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My Lords, in 1967 I was a volunteer in the June Six Day War in Israel. I went there to help the war and then to work to help repair the country the following year. Just after the war in that same June, the eloquent Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, spoke at the UN. He said:
“In the institutions of scientific research and higher education of both sides of the frontiers, young Israelis and Arabs could join in a mutual discourse of learning. The old prejudices could be replaced by a new comprehension and respect born of a reciprocal dialogue in the intellectual domain. In such a Middle East, military budgets would spontaneously find a less exacting point of equilibrium. Excessive sums devoted to security could be diverted to development projects. Thus, in full respect of the region’s diversity, an entirely new story, never known or told before, would unfold across the Eastern Mediterranean … The challenge now is to use this freedom for creative growth. There is only one road to that end. It is the road of recognition, of direct contact, of true cooperation. It is the road of peaceful co-existence.”
He went on to say, “Let us be an active part in the constructive solution of peaceful and economic prosperity for all people in the region.” I was 25 then, and this has inspired me ever since to try to bring the people there together in peace.
It is self-evident that peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is only possible if the basic aspirations of both peoples are met. Both peoples aspire to self-determination in their own sovereign, independent state. Nothing in the past 50 years has altered this, regardless of other changes. In 1993, under the Oslo accords, the Palestinians finally dropped their demand for 100% of the land and agreed to accept a state alongside Israel in 22% of the land, meaning the West Bank and Gaza, subject to land swaps. There is an overwhelming international consensus on this framework. Any proposal that significantly deviates from it cannot be taken seriously, however powerful the proponents.
This Trump plan, as a strategy to firm up right-wing domestic support in an election year in both the US and Israel, makes a lot of sense. However, as a strategy to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it falls short in its current form. It is time now to recognise a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem alongside the Israeli state with its capital in West Jerusalem in the hope that the two neighbouring states will eventually form some sort of confederation. Then, something good could come out of the Trump plan.
Since 1967, I have worked to build bridges: through my work at Marks & Spencer with its suppliers in the region; as the chairman of the British Overseas Trade Group for Israel; with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt; with Palestinian and Jordanian farmers, textile workers, high-tech incubators—the noble Lord, Lord Young was a mentor to me all the way through that—and universities and educationalists; and with sensitive, dedicated NGOs across the divide. I have worked to build bridges and show what could be a better future life for the 125 million citizens of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine if they spent the same time, effort, money and resources on building peace and co-operation with compassion rather than squandering all that on war and enmity.
As we heard in today’s Statement, we in the UK will soon be separated from the EU and will begin to develop a new chapter in our international relations. With our historic association with Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, which are in key positions in the Mediterranean, Africa and, of course, the Middle East, I suggest to the Minister that we form a group here in the United Kingdom that brings together the many experts that we have in this country to discuss how we might help. It would not be seeking to argue the rights or wrongs of either side but to suggest how, perhaps after a long, thoughtful, positive discussion, we might then invite the parties in the region to come here and discuss a workable plan that might be attractive to all sides. Britain was, after all, the mandatory power and the issuer of the Balfour Declaration. We have an historical responsibility that no European country—or any other country for that matter—has. We were instrumental at the start of the separation and thence discord; now, with our new place in the world, let us try to heal it for the benefit of all peoples.