TUESDAY 12 JULY 2016
1. Questions to the Foreign Secretary:
– Richard Burden: What assessment has he made of trends in the number of demolitions by Israel of Palestinian homes and other structures in the west bank in 2016?
– Tobias Ellwood: Before answering this question, may I take this opportunity to say that, two weeks ago, I had the difficult task of responding to the written Foreign Office question submitted by our former colleague, Jo Cox? Given her active role in foreign affairs, I completed this task because I believe it is what she would have wanted. Given the frequency and the passion with which she spoke and indeed influenced policy in this very forum at Foreign Office questions, I thought it appropriate to begin by paying tribute to her.
– Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for what he said, which is warmly welcomed in the House. More than anyone in this House, the hon. Gentleman knows of what he speaks, and I thank him.
– TE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. We are deeply concerned by the continued demolition of Palestinian property by Israeli authorities, and the worrying spike in the rate of demolitions this year. In all but the most exceptional circumstances, demolitions are contrary to international humanitarian law. We regularly raise our concerns about demolitions with the Israeli Government. We make it clear that such actions do not encourage the confidence-building measures needed for talks to recommence.
– RB: I associate myself with the Minister’s words about our former colleague and friend, Jo Cox. She was an exceptional Member of Parliament and an exceptional person as well. Perhaps the greatest tribute any of us can give to Jo is to continue her work to support human rights throughout the world.
One of the things Jo was passionate about was justice for the Palestinians. According to the UN, Israel has demolished 649 Palestinian structures this year, and 1,000 people—over 400 of them children—have been displaced. The situation is getting worse, not better. I know that the Minister condemns these things, but if Israel feels it can continue with a culture of impunity, why should it stop? What can the international community do to show Israel that it does not have impunity, and what specific actions would the UK Government support?
– TE: Thank you very much for those initial comments. We agree and we are hugely concerned about the rate of demolitions. We need to place additional pressure on Israel and, indeed, the Palestinians to come to the table. I am pleased that we held a summit in Paris to discuss the overarching challenges that we face and the role that the international community can play. The extent of the demolitions was highlighted in the Quartet report, produced by Russia, the US, the EU and the UN, which underlines the very concerns that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.
– Sir Eric Pickles: I, too, would like to associate myself with the Minister’s moving words about our late colleague, Jo Cox. As for the general point, my hon. Friend is quite right when he says that this will not help in moving towards a position in which people come together to talk. There is, however, the other side of the coin, with 36 Israelis, along with four foreign nationals, murdered this year. Instead of condemning the murders, the Palestinian Authority glorified them. Surely, when just this weekend the Israeli Prime Minister said that he would meet without conditions, we should urge the Palestinian authorities to do precisely that and have direct talks.
– TE: My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We regularly raise and discuss these matters at Foreign Office questions. Now that we have had the Paris summit and seen a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry, we can see this issue coming back on to the agenda. My concern—I raised it at the Paris summit—is that with all the other distractions and concerns in the middle east, we have lost sight of something that needs to be resolved. My right hon. Friend makes the important point that the actions of the Palestinians do not go unnoticed, and we require the leadership of President Abbas to make it clear that those actions must be condemned.
– Sarah Champion: As well as demolishing Palestinian homes on the West Bank, Israel continues to arrest and detain Palestinian children in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. G4S, which has provided services for Israeli military checkpoints and prisons, has been found by the UK national contact point for the OECD guidelines to be in breach of its fundamental human rights obligations. Will the Minister join me in calling for G4S to withdraw fully from its relevant contracts with the Israeli state agencies?
– TE: I will certainly look into the case that the hon. Lady raises. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is concerned about the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons and has raised it with the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, and I raised it during my recent visit to Israel. We have done some work—and, indeed, have invested some funds—to ensure that the children are looked after in the best possible way.
– Philip Hollobone: The demolition of Arab houses, and of Jewish houses, was started by us, the British, between the wars, during the operation of the terms of the British mandate for Palestine. Today, the Israeli Government specifically cites British mandate law as a justification for the current demolitions. Has the Minister had conversations with his Israeli counterpart about the legitimacy of using that law today?
– TE: Given our legacy and the breadth of our influence over the last couple of hundred years, I think it wrong for any Government in the world to point to British policy and say that, historically, it is the cause. All laws can be updated, and both sides have a responsibility to come together and resolve this matter for the long term.
– Andy Slaughter and Margaret Ritchie: [ed: tabled as Written Question] What steps are the Government taking to support the French initiative to start peace talks between Israel and Palestine?
– TE: As I mentioned earlier, I attended the French ministerial conference on the middle east peace process in Paris on 3 June. We are in close contact with the French Government and will consider how the UK might contribute as their plans develop.
– Andy Slaughter: It is a pity that the Foreign Secretary could not attend that conference. Will he be attending or advising his successor to attend the main conference later this year, and will he join France and other European countries in recognising Palestine if Israel refuses to co-operate with the French initiative and continues building settlements?
