Israel and Palestine - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 7 March 2023.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 7:30, 7 March 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, with international partners, to calm the violence and build a lasting peace between the government of Israel and the Palestinian people.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

My Lords, in 1962 I had the great privilege of spending a term studying in Jerusalem. Signs of conflict were everywhere; there was barbed wire across the streets and pockmarks in the walls made by bullets from recent fighting. The time was tense and difficult. But now, more than 60 years later, the situation is even worse—the tension greater, the violence more bitter. Some of us will remember that the two great political issues in 1962 were the Cold War and apartheid. We could see no end to the Cold War, but in 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down. We did not expect apartheid to come to an end without massive bloodshed, but in 1994 Nelson Mandela was elected peacefully president of South Africa. Is it not a terrible indictment of leadership on all sides and the whole international community that still nothing very much has happened, and that the situation is in fact much worse now than it was in 1962? The hopes of Oslo in 1993 and the hopes of so many since then have come to absolutely nothing.

It is understandable that the eyes of the world have been elsewhere this year—on Ukraine, the women of Afghanistan and Iran, and the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey—but during this time tension in Israel has risen and violence has increased. In January, a Palestinian boy throwing stones in the West Bank was killed. Then in a raid by security forces, nine Palestinians were killed in Jenin. On the same day, a 13 year-old boy shot seven Israelis outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem. The following day, rockets were fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip and there was a further exchange of fire. A few days later, there was a major raid in Nablus, in which 10 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 injured. A few days after that, a Palestinian killed two Israeli settlers. This was followed by settlers running amok, torching homes and cars, with the IDF apparently unwilling or unable to stop it. Once again, families are left bereaved, young Palestinians are left even more desperate, and more Israeli peace-lovers are left in despair at the present Government.

After that outbreak of violence, Israeli and Palestinian delegates made a joint commitment to take immediate steps to end it. This followed talks in Aqaba between the parties, alongside the United States and Egyptian officials. The announcement said that Palestinian and Israeli sides

“affirmed their commitment to all previous agreements between them, and to work towards just and lasting peace”.

Both sides also committed to immediately working to end unilateral measures for a period of three to six months, which included an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop the authorisation of any outposts for six months. The parties agreed to reconvene in Egypt in March this year—this month—to determine progress made towards these goals. However, this statement was immediately called into question by some members of the Israeli Government, including Mr Netanyahu himself, who denied that there would be a settlement freeze or any kind of pause.

My first question for the Minister is: what role are our own Government playing in this process? Is he in a position to clarify what has been agreed and what progress, if any, has been made with a view to the reconvened meeting later this month?

The reason I asked for this debate is not just the recent level of violence, severe though it has been, but because there will continue to be violence unless there is hope. At the moment, there is no hope. Where is the hope in the situation? What sign of hope can be given to young Palestinians, or to those Israelis who have lost their family or friends and who have sincerely wanted and worked for a solution? Studies of those who survived harsh imprisonment during World War Two showed that the people most likely to survive were those who had something to live for—for example, a hope of seeing a loved one again. Without hope, people become desperate. Since Oslo in 1993, the hope has been held out of a two-state solution. Recently, our Government have once again committed themselves to that solution, as have various other international bodies, the UN and the EU. However, at the same time, I have read—as I am sure your Lordships have—commentators saying that the two-state solution is dead and that nothing will now revive the peace process. Is it really dead? If it is, what hope can be given?

The idea of a single state, once dismissed by most people, has surfaced again. Is this a serious idea—a single state with equality for all its citizens? In a recent article, Jonathan Freedland, while not arguing for this, nevertheless pointed out that overall turnout in the November election topped 70% but among Israeli Arabs it was just 53.2%. He argued that if Arabs had voted in the same numbers as Jews, Netanyahu would not be Prime Minister. He suggested that to remedy this will require,

“first, a wholesale change in mindset on the part of the mainstream Israeli left, one that at last listens to Palestinian demands for equality inside the green line and an end to occupation beyond it. That could, in turn, prompt a sea change among Palestinian-Israelis, a recognition that a de facto boycott of Israel’s political institutions might have made sense when a separate Palestinian state seemed on the horizon, but makes no sense now. It only strengthens those bent on making their lives worse.”

I am, of course, aware of the arguments on this issue, but I will not enter into them now. My point is about the total lack of hope in anything at the moment. I believe it would be quite wrong simply for the international community to shrug its shoulders and assume that nothing can be done. While the recent meeting in Jordan to see what might be done in the immediate term to reduce the level of violence is to be welcomed, it is not enough.

I recently asked a friend living in Jerusalem if he could find any hope in the present situation. He wrote that he looked to the individuals committed to peace and reconciliation, “the mother of an Israeli soldier killed at a checkpoint in the Second Intifada joining a group of bereaved from both sides of conflict and becoming best friends with a Palestinian man whose daughter was killed at a checkpoint by an Israeli soldier, or the man at the Tent of Nations who is in the longest-running legal dispute to keep the family olive farm despite beatings, intimidation and Kafkaesque legal dealings”. His mantra was: “We refuse to be enemies”. These are people who belong to the Parents Circle-Families Forum—PCFF—a body that I have long admired. This group is made up of parents, Jewish and Palestinian, who have all lost family members in the conflict. However, apparently even the PCFF is being threatened with tough new restrictions on its activities by Israel’s recently elected coalition Government. They are planning to curtail the organisation’s access to high schools where, for years, bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families have been allowed to meet groups of teenagers before they are called up for any service. If this is the case, I hope that our own Government will vigorously protest.

So, in the name of those Israeli and Palestinian parents, we cannot allow the present situation to continue fluctuating between simmering violence and its inevitable explosion forever. Meanwhile, as we are all aware, we have to face the fact that, as settlements continue to grow in number and size, the viability of a Palestinian state gets more and more called into question; the Palestinian position, already weak, becomes even weaker; and young people on both sides become even more desperate.

