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.