state solution, which we all want. Israel’s public support for talks is high, but faith in the Palestinian partner is, sadly—whether correctly or incorrectly—very low. This is a considerable source of concern, particularly when there seem to be continued Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Given the role of the EU as a financial supporter of the PA, to which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly drew the attention of the House, could it not do more to pressurise the Palestinian Authority to address that problem? Will Ministers consider strengthening public statements regarding the glorification of violence against Israel in the Palestinian media? That is the way forward to the two-state solution that we all want.

Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 8:00 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate. We meet at a time of terrible difficulties in the Middle East. The Geneva II Middle East peace conference is due to start on 22 January. It is to be hoped that it will lead to disarmament, ceasefires, reintegration et cetera.

However, I want to talk about displaced people. The United Nations says that there are about 6 million people now displaced inside Syria, with more than 2.3 million registered refugees living across the region in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, all of which are struggling to cope with the number of refugees. About 20% of the refugees live in camps; the rest are in other communities, often living in profoundly difficult circumstances.

Last autumn, I visited a refugee camp for Syrian refugees, Camp Zatary in Jordan. It has a population of between 125,000 and 145,000. It is difficult to know how many there are because people come and go with such fluidity. Some people think that those camps are used by the Syrian fighters for R&R. As refugee camps go, Camp Zatary is a model location. It has a paved street, three hospitals and many shops—you can buy a washing machine or a television—and electricity is available, but it is still a refugee camp, and only Syrians can go there.

However, there are many refugees from Syria who are not Syrian. I think in particular of the Palestinians, about whose plight is there has been so much international comment, effort and so on, but which still remains unresolved. It is important, as the parties move to attempt to change the situation in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, that we do not forget the plight of those who have been living for decades in various Middle Eastern countries as displaced people without refugee status and with no proper access to life.

When I was in Jordan, I visited a Gaza camp at Jaresh, a long drive from Amman, perched on the side of a barren mountain in the desert. It has been there since the people fled from Gaza in 1967. They are not recognised as refugees; they are displaced people. The only body that helps them is UNRWA, established in 1967 to care for them. It has very limited resources. In 40-plus years, it has not been able to achieve as much as the UNHCR has achieved at Zatary. The people cannot go back to Gaza: they have no identity, no right to work in the public service or, really, in the private sector, no homeland, no ability to travel and no experience of the world.

There are more than 5,000 children in the school in that camp, educated to a limited degree. They cannot go to university because, apart from a very small number of them, they have to pay international fees. The teachers try to teach them. When we met the children, they told us what they want. We met the girls, and I should like to tell noble Lords what these beautiful, bright, articulate young women, living out their lives on a bleak mountainside, told us. They said that they want to be recognised as human beings with rights, not as people with no identity who are helpless. They want the right to own property. They want to be able to work. They want an education but they said, “If we can’t get an education, we’ll study”. Above all, they want to be happy. They said that everything is about grieving. Even when there might be some happiness, there is still sadness for all that is lost. They want to make a contribution.

The European Union and those who support it could make a difference to those young lives. They could encourage funding to allow those bright young people to take their place in the world. They could conduct an audit of conditions in those forgotten camps. Above all, the United Nations could be facilitated and encouraged by the European Union and its international partners to recognise the responsibilities it has to those forgotten people. UNRWA is not enough. Something needs to be done to improve conditions and bring hope to those displaced Palestinians.

Photo of The Bishop of Worcester The Bishop of Worcester Bishop 8:04 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate, because reaching a wider Middle East peace settlement is crucial to the entire world.

I want to focus my short remarks on what Christians refer to as the Holy Land and the welfare of its peoples, in which I have a long-standing personal interest. I have visited regularly for 25 years. At this time last year, I was in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, visiting projects run by Christian Aid with two other bishops. I shall be there again very shortly with a pilgrimage from the diocese of Worcester.

I should declare my position. I would describe myself as a pro-Palestinian Zionist, wholeheartedly committed to the right of Israel to exist securely, and equally committed to the right of the Palestinian people to a viable state in which they can flourish. Reaching that is crucial to a wider Middle East peace settlement.

