Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:01 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:01, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I was reminded of dragging him and my noble friend Lord Johnson—whom I saw on the steps of the Throne earlier—through the Sinai Desert, with a number of others, into Gaza. We had to go through Rafah, because the Israelis would not let us in through Erez. We arrived very tired and dusty, and the first visit was to a school, which was two containers stacked on top of one another. Some little boys in beautiful white shirts had learned a song for us: it was “If You’re Happy and You Know It (Clap Your Hands)”. I wonder what has happened to them now.

I thank my noble friend Lord Ahmad for his excellent opening of this debate, and especially for his depth of knowledge and commitment to the Middle East. I declare my interests as set out in the register, especially my positions as Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kuwait, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and president of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

What has happened over the last 151 days, first in Israel and then in Gaza, is nothing short of tragedy. The unconscionable acts of Hamas on 7 October were abhorrent and the train of events that they have unleashed is heartbreaking. The devastation in Gaza is unimaginable, and yet the hostages have not been released and one in 20 Palestinians, mainly women and children, have been killed or injured. In the north of Gaza, which has consistently been denied food, and with few aid trucks able to get through, one in six children under the age of two are now seriously malnourished. This has not been caused by crop failures or drought; as the UN said, this is entirely manmade and, as such, could be immediately reversed.

I would like to pay great tribute to my noble friends the Foreign Secretary and Lord Ahmad. They could not have done more to deliver difficult messages, especially on the access of aid. Where trucks cannot go, we have dropped aid from the air in co-operation with our good friends the Jordanians, and this is more than welcome. But aid dropped from the sky does not always reach those who need it most. What we need is fully trained workers on the ground to help to distribute the aid and to treat the children, but they cannot gain access with the ongoing bombardment.

As of yesterday, 16 children had died of starvation, dehydration and malnutrition. Today, that number will have grown. Children should not be used as a weapon of war. I agree with my noble and very good friend Lord Ahmad that the fighting must stop, and it has to stop now. In a powerful and passionate speech which says everything, and which was delivered at the Cairo summit for peace on 21 October last year, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan said:

“This conflict did not start two weeks ago, and it will not stop if we continue down this blood-soaked path. We know all too well that it will only lead to more of the same—a zero-sum game of death and destruction, of hatred and hopelessness played on repeat”.

The only hope of preventing the seeds of future hatred growing is a two-state solution. In a speech last October to your Lordships, I said that I had always hoped that the path to peace might be through the Arab peace initiative and that one day it might be picked up, dusted down and given new purpose. Among all this heartache, I was delighted to read that serious work was being undertaken by the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, to forge a path to peace. I very much hope the UK Government will give any such initiative their full support and that we will help in any way we can.

Of course, we are able to make the first step towards a two-state solution, and that is recognition of Palestine. I welcome my noble friend’s statement on this. My noble friend Lord Soames and I called for recognition in 2011, when the World Bank, the IMF, the UN and the EU had all said that Palestine was ready for statehood. When President Obama promised that Palestine would be a new member of the UN, we endorsed that promise. We missed the opportunity to change the course of history then—we can do better now.