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My Lords, I have been going to Israel/Palestine and following events there for 50 years, ever since I got married. My wife was the third generation of her family to be born in Jerusalem, her great-grandparents having gone there from America and Germany, for Christian reasons, in the 19th century. The family still have commercial and charitable links in east Jerusalem. We have friends of all religions and political loyalties throughout the region. Over that time, I have seen for myself the tremendous achievements of Israel. The building of infrastructure of all kinds—for example, Ben Gurion Airport, the roads, the towns and the excellent tram system in Jerusalem—strikes one every time. Of course, the Israelis have made great contributions to science, medicine and agriculture, and in many other ways.
This impressive progress in Israel is in contrast to the problems and repression in Palestine, originating in the period of British rule but exacerbated by the present policies of the occupying power. Over the last 50 years, there have been times of hope for peace in Palestine/Israel and times of despair. Oslo was a time of hope, as were the early days of the Obama Administration. The early days of the Trump Administration held out the prospect of a new approach leading to an “ultimate deal”. The word “deal” indicates the businessman’s approach—economics before politics. I have no difficulty with this approach in principle, but the reality is that, in this case, politics and economics are inextricably linked.
I am glad to have the opportunity to draw attention to this long-awaited document. It comes from the White House, rather than the State Department, which gives it added significance. It is a detailed analysis of the way in which Palestine might progress to prosperity and so to peace. I am sure we all agree that peace and prosperity go together, but which is the horse and which the carriage?
The document is advertised as an economic development document, but the chosen wording throughout is drenched with politics. It never refers to “Palestine”, only “the West Bank and Gaza”, thus avoiding admitting that there is such a place as Palestine. It also leaves out east Jerusalem, which the United Nations, the Palestinians, we and others agree is essentially part of occupied Palestinian territory. It never refers to the Palestinian Authority but “the Palestinian public sector”, even when discussing essentially governmental activities such as tax collection. It frequently mentions “Palestinian people” but never “Palestinian nation”. In other words, it systematically tries to pick off the individual people and not allow them any nationhood at all. It denies the two-state solution and looks entirely to one state—otherwise known as annexation.
I want to refer briefly to a few of the specific proposals for the economic development of Palestine which expose the way the American Government are looking at this situation in the document. Page 22 offers help to:
“Support … a new … university in the West Bank and Gaza”.
At present, the occupying power makes life as difficult as possible for the existing 14 recognised Palestine universities. Page 27 offers support to:
“Construct new roads throughout the West Bank and Gaza”.
There are of course some excellent new roads built there by the occupying power. However, they are not for the use of Palestinians, but solely the army and the settlers.
Pages 32 and 34 offer help with power and water supplies. At present, the settlements have ample power and water, but the neighbouring Palestinian villages often have supplies for only a few hours a week. In Gaza, it is of course much worse. Page 40 offers help with agriculture, including irrigation, but the occupying power takes the water for irrigation and has taken much of the best land for farming—for example, in the Jordan valley, which is as far away from Israel as you can get without going into Jordan. Page 41 talks of improving mortgage facilities to build more homes, but planning permission is given for building large blocks of settlements—whole new towns—and constantly refused to Palestinians, even for house extensions or schools in east Jerusalem or Area C. Page 67 is about improving healthcare, when the problems in Gaza include bombed hospitals and children wounded by high-velocity bullets.
Gaza needs access to the outside world, but this document does not refer to building an airport or seaport. The international community actually did just that some years ago; Israel promptly bombed them flat. Looking further north, it does not talk as it might have done, for example, of reopening Kalandia Airport from the Mandate and Jordanian days, between Ramallah and Jerusalem. These days, Kalandia is known only as the busiest and often most difficult checkpoint in the West Bank and for its large refugee camp. The airliners were replaced by the military.
The proposals in the document are not novel, for the most part, and nothing is said about where the money is to come from. This ignores the fact that the USA has just withdrawn its funding to UNRWA and Palestine. What is principally needed for the economic development of Palestine is for the occupying power to stop crushing local initiative and stop building on occupied land. The document analyses what is required for Palestinian development but is also, in its way, a terrible indictment of what the occupying power has used its effective best to prevent happening.
I say to the Americans who wrote this document that peace is possible. There is undoubtedly a deep longing for peace with equality among many on both sides. But peace will not come from ignoring the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, nor from brutal repression. The document deliberately ignores Israel’s security problems and policies; that is not what it is about. The fact is that the policy of the present Government of the occupying power is not based even on the Biblical “an eye for an eye” but on “a bullet for a stone”. Such policies are wrong and never work—and I condemn the rockets from Gaza as much as the airstrikes on Gaza.
Her Majesty’s Government know that there is no peace to be had in the so-called one-state solution. They are right to continue their support for a two-state solution, as the Prime Minister did the other day. That now requires the recognition of the second state of Palestine, just as the PLO recognised Israel many years ago. The Government are right to go on helping to build Palestine, but this plan is no help to that end.