The EU can bring great influence to bear, as has already been pointed out. One example of the influence that it can bring to bear is in the new EU guidelines on

Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I believe that they are a good development, which is why I have asked Written Questions about their implementation. I do not believe that they change the relationship of the EU to the State of Israel, as has been claimed by some; they simply draw practical, if uncomfortable, conclusions from long-standing EU policy. With this in mind, I was pleased to read of the agreement reached between the Israeli Justice Minister and the EU High Representative, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, on the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

When I was in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories this time last year, at the same time as the Israeli election, I was saddened by the way in which a two-state solution seemed to be more remote than ever, with the prospect of building on Zone E1, close to Jerusalem, which would render a contiguous Palestinian state well nigh impossible. I am delighted that John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, has made such good progress in the past few months, although sad that he left the Middle East recently without an official framework agreement between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. I also regret what has been reported since about substantial building plan announcements for settlements on the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.

Mr Kerry is reported as saying that what matters is a settlement, not lots of settlements. However, the expansion of settlements will not help progress towards a lasting and just peace settlement. That was acknowledged by the Israeli Finance Minister, who was reported this week as remarking that the announcement “complicated” the peace settlement and was a “mistake”.

I hope that, as well as continuing to do all that it is, the EU will expand its efforts to be of help in securing a lasting peace settlement. Although the EU has not been involved to date in the settlement negotiations, I hope that more will be made of the promise, which has already been mentioned this evening, of financial and other incentives in the event of the reaching of a peace settlement.

In short, as a pro-Palestinian Zionist, I hope that the EU will do everything in its power to enable a just and lasting settlement for the Middle East in general.

Photo of Lord Weidenfeld Lord Weidenfeld Crossbench 8:09 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, Europe is confronted by three worsening, interpenetrating crises in the Middle East, demanding a new measure of watchfulness, partly because of the somewhat undulating nature of President Obama’s foreign policy of withdrawal and return. The descent of established, although perhaps malgoverned, countries into dysfunctional and even failed states is epitomised by the Syrian tragedy, but Libya, Yemen and now notably Egypt also give cause for great concern.

As regards Syria, the agreement brokered between Putin and Obama might have spared deaths from poisonous gas, but it has left Assad free to continue his mode of warfare unhindered by foreign military intervention or the supply of arms to his opponents. In Egypt where, to some of us, the two brands of authoritarian rule may be anathema, there is little doubt that the military junta gives greater chances for advocating transition to fairer government than the Brotherhood, a fanatical movement with unpredictable aims.

That even the self-assured Turkish regime is now experiencing some turmoil shows how brittle the structure of states in the Muslim world has now become. The violent sectarian Shia and Sunni strife, which has gripped Iraq and threatens Lebanon, is one in which the West must not be seen to interfere. Yet it must be firmly watched for it penetrates the third—and in its way the most immediately dangerous—phenomenon: the coalescing of disparate fanatical jihadist movements into solid fronts. Under al-Qaeda’s inspiration, fanatical militants operate not only in the heart of the Middle East but in Africa and, indeed, in the very heart of the Atlantic world. It is there where Europe has no choice but to fight implacably, systematically and purposefully, for the lives of its citizens are at stake. Moreover, the indoctrination of non-Muslim young people gives cause for concern.

There is one issue where Europe could play an important and, if I may say so, healing part: the settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Having just returned from Israel I believe that the initiative of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, holds greater promise than many previous ones because he has clearly hit it off with both Palestinians and Israelis. He has had more than 20 meetings with President Abbas and he has a very good relationship with the hawkish Foreign Minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman.

The lacerated psyche of both nations needs considerable tact and respect on Europe’s part. Pinpricks from Brussels, such as trade boycotts and academic and other cultural ostracism, inflame only one party. When Israel released a third batch of 26 imprisoned Palestinians, it included a man who killed a woman in the ninth month of pregnancy, three further children and an Israeli soldier trying to prevent this crime; he was hailed by President Abbas as a national hero and a model for Palestinian youth. No doubt, Palestinians could point to deeply offensive incidents allegedly committed by Israelis and, of course, there is the tremendous problem of the settlements.

