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Israel and Palestine: United States’ Proposals for Peace - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:48 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat 4:48 pm, 27th February 2020

My Lords, if today’s Times is correct, I should start by wishing the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, a happy birthday, although I cannot help wondering what sin he must have committed to have to spend his birthday debating the intractable subject of the Middle East peace process. None the less, I wish him a happy birthday.

I read the Trump plan with disbelief and despair. If it were ever to be implemented, it would represent not only a disaster for the Palestinian people and a threat to world peace far beyond the Middle East, giving as it does the green light to annexation and dispossession, but above all an unmitigated and unparalleled catastrophe for the people of Israel.

The safety and security of Israel is, in my view, critical not only for the Israeli people but for the world at large. After the horrors of the Holocaust and the centuries of prejudice, pogroms and expulsions, the ability of the people of Israel to live in security in their own democratic state is essential to the values of a liberal international order. It is something that we must defend to the end.

We have heard some references to Israel and apartheid South Africa. I have always resisted those comparisons; anybody who has had the misfortune, as I did, of spending time in apartheid South Africa knows that the democratic State of Israel is a million miles away from the vile and poisonous ideology of apartheid. The Trump plan, however, resembles nothing so much as a map of the Bantustans. In any event, as I have said in previous debates in this House, there is no escaping the fact that while the State of Israel is a very different place from apartheid South Africa, the situation that prevails in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is very similar to that which operated in apartheid South Africa: the occupation and settlement of land; the checkpoints; the separate laws; the night raids; the destruction of homes and property; the closed roads; the ongoing humiliations; the deepening anger; the loss of hope; the spread of violence; and the steady dehumanisation of one side by the other. None of this should be the least bit surprising. Whenever one people seeks to dominate another through occupation and settlement, it is inevitable that similar methods are used and similar reactions engendered.

That is why the Trump plan represents such an unmitigated catastrophe for Israel. It is not a peace plan: it is a plan for the permanent national humiliation of the Palestinian people. It would make Israel de facto ruler over millions of people who do not wish to be ruled by it. As a consequence, it guarantees insecurity and instability for Israel, Palestine and the whole region for decades if not centuries to come.

I have always supported the cause of a Palestinian state, not only because it is a just outcome for the Palestinian people but also because it is the only just outcome for the people of Israel. Throughout the time of the coalition, I urged the Government to recognise a Palestinian state. Each time I was told that this was not the right time. As every year passed, more settlements were built, more positions became entrenched and more intractability was introduced. Unless we act soon, there will be no viable state to recognise and no viable peace to achieve.

The only long-term resolution of this conflict will come from an understanding that the aspirations of the Palestinian people are little different from those of the Israeli people and that a just peace can be achieved only on the basis of international law. I have heard some Israelis say, “We have tried trading land for peace and it has not worked” but that is not right. There is only one occasion on which Israel has traded land for peace, when it made its historic peace with Egypt and returned the Sinai. It has lived in peace with Egypt ever since, but in Menachem Begin, it found a Prime Minister with courage. Today the Prime Minister’s office is dripping with self-interest and cowardice. Wise men make peace from positions of strength. Fools believe that strength inevitably lasts for ever.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has sadly deceived many of the people of Israel into embracing the fantasy that it is possible to live in security alongside millions of people who are indefinitely denied their national aspirations and daily subjected to humiliation. The renowned Israeli writer Amos Oz has used this analogy:

“the drowning man clinging to this plank is allowed, by all the rules of natural, objective, universal justice, to make room for himself on the plank, even if in doing so he must push the others aside a little. Even if the others, sitting on that plank, leave him no alternative to force. But he has no natural right to push the others on that plank into the sea.”

The Trump plan would push the Palestinians into the sea. As the founder of the State of Israel, David Ben- Gurion, said in a speech to the Knesset:

“our standing in the world will be determined not by our so-called material riches, and not by our military’s bravery, but by the moral virtue of our undertaking.”

It was the wisdom and humility of Ben-Gurion on which the State of Israel was founded. Let us pray that it is not on the foolishness and arrogance of Netanyahu and Trump that it will founder.