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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 5:47 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Mitchell Lord Mitchell Labour 5:47 pm, 27th February 2020

My Lord, the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is to be thanked for introducing this debate.

My wife Hannah and I have just returned from an amazing holiday. We went to Colombia for a momentous family reunion—momentous because until last year none of us really knew that the other members existed. This was an unusually happy ending to a classic Jewish story of death, tragedy, separation and family loss. The original family lived in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, and comprised 51 individuals, of whom only 15 survived the Second World War. Hannah was vaguely aware that there were other branches of the depleted family, but she had no idea who or indeed where. They had been lost for years. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, she received an email from a second cousin living in Atlanta, Georgia: “Are you the granddaughter of Hugo and Matilda Lowy?” Well, she is, and we agreed to meet up in New York. That was a joyous meeting.

Then the subject was raised of the one remaining brother, Isidor, who had survived Auschwitz and who it was rumoured had gone to live in Colombia. The internet went into overdrive and, lo and behold, the missing family was discovered living in Bogotá. In the chaos of the post-war period they had moved from pillar to post, trying to find a new home. Most countries put up barriers to Jewish refugees but, to its credit, Colombia admitted 750 in 1948, and that is how they arrived there.

This was the first family reunion since the one in Vienna in 1927, and what a happy event it was. But what of the others? What of the other family members? What of the millions who perished or were denied entry to other countries? When the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, sees the passion that we Jews have for Israel, it is because so many more of us would have been saved had Israel existed before the war. That is why for us Israel’s safety is paramount.

But there is another side to my family; for we Mitchells, life is always complicated. I have a daughter-in-law who is half-Palestinian. I have been to the West Bank several times and am under no illusion that the Palestinian people are oppressed. The checkpoints are humiliating and the desire for statehood burns brightly. I understand the Nakba—the catastrophe, as the Palestinians call it in Arabic. It is why I have always supported a two-state solution. In 1947, the United Nations agreed that British Palestine was to be partitioned between the Jews and the Palestinians. The Jews were to be offered 55% and the Palestinians 45%. To the Palestinians, that was the first Nakba and they rejected it. When Israel was founded a year later, five Arab countries attacked it with overwhelming armies, but they were defeated. Instead of 55% of the land, Israel ended up with 75%; that was the second Nakba. In 1967, the Arab states again attacked Israel. They lost again and Israel occupied the entire land of British Palestine—yet another Nakba.

Since the Oslo accords in 1993, there have been three intense peace negotiations, and each time the sides have come within touching distance. But each time, at the last moment, the Palestinians withdrew from the negotiations. They have had Nakba after Nakba; disaster after disaster. Now we have Donald’s “deal of the century”, where the Palestinians are being offered 20% of British Palestine—20%, when they could have had 45% in 1948. Barely a peep has been heard from the other Arab states. The Palestinians have become friendless even within the Middle East, and that is the biggest Nakba of all. How has that happened? It is because they have the most terrible, awful leadership, and have had since before Israel was formed.

Now we see Donald Trump on course to win his second term. He will continue to back Netanyahu, no matter how outlandish his demands, and—irony of ironies—the only chance of reversing American policy is held in the hands of a Jewish man born in Brooklyn. His name is Bernie Sanders.