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Palestine: Recognition — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:02 pm on 29th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Mendelsohn Lord Mendelsohn Labour 5:02 pm, 29th January 2015

My Lords, I hope that I am not making too much of an assumption if I say that most of the speakers in the debate support a two-state solution, and do not support settlements. The Palestinians deserve support, and one needs to listen to the many campaigns they promote to put political pressure on Israel, to try to erase its historical context and to challenge its supporters in any and every way, as a form of resistance. That is legitimate, and it is the voice of a predicament, and indeed suffering, which are yet to be met with justice. But that does not mean that it makes good foreign policy to support it or to adopt it. Nor does it show indifference to oppose it.

I have always believed that there is little point in being a pessimist when discussing the Middle East. We have to be optimists, albeit sometimes optimists having a bad day, or a bad series of days. We are right to take notice of the increasingly complex and difficult place that the region is becoming, and of the challenges of development, security and the weakened state structures, civil society and secular notions.

Certainly things have moved on since the optimistic days of the 1990s, when peace looked within grasp. But even since 2000 we have had three, possibly even four, serious moments and opportunities. In fact, since 1973 we have had, on average, one major initiative every year that tried to advance peacemaking in the region. This is why, despite all, we must remain optimists.

The Motion fails to provide us with a useful framework to advance the cause of peace. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is unhelpful. If we want to play a successful role in achieving a settlement, that needs to involve how we work with those who will have to make the agreement. The international community cannot substitute for them, and any conception that this is something that can be imposed—as if once an agreement is inked, the matter is settled—is looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. The hard work actually starts after a deal is signed, and does not stop for at least 50 years.

That is why our role has to be to support the participants in the Middle East, and not to press them when it is not possible to make progress. Direct negotiations are the only route. And when they are not available our efforts should be to make them possible and easier, not less likely and harder. That does not, in this form and at this time, assist the moderates in Israel. Most significantly, I believe that it will restrict the opportunity for, or place greater obstacles on, the ability of any Palestinian leader to make concessions in the future. Given where the pressures on President Abbas were during the Kerry process, I do not think that this will benefit the cause of peace.

I am sure that many think that massive external pressures and the will of the West or the international community can force any Government of Israel to commit to what they do not believe is a viable peace. It is, of course, in Israel’s interests to advance towards the creation of a Palestinian state and to break this and other diplomatic deadlocks. That point is recognised by most of the political spectrum of Israel, and by those who do not also have a unilateral strategy.

We need a re-energised peace process. A number of steps can, and could, be developed to ensure that this is possible. However, the current process of Palestinian unilateralism will not do it. We are not at the last throw of the dice and we are not in the final minute. There are no obstacles that effective political will cannot overcome. However, that is not to underestimate their difficulties.

On occasion, I hear it said that an individual is a candid friend of Israel. This acts as a means to preface something which clearly indicates that they are not. However, Israel needs candid friends who have little fear of raising uncomfortable truths and are prepared to place interesting and challenging ideas before it. However, far fewer people are prepared to say that they are candid friends of the Palestinians and tell them some hard truths. I accept that it is not easy to challenge the representatives and the people who have suffered as they have, but it is necessary. Candid friends of the Palestinians can be the greatest friends of peace if they can convince them that, despite the apparent impasse, the path that leads nowhere is not the path worth following.

Candid friends need to say that fundamental questions regarding normative character, institutional capacity and sustainability of the Palestinian polity cannot be ignored as an inconvenient truth or kicked down the road as a post-independence issue. Candid friends need to tell the leaders that they need to make peace for what happens the day after an agreement is made and that the international community is a tool to support the settlement, not a substitute for it. A candid friend has to tell them that they should not take every opportunity to miss an opportunity. In my view, it is really of no matter to the cause of peace if they do or do not decide to change, increase or cease much of the rhetoric. But anyone who cares about making progress towards peace knows that we need to use diplomacy as a tool to help the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve fundamental and difficult issues. A process needs to be designed, crafted and finessed for the time in which it operates.

Most strikingly, I remember that during the heyday of the 1990s, at the signing of one of the agreements, Chairman Arafat sought and did amend the completed document on the podium in front of the world’s press and those assembled for its final signature. It has always struck me that we need to think carefully about how we support or create such a relationship. This Motion fails that test.