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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for securing this important debate. The Balfour Declaration for the creation of a Jewish homeland stated, as we have been reminded, that the rights of existing inhabitants would be fully protected. Over the years, we have seen these rights systematically eroded. The declaration, although politically understandable, was based on a conflict-perpetuating fallacy that people of different faiths are so different that they have to have separate countries to survive. It is a fallacy that perpetuates prejudice and lasting hostility, as seen in the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, and partitions in many parts of the Middle East and—closer to home—in Ireland. This fallacy is inherent in the continuing conflict between two sister faiths in Israel-Palestine. Sikh teachings, put forward at the time of horrendous religious conflict between India’s Hindus and Muslims, emphasised that we should look beyond superficial differences, to commonalities that unite us; that for peace and harmony between people, we must recognise our common humanity.
A few years ago, I visited Israel with the then Chief Rabbi, my noble friend Lord Sacks. We met Jews and Arabs from all walks of life in a beautiful country packed with history; a country that in more peaceful times could live on tourism alone—and a country holy to three of the world’s great faiths. In all the people we met, there was a common yearning for peace, security, food and a decent standard of living. The American so-called peace plan seeks to perpetuate existing injustices against the Palestinian people by legitimising Israeli occupation of illegally seized Palestinian land and by giving Jerusalem to Israel. It is doomed to failure. For true peace, it is essential to recognise and respect common interests.
A viable peace plan should begin with a need to recognise that the involvement of outside powers, on one side or another, inevitably exacerbates conflict. Outside involvement is rarely in pursuit of justice, but in pursuit of so-called strategic interests—trade and political dominance. Such interventions widen conflict and suffering. Can any noble Lord in this Chamber deny that the involvement of Russia and the West in the Middle East has added to the suffering of innocent men, women and children, and the desperate plight of refugees fleeing bullets, bombs and rockets, and the destruction of their homes?
A better way forward would be for the UN to appoint a senior judicial figure, remote from political involvement and acceptable to both sides, to start from small beginnings and look to common issues and concerns. With extensive Israeli settlements all over Palestinian territory, a two-state solution—never a good idea in itself—is also not viable. Instead, both sides should look to easing travel restrictions and developing common social and economic initiatives to break down misunderstanding, leading to greater peace, security and trust. This is not easy but I believe it is the only way forward.