On 27th February 2020 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Tonge, “To move that this House takes note of the United States’ proposals for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, announced on 28 January.” The Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for securing this important debate. I also express my gratitude to the Minister and to his officials for the careful but clear Answers to my Parliamentary Written Questions relevant to this debate that he gave on 11 and 13 February.
Your Lordships’ House will be aware from my interventions in earlier debates that I am the only Anglican bishop who is a member of the Vatican-mandated Holy Land Co-ordination group, which visits Christian communities in Israel and Palestine every January. I also make at least one other visit to the region each year and will be on ecumenical pilgrimage there next week. Last year, I was also in Egypt with His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Archbishop of London, and other church leaders.
In his Answers to me of 13 February, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said that Her Majesty’s Government want to see
“a contiguous West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as part of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders”,
and I wholly share the Government’s aspiration. However, in describing the plan published by the United States Government, Her Majesty’s Government’s statement that
“All serious proposals for peace deserve a fair hearing”
does, I believe, two things. The chairman of the Vatican Holy Land Co-ordination group, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton, and I, wrote to the Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa on 7 February contending that the analysis of the local churches in the Holy Land is that these are not a serious basis for peace but amount to a codification of the Government of Israel’s positions. Given that previous, serious attempts at peace, when they did not succeed, were followed by prolonged periods of bitter disillusionment, it can bring us no confidence when a plan such as this is published. I have to say that the manner of publication undermined any attempt to bring the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table as an equal partner.
A second and related point is that, even if such arrangements as those proposed by the United States were begun to be enacted, including annexation of territory, I ask the House what peace—if peace it be—can be sustained on injustice? What agreement can there be when one party is not only absent but was not consulted substantively or proportionately in the first place?
My most recent visit to the West Bank, which included Gaza, Ramallah and East Jerusalem, brought home to me the worsening living conditions of the people. There is among the Christian communities a resilient faith and hope for a better tomorrow. But the initial imperative of security, which has created a narrative to justify intervention in more than 50 years of occupation, delivers—as all such unwanted rule does —barriers, confiscation, diversion of resources, curfews, and violence. It is hard not to conclude, as we would in any parallel scenario, that such occupation serves no good purpose.
There is much else one might say, including on what might legitimately offer the State of Israel security on its 1967 borders and its other concerns. One might lament the disappearance of the ancient Jewish communities from across the Middle East and the reasons why. One too might speak of the pressure on, indeed persecution of, the ancient Christian communities of the region. But today I ask again—in some sense I echo other contributors to this debate—whether it is now time for Her Majesty’s Government to heed the views of Parliament and extend full recognition to the Palestinian state?
Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): …In Jerusalem, a city that I know well as chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation in the UK, the plan indicates that all of Jerusalem’s holy sites should remain under Israeli responsibility, particularly with regard to Temple Mount. This represents a significant acknowledgement of Israel’s sensitivity in guarding Jerusalem’s holy sites, as I am sure, if he were in his usual seat, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark would testify; they are open to people of all beliefs and tourists of all faiths…
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)…We hope that President Abbas will return to the negotiations. However, as several noble Lords said—my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower made the point well—we must stress upon the Palestinians and President Abbas that negotiations are the way forward. However, if he declined to negotiate, I assure noble Lords that that would not justify unilateral action such as the annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to in his contribution…