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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 6:23 pm on 27th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 6:23 pm, 27th February 2020

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue. Like many of my noble friends, I have had a long association with Labour Friends of Israel. I am proud of that association and of Israel’s stance on many of the human rights issues we have talked about in this debate.

We have also heard in this debate the long-standing policy of successive British Governments, not just this one, to seek a peace plan for the Middle East based on a viable two-state solution. However, as many noble Lords have said, this plan would give the Palestinians a state only after four years, consisting of just 75% of the West Bank, with fragmented bits of land joined by narrow corridors, plus Gaza linked by a tunnel. In place of East Jerusalem as their capital, they are offered the suburban area of Abu Dis. The plan has nothing in common with the Oslo accords and destroys any prospect of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state. It legitimises the illegal annexation of Palestinian land for settlers and puts the whole of Jerusalem under Israeli control.

As Amir Peretz, leader of the Israeli Labor Party, made clear,

“unilateral annexations or steps that undermine the concept of two states living peacefully side by side is a recipe for further trouble and turmoil.”

Can I ask the Minister whether he or the Foreign Secretary made specific representations to their American counterparts on the idea of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and tell them what a backward step for peace it would be?

As we have heard, the statement by Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU high representative, stressed the EU’s continued commitment to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, in accordance with the international parameters. Mention has been made in the debate of today’s Guardian letter on the plan from prominent European politicians. Does the Minister, like them, agree with the EU that Israeli steps

“towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged”,

as they would impair the fundamental international norm banning the acquisition of territory by force? The Minister must make clear from the Dispatch Box today that Britain as a country still abides by all the international laws and UN resolutions which rule that the annexation of Palestinian land and the building of settlements is illegal, and that it must be condemned, not legitimised in the form of this plan. Labor Knesset Member Itzik Shmuli argued that it would not,

“contribute to security, negates the important recognition of the two-state solution, rejects any chance to achieve separation and will bring about the fatal demand for a single state, which contradicts our national and security interests”,

as the noble Baroness just highlighted. Even Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main challenger in the election on 2 March, has opposed immediate annexation, and, while welcoming Trump’s proposals, suggested that he would not act in the unilateral manner Netanyahu is proposing, and would work,

“in full co-ordination with the Governments of the US, Jordan, Egypt, others in the region and the Palestinians.”

The then Foreign Office Minister Andrew Murrison, in response to an Urgent Question on 30 January from Emily Thornberry, repeated official policy when he said that the UK wanted

“to see a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a proper settlement for refugees.”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/20; col. 933.]

However, despite these words of comfort, he went on to welcome Trump’s proposals as a possible route towards restarting peace talks, with Prime Minister Johnson arguing that it,

“has the merit of a two-state solution”. —[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/20; col. 770.]

How can they suggest that it will break the deadlock? It beggars belief. To impose something on one of the parties cannot be the basis on which negotiations can begin. Simply adding that they do not endorse the plan’s contents will not change what many will see as a “shameful betrayal”, as Emily Thornberry put it, of previous UK support for a viable two-state solution. As we have heard, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, in rejecting Trump’s proposals declared:

“We say one thousand times ‘No, no, no’ to the deal of the century.”

Murrison’s hopes of a positive response from the Arab nations has also suffered a blow, as we have heard in the debate, with the unanimous rejection of the plan by the Arab League and subsequently the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The Arab League said that Trump’s plan did not satisfy

“the minimum rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Instead, the Arab League reiterated its support for the 2002 peace initiative, as the noble Baroness has high- lighted, which endorsed a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. Does the Minister accept that any peace plan without Palestinian participation is no peace plan at all? A lasting and sustainable peace will be achieved only through direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with compromise and concessions on both sides. This plan clearly fails that test and, far from breaking the dead- lock, will entrench opinions. From this side of the House, we will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution.

While there is understandable anger in Palestine over this proposed plan, does the Minister agree with me that this must not and cannot be used as an excuse by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups to launch more indiscriminate attacks against innocent Israeli citizens, and will he join me in condemning anyone who takes such action? If the Minister agrees that the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is through a two-state solution with a secure and viable state of Israel living alongside a secure, viable and contiguous state of Palestine, then—as many other noble Lords have asked tonight—why will this Government not recognise the state of Palestine?