Israel and Palestine - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:17 am on 29 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 11:17, 29 February 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Prime Minister of Israel ruling out a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we support a two-state solution. As I said only the other day, that guarantees security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians. Our position has not changed. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was clear in his recent call with Prime Minister Netanyahu that a viable two-state solution is the best means to achieve lasting peace. With our allies, we must provide the practical and enduring support to bolster the Palestinian Authority, and the PA itself must take much-needed steps to reform. Importantly, Israel must act to release frozen funds, halt settlement expansion and hold those responsible for settler violence accountable.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, although many of us join the Government in long backing a two-state solution, how realistic is this now, when Prime Minister Netanyahu has firmly ruled it out, Gaza has been reduced to rubble and Israel is expanding its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, to over three-quarters of a million settlers? What alternative is Israel offering if not permanent siege and oppressed status for the Palestinians? Should we not be considering other options—perhaps a negotiated confederal state, with security and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord said, and this is not the first time I have heard suggested alternatives. Given the current situation and the crisis that has gripped the Middle East, from the abhorrent events of 7 October to the tragedy of the ongoing conflict itself—and, of course, given the rights of the Palestinians—it is clear that we must seize the moment. In my career as a Foreign Office Minister, this is perhaps the first time we have seen not just one country or two standing up, or just me standing up at the Dispatch Box, but real live diplomacy and activity. That is not just between the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Americans, us and the Europeans; the region itself is seized by this moment. Through the tragedy of every life lost in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank—every Israeli and every Palestinian life lost—the strongest legacy we can provide is a viable vision and a two-state solution.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, between 2015 and 2019, the United Kingdom ran a very worthy Middle East peace process programme. It was led by the Foreign Office and supported by the MoD and the then Department for International Development. Will my noble friend the Minister tell us whether there are any plans to revive elements of that programme? Would he be prepared to meet me to discuss this further?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On the second question from my noble friend, I am always delighted to meet her and gain from her insights. We are aware of the different programmes. Currently, we are working with key partners on the five points that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has outlined, but I will be pleased to meet her to see how, as these plans develop, component parts of what we already have can also be very much part and parcel of those discussions.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, the Minister gave a very positive response to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, seeming to think that this is a turning point in Israeli-Palestinian relations. However, can he explain to the House how he thinks we are going to get to the point of a two-state solution, given the situation as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hain?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the first thing I would say to the noble Baroness is that you have to be positive; if you are not positive in diplomacy, you might as well pack up your bags and stay at home. That is certainly not something that either I or the Foreign Secretary are doing. We are engaging because this is about the moment, from this tragedy. There are challenges on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, and I have alluded to them already. What is very clear is that this is a moment in time—there is a window and we can shift the dial, and that is where our focus should be.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, Israel’s rejection of a two-state solution comes as no surprise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on record as saying that Palestinians should be treated like their historical enemies, the Amaleks—kill every man, woman, child and infant in the cradle. The Justice Minister says:

“Palestinians are like animals and should be treated as such.”

Does the Minister agree that we should not allow the cruel, genocidal behaviour of the regime in Israel to fan anti-Semitic attitudes toward hard-working and peaceful Jews in this country?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord, and I will tell him why. I know Israel well; it is a country that I have visited. There are many in Israel who, whether or not they are religiously driven from the teachings of the Torah, which I have also studied, recognise the importance of faith providing a solution here. Those with conviction of faith can provide the opportunity to come together and respect each other. This is one Abrahamic family; Jerusalem is the centre to three great faiths. Now is not the time for hate to come forward but for real recognition of tolerance and respect. That is where our focus is. I speak for the British Government, not the Israeli one.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, said that we needed to give hope to the Palestinians. One of the ways of doing this is not to wait until the end of the process to recognise Palestine but to ensure that their voice is heard in those negotiations to seek the solution that my noble friend was talking about. The commitment to a two-state solution, ensuring that both sides are properly represented, is the key to solving the nightmare that we are in at the moment.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I welcome the points that the noble Lord has made. I also recognise the statement from His Majesty’s Official Opposition about the importance of the two-state solution. I am not saying that it is not challenging—of course it is. It is, perhaps arguably, more challenging than not. What is different—I say this quite personally, having looked at it, but also politically—is that everyone is now engaged on this agenda. It is a priority not for one or two countries but for everyone. We recognise, and Israelis recognise, that stability and security for Israelis means stability and security for Palestinians. It means leadership among Israelis and the Palestinians. That is what we are focused on. On the recognition point, my noble friend has outlined a clear pathway to ensure that a political horizon is provided for the Palestinians. As the noble Lord rightly said, we can never, ever give up on hope.

Photo of Lord Sandhurst Lord Sandhurst Conservative

My Lords, the West Bank is not in law part of Israel—

Noble Lords:

Bishop!

Photo of Lord Sandhurst Lord Sandhurst Conservative

I have started my question.

Noble Lords:

Bishop!

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, to solve an argument, perhaps I will proceed with my question, with thanks.

Last year, it was reported that the Government of Israel were considering plans to build a national park on the Mount of Olives. Will the Minister say what assessment has been made of the impact of these proposals on the Christian holy sites in this area and the holy sites of other faith communities? What impact would such a project have on the prospect of Jerusalem as a shared capital for Israeli and Palestinian states?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The right reverend Prelate has illustrated my point. Faith does provide a solution, as we have just seen in practical terms.

In all seriousness, I am aware of those plans. The position is very clear: settlements are illegal, whether they are in east Jerusalem, the West Bank or elsewhere in the Occupied Territories. The United Kingdom’s position is very clear on this. What must prevail is the real sense that Jerusalem itself is a beacon for three important faiths, which is an important opportunity to seize. We need to recognise rights of access, and the reverence attached to that, but, equally, central to that is ensuring security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians, for Arabs, Jews, Christians and Muslims. That is the way in which we will find a solution. Inshallah, that is what we are focused on.

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

As chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation UK, I agree with my noble friend’s last remarks. I point him to the letter in the Financial Times today, which explains that a two-state solution was imposed on Sudan, where there is now the most vicious civil war. Will the Foreign Office, in calling for a two-state solution, now start talking to interested parties about the nature of it—specifically, whether it will be a democracy, whether there will be a military, and whether there will be access to ensure that there are no tunnels? All these issues must be first addressed before calling for a two-state solution.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My noble friend charts a particular process item. That is why my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has been clear that, first and foremost, we must stop the current fighting. That will allow aid to go in and hostages to be released. However, where I disagree with my noble friend is that I think that a two-state solution is the viable option. The rights of people need to be protected and the rights of Palestinians need to be recognised. This is enshrined in international law through the UN Security Council, which of course created the State of Israel. It is important that we work directly with all partners, including Israel and the Palestinians. Democracy is a fundamental objective to ensure that the rights of all citizens—Israelis and Palestinians—are strengthened and protected.