Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 6:43 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Mitchell Lord Mitchell Llafur 6:43, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, 6 October saw Israel approaching the zenith of its dreams. Following the initial success of the Abraham accords, full diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia were tantalisingly close. After 76 years of rejection by the Arab world, Israel was poised to achieve what she wanted most of all—international acceptance. Cruelly, 7 October changed all that.

At the beginning of January, I went to the Gaza border with the noble Lord, Lord Polak. I saw the mangled bicycles and the smashed barbecues; I saw the bullet holes and the bloodstains on the walls; I read the names and saw the photos of those who were butchered. The people of Israel were traumatised; I was traumatised. They still are; I still am. As I stood there, I looked to my left, and no more than a kilometre away I could see the Gaza border. I could hear the pounding of the shells; I could see the smoke hovering over the buildings, and I could smell the explosives hanging in the air. I felt rage that such barbarity was committed against innocent Israeli civilians, but I also felt horror that such pain and death were being inflicted on the people of Gaza. It is hard to reconcile such inner conflict.

Five months into this war, the hostages have still not been fully released, and Hamas is still functioning. Gaza has been flattened, and its people are starving and desperate. Some 1,700 Israelis are dead, many wounded. Tens of thousands of Palestinians—men, women and, most of all, children—are also dead and wounded. If we condemn one party, we must condemn the other, and I do.

Fifty years ago, the great Israeli statesman, Abba Eban, made the famous quote that the Palestinians

“never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

Sadly, the same can be said of Benjamin Netanyahu today. His “day after” plan was presented last week; it offers the Palestinians nothing more than continual subjugation. The great tragedy of the situation is the craven, ineffective leadership of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Mahmoud Abbas is old and immovable. I have never heard a brave or constructive word pass his lips; he does the Palestinians no favours. Benjamin Netanyahu is just as immovable. His mantra has always been: not an inch. He portrays himself as Mr Security, and he will never give the Palestinians the state they deserve. For him, it is always about the next election. He has allied himself with an ultra-right-wing clique. Ironically, they too believe in “from the river to the sea”, but in their case meaning the total annexation of the West Bank and Gaza. Both countries need new leaders who have new visions.

Noble Lords may say that all this has been tried before and it has failed. That is true, but the Oslo accords and the negotiations in 2000 came very close. What is different now? First, the parties are exhausted. Secondly, there are now other powers that can guarantee a peace: the US, of course, and Europe too, but also Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan. They all have skin in the game. They could provide the massive funding that could rebuild Gaza and give hope to Palestinians, both in Gaza and in the West Bank. They could also give Israel guarantees by way of a military alliance, and they could ensure that the Palestinian state remains demilitarised for the foreseeable future.

I have been a friend of Israel since its creation 76 years ago. Believe it or not, at the age of five, I remember Israel being created. Nobody could call me a fair-weather friend—I have been there through thick and thin—but now I think it is necessary that it accepts a sustainable ceasefire, works hard to make it permanent and gets back the hostages. I will end by quoting Abba Eban once more:

“History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives”.

We saw that in Northern Ireland. Surely, that moment is now.