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Palestine: Recognition — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:37 pm on 29th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 5:37 pm, 29th January 2015

My Lords, as chairman of the Anglo-Israel Association, I listened with great respect and interest to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as he introduced the debate. I was particularly struck by his reference to the words of Sir Vincent Fean, a fellow countryman of mine, who was formerly our consul in Jerusalem and before that our ambassador in Libya. Indeed, I spent a very instructive time as part of a delegation sent by the previous Government to negotiate certain matters with the then Gaddafi regime. I spent a lot of time listening to Sir Vincent’s advice, and I know that he is an expert on the affairs of the region.

The test for projected acts of good authority by this Parliament is an important one—the test of strengthening the moderates on both sides. It is three and a half months since this Motion was debated in the House of Commons. It is interesting to look at the impact, such as it was, of the Motion and the vote. For example, on the Palestinian side, in the wake of the recent murders in Paris, the Palestinian Daily—not a Hamas propaganda sheet—declared that it was the work of Mossad, which was the only force that would benefit from this. That tells us something about the quality of opinion—84% of Palestinians, according to polling, agree. That is the response to what happened recently in Paris within that community. There is no indication that moderates have been strengthened as a result of the projected act of good authority of our Parliament three and a half months ago.

If we look at Israel, noble Lords will be aware that there is an intense debate in Israeli society about the peace process and the future strategy in that area. It is an intense debate, above all—as it should be—about negotiation with Hamas, and whether or not it is plausible. Noble Lords will be aware that the intelligence services are divided. Senior people in the intelligence services are well known to take views different from those of the current Government. They will be well aware of the fact that senior military people take different views and that the political class in Israel is divided on these matters.

There is an intense and vigorous debate. Is there any indication whatever that the debate in our own Parliament three and a half months ago has played into this in any particularly positive or interesting way? I detect absolutely no sign of that. The debate went on before; I see no sign, however, of moderates being strengthened in any particular way. There is a reason for that. It is very hard to perform a moral airlift in a situation where there are incredibly complex, difficult, strategic decisions to be made—most of all, negotiating with opponents who pledge themselves to your destruction. It is very hard to achieve a moralistic input from outside in such a sharp and difficult situation.

I conclude, however, by saying something about a two-state solution, which I, along with so many Peers, strongly support. I urge against pessimism on that subject. In general, I do not accept analogies with the Irish peace process, because the situation is so much more bitter in the Middle East and because of the selfish strategic interests of a number of outside powers—something we have not talked about—selfish strategic interests that did not apply in the Irish case. However, one analogy I will accept is that for a long time, since the first serious attempt to do it in 1974, it was clear that there was only one way to achieve an historic compromise in Ireland. There had to be power sharing, and there had to be respect for an Irish dimension and respect for the principle of consent. It took 28 years to get back to that and it is now the basis of a settlement. If intelligent, rational opinion looks at the problem and says that there is only one possible outline of an historical compromise, that is because there is only one possible outline of an historical compromise. It is the case in the Middle East. It sometimes takes far too long to achieve it and it is not just around the corner, but it is still the case.