Palestine: Non-Jewish Population - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:03 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat 3:03 pm, 26th June 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to ensure the protection of the interests of the non-Jewish population in Palestine as set out in the Balfour Declaration in 1917.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the UK has been and continues to be a leading donor to the Palestinian Authority. We recognise that the Balfour Declaration should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination. Our focus now is on encouraging the Israelis and Palestinians to take steps that bring them closer to peace, and the best way to achieve this is through a two-state solution.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for what I have to say was the usual sort of Answer. Is she aware that 100 years after the Balfour Declaration and 50 years after the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel, the Palestinians living in Israel do not have the same rights and services as Jewish citizens? Is she also aware that in the West Bank Palestinians are subjected, and have been for 50 years, to brutal and humiliating treatment and the destruction of their homes and lands, and that in Gaza there is malnutrition, water is undrinkable and electricity is now supplied for only two hours each day? The situation in Gaza is so bad that a United Nations report has said that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. What is the Minister going to do about it?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

To go back to the starting premise of the noble Baroness’s Question—the Balfour Declaration—many people believed that establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral thing to do. It will be for historians to assess the declaration in that context. Coming forward to the current day and age, the United Kingdom Government have been very consistent in their approach. We want to see the creation of a viable two-state solution. We think that is possible with determination on both sides. We have firmly made it clear that the occupations are unsustainable, and we need to call for both sides to promote peace, stability and security. That also means pressing both sides on the need to refrain from taking actions which make peace more difficult.

The noble Baroness concluded by referring to the situation in Gaza, which is extremely worrying; certainly, on a purely humanitarian level that has to give concern to anybody viewing what is happening. But again, the powers that have control to deal with that are, essentially, the Palestinian Authority in consultation with Israel. We also hope that Hamas can be persuaded to deal in a more constructive manner with the citizens currently residing in Gaza.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, in her first reply, the Minister appeared to confirm the Government’s support for a two-state solution. Can she therefore confirm that the Government are now in favour of recognising the state of Palestine, and if not, why not?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord will not be surprised, I think, by my response. Again, the position of the United Kingdom Government has been consistent and we have said that this is not the time, in our opinion, to accord that recognition. We believe that much more has to be done in negotiating the viable creation of two states and to address the issues of peace and the cessation of activity which is illegal. The United Kingdom will select its moment when it thinks it is appropriate to consider addressing the issue which the noble Lord raises.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, the Balfour Declaration makes it plain that the creation of Israel should neither prejudice the rights of Jewish communities elsewhere, nor those of,

“existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

What will the Government do, therefore, to ensure that international law is upheld in relation to illegal settlements, which, far from contracting, are being officially sanctioned to expand?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The United Kingdom Government have opposed the settlements on the grounds of contravening international law and, in many respects, contravening international humanitarian law. These representations have been made robustly, not just by the current Government but by previous Governments. What we want to see is the creation of a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel.

Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Conservative

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that while the rights of non-Jewish citizens are, quite rightly, better protected in Israel than in any other part of the Middle East, citizens of Palestine, to whom I believe the Question refers, do not fare so well? Does she agree that we should be addressing the concerns raised by the report from Amnesty International, which points out that Hamas has summarily executed, without trial, a large number of its opponents in Gaza?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Again, the United Kingdom Government have been clear in their attitude to Hamas. We have proscribed the military wing of that organisation since 2001. The United Kingdom Government currently have a policy of no contact with Hamas, including the political wing as well as the military wing. Our position is very clear: Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s continued commitment to the two-state solution. I also welcome her commitment to promoting peace. One way to commemorate the Balfour Declaration would be to promote intercommunity relationships. Can she give us examples of where the Government will be doing this to mark the centenary, so that they are not talking just with Governments but with people, promoting intercommunity relationships, particularly in schools and among children?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, makes an important point. I believe that a very positive dividend can often be reaped by such activity as that to which he refers. Certainly, in trying to encourage fresh negotiations to address the current challenges and difficulties, the UK Government are working through multilateral institutions, including the United Nations and the EU, to support resolutions and policies that encourage both sides to take steps that rebuild trust. The Arab League and Arab states also have a key role in that peace process and we are discussing with them ways that we can move the situation forward.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister do all in her power to promote the “Made in Palestine” brand as a way in which to encourage direct development in Gaza and the West Bank?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I do not have specific information on that issue but we certainly think it is right that people have a basic entitlement to determine where they buy goods and from which source. That is up to them. The United Kingdom Government have assisted with labelling in certain cases. If I can ascertain more information, I shall to write to the noble Viscount.