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My Lords, the Foreign Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Tobias Ellwood, recently reminded another place that it is 67 years since the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, recommending that two states be formed from Mandate Palestine. The Jewish Agency accepted the recommendation but the Arab League did not, and five Arab armies invaded on the day the new Jewish state declared its independence. That is a bit of history worth remembering, but now we have to fast-forward to today.
I know from my career of more than 22 years in government service that, for the FCO, recognition of a state is not an exact science. There are, however, some well known givens and some very specific requirements—and whatever one thinks of the Palestinian Authority, it does not have those qualifications for recognition. The objections to recognition are even more serious than the lack of those qualifications, because recognition would, above all, be detrimental to the peace process, and the end we all desire. As our ambassador to the UN said last month, we want to turn,
“our ambition—the creation of a sovereign … and viable Palestinian State living in peace and security side by side with Israel—into reality”.
You will not get that by Palestine having at its shoulder terrorist allies.
I stand second to no one in wanting two prosperous and peaceful states, and I am absolutely prepared to accept the bona fides of President Abbas. But a declaration of recognition now would appear to reward Hamas, which is a terrorist organisation still calling for the destruction of Israel and raining thousands of rockets on her civilian population from the south, while its ally Hezbollah, another terrorist organisation, threatens the same from Israel’s northern border, also calling as recently as a few days ago for the extermination of the Zionist entity. With respect, it is nonsense to think we can create a state just by declaring it to be so. Just because we all want two states, we cannot just conjure one into being. It takes much hard work and negotiation by all those directly concerned.
On an official visit to the region in December 1993 with the late John Smith, then leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition—I was his foreign policy adviser—we found that in that post-Oslo euphoria, detailed planning was under way for the economy and development of the Palestinian state, with Israeli and Arab businessmen, planners and entrepreneurs all busily and enthusiastically making ambitious plans for linking Gaza to the West Bank, and much else I do not have time to go into. Given good will and the considerable talents of both peoples, great things could have been achieved then—and they could be again. But recognition as proposed now is gesture politics of the worst kind. Instead of helping the peace process, it would hinder and damage it. Both sides need to be negotiating in good faith; one side cannot have by its side terrorists vowing to exterminate the other side.