Palestine

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd January 2003.

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Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson Labour, Sheffield, Hillsborough 11:30 am, 22nd January 2003

What steps she is taking to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Palestine.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

We have increased our humanitarian aid to help meet the most urgent needs of the Palestinian people, but the cause of the crisis is political and no amount of humanitarian relief can solve the problem. We can only help to keep people going as the levels of poverty continue to grow. The crisis requires a political solution.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson Labour, Sheffield, Hillsborough

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. She told the House last month that the levels of hunger in Gaza were worse than those in Congo. What discussions has she had with her Cabinet colleagues on how she will endeavour to keep those routes of humanitarian aid open in the event of a war breaking out in the region and on what impact such a war might have?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

My hon. Friend is sadly right. Some 22.5 per cent. of Palestinian children under five are malnourished and the acute rate in Gaza is 13.2 per cent. That puts Palestinian children in Gaza between Zimbabwe and Congo in terms of children suffering from acute malnutrition. It is a terrible situation. On the middle east and the risks of military action, my Department is working on all the various humanitarian scenarios, the optimistic as well as the pessimistic. The pessimistic are pretty terrible.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Does the Secretary of State agree with those people who say that conditions in the occupied territories are like the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, such is the destruction and suffering there? Apart from the immediate aid that she told us about, what discussions has she had with her European counterparts on the European Union-Israel agreement on human rights in Israel and the occupied territories? Are those rights being respected?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I do not agree that the situation is like a natural disaster; it is worse because it is caused by human agency and is continuing. The destruction of infrastructure because of military action is not the only problem. The closures mean that the economy is being squeezed to death. People cannot get out of their homes to work and are getting ever poorer as the weeks go by. It is a distressing and troubling situation. I have not had discussions with my European counterparts—I do not know whether the hon. Lady knows that the European Development Council has been abolished—but discussions are taking place across Europe on whether Israel is complying with the terms of the agreement.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the deliberate grubbing up of olive orchards in the occupied territories is not only illegal but exacerbating the starvation in those regions?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I agree that the situation is very worrying, and, of course, some of those olive trees, in a very ancient and holy land, are themselves ancient. The settlements in the occupied territories are illegal under international law, let alone the grubbing up of the olive orchards. I hope that we can get more energy into the international system to establish a Palestinian state; otherwise, I fear, things will deteriorate.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Given those appalling circumstances, how would the Secretary of State like the Government of Israel to assist?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

Catherine Bertini has been on a humanitarian mission to the area and made recommendations for immediate help. The problems include even the blockage of humanitarian resources, and the action taken needs to be pulled back, just to enable people to get back to work. Money that belongs to the Palestinian Authority is not being handed over, although there has been a little progress on that. What we really need is a peace settlement and a commitment to the two-state solution, which is the way through. We need to move forward rapidly.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

My right hon. Friend has always championed the cause of strengthening good governance in recipient countries. What assurance can she give those of us in the House who are keen to see that aid used for the poorest people in Palestine that the money will not be salted away by the Palestinian Authority, which many Palestinians claim is subject to corruption?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

There is no doubt that there have been problems of corruption and weak capacity in the Palestinian Authority. We have been involved in reforms in the Finance Ministry, which have been considerable, and in health, education, the economy, trade and the civil service. This claim of corruption is a red herring, which is used to try to damn the Palestinian Authority when what we need to do is get on with the development of the two states. We are doing a lot to reform the authority's structures so that an effective state can be built, and people need to get behind that effort.