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.