Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:08 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Ricketts Lord Ricketts Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee 4:08, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I welcome the debate and the great energy and purpose that the Foreign Secretary has brought to his role, ably supported of course by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and the talents of the Foreign Office staff. They have increased the impact and influence of British foreign policy.

Five months after the awful Hamas attack, we must not lose our sense of horror at the incessant images from Gaza that we see every day. The suffering of the Israeli hostages is unimaginable. It is extraordinary that, despite all UK and US efforts, Gazans on the verge of starvation are reduced to mobbing a food convoy, with the stampede killing many people after Israeli forces opened fire. It is equally extraordinary that the US is reduced to air-dropping some pallets of aid into northern Gaza because it cannot persuade the Israelis to let in enough by land. I have never known as wide a gulf as exists now between a US President and an Israeli Prime Minister. It seems that the talks in Egypt about cessation of hostilities and hostage exchange have now broken down. Faults are no doubt on both sides, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Netanyahu’s determination to prolong the war is linked in some way to his own political survival.

Stopping this fighting is desperately urgent, to get hostages out and humanitarian aid in, but also to create an opportunity to move towards a better post-conflict future for Israel and Gaza. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s championing of the two-state solution. For all the difficulties, it is the only viable alternative to a forever war between Israel and the Palestinians. I also think he was right to open up some negotiating space around the point at which a Palestinian state could be recognised. Of course there are huge obstacles; a new Israeli and Palestinian leadership would be needed, in my view, as would a credible answer to who will provide security in Gaza and who will foot the massive reconstruction costs there.

From that point of view, it is encouraging to see that the Gulf Arab states are now much more engaged in thinking about the future of the Palestinian people than was the case in the past. They will have to have a central role in the running of Gaza in the future, alongside a new Palestinian leadership. Part of that package should be a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would enable Israel at last to integrate into the dynamic region of which it is a part. A lasting ceasefire would also do a great deal to stop Iran destabilising the region. It should de-escalate tensions across the border with Lebanon, and remove the Houthis’ pretext for taking international shipping hostage in the Red Sea.

Could the Foreign Secretary tell us where things stand on the comprehensive US draft UN Security Council resolution, which the Americans circulated in mid-February and which set out a lot of the points I have just gone over, and a very different vision from that on offer from Prime Minister Netanyahu?

I turn briefly to Ukraine. Of course, I draw attention to the European Affairs Committee’s report on the impact of Ukraine on UK-EU relations, which has been largely positive. I single out the issue of using frozen Russian assets to fund reconstruction; when he came to the committee, the Foreign Secretary kindly told us that

“there is a legal route to doing this”.

The Commission plan at the moment seems to be only to use future windfall profits from the euro clearing balance. Frankly, that will not change the dial on reconstruction. Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on where we are on the idea of using frozen Russian assets, at least as collateral?

More broadly, I am afraid that there is no prospect of either side achieving an outright victory, much as I would like to see Ukraine doing so. The risk is a long, grinding war in which the Russians gradually gain the upper hand, especially if we have a new President Trump in the White House. If President Zelensky decided the time had come for an armistice, freezing something like the current front lines, we should see that as an opportunity, not a disaster. It would enable us to bring the 80% of Ukraine which is free into NATO and the EU. Korea is not an exact precedent, but it gives an idea of what could be achieved by a long-term armistice. In that case, rather than being a bridgehead for further Russian aggression in Europe, an armistice would be more likely to leave Putin and his successors scrambling to prevent people stuck in the benighted, sad, Russian-controlled rump escaping west to a prosperous and free Ukraine.