Let me pause and consider the fact that the total area of settlements in Palestinian land is less than 2%. From talking to various people, I believe that, in a final settlement, a great deal could be done by land swaps and ingenious ways of dealing with this terribly vexed problem.

In conclusion, tact and compassionate understanding for the two sides are very important and where Europe can really do a great deal, and I hope that this House will continue to have important meetings discussing the progress of this issue.

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Conservative 8:14 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I draw your attention to my entry in the register of interests, which includes board membership of the Jerusalem Foundation, where I had the honour to serve for a short time with my noble friend Lord Weidenfeld.

Despite having only a few minutes allocated to me, it would seem appropriate to echo the words of my noble friend Lord Carrington and pass condolences to both the State of Israel and the family of the late Ariel Sharon. There is a lot we can learn from his life which, while controversial, nevertheless included taking some enormous steps to promote peace in the region, such as agreeing the road map and the withdrawal from Gaza, despite facing enormous pressures internally and externally. I hope that his passionate and determined pursuit of peace towards the end of his life will encourage others to follow his example.

This debate refers to a wider Middle East peace settlement and there is often a tendency in such debates to focus just on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is not necessarily the main cause of regional instability. However, in my opinion, economic prosperity for all the parties in that region is one of the keys for peace. This debate is focusing on the efforts made by the EU, and quite rightly, as since 1994 the EU has provided more than €5.6 billion in assistance to the Palestinian people. The United Kingdom has been a very large contributor to this sum. Between 2008 and 2012 it was the third largest contributor of direct financial support after Holland and Sweden, with the United Kingdom’s contribution being about 10% of member states’ specific contributions.

Some of this direct funding has gone to support the rehabilitation of the private sector in Gaza, which must be very welcome. However, the recent European Court of Auditors’ Special Report No. 14, which was published in 2013, draws attention to some very worrying observations, such that a “considerable number”, in its words, of civil servants in Gaza were being paid without going to work or providing any public service. Furthermore, it is now clear that a significant proportion of the Palestinian Authority’s budget, in part financed by the EU Pegase programme, is used to pay a salary to Palestinian prisoners in Israel, many of whom have been convicted of terrorist activities. This now runs at a rate of nearly £3 million per month and, perversely, the longer the sentence, the greater the salary. While Israel has commendably started to release prisoners, as the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, said, the president of the Palestinian Authority has publicly called such convicted terrorists “heroes”. This does not bode well for changing the mood in the region towards peace. The EU would do well to heed the warnings by listening to the concerns in its own auditors’ report and further reflect on whether it should allow its—and our financial—support for Palestine to be used, in effect, for prisoner salaries.

The EU could do much more to promote peace in this area. Specifically, the funds would be much better used in following the example of the Portland Trust, based here in the UK, and using our resources further to promote Palestinian economic growth, which did in fact achieve an impressive 4.25% in 2013. It is by promoting the prosperity of the region that the EU will enhance the peace process.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 8:17 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Soley and will raise only a few headlines. First, on the context, there is turmoil throughout the Middle East and north Africa region, much of it interconnected. No one can now plausibly blame Israel for that turmoil, with Israel itself being an oasis of stability. Nevertheless the current Israeli Government, with their settlement policy, are surely placing obstacles in the path of a two-state solution, just as the Palestinians raise their own obstacles to peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, emphasised.

Secondly, the EU’s interests and those of its member states are directly involved throughout the region, not just because of refugees and terrorism. We have a clear interest in seeking to stabilise the region on democratic lines.

Thirdly, I recall the US jibe against Europe: “We do the cooking; you, the Europeans, do the washing-up”. There is surely an element of truth in this. It is Secretary Kerry who has taken the lead, both on the Middle East peace process and over Syria. Yet it is fair to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is playing a key role on behalf of the European Union in the rapprochement with Iran, and not just because of the EU sanctions. Is the main strategic political role always to be led by the US and does the EU mainly have a secondary role in institution-building and humanitarian aid? Even if this is inevitable there is surely a key, if subordinate, political role for the EU, not only over Iran but over the quartet and the Syria problem. We should also not decry the washing-up or soft power role. For example, the EU and its member states have spent more than €1 billion in funding Syrian refugees. The EU has also offered attractive carrots to the Palestinians.

