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My Lords, it is always an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, on securing this debate. I refer your Lordships to my non-financial interests, as disclosed in the register. The noble Baroness certainly has an interest in the Jewish state; I notice that she has asked some 197 parliamentary Written Questions of the Government on Israel in the last 12 months. I am not sure if that is a record. It might be.
We meet for this important debate just a few weeks after Auschwitz remembrance and Holocaust Day, with “never again” ringing in our ears. There are now some 6 million Jewish people living in Israel, of whom 172,000 are survivors and witnesses to those terrible events, so I believe we have a moral duty to protect them from the existential threat that they face from some who, to this day, still call for the Jews to be driven into the sea.
The Washington Institute polled West Bankers last month, and two-thirds said that the top Palestinian priority, in the next five years, is to regain control of all historical Palestine, from the river to the sea, rather than permanent peace with Israel. At the same time, it cannot be acceptable to witness the suffering that happens daily in the West Bank, and in particular in Gaza. Political leaders there suppress their own people, inflicting on them a lifetime of misery, depriving them of basic human needs and devoting valuable resources to war, rather than to the peace that the decent people of that region yearn to see and deserve.
It is only one conflict in the world but, if we were to believe the United Nations and the ill-informed press, it is the only one. This unfortunate and incorrect assessment permeates global politics. Even Bill Clinton said that solving the conflict will
“take about half the impetus in the whole world for terror away”.
I doubt it. The atrocities in Syria, Libya, Yemen and even against the Muslim community in China are sidelined as the Middle East and Israel in particular are criticised. Since 2013, Israel has been condemned in 45 resolutions by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Since the creation of the council in 2006, it has almost resolved more resolutions condemning Israel than it has the rest of the world combined. Is Israel really that guilty or is it just an easy target for what Ben-Dror Yemini calls the “red-green alliance”? The green is not environmentalists but those ostensibly fighting for human rights, but actually supporting Hamas, Hezbollah and even the Taliban. By fighting what they see as western imperialism, they end up supporting a terrible form of fascism.
So it falls on someone else to come up with a proposal, as President Trump has done. It is not perfect, as Members of this House have observed. It suffers from not having Palestinian input, but then everyone knew that, whatever was proposed, their leaders would reject it. Such was the case with the Peel plan, the Woodhead Plan, the Bevin plan, the partition plan—which was opposed, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said, by the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini—right through to Camp David, without even offering a counterproposal. Of course, Ehud Olmert’s peace plan and now the current US proposal have all been rejected, this one before they have even seen it. The consistent lack of leadership from the leaders of the Palestinian people—who, by the way, have no mandate for that title as they were elected 16 years ago on a four-year mandate—is disappointing.
Arabs living in Israel, however, are afraid of becoming Palestinian citizens because they see how those living in the West Bank are subject to human rights violations on a daily basis. In Israel, Arab citizens participate in general elections and enjoy freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom in academia, which are unimaginable in the West Bank and Gaza. A recent poll showed that 68% of Israel’s Arab citizens said that they prefer to live in Israel rather than in any other country. It is of course worth mentioning that the concept of an Israeli living in nearly any other Arab country is nil, particularly as some 800,000 Jews were summarily expelled from Arab countries, where they had lived for generations and indeed millennia, just for being Jewish.
For any peace plan to have a chance, it will need a dramatic change in the leadership of the Palestinian people. The incitement to hatred that still exists—despicably fuelled by textbooks that we, the British taxpayer, helped to finance, particularly in Gaza, denying the thousands of years of Jewish heritage to the land —has to be addressed by our Government and others in the West who care about the region. In Jerusalem, a city that I know well as chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation in the UK, the plan indicates that all of Jerusalem’s holy sites should remain under Israeli responsibility, particularly with regard to Temple Mount. This represents a significant acknowledgement of Israel’s sensitivity in guarding Jerusalem’s holy sites, as I am sure, if he were in his usual seat, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark would testify; they are open to people of all beliefs and tourists of all faiths.
In summary, we have seen that Israeli Arabs will not welcome this proposal and that the Palestinian leadership refuses to reassure Israeli Jews that a sovereign Palestinian state would not want to threaten Israel’s very existence. So it behoves us, the international community, to engage with the Palestinians to facilitate serious negotiations, using this or any other blueprint as a basis. I very much look forward to hearing from the Minister whether such plans are currently being formulated by Her Majesty’s Government.
I know noble Lords will indulge me a final 10 seconds to wish the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, a happy 88th birthday.