Israel and Palestine: Gaza — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 15th January 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Spokesperson for International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 11:30 am, 15th January 2009

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking with the international community to address the current situation in Gaza.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, with more than 1,000 people now dead in Gaza, many of them civilians and children, the urgent need for a diplomatic solution is clear. We, along with the international community, will continue to call both publicly and privately for an immediate halt to all violence and urgent action to alleviate the humanitarian situation, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1860. Robust and immediate ceasefire is the only way in which the current situation in Gaza can be addressed.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Spokesperson for International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and for his directness not only today but also on Monday. As the deaths in Gaza now surpass, as he said, 1,000, one-third of whom are children, and with the bombing today of the headquarters of the UN relief organisation UNWRA, does he agree that Israel's actions are utterly disproportionate and completely counterproductive to its long-term interest; and that, for the sake of Gaza, the region and the wider world, we need not only an immediate ceasefire, to which he referred, and an end to the blockade of Gaza, but a far stronger and fairer international pressure to work with all parties, without preconditions, to bring forward a just resolution to the situation in the region, thus reducing the likelihood of further deaths on either side?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, let me first assure the whole House as well as the noble Baroness that we utterly condemn what has happened today to the UNWRA headquarters in Gaza city. There is absolutely no excuse for it. It reminds me all too well of a similar attack in 2006 on a UN observation post in Lebanon. This does nobody any credit. Our sympathies go to the families of these victims as they do to all the victims of this conflict. On her second point, it is evidently the case that achieving a ceasefire—and beyond that, a lasting peace—requires that the issues and causes of both sides are fully addressed.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, given the rejection of the latest UN resolution by Israel, will Her Majesty's Government seek the suspension of the EU-Israel trade and association agreement? Further, will they stop the export from this country of military goods regardless of whether they are lethal or non-lethal or dual-use? Finally, will they withdraw Her Majesty's ambassador from Tel Aviv?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, as I said in the previous debate here on this matter, our military exports to Israel are of a non-lethal kind. Israel remains an important ally and partner; so withdrawing our ambassador or in other ways cutting off our ability to dialogue with Israel would, I think, be utterly counterproductive. We have to find a way of working with Israel on this. I also have to add that Israel has its own very large arms industry. So I do not think that taking steps beyond what we are already doing would have the effect that the noble Lord would wish for.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

My Lords, I was in the south of Israel just a short time ago, and rockets and bombs were falling everywhere. We were rushing in and out of air raid shelters; people were being killed, and properties destroyed. In my view, at that time Israel had to take action in order to protect its people and in order to deal with this. It was an utterly unacceptable situation. I commend the key role played by the Foreign Secretary in drafting the UN Security Council resolution to help end the violence. But what assurances can my noble friend give that a new ceasefire agreement will be better than the previous one—that it will achieve a lasting calm, improve the chances of peace in 2009 and save people on both sides from suffering in the way that they are?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, all in this House agree with my noble friend that the circumstances of Israeli citizens in those towns are tragic and those people deserve to be protected. In that case we have never argued that a proportionate response was not legally available to Israel to defend its citizens. The issue is the current disproportionality of the response. Secondly, as my noble friend rightly says, it is critical that any ceasefire is backed by steps that will remove the causes of this—both arms smuggling and the humanitarian blockade of Gaza from the other side. We have to address in a major way the short-term and long-term roots of the conflict.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative

My Lords, a statement was issued in the Times yesterday by Jews for Justice for Palestine, signed by almost 600 leading Jews. What is the Minister's assessment of that statement?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, my assessment of the statement is that I feel very happy to be living in the UK this time. I was living in the US when this last happened, and everyone took much more predictable positions. People were not willing to look at the conflict itself to see that, however strong a supporter of the state of Israel one is—I include myself in that number—it does not justify this kind of attack, which sets back Israel's situation in the world.