Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, I think that it would be a profound mistake to recognise Palestine in the present state of affairs, for a very simple reason. I am certain that all of us want peace in the Middle East, and most of us believe that the only realistic means to achieve that is through a two-state solution, but that will require the most difficult and intricate negotiations. The Palestinians will have to give up a large amount of land on the other side of the security fence. The Israelis will have to withdraw settlements from the rest of the West Bank, including some extremely expensive agricultural investments in the Jordan Valley. The Israelis are going to have to accept that, contrary to their principle that Jerusalem should never be divided again, east Jerusalem will become the capital of the Palestinian state and that there is reasonable access to it. Not only issues of land will arise: there will be the need to make generous compensation to the 1948 refugees and, on lesser scales, to their children and grandchildren. No doubt we will all be invited to contribute to that, if and when the time comes.
One of the prizes will undoubtedly be recognition of the Palestinian state and to take that element out of the deal in advance and give it away free, with no countervailing concessions being required from the Palestinian side, seems an elementary mistake—in fact, an incompetent way of conducting any negotiation. There is another reason why it would be extremely dangerous: it would inevitably reinforce the absolutely fatal besetting illusion of the Palestinian leadership over the generations—for nearly 100 years now—that it somehow does not need to confront the reality in which it lives. The illusion is that it does not need to deal with Israel itself and can always hope that some deus ex machina will come from outside and solve its problems for it, giving it the concessions that it requires.
Way back before the Second World War the Jewish Agency, then led by David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, made several attempts to enter into a negotiation with the Palestinian leadership of the time— the Arab leadership, as it was then called. No doubt an interesting deal might have been done, certainly one on far better terms than were available subsequently to the Palestinians. But these initiatives were completely rejected and the Grand Mufti, the leader of the Palestinians or the Arabs as they were then called, proceeded to believe that either the British or the surrounding Arab states—or, in his case, Hitler—would come to their rescue and solve their problems for them.
Then in 1947 we had the partition resolution of the United Nations, which the Palestinian leadership rejected, preferring a war. It got a war and lost it, then found itself in a far worse position than it had started off with. In the 1950s and 1960s, under the terrible leadership of Ahmad Shukeiri, the Palestinians again rejected any recognition of Israel’s existence and believed that terrorism and war would solve their problems. They had another war in 1967, and once again found themselves in a far worse position than they had previously. Then we had the Camp David meeting, when Yasser Arafat refused even to consider an offer which would have resulted in 97% of the West Bank being handed over to a Palestinian state, to the amazement and consternation of President Clinton and everyone else who was present. Arafat thought that a second intifada would solve his problems. Needless to say, he eventually found that that did not work either.
It has been a terrible history. We will only reinforce that history and that absolutely fatal obsession of the Palestinian leadership, with its belief that it can delude itself and not accept reality, if we were now to offer it that concession in advance. I hope that we do not do that. I am not suggesting that there is much chance of a settlement in any circumstances at present. Quite clearly, Benjamin Netanyahu is a prisoner of his coalition and Mahmoud Abbas, unlike the Grand Mufti or Yasser Arafat in their day, does not have the position and prestige in the Palestinian community to be able to carry off a settlement. We will have to wait a while but, while we wait, we should not destroy the future basis of what might be the only framework for peace. We would do that if we were to adopt the course of recognising the Palestinian state prematurely.