Let us have some honesty in the international community. Is the two-state solution dead? If not, let us have some real initiatives for reviving it. In 1978, that good man President Carter, who is now in his last days in a hospice, called together Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat to agree a framework for peace in the Middle East. Where is the Jimmy Carter for our time? We cannot simply shrug and resign ourselves to the fact that this will go on forever. A new initiative is needed. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Conservative 7:41, 7 March 2023

My Lords, let me be the first to congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, on the well-worded title of this debate and on his opening remarks. He is a most distinguished cleric, and it is very fitting that a cleric should choose to put a plea for peace in the title. He will be aware that one of the core prayers we recite in the Jewish religion, which some people recite three times a day, has the words:

“He who makes peace in his high places, may he make peace upon us and upon all Israel”.

Peace is the most sought after of all man’s objectives in our prayers. So I am grateful to him for moving this debate.

I am also grateful to the authorities for moving it from yesterday, when I believe it was originally scheduled to take place, because yesterday was the Jewish festival of Purim, where, incidentally, and most unusually, a requirement is to drink a lot of alcohol. So it would not have been a great day for me to be standing up in your Lordships’ House. As with many Jewish festivals, we celebrated the fact that evil people did not overthrow and kill the local Jewish population, as they sought to do. We were saved by a clever bit of manoeuvring by Esther, a Jewess who achieved favour in high places. It is a longer story, but we will leave it at that.

None the less, Jewish people have always been on the defensive and, not surprisingly, concerned for their own survival. When I was in Manchester city centre recently with my youngest daughter, we passed a demonstration with a red, green, black and white flag. They were chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. My daughter asked me, “What does that mean?” I had to explain to her that this was a group of people on UK soil seeking to wipe out the Jewish state of Israel. Israel faces similar threats now, some organised and promoted by Hamas and PFLP, and some random, such as the killing last month of the brothers, Hillel and Yagael Yaniv.

I move the point of the debate. What can be done? I know Jerusalem best, because I am chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation in the UK. I will be there next week, running a 10k around the city, with citizens from every background—Jewish, Muslim, Christian and no faith—all running together. It is a most uplifting experience. We are working hard to make Jerusalem a better place. I am not convinced that the UK Government, or any Government, can do as much as we would like in the cause of peace. It is the people, the individuals, who can do so much.

We are working hard to calm tensions there. For example, with British donors’ money, we are building two large community sports centres and swimming pools in East Jerusalem. British donors are paying for a project with the municipality to train new Arabic-speaking social workers, who will help thousands of Arab families.

We continue to abhor the fact that at least 31 Palestinian schools are named after terrorists and, likewise, that an Israeli Minister seems to call for the wipeout of a Palestinian village. This was rightly condemned by the head of the IDF and others in Israel.

Initiatives such as those taken by British donors, as I have described, can make a difference. In a recent poll conducted by the Washington Institute in East Jerusalem, half of the Palestinians asked said that, if they had to make a choice, they would prefer to become citizens of Israel than of the Palestinian state. Their recent experience of access to Israel’s healthcare, social welfare, benefits and jobs is making a difference. We need to ensure that this direction of travel is continued.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour 7:46, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I too thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for introducing this important debate in such a fair, if somewhat sobering, way. It is a sobering topic.

Once again, the vicious cycle of violence has rapidly spun out of control: there have been 550 terrorist attacks, and too many Israeli and Palestinian deaths, in the last 12 months alone. It is easy to get involved in the blame game. Heaven knows there is enough blame to go around—we might hear some tonight. Tit for tat has taken over. Reconciliation has been replaced by retribution and revenge after generations of mistrust and antipathy. So is there anything at all that we in the international community can do that will influence those on the ground?

As we have heard, Israel agreed to stop all West Bank settlement activity for six months at the recent meeting of security officials in Aqaba. Of course, that was immediately derided by Hamas and right-wingers in the Israeli Government. But that should not detract from what was a remarkable step for the first time in many years.

Sadly, I fear that brave speeches by the US and UK ambassadors at the UN have had little effect on the ground. Of course, we should not give up, despite the limited response. So where can any external influence have any effect? The USA has historically had some influence on Israel. Clearly, we should be supporting that, and our friends in the Middle East—Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—who may have been, and one hopes should be, able to influence the Palestinians. We should influence both sides.

However, we seem to have ignored one resource, which should be called upon now: the Arab citizens of Israel, who make up over 20% of the population. We have heard a little about them. They overwhelmingly want to see a two-state solution, according to all of the polls, but they live uncomfortably between the two sides. They could form an invaluable link as go-betweens between the warring parties. Have our Government had any discussions with the Israeli authorities about encouraging them to engage fully with their Israeli Arab friends, many of whom occupy high office in Israeli society?

Photo of Baroness Janke Baroness Janke Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 7:48, 7 March 2023

My Lords, having read the extensive coverage in the newspapers over the weekend, I feel that it is important to point out that Israel today has the most extreme Government in its history. Haaretz calls it a “Government of darkness”, as right-wing politicians from parties that are overtly Jewish supremacist, anti-Arab, anti-women and homophobic dominate it. I was impressed by the accounts given in the Guardian on Friday by Simon Schama and Margaret Hodge, documenting some of the things happening under the new Israeli Government. These extremist Ministers now have major powers over the Occupied Territories, as authority has been transferred from military to civilian rule, contravening international law on occupation. I hope that the Minister will enlighten us with the Government’s view on that.

A Haaretz editorial also states:

“In light of the fact that there is no intention of granting civil rights to the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, the result of the agreement is a formal, full-fledged apartheid regime.”

Some of us from Parliament went on a recent visit—not so recent now, it was actually in November. I have to say that I was impressed by those on both sides who were working together for solutions and peace. For example, there were the heroic doctors working in the underresourced Palestinian hospital in Jerusalem. There was the courage of relief and grass-roots support agencies, many of which are now banned organisations—and many of them actually Israeli—which were also working for peace. I pay tribute to all of them for the work that they do and the risks they take with their own well-being and that of their families. There was the determination of a family in the Hebron hills living in a cave, their previous homes having been demolished so many times that they believed that that was the only way they could remain living in their current home.

