House of Lords debates recognition of Palestine

House of Lords debates recognition of Palestine

B8jNjoLCMAAvay6Peers on the 29 January piled pressure on the Government to recognise the state of Palestine in a bid to boost the middle east peace process.

MPs voted by a majority of 262 in favour of the move voted on in the commons last October in an historic symbolic vote, which is not binding on ministers.

Many Lords welcomed on January 29, the vote as a “contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution” with Israel.

Leading the call, former Liberal leader Lord Steel of Aikwood said the recommendation had already been adopted by the European Parliament and several other parliaments including Sweden, France and Ireland.

He said it would encourage the “voices of moderation” on both side and send a signal that peers welcomed what the elected Commons had already agreed.

Describing himself as a “paid up member of the Friends of Israel,” Lord Steel said the present Israeli administration had been losing friends.

The terror and fear felt by those living in Israeli border towns subject to rocket attack was understandable.

But none of the casualties inflicted justified the Israeli government’s two invasions of the Gaza strip.

He said it was unfortunate that the present government of Israel had continually resisted Arab peace initiatives and continued to build “illegal” settlements on the West Bank.

Tory former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi said: “We were quite right to urge Palestinians to forego violence for diplomatic means.

“And yet when they did we continuously rebuffed them for it. When Palestinians see the reality of a two-state solution diminishing, if not already over, they start to fight for the Palestine they want to exist.”

Lady Warsi said Britain’s lack of support for Palestine at the UN “puts us at odds with our own oft-quoted British values and the rule of law, justice and fairness”.

The Government’s decision to ignore public and parliamentary opinion make “our government complicit and responsible for the ever closing window of a two-state solution becoming a physical reality.

“The desperate attempt by the Palestinians to get a state on paper even if not reality is something we have at least an obligation to recognise.”

Tory former minister Lord Cope of Berkeley, backing the move to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel said it was overdue.

He said recognition by the UK would help towards a settlement because a two-state solution needed two states to negotiate and agree.

“I believe recognition would give Palestinian moderates a real boost and encourage the Israeli moderates to try to get their government to negotiate properly with their neighbours,” Lord Cope said.

But leading QC and independent crossbencher, Lord Pannick opposing the move, warned it would hinder rather than promote a peace settlement.

He said the UK was “in good company” in not recognising a state of Palestine, with countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US, Germany, Denmark and other European nations.

“Sympathetic though we all are to the sufferings of the unfortunate Palestinian people, recognising a state of Palestine at this time would hinder rather than promote a peace settlement.

“It would hinder a peace settlement because what is needed on both sides is to focus attention on the painful compromises that have to be made in bi-lateral negotiations.”

Lord Pannick said that on the Palestinian side instead of the “distraction of grandstanding international gestures,” they needed to accept that the state of Israel was here to stay, stop “demonising Jews” and condemn rocket attacks from Gaza.

Labour’s Baroness Blackstone said recognising the state of Palestine would help persuade young Palestinians to reject violence and give them hope.

Senior Liberal Democrat Baroness Williams of Crosby also backed the move, warning that the two-state solution “is slipping through our fingers as we talk”.

She said a viable Palestine was shrinking by the month because of the steady extension of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Gaza.

“Many of us deeply want to see the survival of Israel. We want to see it as a Jewish state. We want to see it as a guarantor there is no future in anti-semitism.

“But we cannot hope to achieve these things if the state of Palestine is unrecognised, dishonoured, abused and relegated to a lesser marginal role,” Lady Williams said.

Former chief of the defence staff and independent crossbencher Lord Stirrup said: “Of course we should recognise the state of Palestine when that state exists.

“It patently does not exist at the moment so what is the purpose of recognising an unreality?”

Lord Stirrup warned that international recognition of a Palestinian state would make the Israeli government more intransigent and the Palestinian leadership less willing to face the concessions they would have to make for a lasting solution.

Former diplomat and founder of Migration Watch UK Lord Green of Deddington said the peace process had ground to a halt and recognition of Palestine was now needed.

“We can no longer disregard the pressures building up in the Arab and Muslim world with their inevitable implications for our own society. The time for movement on this issue is now,” the independent crossbench peer said.

Labour fertility expert Lord Winston warned that, despite the “horrible” situation of the Palestinian people, recognition would simple make matters worse.

Lord Winston said no-one could tolerate what had happened to the Palestinians and do anything other than “despair at their plight”.

But he said a state had a duty to protect its citizens. Faced with anarchy in the surrounding states, Israel continued to dig its heels in.

“We cannot possibly … give way to the idea of recognising the Palestinian state at this stage because I believe very strongly this would make the situation worse.

“It would justify the continuation of the kind of threats we know,” Lord Winston added.

But independent Lib Dem peer Baroness Tonge said it was insulting to the Palestinians that they could not be called a state, adding: “It’s always the wrong time for Palestine.”

She said the “hypocrisy of the West” with regard to international law had “sowed the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and we are now seeing the consequences.

“The continuing failure to create a state of Palestine and stand up to Israel is causing trouble for us all.”

Lady Tonge said Israel was becoming a “pariah state” and warned that because of its cruelty to Palestinians the general public were conflating the Jewish state of Israel with Jewish people all over Europe with anti-semitism “rearing its ugly head again” as a result.

Tory Lord Gold urged peers to “get real” and accept that far from making progress with the peace process, recognition now would set it back indefinitely.

Independent crossbencher Baroness Deech, also opposing the move, said to recognise Palestine now would simply send the message to “every other non-state entity in the world” to “bypass normal laws and claim to be a state”.

She added: “A two-state solution by all means if the Palestinians will create a homeland, accept the refugees, lay down their arms and be a country of peace.”

For Labour, Baroness Morgan of Ely backed the principle of recognition of the state of Palestine after decades of turmoil.

She said a two-state solution had been the UK’s stated policy for decades.

Labour fully supported two states living side by side in peace and the need for this to be recognised by all their neighbours.

The conflict would only be resolved ultimately by both sides engaging in a negotiated peace process.

“The tragedy is that today there is not only no peace but also no process,” she said.

“Labour believes that statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given but a right to be recognised.”

Lady Morgan said Labour had supported Palestinian recognition since 2011 but the timing and mechanism by which it could take place would be a matter to be decided by an incoming Labour government.

For the Government, Lord Wallace of Saltaire said the UK was committed to recognising a Palestinian state but judged that now was not the right time.

Lord Wallace said Israel was currently losing the battle for public opinion in Britain and Europe.

The status quo was not sustainable. Britain remained firmly committed to a two-state solution and believed negotiations were the best way forward.

He urged the leaders of both Palestine and Israel to resume serious talks and show bold leadership to reach a final deal.

“The UK is committed to recognising a Palestinian state and we are moving towards the recognition of a Palestinian state.

“We don’t judge that now is the right moment to give that recognition. But we are waiting for the point at which we consider with others, our colleagues and allies, that it has become appropriate.”

Lord Wallace stressed that only negotiations would lead to a final settlement.

The motion taking note of the Commons vote was agreed by peers but is purely symbolic and not binding on the Government.

read more: