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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 5:25 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 5:25 pm, 27th February 2020

My Lords, I disagree with this document on at least three principles. First, it is not at all even-handed. It is quite clear that the Palestinians are intended to have to earn certain concessions over four years whereas the benefits for Israel are available immediately. Part of it reads like a proposed diktat to the Palestinians, and I do not think that is very helpful if we want to restart the process of peace negotiations in the Middle East, which we all do.

The second thing I have against this document is the proposal on land. The proposal is to take away large areas of land from the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and give them to Israel and in exchange, as has already been said, to give the Palestinians an equivalent amount of territory in the Negev Desert. That really is absurd and insulting. It is quite wrong to consider extending Israel’s borders in the West Bank beyond the green line. The green line is the line which the Israeli Supreme Court decided should be the limit of Jewish settlement and Israeli jurisdiction and control, and I do not think we should go beyond that. It would be crazy to suggest doing so, in my view, in the circumstances. Equally, I do not think we should push back the green line or the border further back, because over the past 53 years established communities have been growing and have been very successful. People have been living in that area and have had children and grandchildren and, as always happens in these cases, people are attached to their homes and if we pushed them out of them and said they had to go back to Israel, we would cause just one more problem of displaced persons in the Middle East, one more injustice and one more grievance, and I do not think that would be a good way to go either. The green line is the natural border and should be part of any discussions we take forward at this juncture.

Thirdly, I was very struck by the fact that nothing is said about the great injustice done to the Palestinian refugees, which was not their fault. That is very unfortunate. Most of the refugees left in 1948 in terror, particularly after the massacre of Deir Yassin, which was a hideous war crime. I recognise that there were quite different incidents in other parts of Israel in 1948. The Jews of Haifa tried to persuade their Arab neighbours not to leave, but most of them left because they were terrified. Some of them remained and their descendants are happily living there today, but nevertheless those refugees left in fear of their lives and we have to recognise that.

Equally, it is not at all sensible to think in terms of a right of return. Of course that would be impossible, as has already been said by my namesake the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower, who preceded me. That would be very disruptive for Israel, but economically it would simply not be realistic. Anyway, it would cause enormous bitterness between the two parties if 2 million new refugees arrived in Israel. It is absurd. What I think ought to be done is that individuals who left in 1948—they are all by definition in their 70s, 80s or 90s—should be given a right of return. That should be recognised as a matter of law and principle. It is most unlikely that most of them would take it up because it would not apply to the younger members of their families. In return, those who do not want to take up that right could cash it in, as it were, and receive a decent amount of monetary compensation. I am thinking $50,000 a head or something of that sort. Much smaller amounts of money would go to the second generation and smaller amounts still to the third generation. That would be a fair way of recognising the principle of the right of return. It would be regarded as worth talking about, at the very least, in Palestine. Clearly, money would be paid only when there had been a referendum in Palestine that resulted in a majority in favour of a settlement with all the details there. That is my view of the sort of document that we ought to be talking about now. I hope that we can get back to discussing how to solve this problem. It should not be allowed to fester indefinitely; that would be very dangerous.

I fear I must make the final point that we have this problem now very largely because of the extraordinarily bad Palestinian leadership over the last 100 years. Right from the 1930s and 1940s, the then leader of the Palestinian cause, the Grand Mufti, rejected any negotiations and any recognition of Israel and the Jewish settlements in the area. He preferred to go for violence and war. He had his war in 1948. He lost it dramatically and the Palestinians were worse off. He could probably have done a much better deal with the Jewish Agency in the 1930s than the Palestinians got from the United Nations partition resolution. It was another major miscalculation. His successor, al-Shukeiri, also put the emphasis on violence, with terrorist attacks on Israel and by encouraging the Egyptians to prepare a war against Israel. All that ended in disaster for the Palestinians in 1967. We then had Yasser Arafat, who famously turned down Ehud Barak’s offer of 98% of the territories. That is a terrible record. The Palestinians have been betrayed. They have been betrayed, more than anything else by their own leaders, and we now must hope that somebody comes to the fore among the Palestinians with a slightly greater deal of realism and honesty in the message he delivers to his people.