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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 5:14 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:14 pm, 27th February 2020

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I thank my friend of a long time, the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for many, if not all, of the things she said, and in particular her support for a two-state solution, which I pray for.

However, the Trump plan must be looked at in context. The United States and Israel are both in the midst of election campaigns, as noble Lords might have noticed, even in our newspapers. Both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly believe that they are playing to their respective electorates: Trump sees votes in producing a so-called peace agreement; Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is just about to come before the criminal courts in Israel, sees it as a vote winner in the Israeli election in a few days’ time. He bases this on justified Israeli fears about its very continuing existence.

President Trump is known as a deal maker, although the deals have generally been about pieces of United States real estate. What is the principle of a deal? It is not to offer your final deal until after your original proposals have been rejected. For any deal to be successful in negotiations, it has to be fathered or sponsored by a body or country that is considered reasonably balanced. I do not think that that can be said of the current United States Administration.

There is a role for the UK, Europe and Arab countries to set out what they see as the road to a two-state solution. I do not think that many in your Lordships’ House will think this is the Trump plan. Yes, the border between the two states needs to be defined. There have long been plans for a land swap. When I say “land swap”, it cannot be of pieces of desert; it has to be of suitable land. That was always the understanding of that land swap agreement. However, the main fault in the Trump plan is keeping so many isolated Israeli settlements. These towns and villages will be surrounded by a Palestinian entity. An Israel Defense Forces presence would thus be required to defend each settlement. Sadly, they would be defending them from a belligerent Palestinian entity.

It is time for the Palestinians and their supporters to accept that the international community will not deliver all that they want. Likewise, supporters of Israel will not get all that they want and desire. It is time for the Palestinians to move on from—I will not disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, by not quoting this—the dogma of Yasser Arafat, who, as a former Israeli Foreign Minister said and as the noble Baroness reminded us, never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

It is time also for supporters of the Palestinians to accept that the Jewish populations of the Arab states have fled, as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, referred to. Can anyone name Arab states where Jews can live freely, if at all? I will give just one example among many in the short time that we are allowed. A century ago when the British—yes, we British again—invaded the country then known as Mesopotamia, one-third of Baghdad’s 200,000-strong population was Jewish. That city has recently recorded only five Jewish people remaining, and I think that they have probably gone as well by now. This is the picture across the region. More than 800,000 Jews fled from Arab lands, mostly ending up as citizens of Israel, while in the West the Holocaust and the growth of anti-Semitism led to much-increased immigration from countries such as France. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, recently asked Her Majesty’s Government in a Written Question

“what assessment they have made of any correlation between the actions of the government of Israel and antisemitic incidents in the UK.”

The truth is that anti-Semitism in the UK and elsewhere existed long before the emergence of the state of Israel. The lies about Jews and their supposed control is not new. You can go back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a tsarist forgery published before Israel was even a tear in Theodor Herzl’s eye.

So linking the two or saying that the victim is responsible is absolutely wrong. But let us all agree, hopefully, in this House, that what we aim for is a two-state solution with Israel having secure borders, not impossible borders, and the Palestinians having control over their own destiny in their own state, so that they and Israel can live as two states within the nations of the world.