But in spite of this, a massive expansion of settlements is planned, even though there is increased settler violence, which we were told has certainly been ignored by the authorities. In the Observer on Sunday there was an article about an olive farmer. It was headlined:

“They ransack our village for sport.”

That is one farmer’s story of settler violence. Palestinian homes have been demolished and when we were there a primary school funded by foreign aid was demolished to accommodate the settlers’ demands for more land. There is a huge sense of injustice as families have who lived there for generations are evicted to give more land to incoming settlers who rampage their villages.

I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that hope is very much lacking at present, certainly in the Occupied Territories. I hope that we here can promote action by our own Government that can work to support change. Humanitarian support and medical supplies are urgently needed. Funding for the relief agencies and grass-roots organisations which deliver the aid and support is also needed. I hope that the example of Simon Schama and Margaret Hodge will mean that supporters of Israel who want to see it prosper will see that what is being done at the moment is counter to that. The noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, talked earlier about the work that goes on in Jerusalem. I know much good work of this kind that goes on, but it is ruined when we get the provocative statements and the ambitions, particularly of the Ministers, Gvir and Smotrich.

As I said, I hope that the Government will lead diplomatic pressure where violations of human rights and international law are taking place on both sides and that we can, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, find some leader to reinitiate the peace process and work for a just and lasting peace.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 7:53, 7 March 2023

My Lords, it would be quite wrong if this House simply overlooked the worsening security situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories, so my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries is to be congratulated on obtaining this debate.

To those like me who have spent a substantial part of their professional life working for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute and working to give effect to UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was, of course, drafted and sponsored by Britain, and its successor resolutions, these are dispiriting days. There is an Israeli Government who have turned their back on that solution, a Palestinian Authority which has no new contribution to make, activists in Gaza whose sole response to any rise in tension is to fire rockets into Israel, and a slide, once again, towards violence right across the region in both Israel and the Occupied Territories.

It is easy to despair, but the hard fact is that there will be no stability and security in that region on the present basis—no number of Abraham accords, no amount of crackdowns by Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories, no expansion of illegal settlements will bring that security and stability about.

What should Britain with its historic responsibilities for the state of the region be doing in these unpromising circumstances? Faced with Israeli intransigence to even talking about a two-state solution, we should make it clear that we will legitimise nothing less than that. We should do so by recognising a Palestinian state. Plenty of others have already done so.

Our policy of endless prevarication over recognition is a bankrupt one. It was defensible while negotiations were under way—and I myself defended it for many long years—but no longer even faintly credible. Will that bring about a solution? Of course not. But it would show that we will not be a party to any abdication of responsibility for the present drift toward tit-for-tat violence and a rejection of international law.

In addition, I hope we really will sustain our humanitarian support for UNRWA and for the suffering people in the Occupied Territories and Gaza. Allowing cuts in our aid programme to fall on them would be both shameful and counterproductive, and I hope the Minister can give us the latest FCDO commitments on those programmes which have been so important over the years.

We should engage at every level with the Government of Israel and with its people to demonstrate that we continue to value their state and their democracy, however much we may disagree with some of their present policies. That is no easy path to tread, but it is still worth while in my view.

Photo of Lord Stone of Blackheath Lord Stone of Blackheath Non-affiliated 7:56, 7 March 2023

My Lords, all these problems in the Middle East are my fault. In 1967, I was a volunteer in the Six Day War, so I started all this mess. However, in the following decades, I have been trying to help make peace. At Marks & Spencer, we encouraged Israeli manufacturers to work with Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese companies and become partners with one another. With the help of Tony Blair, I got Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco to buy homegrown foods and textiles from the West Bank and Gaza to help them to grow. But those and many other projects did not create peace either, so I am still to blame.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, will the UK Government recognise the state of Palestine? This would then mean that rather than a recognised state—Israel—trying to negotiate with a disparate people, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, you would have two states negotiating about their borders and citizenship et cetera, and it would make it more fair and viable. It could change everything if our country, that issued the Balfour Declaration and was a mandate authority, would agree to extend recognition to a Palestinian state.

Secondly, will the UK make good on its commitment as the first country on earth to endorse the concept of creating an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, which can engage a new generation, at scale, in the project of peacebuilding rather than allowing them to fall into their current despair and enmity, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, described?

Thirdly, will the UK signal its strong opposition to any legislation that taxes, chills or delegitimises the work of Israeli-Palestinian civil society, which this Israeli Government are threatening to do? Also, in May at the G7 leaders’ communique in Japan, let us please push for language that clearly shows to the governing authorities in the region that civil society is a “red line” for the international community.

Finally, I suggest that the Minister meets John Lyndon of the Alliance for Middle East Peace—ALLMEP—who is doing great work in the field; Gershon Baskin, who has been talking with both sides for decades, and Tony Klug, who has written many wise briefs on how to resolve these issues.

I close by mentioning the late Rabbi David Geffen, who died this weekend and was the founder of Loving Classroom, a project that is teaching children in Arabic, Hebrew and English in schools across the world to love, respect and befriend children on all sides. Can we support this project by adopting Loving Classroom in all schools in the UK, where it is already making a difference in several schools?

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative 7:59, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I refer the House to my non-financial registered interest as president of Conservative Friends of Israel. I also pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for obtaining this debate. I recall the wonderful work he did as chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews.

I am concerned about comments in a recent letter from the Foreign Secretary effectively boycotting an Israeli Minister. It is not about whether one agrees with Minister Ben-Gvir. We work with all elected Israeli politicians, and we must be very careful not to go down a route of suggesting that our support for Israel is somehow conditional on any individual politician.

Could we be holding Israel to a different standard from other countries? It seems that we are fine working with Prime Minister Meloni’s extreme right-wing Italian Government and with some kleptocracies and dictatorships, but working with elected officials who could be tried and found guilty in democratic Israel is somehow not fine.

