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My Lords, I start with the premise that in an ideal world a negotiated settlement between any two parties in a dispute is preferred. However, let us try today to understand why the Palestinians have adopted the UN route, and why Israel opposes that route.
I visited Israel and Palestine in December with Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Council for Arab-British Understanding, with my noble friend Lady Morris, as declared in my register of interests. I met with international agencies, human rights campaigners, lawyers and politicians, but the most moving meeting was with a group called Breaking the Silence. They are former Israel Defense Forces soldiers, now speaking out against Israeli government policy in the Occupied Territories. They wanted neither praise for their bravery, nor sympathy for the abuse they receive in Israel for speaking out. They simply wanted us to be informed about the reality of the occupation—which has so changed the landscape of the Occupied Territories: the territorial area which, according to the 1993 Oslo accords, would be the future state of Palestine. In 1993 there were 110,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories. There are now 400,000 settlers—and more than 500,000 if we include Jerusalem.
Desperate times make people take desperate actions. In the past the desperate actions were violent, and we were right to urge the Palestinians to forgo violence for diplomatic means. Yet when they did, we continually rebuffed them for it. When Palestinians see all around them the reality of a two-state solution diminishing, if not already over, they start to fight for the Palestine that they want to exist, even if it exists simply on paper, out there in the abstract. That is the desperation that we see among the Palestinians. When we visit the Occupied Territories—with communities that are being choked, livelihoods that are being lost and basic needs that are not being met—it is not hard to understand the feeling of hopelessness.
I know that many noble Lords whom I consider to be friends will stand up today and argue that no Palestinian state must ever come about without Israel’s agreement. I accept that as their sincerely held view. So the question I ask my colleagues who will make that argument today is: what are you doing, as the two sides continue to flog the dead horse of negotiations, to preserve the physical integrity of a future negotiated state of Palestine? Do you campaign against the illegal settlements? Do you condemn those, even in our own parties—extremists, as my right honourable friend Alan Duncan so ably argued—who do not condemn illegal settlements? And how do those of you who have the privilege of a close relationship with the Israeli Government use it to encourage the Israeli Government to respect international law?
Our abstentions display a terrible lack of moral character. Our continued lack of support at the UN puts us at odds with our own—oft cited, these days—British values of the rule of law, justice and fairness. Our Government’s decision to ignore parliamentary and public opinion makes our Government complicit and responsible for the ever closing window on the prospect of a two-state solution becoming a physical reality. The desperate attempt by the Palestinians to get a state on paper, even if not in reality, is something that we have an obligation at least to recognise.