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My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians. I would like to speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, whose commitment to peace in the region is of very long standing and widely respected.
Like others here today, I have been following events in the Middle East for about 50 years. Indeed, my studies of Arabic were interrupted by the 1967 war. But we now face a situation in which, after some 20 years, the peace process has yet again ground to a halt. That has three inevitable consequences. First, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim frustration can only grow, driven in considerable part by the perception of double standards and by the matters that the noble
Lord, Lord Judd, so forcefully described. Secondly, the arguments of Islamic extremists can only be strengthened. Thirdly, the risk of disorder in the Occupied Territories can only increase. I cannot see how those outcomes can possibly be in the interests of Israel itself.
There must now be some sign of progress, however limited, some indication that the West has heard their grievances. The recognition of Palestine by the UK would be such a sign. It would be a sign, not an instant solution and certainly not a proposal for unconditional withdrawal. When the Swedish Government recognised Palestine last year, they gave three reasons: to make the parties to the conflict less unequal; to support the voices of moderation in Palestine; and to sustain hope in both countries at a time of increasing tensions and when no peace talks were taking place. I would add one further reason: to confirm the permanence, and indeed the inevitability, of a Palestine state. Those are the reasons why Britain should now follow suit. We should not exaggerate our influence, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, indicated. Our influence is now very limited in the region. But symbolism has its own importance, particularly from a country that played such a leading role in the establishment of Israel.
HMG have made it clear that they are not opposed in principle to Palestinian statehood. They regard the timing as a matter of judgment. Regrettably, I find myself once more in disagreement with the Government’s policy in the Middle East. I was strongly and publicly opposed to the invasion of Iraq, the attack on Libya and the bombing of Syria. I venture to say that my judgment was not too far out on any of those issues. More recently, I have warned that the situation in the Middle East is more dangerous than it has been for two generations. We can no longer disregard the pressures building up in the Arab and Muslim world, with their inevitable implications for our own society. The time for movement on this issue is now.