No one wants an escalation of the recent troubles. The discussions in Aqaba that have been mentioned were important, and the comments by the Israeli Finance Minister have been universally condemned, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Herzog, who stated that the idea of Israeli citizens taking the law into their own hands, rioting and committing violence against innocent people, is wrong. It will always be wrong.

The question posed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is about building a lasting peace between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. He spoke eloquently, looking for hope. There is a peace train that has left the station and is making its way across the region. The Abraham Accords train has visited Manama in Bahrain. It has travelled through Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE and meandered through the hills of Jerusalem in Israel. It has reached Rabat in Morocco, and the journey has continued to Khartoum in Sudan. It is possible that the train is making its way to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

I urge my noble friend the Minister to ensure that His Majesty’s Government will join the Negev Forum for regional co-operation, as has been suggested by my friend the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, who I met only last Friday. Can my noble friend tell me what we are doing to get that train to visit Ramallah? What are the Government doing to ensure that the Palestinians purchase a ticket to join this remarkable and exciting initiative? For the sake of all peoples in the region, and especially for their own children, the Palestinians must not miss the train and should be urged to get on board.

Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour 8:03, 7 March 2023

My Lords, like others I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for procuring this debate and for the way he phrased the topic.

Does the Minister agree that the recent upsurge in violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories is a tragic reminder to us all of the need for a political process leading to a two-state solution? A further complicating factor now is the election in the only real democracy in the region, Israel, of the most right-wing and nationalist Government in its history.

Does he agree that there are barriers to peace outside the control of Israel or the Palestinians? First and foremost is Iran, a state sponsor, supplier and facilitator of terrorism, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and cells in the West Bank. I know that my next question was discussed at the end of the Report debate on the Bill earlier this evening, but I will ask it again because it is far too important not to repeat it and repeat it again: when will the IRGC, the armed wing of Iran’s terrorism, be proscribed in the United Kingdom?

Given the UK’s deep and historic ties in the Middle East, it is disappointing that it was not even at the table in 2020 in negotiations on the normalisation of relations between Israel and four Arab states. What plans do the Government have, if any, to support further normalisation between Israel and the Arab world? Lastly, when will the UK contribute to the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace and follow up its very warm words of support for the fund with a concrete contribution?

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 8:05, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I also thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for this timely debate. For 45 years I have been a friend of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people—an expression I much prefer to “Jewish state”. It is a long story as to why I first connected with the country. Suffice it to say that it started by chance, as I am not Jewish and have no family connection to Israel. I found myself celebrating Purim in a kibbutz in March 1978. I have just looked it up on Wikipedia; it was 22 and 23 March 1978.

What attracted me and kept me engaged were the values of the State of Israel and its right, which I very strongly support, not only to exist but to exist in security, without its neighbours and others wishing and trying to wipe it off the map—so I have ended up as a vice-president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. There is certainly inequality and discrimination within Israel against the Arab minority, but it is emphatically not an apartheid state. Israel is entitled to take military action by the IDF to defend itself and its citizens from attack and, although there have been excesses and wrongdoing by the IDF, the motivation for its action is qualitatively different from the terrorist attacks on civilians by Palestinian militants and the glorification of terror, including by the Palestinian Authority.

I am a friend of Israel but I am no friend of the present Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu. I never have been, because I am a liberal and he is increasingly like Trump, as shown by the attempts to ram through highly controversial and self-serving changes to the courts. With an undemocratic and corrupt Palestinian Authority, both Israelis and Palestinians are very badly served at present. The present coalition Government Mr Netanyahu leads go way beyond even the tolerable, containing far-right extremists and racists, and they are perpetrating or being apologists for some utterly disgraceful actions and rhetoric about Palestinians and Arab Israelis. The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel are appalled at the violent attacks by settlers on Palestinians in Hawara, and indeed any settler violence.

Israelis opposed to this far-right Government give me hope about rescuing the soul of their country, with thousands of protesters on the street every week. Prominent among them are members of the Liberal Democrats’ sister party, Yesh Atid, but people from all sections of Israeli society are taking part.

I first said almost 20 years ago that I believed that illegal settlements and being an occupying power were poisoning and politically corrupting Israel, as well as oppressing Palestinians. My visits to Israel and the West Bank last autumn confirmed my view, but even recognition of a Palestinian state does not obviate the need for negotiations. The route to peace and any hope of two states has to lie partly through economic and cultural co-operation and engagement, which is why I fervently oppose any boycott of Israel.

I support the Abraham Accords and was glad to join the call, which others have mentioned this evening, for the UK Government to work with partners to create an international fund for peace for Israelis and Palestinians. The national question between Jews and Palestinians is still just about solvable. I hope the Minister can give us hope of a solution.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 8:09, 7 March 2023

My Lords, my noble and right reverend friend and I shared experience of the Middle East when we were both board members of Christian Aid. I am delighted to join him again in this debate and congratulate him on bringing up once again a very difficult subject.

I have previously spoken about humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza, but this time I have chosen music. My wife chairs a charity that helps young Palestinian musicians, called PalMusic. Music provides a vital part in keeping hope and joy alive, even during these adverse conditions—first, by ensuring that the unique culture of Palestine continues to thrive; secondly, by giving young people the satisfaction of learning and acquiring other skills, such as working in teams and showing leadership; and thirdly, and not least, by bringing happiness to the community, not only to the young musicians but to others through their music. I have heard wonderful examples of this music.

This is the 10th anniversary of PalMusic, which was set up to support the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Ramallah. The conservatory was built around the vision of having a creative musical culture in every Palestinian home. Highlights have included a six-week UK tour by the Palestine Youth Orchestra; a long-distance learning programme for teachers and students; online concerts throughout the pandemic; and bursaries for musicians to attend degree courses in the UK. However, the difficulties of running a music school in an occupied territory are ever present and growing. For example, Israel has now made it nearly impossible for Palestinian institutions to secure visas for visiting teaching staff. The Israeli Government will have to think again.

We in the UK have a historic responsibility to find a political solution—and it is not the “peace train” that we have heard about this evening. We all need to work much harder to support Palestinian life and to end the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Photo of Lord Shinkwin Lord Shinkwin Conservative 8:12, 7 March 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, and I too thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for securing this important debate. Regardless of one’s perspective on the causes of this seemingly endless conflict, I find it impossible not to agree with the noble and right reverend Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the current spiral of destruction is enough to make anyone who longs for peace in that region despair. For those who value every human life and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, are also committed to defending the integrity and security of Israel, the tragedy is compounded by growing anxiety—as others have said—that the extremism of a disproportionately powerful element in the new Government is both destabilising and potentially self-destructive of the Israeli dream.

Earlier today, I googled one word: “Israel”. What came up filled me with dismay: “Israel’s elite fighter pilots escalate judicial reform protest”; “Huwara attacked by settlers during Purim”; “Israeli attack wounds citizens as settlers and soldiers dance”. I am commenting not on the individual stories but on the direction of travel. It is the wrong direction—wrong for Israel and wrong for the world. At a time when Iran poses an existential threat to its very existence and, indeed, to world peace, we need Israel as never before to be united and strong, not weakened by extremism, whether on settlements or so-called “reforms” to the judiciary. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can help Israel to understand that it is too important a partner to be consumed by internal strife when its strategic leadership is so needed.

Photo of Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Labour 8:15, 7 March 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, once again and I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, on securing this debate at a very important time. When I heard his reflections on 1962, I thought, “Is it really 30 years since I was not just at university with the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, attending lectures by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, but since I took my first trip to Israel?”

You could say that I travelled there when the state was at the apex of hope. We visited just as the Oslo Accords were becoming public, and I saw as a very young student what leadership and statecraft could do. They nearly found peace with a two-state solution. Thirty years later, when we see escalating violence, 14 fatal attacks, increasing violent rhetoric, and both sides escalating the threat of more violence, perhaps we are now, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, suggested, at the nadir of hope for Israel.

Almost every attack is obviously a personal tragedy for the families who have lost loved ones or have seen loved ones injured. They also represent a national tragedy for the State of Israel. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Polak, who alluded to this. It is a tragedy because, amidst the violence, Israel is potentially entering the most exciting stage in its history. Perhaps that is where we can try to find hope. As a new generation of Arab leaders no longer regards Israel as an enemy, and as those Arab leaders seek partnership and co-operation and mutual support in the economic growth of the region, surely it is the role of leadership and statecraft to nurture that kind of behaviour.

The Abraham Accords, as noble Lords have said, are in their infancy. They are fragile and delicate. That is why the escalating violence is such a threat. Of course Israel is right to stand up to domestic terrorism; every state has to protect its people. Ultimately, however, as a friend of Israel, when I look around and see friends demonstrating for peace—not just in Israel but around the world—we know that statecraft and leadership are the only way we are going to find peace. Does the Minister still believe in a two-state solution? What statecraft and leadership will he show to try to encourage our friends in Israel and Palestine to de-escalate the violence?

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:18, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I too thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for getting this debate on to the Order Paper and, in particular, for listing the horrific incidents, on both sides, which set the whole debate in context. I must declare my interest as President of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I do not need to say that it is unpaid, because obviously it is.

Yesterday, as has been said, was the Jewish festival of Purim, just out by an hour or so today. This is the story of a Hebrew woman in Persia—Esther—who thwarts the genocide of her people. It is stories like this and, more recently, the 800,000 Jews who fled Arab lands, and the horrors of the Holocaust, which are part of the Israel psyche today of “never again”.

Having said that, I want to make it clear that I am, like many Israelis, appalled at the violent attacks by settlers on Palestinians in Hawara. These actions go against Jewish values—and I speak as a Jew—teachings and the founding principles of the State of Israel. It is not all one-sided. There have been significant Israeli casualties of Palestinian terrorism in 2022 and 2023, including the two young Israeli men, referred to by earlier speakers, murdered just before the Hawara riots. Sadly, violence begets violence. The violence has to cease.

The UK Government must make it clear to the Palestinian Authority and the current Israeli Government that we expect an urgent de-escalation, which requires the PA and the Israeli Government to take strong action against any perpetrators of violence. The UK, through the Minister, should offer itself as an unbiased interlocutor for the peace talks. We are still the unbiased interlocutor, which the US is no longer. We should support the establishment of an international fund for peace, as outlined by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stone.

We must not lose sight of the fact that Israel is a democratic state, for Jew and non- Jew, where there is a free media and plenty—plenty—of internal critics who are against the current Government. Democracy does not always present a desirable outcome, but it does mean that the Government can and should take account of internal criticism, unlike the situation in the West Bank. The President of the Palestinian Authority has not faced an election for many, many years. My feeling, and the feeling in Israel and in the territories, is that President Abbas does not have support on the Palestinian street. If he does not, I have a question for the Minister and the Government. I personally am in favour of the creation of a Palestinian state, but will the Minister say how, in practical terms, the Government could see that happening when one side does not have the support of its people?

My noble friend Lady Janke gave the example of Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. The important thing to me is that, in Israel, you can have a paper criticising the Government.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, called for hope and for a two-state solution. I join him in that wish.

Photo of Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Conservative 8:23, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for bringing this important debate before your Lordships’ House. I refer to my entry in the register of interests as I recently joined a field trip with Medical Aid for Palestinians in the West Bank during the February Recess, and to previous entries where I joined similar trips with Conservative Friends of Israel.

In the two minutes that I was originally allowed, I wanted to focus very much on our responsibility as an honest, and sometimes critical, friend to Israel. That is not in any way to distance myself from the remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, has just made about the failures of the Palestinian Authority, which I endorse. I am a friend of Israel who wants the UK to continue its strong relations with that country, and who absolutely supports its right to exist and its continuing security. As we have already heard, we must never forget the memory within Israel of the obsession of some with removing it from the map.

I have often spoken in those terms in this House before, and my shared Scottish kinship with Lord Balfour makes me reflect very much on the creation of the Israeli state. However, as a friendly nation and ally, it is incumbent upon us, not least because of our historical responsibility, to use our influence to ensure that the Israel that we support is upholding its international obligations, and it is those on which I wish to dwell today.

We must support any talks and communication that try to stop the spiralling acts of violence that we have already seen this year and the rising tension within Israel and the Occupied Territories. However, I ask the Minister that we continue to raise in our discussions with Israel—as part of our commitment to international law, to Articles 55, 56 and 59 of the Geneva convention and to the Oslo accords—our opposition to the building of illegal settlements; our commitment to ensuring that the Palestinian people in areas B and C of the Occupied Territories have full access to education and health services; importantly, that we follow international law; and, as we witnessed did not happen in Huwara, that the IDF is fully empowered, and has the responsibility, to protect all civilians from violent attack or disruption.

It is important as well that we question and seek legal advice as a Government on the recent transfer of responsibilities for settlers from military jurisdiction to Israeli civilian responsibility. How does that square with our own opposition to the annexation of the West Bank in terms of responsibility for those settlements?

To be secure as well as to carry international support, Israel requires critical friends. Can the Minister confirm that we will continue to be one such friend?

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated 8:26, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, on securing this important debate. While I agree with much of what he said—as he said, the situation is bleak and terrible—I am not sure I agree that it is completely hopeless. As we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Turnberg, Lord Polak and Lord Watson, and others, the Abraham accords are a remarkable achievement and a stunning breakthrough that would have been impossible to imagine just before they were announced. They show us that, even in the Middle East, positive change can happen very quickly and we must never give up hope. However bleak things are, the UK’s role must be to encourage negotiation, because that is the only route to a two-state solution and a peaceful and viable end to this terrible conflict.

The protests in Israel, now in their third month with hundreds of thousands taking part, remind us that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where not just protests like these but even the basic traditions of liberal democracy—pluralism, elections, equality and the rule of law—are even conceivable, let alone the very foundations and values of the state itself.

We have seen a terrible rise in violence over the last year, with civilians killed on both sides, starting with four Israeli civilians killed in Beersheba by a Palestinian supporter of ISIS. There have now been 13 fatal attacks by Palestinian terrorists, including seven people killed in a synagogue on Holocaust Memorial Day, one of them just a child. These attacks are not a reaction to the election of this new Government; they began under the previous left/right unity Government, which included for the first time an Israeli Arab party, and, sadly, as we have seen, they have continued under today’s very different Government.

We must be clear that there is never any justification for terrorism. Those responsible are the terrorists themselves. We should be clear that the deaths of any innocent Palestinian civilians in Israel’s counterterror operations are terrible and must be investigated. We must also recognise that there is no equivalence between indiscriminate terror attacks against civilians and attempts to arrest the terrorists responsible.

Ultimately, inflammatory rhetoric and appeals to extremes do nothing to help Palestinians or Israelis; they only entrench divisions and increase the violence. Instead, we need to see a resumption of the political process, however difficult that is, because two states remains the only solution and opinion polls still show that majorities on both sides support that objective. However, I do not agree that a Palestinian state can just be recognised or imposed unilaterally from outside—and it is counterproductive to suggest that it can be, because it suggests to Palestinians that there is a route to statehood which does not involve the hard work of negotiation, compromise and concessions.

The truth is that a Palestinian state will be achieved only through dialogue, negotiation and compromise by Israelis and Palestinians working together. The UK must do all it can to support that, with closer ties to Israel and Palestine, economic development, jobs and prosperity for the Palestinians and support for projects that bring people together on both sides to build trust and create the conditions for negotiations.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative 8:30, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I wish I could echo the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Austin, but sadly I cannot. As we have heard this evening, instead of a more benign security environment in the Middle East, the opposite is true. Today’s environment might more accurately be termed a “new regional disorder”, underwritten by an “arc of instability” in the Middle East with the growing influence of Iran.

The landscape against which the Arab-Israeli conflict is viewed appears increasingly volatile and turbulent, contoured by myriad examples of violence and escalating conflicts which, over the past year, are no longer headline news here. No matter their origin, these conflicts can engulf us all, thanks to the pace of a rapidly globalising world. This is dangerous because it takes our eye off the escalation of tension and violence in the region at a time when it should be a top international priority, not one in the foreign policy shadows of the Ukraine conflict.

The multiplicity of new and continuing threats at times appears overwhelming: terrorism, conflict, insurgency. In this bleak and dystopian world, the liberal order, backed by strong, independent legal institutions, which are under question in Israel, and the democratic free-market prescriptions of the Washington consensus, are being challenged as never before—not least where a right-wing coalition with ultranationalists is seated in government against a background of increasing violence and a threat of a further Palestinian intifada.

While the eyes of the world are elsewhere, it is welcome that Israel has altered its settlement programme with a temporary cessation. At the same time, regrettably, more extremists are moving into Gaza and the West Bank, stoking tensions and trouble for the future. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has indicated—if I can put his sentiments into my words—the running sore is festering badly and 2023 is likely to see the contagion erupt again. Against that backcloth, now is the time to step up our involvement, as many noble Lords have said, and seek to clear the political debris from the pathways to the two-state solution which, in my view, is in no way dead. It cannot die; it is the lifeline to peace.

I have only one question to put to the Minister, which is in the context of children. What more can the government do to support the UN’s efforts to help children, who pay the highest price as the violence escalates? Will he agree to increase our support both financially and in terms of qualified personnel to help the impacted children with psychosocial services, starting with the humanitarian family centres across the Gaza Strip, but encompassing all children in the region who have been victims of the horrors of violence?

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:33, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I join others to thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for bringing this debate and for starting in such a measured way. It has been an extremely sombre debate but, as he indicated, we should not see conflict as inevitable. Therefore, we should not lose hope, even though it seems quite a long time ago—it was just a number of months—that I watched all of the address to the UN General Assembly by Yair Lapid, the former Israeli Prime Minister. There was a degree of hope that the Prime Minister then would put on the table again a two-state solution and reopen some of the discussions that this House has called for. However, as my noble friend Lord Palmer indicated, Israel is a democracy and democracies do not always yield the results that you want. As the noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, indicated, some of the members of that new Administration have extreme views.

