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My Lords, the House should be grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity for this timely debate. I declare an interest: I have been involved in the region for much of my life—during my ministerial days at the Foreign Office, obviously, but also I can never forget my first visit to Israel. I arrived one evening and the 1967 war started the next morning. I was there for the duration of the war and it was an extremely interesting experience in which I had some very deep conversations with Israelis. I should also mention, perhaps, that in more recent times I have been chairman of the Middle East committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The first salient point in any consideration is that the formal recognition of the State of Palestine is long overdue, because, without that status, how on earth can the Palestinians feel that they have an equal place in any discussions? Secondly, our deep historical responsibilities always come home to me; we played a key part in the creation of the State of Israel. Another point is that, in international friendships, between states as well as between people, candour is absolutely indispensable. I take my friendship with many people in Israel extremely seriously, but that means that we must speak honestly and candidly, very often with them, to the Government of Israel. It also means that in our relationship with the United States, from which I have also gained a great deal in my life—a nation towards which I feel very warmly—candour is indispensable.
At the moment, that candour demands of us that we emphasise the indispensability of justice and respect. No people paid a higher price for the creation of the State of Israel than the Palestinian people. It has therefore been a grinding experience for them over the years to be humiliated, dismissed and denied an opportunity to play a positive and creative part in building their own future and the future of the region.
This present plan brought by President Trump was a disaster. I cannot understand why our Prime Minister felt it incumbent on him to say that it was a stepping stone from which we could build. It was a disaster, and if ever candour demanded that we should say so clearly, this was the time. In the formalisation of the creation of, in effect, Bantustans—the situation is very similar to South Africa, in which I have taken a deep interest over many years—what about the status of Jerusalem as the capital for the Palestinian people? What about the vast issue of refugees? Where were these in the proposals?
In a long life working in the sphere of humanitarian work, international relations and the rest, I have come to certain firm conclusions. One is that we must remember that an enduring peace is a peace-building process; it is not a matter of imposing solutions or of short-cuts. Building peace is a patient, persistent task. If you are to build peace, that means that all parties to that peace feel a deep sense of ownership. We had better face that quickly, because otherwise we are in for a long, disturbing future in the Middle East.