Israel-Egypt Frontier

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 2 March 2010.

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Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling 2:30, 2 March 2010

What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Israel on its plans to build a border wall along Israel's frontier with Egypt.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We are in regular contact with both the Egyptian and Israeli Governments regarding Gaza and related matters. We recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens from acts of violence but make it clear at every opportunity that all measures must be in accordance with international law.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to cause grave concern to many, certainly in my constituency. I endorse his words about the security of Israel and acknowledge that the capacity of Hamas to fire rockets into Israel must be stopped, but I would like a reassurance from my hon. Friend that he is doing all he can to persuade Israel and, indeed, Egypt not to forget the people of Gaza who are suffering as a result of the current situation.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The UK and the EU use every opportunity to call on Israel to remove all obstacles to humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza. If we are to secure a mainstream majority for peace, we need to enable Gazans to begin to rebuild their homes, public institutions and businesses. Equally, Hamas must stop rocket attacks against Israel and should release Gilad Shalit without preconditions.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Mrs. McGuire has just asked the Minister to discuss the issues regarding Gaza with Israel and to persuade the Israeli Government, but how can we have proper discussions and a proper search for a peaceful solution with Israel when a leading Israeli political figure is threatened with arrest with a warrant issued by a British court under universal jurisdiction? What are the Government doing to clear away this effort to hamper the search for peace?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. We have made it clear, as have all parties in this House, that the principle of universal jurisdiction must be non-negotiable but that the means by which arrest warrants can be obtained is not acceptable. In this case, leaders from a strategic partner and close friend of Britain have been prevented from entering the United Kingdom. It could of course have the same impact on leaders of other strategic partners and friends of this country. We are seeking a satisfactory remedy that maintains the principle of universal jurisdiction but ends the unintended consequence whereby an arrest warrant can be obtained by individuals in dubious circumstances.

Photo of Sandra Osborne Sandra Osborne Labour, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

The Minister will be aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee recently visited the west bank. We were not allowed to go to Gaza. We witnessed the creation of settlements that are causing physical apartheid and depriving many Palestinians of access to their land and therefore their livelihood. Exactly what pressure are the Government putting on the Israelis with regard to settlements?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

First, we should applaud the improvements that have been made on the west bank in security and economic development as a result of the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. We should also applaud the removal of some checkpoints by the Israeli Government. Having said that, settlements are both illegal and an obstacle to peace in the middle east. We have constantly called for a total freeze on those settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu's partial freeze is an important movement but we believe that settlement expansion is not acceptable in the context of the peace negotiations that we hope are about to get under way.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

Is the Minister aware that the blockade of Gaza has already turned a coastal strip into a net importer of fish-just one example of the damage being done to Gazans and to their economy by the blockade? While condemning all the rocket attacks launched from Gaza into Israel, has the Minister conveyed to the Government of Israel that they should be ending the blockade of Gaza, not tightening it still further with the wall? Do the Government oppose the building of the wall?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I think that I have answered the question. I said clearly that the Government at every opportunity make clear directly to Israel and in the context of international institutions that all obstacles to humanitarian assistance and the capacity of the Gazans to begin reconstruction should be removed. We equally make it clear at every opportunity to Hamas that the rocket attacks must stop and that Gilad Shalit should be released.