Speech – Israel and Palestine Westminster Hall Debate

Posted on 14th June, 2021

While, unfortunately, I was not called to speak in the Israel/ Palestine debate earlier today, the following is a copy of the speech I had prepared:


I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members’ interests.


The stance of the United Kingdom Government on the question of Palestine is clear, and has been for many years.


It  is that the UK  wants to see the creation of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security, side-by-side with Israel.


Most Honourable Members would agree, I think, that that is a laudable aim; and the two-state solution is the one that is most favoured by the international community.


The ambition to see a sovereign Palestinian state necessarily implies that at some stage the United Kingdom Government will take the step of recognising that sovereignty.


The Government says that it will do so when the time is right, which begs the question: when will that be?


Recognition of Palestinian statehood is a process that is well advanced internationally.


139 members of the United Nations have recognised Palestine, including such  European countries as Romania, Hungary, Poland and Sweden.


And, indeed, in October 2014, this House voted in favour of the recognition of the state of Palestine, alongside the state of Israel.


The Government did not act upon that vote and has not yet indicated when it will do so.


In response to a written question last year, the Government observed that:


“Bilateral recognition in itself cannot end the occupation. Without a negotiated settlement of the occupation and the problems that come with it will continue.”


That, of course, is entirely true.


The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has continued for over half a century, and the problems associated with that occupation are too numerous to relate.


We have seen more than a few of them over the last few weeks.


So, as the Government quite rightly says, a negotiated settlement is called for.


However, any such negotiation is unlikely to be successful if it is one that is conducted between unequal parties, as is the case at the moment.


Since the six day war of 1967, Israel has pursued an active policy of settlement of areas of the West Bank.


The present position is that over 200,000 Israeli settlers live on the West Bank and their presence is continuing to grow.


The most recent instance of Israeli expansion into the Occupied Territories is, of course, Shaikh Jarrah, which was part of the sequence of events that triggered the violence that is the subject of the current ceasefire.


I do not propose to analyse the causes of the violence further, save to say that the significant loss of life, particularly among civilians and children, and the enormous damage to property are yet another distressing manifestation of the troubles  that have afflicted the Holy Land throughout the lifetimes of everyone present in this chamber today.


Of course, Israel has the absolute right to defend itself against terrorist attack; nobody would question that.


But, equally, Palestinians have the right to live their lives without fear, and in a country that is truly their own,  not subject to the presence of an occupying power with which they are expected to negotiate from a position of inferiority.


Any such expectation is illusory.


Mr Chairman, the United Kingdom has a particularly important role to play in the search for peace in Palestine.


It is the UK which – arguably more than any other country – is responsible for the current political architecture of the Middle East.


It was the United Kingdom that issued the Balfour declaration that ultimately led to the creation of the state of Israel.


That declaration, it must be remembered, came with the important caveat:


that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.


The United Kingdom consequently has a continuing, undischarged debt to the people of Palestine; and it should seek to discharge it now.


The United Kingdom is an important country; it has great influence across the world, not least as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.


Recognition of the state of Palestine by a country such as the UK would be an important political moment internationally.


It would signal that a major western power was determined to do everything possible to push the peace process forward; and it would be impossible for any party to ignore it.


The Government has said that the UK will recognise a Palestinian state when it best serves the objective of peace.


The fact that it has not yet done so tends to indicate that the Government does not think that recognition at this time would serve that objective.


But, given the dreadful events of the last few weeks, it is perfectly clear that not giving such recognition isn’t serving that objective either.


So what I would like to hear from the minister today is: what are the conditions under which the Government will regard it as appropriate to recognise Palestine?


And when does he think, if the current state of affairs continues, those conditions will be satisfied?


Will we ever arrive at that point?


My suspicion is that, unless the international community makes it absolutely clear that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian lands, its continued expansion of the settlement programme and the continued mutual infliction of violence by both sides are unacceptable…


then nothing will change.


Recognition of Palestinian statehood, which this House has previously called for, is long overdue.


I suggest that recognition of that statehood now by HM Government would be an important step on the road to peace.


And I urge the Government to take that step without further delay.


And if it will not do, the question must be: if not now, when?

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