Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:17 pm on 5 March 2024.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 5:17, 5 March 2024

My Lords, after the Hamas terror of 7 October and the Netanyahu Gaza horror since, I will speak frankly as a former UK Middle East Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

First, Israel is not going to destroy Hamas, as its leaders promise—not even by destroying Gaza. Although Israel has seriously damaged Hamas militarily, it is a movement and an ideology that, in many respects, Israel helped promote. Its right-wing Governments thwarted serious negotiations with Yasser Arafat’s more moderate Fatah after Bill Clinton’s Camp David summit in 2000. They also oppressed Gaza residents, imposing a state of siege. Surely, after Israeli bombing kills their relatives and destroys their schools and communities, Gaza teenagers will resist even more, and be recruited even more easily by Hamas and jihadism. As Britain’s troubled history in Northern Ireland vividly demonstrates, if politics does not work, violence and extremism always fill the vacuum.

Remember also that British Governments refused for decades to negotiate with the IRA because of its terrorist outrages. When they finally did so, the 1998 Good Friday agreement happened, supported by a US President, a UK Prime Minister, a UK Foreign Secretary and an EU President.

The notion, also peddled by leaders of the global North, that only negotiations with a discredited West Bank Palestinian leadership can be countenanced will not work. Nor will Netanyahu’s recently reported plan for Gaza to be run by Israeli-approved administrators without links to either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. There is a salutary history of trying and failing to promote favoured candidates on peoples who are demanding self-determination to choose their own. Like it or not, Hamas will have to be included in some way, as indeed they are now in the Egypt-based negotiations.

In the end, the solution has to be political. Palestinians of whatever political stripe cannot defeat Israel militarily; nor can Israel defeat Palestinians militarily. As Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, wrote compellingly in his book, Talking to Terrorists, such conflicts can be resolved only by negotiation. By the way, Arafat had previously been labelled a terrorist with whom Israel would never deal, as also had Nelson Mandela by apartheid’s rulers.

Yet Israel’s right-wing leaders have been hell-bent on turning Palestinian territories into occupied dependencies. The West Bank—small islands of which are nominally administered by Fatah but in practice controlled by Israel—now contains half a million Israeli settlers, and east Jerusalem nearly a quarter of a million. UK Ministers wring their hands, pointing out that such settlements are illegal—but do nothing.

Where has all this got Israel? It is not more but less secure, as the 7 October pogrom palpably demonstrated. Yet the flat rejection of a two-state solution by Netanyahu means permanent Israeli domination, with escalating violence and regional instability. I suggest to the Foreign Secretary that, beyond the current talks, he supports a regional summit involving Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and, yes, Iran too, along with Jordan, Qatar and the UAE. There will be no stability in the region unless all parties are included.

Many in the global South are contemptuous of what they see as profound double standards by global North leaders, including the UK, who quite rightly want backing for Ukrainian self-determination but are complicit in the denial of Palestinian self-determination and culpable in the Gaza horror. The geopolitical breach with the global South is deepening and will cost Washington, London and Brussels dearly in an increasingly turbulent world. Meanwhile, I remain a friend to both Israelis and Palestinians. That is no sell-out of either, but a recognition that they share a future together or they share no future at all worth having.