Finally, perhaps the Middle East is a test case for the new European External Action Service after its apparent success in Kosovo. By using all its available instruments, the EU has a serious role. There has been real progress on the immediate humanitarian side. In the longer term, there is much EU experience in the building of viable civil society institutions, the rule of law and human rights. This is particularly seen now in Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab awakening.

Back to Palestine: the EU is the largest provider of development aid to the Palestinian territories yet there is surely insufficient conditionality for all the money which is given. Last December, the European Court of Auditors concluded that EU assistance to Palestine has been reasonably effective but it highlighted many areas of concern. I have two final questions. Will the Government press for these to be addressed and, generally, will they seek to make the EU’s political weight in the region more commensurate with our financial contribution?

Photo of Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Liberal Democrat 8:20 pm, 14th January 2014

I add my voice to the praise and thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for giving us the opportunity today to debate his Question for Short Debate on what role the European Union is playing in the wider Middle East peace settlement. I suggest to the noble Lord that the European Union herself is in fact a centre of peace and stability in a turbulent Middle East and north Africa neighbourhood, and that the European Union can look back with pride on a tremendous historic sweep of achievements. She is today the largest donor to Palestine but, at the same time, has been an absolute determinant in ensuring the best possible two- state solution terms.

The European Union runs a constant and well managed European observation set of missions to some of the more difficult countries in the region: Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt, for example. From the European Parliament’s Iraq permanent standing committee, one member of our earlier grouping is now the United Nations representative to Iraq. A second member of the committee is the EAS representative. In Iran, high activity has been taking place recently but in fact that has been going on for very nearly 15 years now. In Egypt, the European Union has a massive influence. It is perhaps the only constant influence in trying to diminish the horrific female genital mutilation. That rose up to 90% according to the EU ambassadors, including that of the UK, and the US ambassador under the unlamented President Morsi.

Who better to promote women’s rights throughout the region, ranging from Morocco right up to Afghanistan, and who has continued to promote them? The European Union has. I suggest that the very basic structure of the European Union—its strength—is enabling some of the southern nations which are member states to cope with these enormous influxes of refugees.

Of course, it should be no surprise to us that the European Union is so powerful in the region. From the beginning, the aim of the EU was to create a peaceful wider neighbourhood. That is well stated in the first preferential agreement with the Maghreb nations in 1969, followed by the global Mediterranean policy of 1972, with bilateral agreements in the region, and leading on to the third agreement for Mediterranean countries and the famous Barcelona process of 1995. The purpose of the Barcelona process is built on the earlier declaration through,

“a comprehensive partnership between the European Union (EU) and twelve countries of the Southern Mediterranean”,

to create,

“a common area of peace, stability and prosperity through the reinforcement of political dialogue, security, and economic, financial, social and cultural cooperation”.

The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly of 2004 adds the democratic dimension, with 280 members embracing more than 40 nations.

The enlargement, of course, of the European Union, has brought us ever closer to Russia, one of the modern main players, and also, from the beginning, to Turkey. I suggest therefore that the impact on the Middle East of the European Union is enormous, but the impact on member states is also large, no longer fighting each other for funding, power and territory in the Middle East, but working together to forge a lasting peace. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to do more in the European Union and to foster the culture of the European Union being the centre of peace.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat 8:24 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on securing this debate. I make no apology for confining my remarks to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The length of time that this has all taken has been one of the main factors in destabilising the Middle East. However, when the final whistle is blown on the talks taking place at the moment, the latest attempt to broker peace, I am not optimistic that we shall have very much to celebrate, and I have not met many people who are. At that point, I contend that the European Union, I hope supported by the United Kingdom, will suspend the EU Israel Association Agreement, depending as it does on Israel respecting the human rights of Palestinians.

