Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people has been compared to the old apartheid regime in South Africa by former Liberal leader David Steel.

Lord Steel of Aikwood accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of continuing to treat Palestinian lives “as inferior to their own”.

Speaking in the House of Lords, the former president of the Anti-Apartheid Movement expressed hope that the recent “slaughter” during protests at the Gaza border would galvanise global opinion just as the Sharpeville Massacre had in South Africa.

The shooting dead by police of 69 unarmed people protesting against apartheid laws in 1960 was seen as a turning point in the nation’s liberation struggle.

Lord Steel was also critical of the international community, including successive British governments, which he argued had allowed Israel “to defy the United Nations and trample on the rights of Palestinians”.

The Liberal Democrat peer made his hard-hitting remarks as he opened a debate in the Lords on the situation in the Palestinian territories.

It followed a meeting between Theresa May and Mr Netanyahu where she raised concerns over the recent deadly border clashes.

The Israeli prime minister insisted the protests were driven by militant group Hamas and the response was aimed at minimising causalities.

Lord Steel told peers: “I don’t know if the Israeli government knows or cares how low they have sunk in world esteem.”

He said the conduct of the current administration was “a clear betrayal” of the basis on which the Lloyd George government had welcomed a state of Israel in 1917.

He pointed out that in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, many white activists were predominantly Jewish.

“They knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led,” said Lord Steel.

He added: “I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza may awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.”

Drawing parallels with the apartheid system of segregation, the peer went on: “On my visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank usable by Israelis only.

“Just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.”

Urging the PM to be “forceful, honest and frank” with Mr Netanyahu, Lord Steel accused her of a “continuing limp response”.

He said: “We cannot allow the Israeli government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own which is what they consistently do.

“That’s why our government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both houses of our Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.”

Former Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram, who sits as the Marquess of Lothian, described himself as a friend of Israel, but added: “We owe our friends our honesty. Over the years, I have often praised Israel and the Israeli people, for whom I have great admiration. But Israeli actions against the Palestinians, which are legally and morally wrong, should be condemned.

“It cannot be morally or legally right to lay claim to parts of someone else’s territory by building settlements on it or by building a wall across it, which effectively creates a new territorial border.”

He added: “Equally, I condemn unprovoked acts of violence by those who oppose Israel,but many of them cannot be in the same category of friendship as Israel is to us. Democratic Israel should know better than what it is doing at the moment.”

Former diplomat and independent crossbencher Lord Hannay of Chiswick said the UK should recognise the state of Palestine and likened current US diplomacy in the region to resembling “the activities of a child with a box of matches wandering around in a storeroom full of cans of petrol”.

Former Labour minister, now independent crossbencher, Lord Warner accused the Israeli military in countering recent demonstrations of behaving “like people auditioning for a Sam Peckinpah film,” adding: “This isn’t Israel defending its homeland. It was an international atrocity that needs to be investigated by the UN.”

Baroness Tonge, a non-affiliated peer, accused the UK Government of standing by “feebly” while “slaughter and dispossession continues” for the Palestinians.

She said ministers were “bleating about a two-state solution” while refusing to recognise the state of Palestine.

Opposition spokesman Lord Collins of Highbury said Gaza had endured a “spiral of violence”, which has “created a toxic cocktail of hopelessness and desperation”.

He insisted a two-state solution was the only way forward and said it was Labour policy if elected to recognise the state of Palestine immediately.

“I wish that the Israeli government would do the same. It would go a long way towards building a two-state solution in the region.”

Lord Collins pressed the UK Government over why it did not recognise Palestine now and when it would do so.

Responding, Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said: “The UK and the Government is committed and remains committed to supporting a negotiated peace settlement, which does lead to that viable sovereign and stable Palestinian state living alongside a safe, secure, prosperous and progressive Israel.