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Palestine: Recognition — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:12 pm on 29th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Stirrup Lord Stirrup Crossbench 5:12 pm, 29th January 2015

My Lords, of course we should recognise the state of Palestine—when that state exists. It patently does not exist at the moment, so what is the purpose of recognising an unreality? The resolution in the other place suggests that it would be to contribute to the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution—in other words, to help the process rather than to circumvent it. If that is the case, one has to ask: what are the current obstacles to such a solution, and would recognition help to overcome those obstacles?

There are certainly obstacles on both sides of the argument, and it is undoubtedly true that a number of these have been created by the Government of Israel. This has naturally led to immense frustration and to a sense that something must be done to change the thinking of the leadership in that country. I agree, but will recognition of an as yet barely embryonic Palestinian state achieve that aim? The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, has rightly talked about signals, but we need to think about the sum total of the signals that we send.

The majority of people in Israel still support a two-state solution, and many of them are frustrated by the actions of their own Government. However, they are also frustrated by the lack of vision and leadership among the Palestinians. They understand that a negotiated settlement requires political courage, and they see little of that on either side. That is why, despite supporting a settlement, most of them are pessimistic about the prospect of one being achieved in the near term. What is likely to be the reaction of these people to international recognition of a Palestinian state? We can judge this from their response to the parliamentary Motions already passed. They acknowledge the mistakes of their own Government, but they feel that the international community is acting partially and unfairly towards Israel.

In the context of the aim of this Motion, it does not matter whether that is a fair judgment. What matters is the perception of Israeli citizens, citizens who are also, at this critical moment, Israeli voters. International recognition of a Palestinian state, when the foundations of that state—most critically, the long-term security arrangements—are left unresolved, plays straight into the hands of those in Israel who argue against concessions to the Palestinians. It will make the Israeli Government more, rather than less, intransigent.

On the Palestinian side, it will make the leadership less willing to address seriously the difficult concessions that they will have to make if there is to be a lasting two-state solution. They have already shown a marked reluctance to face up to these issues. If they believe that, more and more, the international community will press their case for them, I fear that the chances of their summoning the necessary political will and courage to take on the rejectionists in their own community will become vanishingly remote.

For these and other reasons which I regret I cannot adequately cover in four minutes, I do not think that the timing of this resolution is helpful—indeed, quite the opposite. But I do not wish to end on that negative note. The plight of young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is too serious for that, not to mention the wider implications for international security. So I will respond to the challenge thrown out by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi.

We do not have to, and nor should we, simply sit here and cry into our beer over the failure of the Kerry initiative. There are things that the international community can and should be doing to move the situation forward, short of a full settlement—things in which I believe this country can play a major role. There is no opportunity to discuss them today, but on 5 March, my noble friend Lord Luce, who could not be in his place this afternoon, has secured a debate in Grand Committee on the two-state solution. I hope that we can take that opportunity to look in detail at the further initiatives that Her Majesty’s Government might pursue in this very difficult and very sad case.