Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Debate between Baroness Blackstone and Baroness Altmann
Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I support the remarks of my noble friends Lady Noakes, Lord Leigh and Lord Wolfson. This amendment would be deleterious to the Palestinians themselves. I cite the example of SodaStream, which had to close down its factory in the Occupied Territories at a loss of 600 Palestinian jobs because of the BDS movement; it was a particular factor. I shall quote two people who worked there. Ali Jafar, a shift manager from a West Bank village, said:

“All the people who wanted to close”


it

“are mistaken … They didn’t take into consideration the families”.

Anas Abdul Wadud Ghayth, who had worked there for four years, said, as he wiped tears:

“We were one family. I am sad because I am leaving my friends who have worked here for a long time”.


I am not in favour of settlements. I certainly believe that Israel has offered many times, and would offer again, to get out of territory that is currently occupied in exchange for a genuine peace deal. It has tried and would try again. Currently, there is perhaps a different mindset among those leading the country, but that is not necessarily permanent. At the moment, these territories are part of Israel. They are not necessarily permanently part of Israel, and I believe that they would ultimately be given up or exchanged in return for a genuine peace deal.

Currently, however, it is occupying them and providing jobs for Palestinian people who want them and could not find gainful employment otherwise. That was confirmed when, for example, the SodaStream factory shut down. From a security perspective, if Israel were to give back to the Golan Heights, it would be signing its own death warrant. You will know that if you have been to that area and seen what is there. Equally, with the Occupied Territories on the West Bank, I believe there is potential for a two-state solution that recognises both sides’ right to exist, but Israel needs a partner that is willing to recognise its own right to exist. This Bill is designed to protect, in the meantime, both Israel and the jobs being created in those territories.

However, like my noble friends, I have the most enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who I think genuinely wants to find a way to work through this and a wording that will let us deal with this issue in a way that is acceptable to all sides. I have no problem with that, and I hope we might have some meeting of minds, through which we can move forwards and try to achieve the aims of the Bill without offending noble Lords, on all sides. I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Warner, as well, who I have worked with in the past. Whether or not we agree on this issue, I hope that noble Lords can see the points I am trying to make about the things I believe the Government are trying to achieve.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness paints a very rosy picture of the West Bank. From all my experience of being there, it is totally unlike what she is describing. There may be some factories employing Palestinians that have been closed down, but thousands of Palestinians have lost their livelihoods as a result of the settlements and the Israel Defense Forces promoting violence, and certainly allowing violence, by settlers against ordinary Palestinian farmers, who have lost their olive orchards and the land where they were growing grapes. I just do not believe she can have spoken to many representatives of Palestinian people, who are utterly miserable as a result of the Israeli occupation. To say that it is part of Israel—that is simply, legally, not the case.

Lastly, I want to challenge the noble Baroness on the suggestion that the Israeli Government are in favour of a two-state solution—on the contrary. The noble Baroness said just now that she is in favour of a two-state solution, as are many other people, and that she believes it will happen. If it is to happen, there has to be a complete change in tone and views by the Israeli Government. Successive Israeli Governments have done nothing to promote a two-state solution. On the contrary, they have done many things to make it impossible, through the constant building of settlements. It is not that they happened a long time ago; they continue to be built all the time.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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May I, with all due respect, clarify a few points for the noble Baroness? First, I understand that the current Israeli Government are not in favour, and I have said myself that I am not in favour of the settlements. I am in favour of a two-state solution, and always have been. Past Israeli Governments have offered a two-state solution and offered an exchange of land for peace time and again. I am not sure why the noble Baroness is shaking her head. Israel withdrew from Gaza itself without even an offer of peace from the other side, and this is where we have ended up.

I have great respect for the noble Baroness, and one can always hear two sides to any argument, but there are a large number of Palestinians who welcome the employment they have in those territories. There are others who may have a different view, but in the end, the only solution, as far as I am concerned, must be a two-state solution. The noble Baroness is ignoring the fact that the other side, whether it is the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, is intent on wiping Israel off the map. It is not interested in a two-state solution. Israel would offer, and has offered, a two-state solution. As I say, I have spoken to people on both sides, and I hope the noble Baroness might be able to meet some of the others I have met, who have a different view, clearly, from the ones she has spoken to.