Equally, over 60 years ago is a very long time for those who have been within Palestine, and I noted that less than 3% of the population of the occupied territory are over 65 years old. There is no living memory of the period to which the noble Lord referred. The median age in that area is 19. None of the population has experienced a democratic election process, so it means that it is quite hard to see the areas where we can start to see practical ways forward.

Five years ago, this Chamber debated the recognition of the occupied Palestinian territories as a state. Since then, the illegal settlements—“a block to peace”, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad—have become worse. Indeed, contrary to commitments from the Israeli Government to pause and slow down settlements, there is the recent decision of nearly 7,000 settlement units and 35 settlement areas to be approved imminently. So that pause is not a pause at all.

If we see this as a block to peace, I would be grateful if the Minister could say what practical steps the UK Government are taking to seek the arrest and removal of such blocks, and the development of road and route infrastructure in the affected zones. I have seen areas which could make the situation worse. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate whether support for that infrastructure will be part of the trade discussions that the Secretary of State is currently engaged in during a visit to Israel at the moment. Is the Secretary of State going to meet Bezalel Smotrich, the Finance Minister, and is it the case that the Government will continue not to engage with the National Security Minister, as has been referred to?

We have to recognise, as did the thread in the speech by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that a viable state of Palestine is in many ways harder to see. But it is not impossible, and a decision may have to be made that we, in effect, recognise a quasi-failed state at its inception. This is not new; we have done this with many other countries. But it does mean that the UK now needs to stop its dramatic cuts for the support of the people of that area. In 2020, funding was £102 million; in 2023-2024, this has been reduced to £6 million. The Business Department funding for economic regeneration in the area has been cut from £25 million to zero. So can the Minister, in his winding up, explain where UK financial support, which could make the prospects of a statehood more viable, will be in place? If the UK plays a role, it must be to make a two-state solution viable in a practical way, and I hope the Minister will be able to give some positive responses today.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 8:38, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Harries, for initiating this debate and for setting the scene, and highlighting the real difficulties that are being faced. I thought it was really important that he stressed the need for hope, because it is not just hope in Palestine and Israel but hope within this House, which will motivate us to pursue the efforts for peace. I support the Government’s efforts and those of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the Minister responsible, who has been working with our international partners, particularly the US, to promote peace in the region and de-escalate tensions. I know that the noble Lord has reinforced that message in his meetings with Israeli Government officials and the Palestinian Authority. Last month’s joint statement by the UK, the US, France, Germany and Italy, in reaction to Israeli plans to expand settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, was a really important move to reflect that sort of strategy.

Of course, that statement strongly opposed these unilateral actions, which will serve only to exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution, which I think the whole House is united behind.

Our efforts should not just be limited to international government actions or negotiations between states. Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be achieved only through direct negotiations between those parties. I echo my noble friend Lord Turnberg and other noble Lords; as the Prime Minister acknowledged, the expansion of the Arab-Israeli peace in the region also provides a valuable route to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is an incredibly important achievement.

Building peace also means improving lives. I do not think we should underestimate the importance of civil society and intercommunity activity. Through most of my working life, I developed very strong relationships with Histadrut, the Israeli trade union movement. That has been very important in how you can build a social movement. Building that sort of peace means backing economic development and supporting people-to-people coexisting projects, which we have heard noble Lords refer to—bringing everyday Israelis and Palestinians together.

I was particularly pleased that, at the end of last year, the Prime Minister committed to explore the US joining the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, an effort that actually has cross-party support—support from the leader of the Labour Party, as well as the Prime Minister. Like my noble friend Lady Ramsay, I hope the Minister can tell us what progress has been made in backing that fund, particularly with the US. It is five years since the UK officially supported and endorsed the concept; I think it is about time we heard some positive news on it.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 8:42, 7 March 2023

My Lords, I start by thanking my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries for tabling this debate and highlighting these important issues. My noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Minister for the Middle East, is currently travelling, so I am standing in for him. I thank all noble Lords for their insightful contributions and will try to respond to all the points raised, although so many have been raised that I think that is a long shot.

Too many lives have been lost to violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and we need to accelerate progress towards peace. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the UK’s position on the Middle East process is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital.

To respond to questions by a number of speakers, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Stone and Lord Palmer, we will recognise a Palestinian state when it best serves the prospects of peace. I want to indicate my agreement very strongly with the point of the noble Lord, Lord Austin, that the journey towards those circumstances is a long and complicated one, and requires hard work on the part of Palestinians.

The security situation remains fragile. Last year, large numbers of Palestinians and Israelis were killed by acts of violence, and this year has started the same way, with further violence and instability. The UK is working intensely with all parties and international partners to end this deadly cycle. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, noted, my noble friend Lord Ahmad visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in January to take this work forward, meeting Israeli and Palestinian counterparts.

We were all appalled by the recent terror attacks near Jerusalem that have been mentioned by almost everyone who has spoken today, not least the noble Lords, Lord Austin and Lord Watson, but others as well. We condemn these attacks in the strongest terms possible and stand with Israel in the face of terrorism and violence. Our thoughts remain with the victims and their families. Similarly, we condemn recent indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza towards civilian populations. Any attacks targeted against civilians are unlawful, unjustifiable and utterly repugnant.

We are also concerned by the high number of Palestinian civilians who have been killed and injured. It should go without saying that Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself. However, it is also important that Israeli forces exercise maximum restraint, especially in the use of live fire, when protecting its legitimate security interest. We have watched with concern the numbers of people killed during incursions by Israeli security forces into places such as Jenin, Jericho and Nablus. When there are accusations of excessive use of force, we advocate swift and transparent investigations. We also strongly condemn indiscriminate violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Janke—including the destruction of homes and properties. I strongly share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that those responsible must face full accountability and legal prosecution.

