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My Lords, in introducing this debate, for which I thank him, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, referred to that very impressive article by Sir Vincent Fean. I believe it should be compulsory reading for all who take an interest in this subject. It is a model of experience, wisdom and considered analysis.
Sir Vincent underlined the importance of both parts of the Balfour Declaration. We in Britain have a special responsibility because of all we did to promote the Balfour Declaration. Many on all sides of the debate would agree that nobody paid a higher price for the creation of the State of Israel than the Palestinians. We cannot forget that because it is a reality in their approach to everything.
There has been some dispute about the relationship between the two parties. I am afraid that my experience of visits to the region underlines what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said about the almost classic colonial relationship. I do not hesitate to use that word because the evidence is there. The checkpoints on the West Bank, the illegal settlements, the control of water and of access to Gaza, the punitive scale of the bombardments of Gaza and the suffering of its people as a consequence underline not only a perception but, I believe, the objective reality of the relationship. That is not to deny the good will and commitment of many Israelis, of whom quite a number, I am glad to say, are my friends.
As a friend of Israel, I believe that candour in conversation and dialogue is essential, which means speaking up about what we know is wrong and about what must be confronted. I am chair of the Middle East committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Only last week we had to cancel a mission to Ramallah and east Jerusalem because at the very last moment the Israelis said that they could not guarantee access to those communities. They had known about the visit for many weeks. They knew that it was the first part of a two-part mission and that we were going to return to Israel as soon as possible after the election, yet still this high-handed action was taken at the very last minute. That underlines the point that I am making.
I can think of nothing that would help to take the negotiations forward better than to put the Palestinians in a position where they could have confidence in their identity—so that they are not second-class players who must be accommodated in the discussions but have confidence that the international community recognises them as a people with their own nation. I lament the failure to be able to start tackling the immense contribution that those two nations, Israel and Palestine, working together, could make not only to their own future but to security and stability in the region.
The dog that has not barked so far in this debate is the Holocaust. We have been commemorating the Holocaust acutely in recent weeks. I was 10 when those camps were liberated and I was left with an indelible impression. I remember the utter distress of my parents at what was being revealed. It was a terrible, terrible thing that happened, and it could happen again so easily, because it took place in a supposedly previously civilised European country. The point is not that these people were Jewish but that they were people with the rights and dignity of all other people. I simply say that if we are not prepared to stand up and put muscle into our stance on the question of the people of Palestine, where on earth will we be the next time the Jewish people come under attack?