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My Lords, a leading German social democrat declared to his countrymen at the time of the Treaty of Versailles that the hand that signed the treaty would be signing its own death warrant. Such would surely be the fate of any Palestinian leader who dared to sign what Trump called the “deal of the century” or “peace vision”. This bird will not fly.
The initiative was not an unexpected bolt from the blue but the culmination of a series of one-sided initiatives, all taken without any consultation with the Palestinians, brought down like tablets of stone from the mountain. All such initiatives were highly partisan and were greeted enthusiastically by the Israeli Government. These included the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem; the recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of Israel over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; the withdrawal of US aid for Palestinian refugee camps; the closure of the PLO office in Washington; and, of course, the abandonment of US support for the Iran nuclear accord.
Cumulatively, these completely changed the parameters of US policy and distanced the US from Europe, which has become a mere bystander in the region. They were part of Trump’s obsession to reverse all of Obama’s policies. Can we now seriously expect any Palestinian leader to sit at the negotiating table over this deal? They receive only 70% of the West Bank, and land swops of arid land in the Negev. Yitzhak Rabin, a great leader, stressed that it takes two to tango, and was assassinated for his efforts at peace.
We in the UK boast that we understand the Middle East and its history. Therefore, I was surprised at the warm welcome and support given by Foreign Secretary Raab. I suspect, as a former diplomat, that this was not the position of the regional experts in the FCO but rather the wish of the PM not to have too many fights with the US when he is seeking a post-Brexit trade deal. The highest that can be said in favour of this proposal is that, by shattering all the old assumptions, the conflict might then be reconfigured in preparation for a new start on a new track.
My own background is clear. I joined Labour Friends of Israel in 1966 and had the privilege of chairing the Anglo-Israel Association for four years. I, like my friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, wish to be a candid friend. I admire enormously the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy, the rule of law, the scientific achievements that rival Silicon Valley. I well understand the force of their arguments about the lack of a credible negotiating partner who can deliver, the Palestinians’ peddling of illusions about the possibility of a right of return, their fomenting of hatred against Israel among the younger generation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said, by textbooks and other means, the existential threat to Israel and their concentration on security which follows.
However, Israel has never been in such a dominant position militarily in the region nor perhaps internationally, given their warm relations with Russia and the USA and with several Arab states, particularly in the Gulf. As Israel faces the long-term problems of demography and water supply, now may be the time for some calibrated concessions. Is there no hope of progress? Must we await some cataclysmic event to clear minds? Surely there are some signs of hope in the change of view by Arab states. Who can forget, in 1967, the Khartoum agreement of the “three noes”, and the way in which several Arab states now respond fairly warmly to Israel—Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states—a sea change of considerable importance?
Trump appears to believe that money—some might say bribes—can be decisive. Of course, money can help, but more fundamental are questions of identity. Solomon would surely have avoided a big bang and sought to enlarge islands of co-operation, as my noble friend Lord Stone and his colleagues tried to do. Such might, indeed, happen when a new US Administration takes a more balanced approach, with the emergence of a more realistic generation of Palestinians discarding the unrealistic rhetoric of their fathers, or when this dynamic Israeli society of 9 million people is prepared to look long and seek partnerships, not a humiliating domination of the Palestinians.