As we approach the religious festivals of Ramadan, Easter and Passover next month, it is important to underline our support for the historic status quo at the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Sadly, there is a high risk of violence breaking out during this period. During his visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories at the beginning of the year, my noble friend Lord Ahmad visited Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount site. He emphasised the UK’s unwavering commitment to freedom of religion and belief and to ensuring the safety of all who visit and worship there. We value the Jordanian Hashemite royal family’s important role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

The UK Government are asking all parties to take urgent measures to reduce tensions and de-escalate the situation. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, over the weekend the UK joined France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain to express our grave concern in the face of continuing, growing violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Speaking for the Jerusalem Foundation UK, my noble friend Lord Leigh emphasised his abhorrence both at Palestinian schools being named after terrorists and that an Israeli Minister called for the wipe-out of the Palestinian village of Huwara. My noble friend pointed out, and it is worth reiterating, that the remarks were rightly condemned by the head of the IDF and others in Israel. The UK has always firmly opposed any incitement to violence. We are engaging closely with international partners to end the deadly cycle of violence. We will carry on talking with the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to support co-operation, stability and economic development for the benefit of both parties.

My noble friend Lord Polak asked about the FCDO’s engagement with the Abraham Accords. The UK fully supports the Abraham Accords. We see the treaty as a unique opportunity to enhance the peace process and raise the prospects of peace right across the Middle East. I think my noble friend described it as “the only game in town”. It certainly is enormously important. I reassure him that, since its inception, the Israel bilateral team in the Foreign Office has been fully engaged in supporting the process. As we mentioned before the debate began, the lead official in charge had changed in January, but the seat that he had occupied was never left empty.

My noble friend Lord Polak also makes a point about the importance of not applying different standards to Israel, as compared with other countries. That is something that happens frequently, and we need to guard against it. But I reassure him and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who asked a similar question, that there is no boycott of any Ministers. That is not something that is being pursued by the UK. As my noble friend Lord Polak said, we will speak to Ministers from Administrations across the world, and agreeing with everything a Minister says or believes is not a prerequisite or a condition that we apply.

Since the beginning of the year, the Foreign Secretary and my noble friend Lord Ahmad have spoken to many influential international partners who, like us, have a stake in calming the situation. That includes US Secretary of State Blinken, Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Safadi. We are bringing together countries across the world to help co-ordinate our efforts and maximise success.

The UK’s direct efforts take many forms: we help to improve Palestinian security through the work of the British support team in Ramallah, and our diplomatic teams in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are active on the ground, speaking to and working with their hosts. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, the Government absolutely recognise the value of Israel’s Arab population in the peace process, and I note the opinion poll of Israeli Arabs that my noble friend Lord Leigh mentioned.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stone, highlighted, civil society organisations play an important role. I assure him and other noble Lords that the UK Government are firmly of the view that these organisations must be able to operate freely in the OPTs. We are also a strong supporter of UNRWA, which provides vital services to those in need.

The noble Lord, Lord Stone, also mentioned the US Middle East Partnership for Peace Act. UK officials remain in close contact with the US Government about how existing peacebuilding projects and funding can better support the goals of the Act, and we stand ready to collaborate and co-ordinate further, including regarding the Act’s advisory board, as additional information about its plans and priorities becomes available.

But of course the UK cannot solve this problem by itself. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, mentioned UNRWA, which I have commented on. The UK voted to renew its mandate last year and remains a proud supporter of the agency, which provides essential humanitarian support to Palestinian refugees across the region. Although the seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy forced us to take tough decisions in relations to ODA, the UK remains a long-standing supporter of UNRWA and values its importance as a vital humanitarian and stabilising force in the region.

I cannot provide an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, so I am afraid I will give the same answer that I have given so many times in so many debates: future allocations will be set out on the FCDO development tracker very soon, I hope.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, asked about the IRGC and whether—

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As I said, I am afraid I cannot give information about ongoing or future funding.

The noble Baroness asked whether we would proscribe the IRGC. The list of proscribed terrorist organisations is always under review. We do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription. However, we have taken clear action in response to the malign behaviour of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including sanctioning the organisation in its entirety.

A number of speakers have made the point that a spark of hope has come from the recent meeting in Aqaba, where both Israelis and Palestinians affirmed reciprocal commitments. The meeting is the first in many years and an expression of intent on both sides to engage constructively to de-escalate tensions. We urge all parties to refrain from jeopardising this fragile process, as some have attempted to do, and we call on all parties to make good on the commitments made in Aqaba.

In answer to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, the Foreign Secretary spoke to his counterparts today and asked Israel to live up to its commitments in Aqaba. We look to the Palestinian Authority to resume full security co-operation with Israel as a matter of urgency and to renounce and confront terror. We urge the Government of Israel to cease and to rethink its policies on settlements, evictions and demolitions with immediate effect, a point made by almost everyone speaking today. As we said on 14 February and, most recently, on 4 March, we strongly oppose these unilateral steps; not only are they contrary to international law but, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer said, they undermine the prospects for peace.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that the UK will continue to oppose all actions that make peace harder to achieve, whether taken by the Palestinian or the Israeli side. The Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate through both word and deed a genuine commitment to peace and security and agree a two-state solution. That is the only way to end the conflict, preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, eliminate the existential threat that Israel has faced at all times, and to realise Palestinian national aspirations.

My noble friend Lord Shinkwin is right to point to the almost unique importance of a strong and balanced Israel, and the noble Lord, Lord Austin, is right to point to the protest in Israel as evidence, if evidence were needed, that Israel is the only country in the region where it is possible to disagree with the state of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made the point that so many Palestinians have never experienced an election.

To conclude, a just and lasting resolution, one that ends the occupation and delivers peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, is long overdue. It is possible to restore stability and to secure peace, but that requires efforts from all sides. The UK stands ready to support them. I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, once again, for tabling the debate and all noble Lords for their contributions.