On Wednesday 18th January, Joan Ryan MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, tabled a ten-minute rule bill entitled Promotion of Israeli-Palestinian Peace. The bill requires the Secretary of State to promote the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace to support coexistence projects and civil society programmes.
The bill is supported across the House, with eleven MPs listed as supporters of the bill, including Conservative Friends of Israel Parliamentary Chairman, Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP, Liberal Democrat, Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP and Labour MPs Louise Ellman MP and Stephen Kinnock MP.
The Bill is the next stage of LFI’s “For Israel, For Palestine, For Peace” campaign. The campaign aims to persuade the British government to support the creation of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace; a fund designed by the Alliance for Middle East Peace to boost spending on coexistence work.
Britain’s international development spending on coexistence in 2016/17 is zero. LFI wants to see the government increase it to £1.35m – this is a rough approximation of the UK’s share of the $50m that Europe would be expected to contribute to the fund. The other three-quarters would come from the US, the rest of the international community (including the Arab world), and private foundations and individuals.
This Bill follows on from an open letter to DFID Secretary of State, Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, sent by 57 Labour MPs in December 2016, calling on her to support the creation of the International Fund.
The Eleven Supporters of the Bill are:
Ian Austin MP, Labour Member of Parliament Dudley North
Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland
Chris Davies MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire
Louise Ellman MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool, Riverside
Stephen Kinnock MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Aberavon
Catherine McKinnell MP, Labour Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North
Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar and Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel
Paul Scully MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for Sutton and Cheam
Craig Tracey MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for North Warwickshire
Stephen Twigg MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool West Derby and Chair of the International Development Select Committee
Will Quince MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for Colchester
Please find Joan’s full speech below:
–CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY–
I beg to move
That leave be given to bring in a bill to require the Secretary of State to promote the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace to support coexistence projects and civil society programmes; and for connected purposes.
Barriers to a two-state solution
As the House will know, recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a UN Security Council resolution; a major speech by the US Secretary of State John Kerry; and a further peace conference in Paris last weekend.
The barriers to a two-state solution are well-known.
As a strong friend of Israel, I admit freely, but with great regret, that these include the expansion of settlements on the West Bank.
Settlement-building is wrong:
It threatens the viability of a future Palestinian state – the case for which is unarguable;
It does immense damage to Israel’s standing in the world;
And, over time, it will put at risk that which is most precious about Israel’s character: its Jewish and democratic character.
But, as Secretary Kerry stated clearly, ‘settlements are not the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict.’
So, too, is the incitement tolerated, and, in many cases, perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority:
The payment of ‘salaries’ to those convicted of terrorist offences;
And the naming of schools, streets and sports tournaments after so-called martyrs, thereby glorifying their violence;
Then there is the greatest barrier of all: the rejectionist, anti-Semitic ideology of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, which denies Israel’s very right to exist, and the terrorism which inevitably flows from it.
My bill today is not intended to downplay the importance of these barriers, although I believe that it will help to address some of the pernicious consequences arising from them.
Instead, my bill recognises that, as the example of Northern Ireland taught us, any peace process needs a political dimension, an economic dimension and a civil society dimension.
Coexistence projects that bring together Israelis and Palestinians to advance the cause of mutual understanding, reconciliation and trust, is that civil society dimension.
The world has paid it too little attention, investing only around £37m a year in people-to-people projects for Israel and Palestine: that’s less than £4 for each Israeli and Palestinian person each year.
Britain exemplifies this problem. From spending a pitiful £150,000 on coexistence projects in 2015-16, the government – despite repeated warm words to the contrary – appears to have cut this funding altogether in the current financial year.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State for International Development seems keen to right this wrong.
Constituencies for peace
The absence of strong constituencies for peace in Israel and Palestine is one of the results.
Polling by the Israeli Democracy Institute and Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research last summer underlined the scale of the problem.
