Middle East

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

What recent assessment he has made of the likelihood of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

What assessment he has made of the (a) sources of funding and supply for, (b) size of the arsenal behind and (c) political implications for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process of continued rocket fire into Israel from the Gaza strip.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The UK remains committed to a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we maintain a regular dialogue with our international counterparts about the peace process. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific met Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev on 30 April, and raised our concerns about recent Israeli comments on west bank annexation. We wholly condemn rocket fire by Hamas and other militants. We urge the parties to make progress towards a long-term agreement, and we look forward to the details of Mr Jared Kushner’s proposals.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

The successful conclusion of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is absolutely key to peace in the region; we accept that. Does the Minister not agree that the continued rejection of peace talks by Hamas and its continued commitment to the destruction of the state of Israel are real problems, and that until that is addressed it is very difficult for Israel to sit down and negotiate with Hamas?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I strongly urge Hamas to desist from its activities. There is no way we can proceed towards a two-state solution until we have revocation of violence. Particularly from his position of strength as a Northern Ireland Member of Parliament and somebody who is well used to these matters, he speaks extremely wisely.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

I welcome the Minister’s condemnation of any proposals to annex Occupied Palestinian Territories, but we know that President Trump will announce the “deal of the century” shortly after he visits this country next month. It might include proposals that support the Netanyahu Administration’s idea of going ahead with annexation, so what will the Minister do to prevent that, and what will he do if they do?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question, but I am certainly not going to speculate on the matter he raises. Apropos the Foreign Secretary’s remarks a few moments ago, we are America’s closest friend and ally, but that does not prevent us from criticising it from time to time; that is what being friends is all about. [Interruption.] The shadow Foreign Secretary is chuntering from a sedentary position, but I gently point out that on 26 March officials in our embassy in Washington raised concerns directly with US counterparts regarding the United States’s decision to recognise the Golan Heights as part of the state of Israel, which is unacceptable.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

A perception that the west applies the rule of law partially undermines our ability to broker peace, so what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the international rule of law is applied equally to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and to terrorist elements within Palestine?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right that we need to be fair and equitable, and nowhere more so than in the middle east. I point to the postponed demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in area C of the west bank as an example of a positive intervention. We urge Israel to convert that postponement into something permanent. Although we are clearly friends with Israel, and indeed equally, I hope, with the Palestinians, that enables us from time to time to give a word to the wise, and that is what we will continue to do on both sides.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

While unemployment in Gaza is at 50% and two thirds of Gazans live in poverty, over half of Hamas’s budget goes on military expenditure. Would not the lives of civilians in Gaza be improved, and the prospects for the peace process enhanced, were Hamas to spend its money, time and effort on the civilian population, rather than on building up its rocket arsenal?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Good governance means doing the things he describes. If Hamas aspires to run its territory as a good Government, it must address the concerns of its population. I will just point out that we have supported Gazans recently by addressing critical water and sanitation needs through a £2 million grant to UNICEF, and we have announced £2 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross for medicines and surgical supplies, so we are doing our bit.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

I join colleagues in welcoming the new Minister for the Middle East to his post. Although I applaud the sterling work that other Foreign Office Ministers have been doing to cover the absence, it really is a disgrace that, at a time like this, we should have 50 days without a dedicated Minister for such a critical region. Does he agree that it is also a disgrace that Prime Minister Netanyahu is proposing to give the Israeli Government and Parliament the legal authority to ignore rulings from the Israeli Supreme Court and to put himself personally above the law?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I have to say to the right hon. Lady that in general we would support the Israeli Government, who are the only democracy in the middle east and a firm friend of this country. Where we find that our friends are doing something that we consider to be edgy or with which we disagree, we will certainly be keen to discuss that with them. I will meet the Israeli ambassador shortly to discuss a range of issues, and that matter might form part of our discussions, given that the right hon. Lady has raised it on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

We of course support Israel, but we also support the rule of law. We can all see where this is going. Exactly one year on from the slaughter on the Gaza border, Netanyahu is taking a further giant step away from democracy and the rule of law by giving himself immunity against prosecution and complete impunity when it comes to attacking the freedoms of Israeli Arabs, ignoring the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and completing the annexation of the west bank. Does the Minister agree that now is finally the time for the British Government to take a different step by recognising the state of Palestine while there is still a state left to recognise?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The crux of the right hon. Lady’s question is whether the British Government would recognise the state of Palestine, and I think she can anticipate my response. We support the two-state solution, when the time is right. That inevitably implies that we will support—recognise—the state of Palestine, but in the meantime we are engaged in building institutions that are necessary to sustain such a state. As I said earlier, that means building institutions across the piece, and we will continue to do that.