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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Steel for securing this debate. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston—although he might not have thought that I would say that—but I have to tell him that I do not read Arabic or Hebrew and therefore I cannot judge what either side says to the other.
It is an irony to me that our Ministers and most of the media call the bunch of murderous criminals waging war in the Middle East at present Islamic State, when they are neither a state nor Islamic. Why do we inflate their importance in this way? I find it insulting to the Palestinians that, after 48 years of occupation and 68 years since the Nakba, they cannot also be called a state—the state of Palestine.
The Palestinians have tried—oh, they have tried—non-violent demonstrations, violent intifada and talks upon talks upon talks, with the goalposts always being moved by Israel, the USA or the quartet. They have held well monitored and fair elections, with the result not acknowledged by the Government of Israel or the West because the wrong side won. They have shown that they can run their own affairs. They have even recognised the State of Israel, as has Hamas, within the 1967 borders. Because they were said to be divided, they formed a unity administration with Hamas, only to have that rejected too. Now, having secured observer status at the United Nations, it is, of course, the wrong time for full recognition: it is always the wrong time for Palestine.
Palestine has now applied to join the International Criminal Court to seek justice for its people, so what happens? Taxes and funds are withheld by the Government of Israel and the USA. In the mean time, the reconstruction of Gaza, paid for by the international community following the murderous war in the summer, is being obstructed by the Government of Israel. Gaza festers and anger is building. I wonder what the Palestinians should do next.
The continuing injustice to the Palestinians and the hypocrisy of the West in regard to international law have sown the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, and we are now seeing the consequences. Continuing failure to create a state of Palestine and stand up to the Government of Israel is causing trouble for us all. Israel is becoming a pariah state, and, because of its cruelty towards the Palestinians, the general public are conflating the Jewish State of Israel with Jewish people all over Europe; and so anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head again. When those of us who criticise the Government of Israel are accused of anti-Semitism by the Israel lobby, it further reinforces the view that Jewish people everywhere support the actions of the Israeli Government. Can the Jewish community not understand this? It is not responsible for Israel’s actions: of course it is not. Why, therefore, do its leaders not speak out in condemnation of the injustice to the Palestinians at this time? Why, oh why?
I admit that the situation has probably gone too far for a gesture towards the Palestinians to have much effect, but if we led Europe into calling for a Palestinian state now—“no ifs, no buts”, as the Prime Minister loves to say, and no more conditions—it would show that we were on the side of justice and wanted to uphold international law, which should be our guiding star.
I conclude by asking the Minister: if the answer is again, “No, it is not the right time”, will he tell us what the Palestinians should do now?