While 59 per cent of Israelis and 51 per cent of Palestinians still support a two-state solution, these already slim majorities are fragile, threatened by fear and distrust between the two peoples.
Thus 89 per cent of Palestinians believe Israeli Jews are untrustworthy; a feeling reciprocated by 68 per cent of the latter. At the same time, 65 per cent of Israeli Jews fear Palestinians and 45 per cent of Palestinians fear Israeli Jews.
Nor should we place our hopes in the optimism of the young.
After all, this is the generation which has no memory of the optimism engendered by the Oslo Accords, but whose formative years have instead been marked by suicide bombings, the Second Intifada and perpetual conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Foundations for peace
Even were the peace process in better health, these would hardly be the most solid foundations upon which to build a lasting peace.
But we should recall that the seeds for the Good Friday Agreement were sown at a similar auspicious moment during the height of the troubles, when the International Fund for Ireland was created.
Over the past 30 years, it has invested £714m in grassroots coexistence work in Northern Ireland. In all, more than 5,800 projects have been supported since it was established to promote economic and social advance and to encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and unionists throughout Ireland.
That investment helped provided the popular support which has helped sustain the Good Friday Agreement over nearly two decades.
An International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
With this example in mind, my bill requires the government to promote the establishment of the proposed International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
This has been designed by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of over 90 organisations building people-to-people cooperation and coexistence.
The fund aims to leverage and increase public and private contributions worldwide, funding civil society projects and joint economic development that promote coexistence, peace and reconciliation.
It is envisaged that the $200m per-year-fund – four times the current level of international support for people-to-people work in Israel-Palestine – would receive contributions of approximately 25 percent each from the US; Europe; the rest of the international community (including the Arab world); and the private sector.
The fund is not, I should emphasise, intended to receive support that otherwise would be provided directly to either the Palestinian Authority or to Israel.
Coexistence work works
We know that the coexistence projects in Israel-Palestine work.
After two decades, there is now a significant body of evidence, based on academic and governmental evaluations, indicating the impact that coexistence projects can have. That impact, moreover, has been achieved in the face of considerable challenges.
According to USAID, those participating in people-to-people programmes report higher levels of trust, higher levels of cooperation, more “conflict resolution values”, and less aggression and loneliness.
Evaluation of individual programmes underline this impact:
MEET – a truly inspiring project which bring together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn about technology and entrepreneurship – found a 60 percent increase in the number of students who value working with someone from the ‘other side’ after just one year on the programme.
The Parents Circle Friends Forum – an organisation of more than 600 Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost a family member in the conflict – found that 70 percent of all participants had increased trust and empathy and 84 percent were motivated to participate in peacebuilding activities in their communities.
I would ask, too, if DFID can point to anything in their current funding that has moved the conflict closer to resolution. If coexistence work is going to be held to a standard that demands that it demonstrate how it helps solve the conflict, then surely other strategies, that have not by themselves moved the ball forward, should be held to the same standard.
Support for a renewed effort to support coexistence work is strong and it is growing. It crosses international boundaries and political parties.
The Quartet’s most recent report recommended a focus on civil society work for the first time since its founding.
The Vatican, Jewish organisations, and politicians on both left and right in Israel have all raised their voices in support.
On Capitol Hill, two US Congressmen –Jeff Fortenberry and Joe Crowley – have worked across party lines, introducing a bill in support of the International Fund in the best tradition of US global leadership.
In this House, 56 of my Labour colleagues signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for International Development last month endorsing the Fund.
And I am delighted today to have the support of members from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. I am particularly delighted to have the Right Honourable Member for Brentwood and Ongar, the Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, listed as one of the supporters of this bill.
The late Shimon Peres, one of Israel’s founding fathers and most indefatigable peace-makers, once said: “The way to make peace is not through governments. It is through people.”
He knew that – even in the most challenging of times – we must never give up on the search for peace.
By supporting my bill, the House can underline its support for that search.