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My Lords, we witness daily on our televisions, in our newspapers and on social media the dereliction of lives and property across the Middle East—from Syria, with families wiped out as they flee the bombs of Assad and the Russians, to the plight of innocent children caught up in the civil war in Yemen and the atrocities of ISIS in Iraq. In the middle of all that misery it is easy to suppose that the question of Palestine is no longer a main priority for the region.
It may not be the most pressing, but we must not forget those who day in, day out live lives which no one in your Lordships’ House would consider to be normal. The occupation of the Palestinian territories and the associated hardships and humiliation that brings is now the longest occupation in modern history. But this intractable problem, while not being headline news, still captures, as it has over the years, the minds of leading statesmen in their quest to solve the never-ending conundrum of the Middle East peace process.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for bringing this debate to your Lordships’ House and for giving us the opportunity to discuss the latest proposals for peace. I declare my interests as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to the Palestinian territories, president of the Palestine British Business Council and president of Medical Aid for Palestinians.
All efforts to promote peace should be welcomed. It is not in anyone’s best interests that this question remains unresolved, but any proposal must be rooted in reality and must always have international law as its compass. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his robust reiteration, earlier this month, of the United Kingdom’s long-held position of two states, based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the shared capital.
“Only the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian territories can determine whether the proposals can meet the needs and aspirations of the people they represent.”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/20; col. 927.]
This sentiment is amplified by the respected Israeli NGO Gisha, which has said of the latest peace proposals:
“A real solution to the conflict cannot be reached by coercion; it will only come by recognizing the rights of all residents of the region.”
The irony is that for the past 18 years such a solution has been available. The Arab peace initiative put forward in March 2002 by His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the then Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, offered comprehensive peace between the Arab world and Israel in return for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This peace initiative was again proposed earlier this month, at a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Arab countries at the Arab League, as the basis for any deal between Israel and Palestine.
This region is brimming with potential and it is criminal that much of it languishes unused. As I said in the debate in the name of my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley last year—which was a forerunner to this debate—the first, not last, step to unleashing this potential, and to lasting peace and prosperity, is the end of occupation and the recognition of the state of Palestine, alongside the State of Israel, of which my noble friend Lady Altmann spoke so passionately.
I am sure I speak for all noble Lords when I say that I long for the day when we have no more need for debates such as this. However, I fear that the latest proposals for peace, with all the hard work that has gone into them, and however well-intentioned they may be, will not meet the test of answering the needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people because they leave them with no hope of self-determination. As Norman Cousins, the late American political journalist, said:
“The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life.”