Occupied Palestinian Territories

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th January 2017.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy) 12:00 am, 11th January 2017

What assessment she has made of the implications of demolitions in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2015-16 for her Department’s policies in that region.

Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale

What assessment she has made of the implications of demolitions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2015-16 for her Department’s policies in that region.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The Department’s assessment, in line with long-standing British Government policy, is that demolitions are illegal under international humanitarian law, and that they undermine the credibility and viability of a two-state solution.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)

The Bedouin village of Umm-al-Hiran remains under threat from a demolition that would cast out 800 villagers, and the number of demolitions in the occupied territories in the first two weeks of January is almost four times greater than the number at this point last year. What support is being given to the people who are being driven out of their homes, and what message is being sent to the Israeli Government that such demolitions are completely unjustifiable?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The hon. Lady raises two important issues, the first of which is long standing. Along with our international partners, we continue to lobby the Israeli Government, who are undertaking the demolitions, to stop doing so, both because they are illegal and because they undermine the two-state solution.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, had a meeting with the Israeli Defence Minister, Mr Lieberman, just before Christmas, and raised the issue of demolitions with him directly.

Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale

Will the Minister ensure that human rights non-governmental organisations operating on the west bank continue to receive support from the British Government?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We are absolutely focused on supporting NGOs, but above all we are focused on investment in health and education. It is getting the natural capital right, and providing opportunities and hope for the Palestinians, that will lead to security and stability for both sides in the conflict.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

Many of the demolitions occur because it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits. What legal support can the Department give to those who are contesting the process?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

As I have said, DFID is focusing on health and education, but the Foreign Office has legal support programmes. This issue goes to the heart of the Israeli planning system, and involves controversies with the Israeli Attorney General. As my hon. Friend says, it is very difficult to obtain planning permission, which is one of the reasons why settlements are built and demolitions then take place.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Among the buildings that the Israeli authorities have demolished are community facilities, some of which have been funded and developed with money from the Minister’s Department. I would welcome his statement, but I think that we need action rather than words. Has the time not come to send Mr Netanyahu the bill for the demolition of structures funded by the British taxpayer?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The British taxpayer has not funded any structures that have been demolished by the Israeli Government. The European Union has funded structures that have been demolished by the Israeli Government, but so far it has not decided to seek compensation.[This section has been corrected on 8 February 2017, column 2MC — read correction]Rory

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Will the Minister confirm that DFID, notwithstanding the efforts of a senior Israeli diplomat to “take down” a Minister, will continue to fight against collective punishment, demolitions in the OPTs and the expansion of the illegal settlements?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

We are conflating two different issues here. As the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, the Israeli ambassador has already apologised for that incident, and the diplomat concerned has been removed from his post and sent home. I think I have dealt with the overall questions of settlements and demolitions in my answers to the other questions.

Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I thank the Minister for his responses, but I would like him to be a bit clearer and tell us how DFID has supported those people who are now homeless due to the systematic policy of settlement expansion.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

The central story is that DFID is doing three types of things for Palestinian people. First, we are supporting Palestinian state structures, in particular health and education—doctors, teachers and nurses. Secondly, we are working on making sure that we can create a viable economy and employment, particularly through support to small businesses. Thirdly, we invest in human capital; in other words, we invest in making sure that the Palestinian people are educated, healthy and have opportunities for security and stability in the region in the short term. But in the long term there cannot be a two-state solution unless we address the needs of the Palestinian people.