Middle East Peace Settlement — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 14th January 2014.

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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.