Middle East Peace Settlement — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:09 pm on 14th January 2014.

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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.