My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. As the Prime Minister has rightly said, no peace plan is perfect, but I believe that this plan recognises the reality of the existential security threats that Israel faces, while proposing an optimistic future for the Palestinian people. It is, of course, disappointing that the Palestinian leadership failed to engage meaningfully with the US during the drafting process, so it came as no surprise that it rejected the proposals last month. Yet it was encouraging to see that Israel’s Arab neighbours cautiously welcomed the plan after its publication, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE, which remain under some pressure within the Arab League.
During the 1967 war, Israel gained control of the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, as well as additional territory. Days after the conclusion of the war, Israel said it was prepared to return most of the territory in exchange for peace treaties with its Arab neighbours. The three noes brought an end to this hope: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel. I hope that noble Lords will indulge this brief historical recap, which I believe demonstrates that the greatest obstacle to peace is the continued refusal of Israel’s neighbours to recognise its right to exist and flourish as a Jewish state in any part of the land.
This is an opportunity for the Minister to urge our Arab allies to encourage the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and finally accept that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination that the Palestinians themselves demand. I mentioned that the likes of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain initially welcomed the US proposals before being pressurised. This is no doubt due to a gradual warming of ties between Israel and its Gulf neighbours, caused by growing mutual interests, particularly the increasing threat posed by Iran. Iran has not only breached the nuclear deal; it continues to fund regional terrorist proxy groups including Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, fostering instability and violence. On Tehran’s orders, Palestinian Islamic Jihad has targeted Israeli soldiers with sniper fire and explosive devices in recent weeks and fired dozens of rockets towards Israeli communities. The motive is most likely an obvious one—to derail any long-term agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, meaning that the rejection of President Trump’s proposals is exactly what the Iranian leadership craves. I welcome this Government’s firm response to Iran’s latest breaches of the nuclear deal.
This firm response has been lacking, however, when considering the threat posed to the Middle East peace process by officially sanctioned Palestinian incitement to violence. The practice of honouring terrorists and glorifying them as martyrs is widespread in the Palestinian Authority, with even Palestinian Authority officials praising those who have killed Israelis. The Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, seeks Israel’s destruction and subjects Gazans to endless rounds of violence. We must confront this anti-Semitism as strongly as we do here at home.
It is also crucial to note that £65.5 million of UK taxpayers’ money annually goes towards the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, which carries out important humanitarian work, including the provision of education and healthcare to Palestinians. However, Palestinian refugee status is inherited in perpetuity, including for those living in internationally designated Palestinian territories, and current beneficiaries of the UN Relief and Works Agency’s aid are evaluated on problematic criteria based on entitlement, not need. The number of Palestinians alive who were personally displaced during the 1948 war between Israel and its Arab neighbours is estimated to be around 30,000, yet today the UN Relief and Works Agency defines 5 million people as Palestinian refugees, split between the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Palestinian children at UN schools in the West Bank and Gaza are taught that they are refugees, giving credence to the political position that more than 5 million Palestinians have a right of return, which would lead to the end of the Jewish state as we know it. These schools use official Palestinian Authority textbooks, which are currently under review due to their troubling content, including the promotion of martyrdom and the elimination of Israel. Can the Minister provide an update on this review, which should surely be expedited?
There is more we can do to promote peace in the region, starting with the consideration of the best mechanisms for delivering aid to those Palestinians most in need and ensuring that UK taxpayers’ money reduces conflict rather than perpetuating it. Let us give the US proposals an opportunity and hope for their success, as it is ultimately in the best interests of all sides to resolve this conflict.