– TE: To make it clear, the summit was moved at short notice to accommodate the Secretary of State for the United States. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was in Africa at the time, which was why I was able to attend. I hope the hon. Gentleman does not feel short-changed by the fact that I was there instead of the Foreign Secretary. It was an important meeting, as it registered the need for the international community to play its part and we look forward to moving ahead with the process. Discussions will take place in the next few months to bring the parties together.
– Margaret Ritchie: In the light of recent moves by the Egyptian Foreign Minister, does the Minister believe that the chances for successful peace talks are improving? What efforts will the Government make to ensure that both Israel and Palestine are sufficiently incentivised to come to the table to talks?
– TE: The hon. Lady is right to say that both parties need to be sufficiently incentivised. The worry that I have had when visiting both the Palestinian areas and Israel is that the leaders on both sides are not necessarily speaking for the people, who generally want something different. My concern is that unless we see the affirmative steps taking place to reverse the trends that we have been seeing, we will drift towards an entrenched position of a one-state reality, with perpetual occupation and conflict.
– Stephen Timms: Will the Minister assure us that the Foreign Secretary or his successor will attend the peace conference that the French are planning later this year?
– TE: On the day before a reshuffle is to take place, let me say that I will heed the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and we will do our best. The implication seems to be that the Foreign Secretary is somehow not engaged in these matters. We have those set conferences and summits, but an awful lot of bilaterals also take place, not least at the NATO summit in Warsaw, where my right hon. Friend had bilateral meetings with his relevant counterparts. These very important issues are raised there as well.
– Hannah Bardell: The Minister will recall the case of my constituent, Deborah Pearson, and her niece Julie Pearson who was killed in Israel last year. Her family are constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh). We now have the autopsy report, but it is in Hebrew and it has been suggested that the FCO might assume the cost of translating it. Will the FCO support that? I am grateful for the Minister’s support so far, but the family are desperate and need more support. Will he consider further help?
– TE: This has been a difficult case for the family and for everybody involved. I have met a number of hon. Members who have been involved, and I also raised the issue with the Israeli authorities. It is not normal for the Foreign Office to provide translation facilities. Perhaps we could discuss the matter outside the Chamber and work to provide assistance to the family.
Commons Oral Answers
2. Tom Brake: What discussions has the Government had with the French government on Israel and Palestine since the conference organised by the French government?
Commons Written Answers
3. Iraq Inquiry:
– Lord Williams of Baglan: At the regional level in 2003 the UK, and Tony Blair in person, pushed strongly for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Now, 13 years on, we are no nearer that settlement. Indeed, the Middle East peace process, far from being advanced by the Iraq war, has for several years now barely existed. There have been no meetings between the parties for nearly three years. There was a fragile Middle East peace process in 2003. Now there is none. [extract]
– Baroness Armstrong: I also saw his [ed: Tony Blair’s] determination in getting the Americans to deliver a commitment to a Middle East peace process. My noble friend on the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, reminded us of how unsuccessful it was. However, I remind the House that from my very clear knowledge, it was a very important issue for the then Prime Minister, as he has always seen the peaceful coexistence of Israel and Palestine as a necessary part of a peaceful way forward in the Middle East. [extract]
– Baroness Tonge: During the discussions with the then President of the United States, and in return for supporting his invasion of Iraq in the absence of a second resolution, Tony Blair asked that we would make progress on the Israel/Palestine peace process, which had been “quiescent”, to use the term of the Chilcot report and as Tony Blair described it, since the Oslo accord in 1993. That word is a sick joke if you are a Palestinian—nothing was ever quiescent. Much has been said about the invasion of Iraq leading to the rise of Islamic fundamentalists and the so-called Islamic State or Daesh—I call them barbarians still. Anyone who has travelled in the Middle East knows that the causes lie much deeper and longer ago. The justified angst of the Arabs started after the First World War with the Sykes/Picot agreement. A major cause of this angst continuing is the increasingly appalling policies and brutality of the Israeli Government and the lack of any solution to that problem. Israel is allowed to break international law and the Geneva Convention with impunity. Together with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the other Gulf states, they abuse the human rights of people in their countries. If we in the West could stop this totally hypocritical foreign policy and treat all nations equally and fairly according to international law, we maybe would have more peace in the world. [extract]
– Lord Wright: Finally, the report reminds us that Mr Blair concluded the Cabinet meeting on 7 March 2002 by saying that it was,
“critically important to reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process”. Here we are, more than 14 years later, with the combined efforts of Secretary Kerry and his predecessors, and of Mr Blair himself, as the quartet’s representative, having achieved absolutely nothing in persuading the Israeli Government under Mr Netanyahu either to enter into meaningful discussions with the Palestinian leadership, or to reverse his illegal settlement policies on the West Bank and in east Jerusalem. [extract]
– Lord Soley: When I was the MP for both Hammersmith and Ealing I had a lot of Arab constituents. [passage omitted] The Sunnis and others, particularly the Palestinians, were strongly against. The whole of that region was divided about intervention. [edited extract]