My Lords, my remarks fit between those of the noble Lords, Lord Trimble and Lord Desai.
The Palestinian situation needs to be redefined, if it is to be resolved. The people of historic Palestine have been saddled with the most intense and long-standing stream of emotional and political support, more than any refugee community has received in modern times. Such support, however, has been deluding the Palestinian people and kept them from facing a painful reality—an impossible dream. Their country and homes in Palestine have been permanently lost. Others forced to accept the stark reality of permanent displacement have ultimately been able to move forward with their lives, because they were allowed to settle as full citizens in adopted countries. Not so Palestinians—more than often they are treated as second-class citizens, with little or no civil rights.
The Palestine tragedy has played into the hands of some with the displacement, the Nakba, becoming a cause célèbre for Arabs and Muslims without sufficient support in practical terms. The Israelis have understood all this, and so was created the Palestinian Authority, which has done little more than legitimise de facto Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This illusion of return maintained by the Palestinian leadership has achieved the net result of perpetuating the misery for the Palestinian people, who have never given up the powerful emotion of hope. Some would say that this illusion of return has provided a powerful excuse to avoid integrating the Palestinian refugees as full citizens—the excuse being that the never-to-be-fulfilled dream of eventual return to Palestine, and being given citizenship, technically undermined their right of return to Palestine and so should be denied them.
This humiliation tears at the heart of all Palestinians, who care more vehemently about this than any issue in their lives. I combine my remarks on the impossibility of ownership of ancestral land with the critical need to have a legal identity—citizenship with full rights that would allow a person to operate productively in the modern world. This means having a passport and legal residency enabling them to live, work and travel, such as those of a citizen of any respected state.
Why might the time be arriving when Palestinians might consider the painful reality? The first generation, which lived through the Nakba, has now passed. Subsequent Palestinians have endured years of suffering, having grown up in refugee camps with minimal education, training or work opportunities. As things stand, there is no viable future for them or their children. What is required is a collective decision of the Palestinians, but only by those Palestinians who have no nationality, since they are the only ones paying the price. A referendum of all stateless Palestinians should take place on the single question of right of return and claims to Jerusalem in return for nationality and a homeland. Israel should proactively adopt and drive this catalyst for change. It holds the cards and is the only player with the hard power to effect change on the ground.
Rejectionists might resort to terrorism, but the Palestinian people who will have voted will have an enormous stake in its success. Their will would prevail in creating a foundation block in rebuilding a secure and prosperous Levant—failing which, a son of ISIS could become the future of the region. The sensitivity of return must be balanced with the prospect of life in dignity for their children and their children’s children.
Step forward King Abdullah. The time has arrived for the people to decide. Give them the hope they cherish. Let this become a defining moment, a time of partnership, allowing Israel to redefine its contribution to the Arab world.