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My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The present impasse in reaching a negotiated settlement is a tragedy not just for Palestine but for Israel. The failure of the peace process after 20 years leaves Palestinians as oppressed, stateless people, but it also leaves Israelis still fearful about their security and citizens of a country drifting towards becoming a pariah state because of their current leaders’ lack of respect for international law. Only last July, Netanyahu ruled out ever accepting a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Ever more illegal settlements make a two-state solution increasingly unviable, suggesting that he rejects its establishment. Can anyone believe that this is in the long-term interest of Israel, let alone Palestine?
All political parties in the UK have long supported a two-state solution. There is now a consensus that every effort should be made to establish this without greater prevarication and delay. Action, not words, is now needed. After many failures in the US-brokered bilateral negotiations, it is time to accept the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. I suggest that those speakers in this debate who will say it is premature are wrong. Perhaps they should be reminded of the history of the state of Israel. In 1920, as the holder of the mandate for Palestine, we made a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. For those who may argue later that Palestine does not have the attributes of a state, a reminder is needed about the circumstances in which Israel was recognised as a state in 1948: it had no effective Government; there were warring factions, including the terrorist Stern gang; its borders were unclear; and it had no capital city. Nevertheless it was recognised, rightly, and it is now right to recognise Palestine as a state, taking the 1967 borders as the basis for its territory.
I also want to refute the view that the Israeli Government have a right of veto over the future of Palestine as a state. In exercising such a veto, they are denying the Palestinian people the dignity associated with self-determination that they so deeply crave and which the Israelis also wanted after 1947. No wonder the Palestinians are now seeking a unilateral route rather than relying only on the increasingly futile bilateral negotiations. It would be easier to sympathise with the view that an agreed settlement involving Israel is the only right route had successive Israeli Governments respected international law, discontinued the blockade of Gaza and ended the occupation of the West Bank. Instead they have annexed more land, destroyed the infrastructure of Gaza last summer—killing many innocent people, half of whom were children—and continued the daily harassment of ordinary people on the West Bank.
I make a plea to those who have come to this debate to speak against the resolution: please think about what it is like to be a young person in Palestine. They have grown up experiencing oppression and misery, their older relatives being stripped of their land and a blighted economy. Their hopes of self-determination are dashed with every failure of the peace process. If we want them to reject violence, as surely we should, we must give them hope. To support the recognition of Palestine as a state will of course not be a total solution, but it will be a message to them of our belief in their right to self-determination and a symbol of our support for it. In politics, symbols sometimes matter.