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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Steel for introducing this debate. The resolution overwhelmingly supported by MPs was very welcome. I believe that this issue is one of human rights and the rule of international law. We hear a lot about British values. Although these have not been entirely defined, we must surely all agree as British parliamentarians that the cornerstone of those values must include democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. There is also a need for consistency when we apply them in our foreign policy, especially when we talk about other countries around the world which lack these fundamental values.
The inconsistency that we sometimes see has swung public opinion here in the United Kingdom and across Europe towards the recognition of a Palestinian state and against the appalling injustices and humiliation inflicted upon the Palestinian people indiscriminately—Christian and Muslim alike, as we have heard. Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for nearly 50 years and it has failed to meet its clear international legal obligations as an occupying power. The continuing expansion of illegal settlements that we have heard about is a flagrant violation of international law. All that has contributed to the loss of Palestinian confidence in the peace process.
More and more people in the United Kingdom and across the world have grown tired and outraged as we have witnessed terrible suffering. Anyone with an ounce of human sympathy was absolutely sickened by what we saw in the war last summer, when thousands of innocent people, including 500 children, were killed and schools and hospitals were blown up. This was abhorrent to us all.
Israel has been unwilling to offer a viable Palestinian state through negotiations. It seems oblivious to the damage that the occupation is doing to its society and to the reputation of its country abroad, and that is a tragedy. It is the systematic denial of rights that incites violence among Palestinians. The failure to find a resolution and justice for Palestinian victims in Israel plays as a factor in the radicalisation of militants. This is a fact. We cannot brush it aside. I have heard it said many times that this resolution is premature. Well, 40 years is surely long enough. It is hardly premature.
Last summer I met a group of 14, 15 and 16 year-old ordinary Palestinian boys who came here on an exchange visit. One of them talked about a footballer who was walking home from Ramallah after playing football. He was shot by an Israeli sniper in the legs while walking home. It was tragic hearing his story. He will not be playing football again but it has left him with a hatred.
Britain cannot simply turn its back on the people of Palestine, issue warm words of restraint and proportionality, or repeat a theoretical mantra about two states from the sidelines. As we have heard, Britain has not only a unique historical connection but a moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine. To make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel’s agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination. We cannot sit by and tolerate occupation, the blockade, further expansion of illegal settlements, and the never-ending cycle of violence, causing fear on both sides of the conflict.
We hear a lot about how Britain has apparently given away sovereignty to the EU. British people would surely feel that it was completely wrong in principle and in practice, if another sovereign state, be it Israel or any other country, determined our foreign policy. That is what the Government in their wisdom could be in danger of doing with recent abstentions. The majority of Palestinians are under 20, growing up stateless in intolerable conditions. We must offer them hope. We must encourage voices of peace and moderation in both Israel and Palestine. Recognition is morally and politically right.