John Kerry himself, as reported in Haaretz this week, has warned of moves to delegitimise Israel. He talked of a “boycott campaign on steroids” should talks fail, a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld. This boycott campaign is already happening. Settlement goods are being banned from some supermarket chains. Soda Stream, Ahava cosmetics, G4S and Veolia have all been suffering because of association with Israel. The largest water company in the Netherlands has stopped its collaboration with the Israeli water company Mekorot, Romania has banned its workers going to Israel from working in the settlements, and we know that universities here and in South Africa are increasingly calling for academic boycotts. Do we really want that? I certainly do not. Israel will become isolated from the international community and that would be a tragedy.

I want briefly to address an issue which has already been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Leigh and Lord Anderson. That is the question of the amount of aid that we pour into the Occupied Territories to support the administration and the police and the general civil service there. The ambassador here has often said that his people want to be free of aid and the occupation in order to run their own economy, the World Bank has pointed out recently that Palestinians could do just that if they were free of Israel’s iron grip on their resources, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to, there has to be an investigation into corruption among the Palestinian administration. There is no question of that. Our aid money must be spent wisely.

Finally, if talks fail, we must insist that if Israel wants to go on occupying Palestinian land, it should pay for that occupation itself and not rely on the international community, especially the European Union, to foot the bill. We cannot let this injustice continue for another four decades.

Photo of Lord Mendelsohn Lord Mendelsohn Labour 8:27 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on securing this debate, and associate myself with the very positive comments he made about the role of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I would also like to associate myself with the words of the noble Lords, Lord Leigh and Lord Carrington, in relation to the passing of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Like many others, I am very encouraged by the discreet and effective initiative led by Secretary of State Kerry and the progress that has been made towards final status. That has clearly changed the dynamic and created both the political space and the political will for progress to be made. I think that there is a role for Europe in not just supporting this progress but starting to work on looking at how to underpin it.

If this current attempt to reach agreement is to work, three external conditions need to hold. First, regional relationships need to be encouraged that provide confidence to the Palestinians and that support Israel’s security. That means work to deepen ties between Israel and its neighbours. Secondly, the region will need to be ready to open trading relationships with the Palestinian economy and to support development and a shift away from aid dependency. Thirdly, during the peace talks, the parties need to be left to find a solution themselves, with the international community helping to limit distractions and being prepared to support the longer-term relationship necessary between both parties and their neighbours.

In support of the latter point, there are clearly certain things that Europe should not do. Most importantly, it should not undermine the current talks by adopting positions that alter the balance of advantage during negotiations. On the positive side, there is an obvious role for the EU and its member states. In this regard, the comments made by the Foreign Secretary last week—regarding the EU’s package of security, political and economic support that would be ready to support a final status agreement—are very welcome indeed.

Any agreement will not make peace overnight. The hard job of establishing peace will take a generation and strong engagement. It is a long commitment to hard and difficult work, and it is what we in Europe can do better than others.

Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 8:30 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate. In his fine book, surveying the EU’s role in the Middle East since the Six-Day War, Professor Rory Miller of King’s College London argued that here was the classic example of Willy Brandt’s famous dictum about the EU—that it was an “economic giant” but a “political dwarf”. That book was published in 2011. It might be argued that we are now at a different moment, thanks to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton—and this debate has been inspired by the sense that we are to a degree at a different moment. But I will add just a small word of caution.

The United States, whoever the President might be, still remains the key player, rather than the EU, in the Middle East. It is quite clear that, for Iran, the key development is the long-term, back-channel discussions with the United States. I would also ask a question of the EU’s current role in another significant aspect of what is going on in the Middle East: namely, the changing relationship between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries. Again, it is not clear precisely what the EU’s role is.

In saying that, I am not endorsing the dismissive attitude of the Israeli elite towards the EU over quite a period of time, which I think has been a mistake. However, I am saying that the EU has never found a consensus on using its economic power to gain political concessions from Israel, and so far its strategy has not worked. I would argue that, instead, the EU should focus on what it does well—state-building and creating an environment in which Israelis and Palestinians feel comfortable in engaging with each other in areas of mutual benefit, such as water and energy. The EU currently funds the Palestine Academy for Science and Technology, and could do even more to help the high-tech companies and thousands of technology graduates in the Palestinian territories.

Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, I was glad to see the compromise reached by the EU and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, with Tzipi Livni, on the subject of the Horizon 2020 programme, which will enhance Israel’s scientific co-operation with Europe. I would like to stress not only that this is to the benefit of Israel, but that it is not in the EU’s interests to drive Israel towards China and India. We have important interests of our own in ensuring the utmost co-operation with Israel’s scientific community.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:32 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Soley. It is obviously true that the EU’s efforts have been a significant element in the involvement that has been conducted jointly with others, not least the quartet, and with the United States—whose role, as we have just heard, is still vital. Most importantly, all those groups are committed to a two-state solution, as are we. There has been a massive, unsung effort in development and co-operation provided by the EU over many years—in particular in the programmes of the past five years, many of which were directed at young people, with many important initiatives in the universities. I have emphasised that it is essential to engage the next generation positively, and the EU has tried to do so. It is this generation that, as my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn said a few moments ago, will have the work to do.

The EU’s work on the economy of Palestine, with direct financial support, and efforts to improve the role of law, trade and water infrastructure, represents what can be done only at scale—hence the importance of the EU’s role. The disaster programme is of huge importance, and I strongly endorse and was very pleased to hear mentioned the funds referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, and his endorsement of Sir Ronnie Cohen’s work with the Portland Trust. Of course, much of the work has not succeeded.

I have set myself, in these few moments, a very simple question—the same question, essentially, that was asked by the noble Lords, Lord Kerr, Lord Jay, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Giddens, last Friday. The EU’s contribution to peace is fundamental, is it not? That was said again today by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. The House has rightly spoken with pride of the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in respect of Iran, and all the wider implications for the region. Could she have had the same impact if she had spoken simply for the United Kingdom? It is inconceivable.

The EU is a huge political block, comprising major world players acting as one. It is a huge economic entity of 500 million people, where the economic prospects for a peaceful Middle East may well be realised in the arrangements that will subsequently be made. The EU has a responsibility to help, but it also has a responsibility to criticise—to criticise illegal settlements, and also to criticise rocket attacks. Those are all parts of our political responsibility. The

Cathy Ashton story is a story about the huge leverage for good created by the European Union. Her success is testimony to its success, and I believe that it is likely to be of deep significance when we reach 22 January.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:35 pm, 14th January 2014

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for giving us the opportunity for what has been a well attended and wide-ranging debate. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in the other place, it is impossible to overstate the challenges and the gravity of the threats in the region if current openings and opportunities in Iran, the Middle East peace process and Syria are not brought to fruition. The UK is working closely with international partners to drive forward progress.

The question today is specifically about the European Union’s contribution to these developments, and I shall now focus on that issue. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and my noble friend Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, about the fact that the EU’s leverage and stability allow it to play the positive role that it does in international disputes.

I shall start with Iran. As the Foreign Secretary announced yesterday, the first stage deal reached between the E3+3 and Iran in Geneva on 24 November will come into force on 20 January. This is the first time an agreement has been reached with Iran that halts all elements of Iran’s nuclear programme and, in some cases, rolls it back. UK negotiators worked tirelessly with their E3+3 counterparts and the European External Action Service to achieve this breakthrough. EU sanctions, agreed by all member states, were a significant factor in the success of our policy of pressure, coupled with a readiness to negotiate. I, like other noble Lords, pay tribute to the tremendous work of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. Once the six-month period for implementing the Geneva agreement begins, the E3+3 and Iran will enter into intensive negotiations on a comprehensive agreement. We will continue to work closely with the EU and the E3+3 towards a comprehensive solution that addresses all our proliferation concerns.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, asked about the role that Iran could play in relation to Syria. The Foreign Secretary discussed the need for peace in Syria with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in New York last September. He made it clear that Iran could play a constructive role in Syria, including by supporting the Geneva I communiqué. Unfortunately, at this stage that has not been endorsed, but we continue to ask questions, as did the Prime Minister in a letter to Dr Rouhani, about the positive role that Iran could play in relation to a peaceful resolution of the Syria crisis.

