House of Lords questions 16 Nov 2011
Lord Liddle: The fundamental issue behind this question is how strongly we are prepared to make clear to the United States our difference of view on the recognition of Palestinian statehood. While the Government's position was sympathetic, it was ultimately a decision to have no position-to vote neither for nor against. How does this advance the peace process and the cause of a two-state solution, given the present stalemate and Israel's very recent decision to announce further settlements that will be deeply counterproductive? Should we not be more robust on these issues?
Lord Howell of Guildford: That is, of course, a broader question. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the question of Palestinian statehood lies behind the question of whether partial arrangements, as it were, for statehood should be made by Palestine applying to various UN organisations, of which UNESCO is one. It is the judgment and view of Her Majesty's Government that the way forward must be by negotiation for the emergence of the Palestinian state. We reserve the right to recognise the Palestinian state at the moment of our choosing. We take the view that a fragmented application to UNSECO and other bodies is probably a mistake and will delay negotiation. We also take the view that, if the matter is to go to the Security Council-I say "if"-and if then, as is almost certain, the Americans vetoed it, that, too, would set back negotiation very substantially. It may be rather limited now but it is going to be even more limited-indeed, it will screw it up completely-if that course is followed. There are plenty of ifs and buts in the future. Beyond that, there is the possibility that it might go to the General Assembly as well, but all these matters have yet to be decided.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, is not the real issue that, given that no sensible negotiations are taking place, the Palestinians have very few options left and that their bid to become members of the United Nations, and initially of UNESCO, is the only way forward for them? If we keep talking about negotiations when they are not happening, are we not simply saying, "Let us leave it as it is."?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am not sure that the noble Lord has got that right at all. It is perfectly true that Mr Netanyahu is not, or does not appear to be, a great proponent of negotiations at the present time, but the Quartet is proposing some views. We think that there are pressures that can carry negotiation forward and we are not at all convinced that the Palestine statehood idea, if it went to the Security Council and produced the veto and the freezing up of negotiations all round, would be much of an improvement on the situation. I agree with him that it is not good, but it would certainly be very much worse in our view if we followed this course.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, in terms of acts that could be considered to be threatening to any future peace talks, surely there can be no equality between on the one hand the Palestinians wanting full membership of UNESCO, which is a fairly benign movement in its way, and on the other hand a profoundly aggressive movement: the continuing extension of settlements in the Occupied Territories? There really is no equality, surely, between those two acts.
Lord Howell of Guildford: No, none whatever. We regard the continued expansion of settlements as illegal, most unwise and highly provocative. That is part of the broad scene, and that must halt as part of the move forward to the negotiation that will bring Palestine to its full and rightful statehood. I agree.