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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 6:02 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Young of Graffham Lord Young of Graffham Conservative 6:02 pm, 27th February 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for securing this debate, but I have to say that there is an elephant in the room. I am about to speak of things from my own direct personal experience over the years.

By the early 1990s most of the Arab states were tiring of war. This did not necessarily include the PLO but, gradually, prospects for peace began to improve, until there were talks in Oslo directly between the Palestinians and the Israelis and President Clinton presided over the famous handshake on the White House lawn. By that time I had left government and was the executive chairman of Cable & Wireless, a 100 year-old Arabist company with extensive links in the region. In the improving atmosphere—I had been invited to Saudi and had sat at the right hand of Crown Prince Abdullah discussing Jerusalem, something I would have thought inconceivable a few years before—I had a dream that the nexus between Tel Aviv and Beirut could be an off-Europe Hong Kong. They had all the skills and all the enterprise existed there. So Cable & Wireless bought 10% of Bezeq, the Israeli telephone company, we agreed to buy 49% of the Jordanian telephone company, and we were in a contract for about 1.4 million lines in Lebanon when the Lebanese Parliament brought a boycott resolution against Cable & Wireless and sent it to Damascus. Some 36 hours later, a most unexpected reply came: they would refuse the boycott and shortly invite me to discuss the proposal in Damascus. My proposal did not include the Palestinians. These were the early years of mobile telephones, so I decided that we could create a Palestine mobile phone company to be owned and operated by the Palestinians. We had agreed roaming rights throughout the region.

In December 1994, Yasser Arafat came to London and stayed at the Dorchester. I spent an hour with him. I offered Chairman Arafat a Palestinian mobile telephone company which could be set up within 90 days, with roaming rights all over the region. I told him I believed it would be popular with Israeli Arabs as well as Palestinians and would be the first fruits of the new state. He was interested and said he would invite me to Tripoli. The weeks passed, but no invitation came. Then I read that they had granted a licence to the son of the Lebanese Prime Minister. A few weeks later, I read that they had granted a licence to AT&T. Finally, they phoned me and proposed a 60:40 company; we would have 40% and finance the operation. I agreed and negotiations started. Right at the end my people found out that of the Palestinians’ 60% shareholding, 80% would be held by Mrs Arafat in her own name. That was unsustainable.

At the same time, I was working with a group of Palestinians in London. During my time in London I was involved in employment and was trying to get things going there. They told me that they needed a technical school. I had recently retired as chairman of the World ORT union, a Jewish charity which is the largest of the vocational and training schools, with hundreds of thousands of students and good relationships with the World Bank. I came back within a week and said to them, “I’ve got £20 million for you from the World Bank, just give me the site.” They hummed and hawed for months and eventually rang to say, “Can we increase the £20 million to £24 million, as we’ve got people to look after?” That was equally unsustainable. Then the wind changed, Arafat refused to sign and the al-Aqsa intifada started; we were back to where we were and the days of hope had gone.

The biggest cause of poverty in the entire world is the corruption of rulers. If 87% of the Palestinian people believe that the Palestinian Authority is rife with corruption, who am I to doubt it? Until there is more open and transparent government for the Palestinians, I am fearful for their future. Look back over the long decades of war after war, peace offer after peace offer: every offer that they rejected was in time followed by a worse one, time after time. I am certainly not saying that this is a good offer, but I believe it will be better than the next.