The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, spoke of concerns about extremism in Syria. It is not a choice between a tyrant and terrorists in Syria. We must stand with the majority of Syrians, who want peace and freedom, and ultimately require political solutions to what is now an intense humanitarian challenge. That is why we support the attendance at Geneva of the opposition regime too.

The issue of the Middle East peace process was raised by a number of noble Lords. We welcome signs of growing momentum in the Middle East peace process and the continued commitment of Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement. The EU is a leading trading partner for Israel and the Palestinians and can play a vital role in encouraging progress in the talks. As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said—the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, referred to this too—on 16 December the EU Foreign Affairs Council agreed conclusions setting out an unprecedented package of European political, economic and security support to both parties in the context of a final status agreement. We are working with the European External Action Service to develop a firm offer in the coming months.

My noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley spoke about the EU’s financial contribution. The EU is the leading multilateral donor to the Palestinian Authority and provided $2.2 billion of support to the Occupied Territories between 2007 and 2013. This assistance in helping strengthen state institutions, law and order and the provision of essential services in the West Bank and Gaza is essential. In other words, it is helping the Palestinian Authority to build the foundations for a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Bew, mentioned. I assure my noble friend Lord Leigh that the UK and EU are working to build the institutions of the Palestinian Authority but accountability and transparency are important goals in strengthening governance.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester spoke about settlements. We have repeatedly condemned Israel’s announcements to expand settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including east Jerusalem. As well as being illegal under international law, settlements undermine the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those working for a sustainable peace. We are advising British businesses to bear in mind the British Government’s view on the illegality of settlements under international law when considering their investment and activities in the region. Like my noble friend Lady Tonge, the British Government opposed calls to boycott Israel, but we do not recognise the Occupied Territories, including the settlements, as being a part of Israel. We understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It was in order to enable consumers to make a more fully informed—

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for giving way, but I must correct something that she said. I do not oppose calls to boycott Israel; I said that it would be a tragedy if that is what had to happen.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I stand corrected.

We understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It was in order to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy that in December 2009 the UK introduced voluntary guidelines to enable produce from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories to be specifically labelled as such. The EU-wide guidelines on the labelling of settlement produce would be an important step to ensure correct and coherent implementation of EU consumer protection and labelling legislation, which is in fulfilment of our previous commitments and is fully consistent with long-standing EU policy in relation to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, spoke about the EU-US role in talks. The EU is working closely to support US efforts. There are serious negotiations under way and we urge both parties to make compromises for peace.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, spoke about Palestinian incitement in the media. We have regularly urged both parties to act against incitement and strongly believe that Abbas is a partner for peace. Now is the time to resolve conflict and move forward.

I turn briefly to the worsening conflict in Syria. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said, a negotiated political transition in Syria is the only way forward. The Geneva II peace process will start on 22 January and will bring together, for the first time since the conflict began, the regime and opposition in direct negotiations. EU political support for this diplomatic effort to date has been important. We will do all we can to maximise the chance of Geneva II succeeding.

We continue to play a role in the humanitarian effort. The UK has already committed £500 million to Syria. At tomorrow’s UN pledging conference in Kuwait, we will announce a further major funding commitment. We look to the EU and others to do the same. I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, in relation to Syrian refugees—I have those details here but I think that I shall run out of time.

On the wider role that the EU plays, we have helped to secure the EU designation of Hezbollah’s military wing. The EU has also played an active role on Egypt and on the issue of human rights activists. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, has visited Cairo on a number of occasions since July, most recently in October, and has met with a range of interlocutors in Egypt.

In conclusion, achieving a wider Middle East peace settlement is one of the big challenges of our time. Diplomatic progress in Iran, the Middle East peace process and Syria would bring major benefits for the UK and the world. I can assure noble Lords that the UK will continue to work closely with the EU and our international partners and spare no effort to promote peace in the Middle East.


I'm not sure if Baroness Warsi is aware that it is illegal under international law (Geneva Convention) for any state to benefit from an occupied territory. So it is not about giving people a choice, it is about upholding the law.

Submitted by Fuad Al-Tawil