Lord Mitchell debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during the 2019 Parliament

Foreign Affairs

Lord Mitchell Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Mitchell Portrait Lord Mitchell (Lab)
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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.

Israel and Palestine: United States’ Proposals for Peace

Lord Mitchell Excerpts
Thursday 27th February 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Mitchell Portrait Lord Mitchell (CB)
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My Lord, the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is to be thanked for introducing this debate.

My wife Hannah and I have just returned from an amazing holiday. We went to Colombia for a momentous family reunion—momentous because until last year none of us really knew that the other members existed. This was an unusually happy ending to a classic Jewish story of death, tragedy, separation and family loss. The original family lived in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, and comprised 51 individuals, of whom only 15 survived the Second World War. Hannah was vaguely aware that there were other branches of the depleted family, but she had no idea who or indeed where. They had been lost for years. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, she received an email from a second cousin living in Atlanta, Georgia: “Are you the granddaughter of Hugo and Matilda Lowy?” Well, she is, and we agreed to meet up in New York. That was a joyous meeting.

Then the subject was raised of the one remaining brother, Isidor, who had survived Auschwitz and who it was rumoured had gone to live in Colombia. The internet went into overdrive and, lo and behold, the missing family was discovered living in Bogotá. In the chaos of the post-war period they had moved from pillar to post, trying to find a new home. Most countries put up barriers to Jewish refugees but, to its credit, Colombia admitted 750 in 1948, and that is how they arrived there.

This was the first family reunion since the one in Vienna in 1927, and what a happy event it was. But what of the others? What of the other family members? What of the millions who perished or were denied entry to other countries? When the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, sees the passion that we Jews have for Israel, it is because so many more of us would have been saved had Israel existed before the war. That is why for us Israel’s safety is paramount.

But there is another side to my family; for we Mitchells, life is always complicated. I have a daughter-in-law who is half-Palestinian. I have been to the West Bank several times and am under no illusion that the Palestinian people are oppressed. The checkpoints are humiliating and the desire for statehood burns brightly. I understand the Nakba—the catastrophe, as the Palestinians call it in Arabic. It is why I have always supported a two-state solution. In 1947, the United Nations agreed that British Palestine was to be partitioned between the Jews and the Palestinians. The Jews were to be offered 55% and the Palestinians 45%. To the Palestinians, that was the first Nakba and they rejected it. When Israel was founded a year later, five Arab countries attacked it with overwhelming armies, but they were defeated. Instead of 55% of the land, Israel ended up with 75%; that was the second Nakba. In 1967, the Arab states again attacked Israel. They lost again and Israel occupied the entire land of British Palestine—yet another Nakba.

Since the Oslo accords in 1993, there have been three intense peace negotiations, and each time the sides have come within touching distance. But each time, at the last moment, the Palestinians withdrew from the negotiations. They have had Nakba after Nakba; disaster after disaster. Now we have Donald’s “deal of the century”, where the Palestinians are being offered 20% of British Palestine—20%, when they could have had 45% in 1948. Barely a peep has been heard from the other Arab states. The Palestinians have become friendless even within the Middle East, and that is the biggest Nakba of all. How has that happened? It is because they have the most terrible, awful leadership, and have had since before Israel was formed.

Now we see Donald Trump on course to win his second term. He will continue to back Netanyahu, no matter how outlandish his demands, and—irony of ironies—the only chance of reversing American policy is held in the hands of a Jewish man born in Brooklyn. His name is Bernie Sanders.