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Palestine: United States’ Peace to Prosperity Economic Plan - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:41 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 3:41 pm, 18th July 2019

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley for tabling this debate and all noble Lords for their thoughtful and informed contributions. I shall try to respond to all the points raised. If I may, I would like to touch on both the United States’ Peace to Prosperity economic plan as well as the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

My noble friend asked for our assessment of the economic plan, launched by the US Administration at the Peace to Prosperity conference in Bahrain at the end of June. The UK Government welcome US efforts to support development of the Palestinian economy, which is fragmented, with slowing growth and rising unemployment among a young and growing labour force. I recognise that neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority were represented at the workshop, but it was none the less a useful opportunity for the international community to consider how we can support the Palestinian economy. That is why we were represented at the conference by the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my honourable friend Robert Jenrick MP. I reassure noble Lords that at the conference, we engaged closely with European and international partners.

As noble Lords are aware, the economic proposals outlined by the US were based on a proposed $50.67 billion investment plan into Palestinian and regional projects covering a 10-year period, and setting out to halve Palestinian unemployment, double Palestinian GDP, create 1.3 million Palestinian jobs and halve the Palestinian poverty rate. Of the costed projects and programmes across multiple sectors, some of which are already under development, over half are based in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with the remainder split between Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.

The plan therefore proposes valuable programmes that seek to address a number of significant barriers to growth in the OPTs, and the proposals encourage international discussion on the development of the Palestinian economy, which is vital to reducing unemployment, promoting growth and improving Palestinian livelihoods. At this time, there are no political components to the plan and, for the time being, the occupation continues. The UK remains of the belief that a negotiated political settlement, leading to a viable and sovereign Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel, is necessary. A two-state solution—a negotiated political solution—must be the umbrella to any economic proposals, and my noble friend Lord Cope identified that sensitive balance.

I also noted that the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Swansea, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Collins, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, all reflected their concerns about that missing element in the Peace to Prosperity plan.

My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton, from her experience as a trade envoy to the Palestinian territories, spoke knowledgeably about the importance of trade and the economy. I thank her for her commitment and dedication in that role. I say to both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we continue to focus our economic development support in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and we shall double the amount of UK aid spent on economic development in the OPTs to nearly £40 million between 2018 and 2023. This UK programme is focused on helping to address restrictions on movement and access, and improving water and energy supply, particularly in Gaza.

The current impasse on the transfer of clearance revenues, which Israel is withholding, threatens the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. We believe this is in no one’s interest and that it endangers stability and security. We are working with the parties to support the implementation of the Paris Protocol agreement on the transfer of revenues to the Palestinian Authority that are collected by Israel on its behalf. We will also support the transfer of customs functions if the parties can reach agreement on this issue.

On the distressing and perplexing issue of refugees, we remain one of the largest donors to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. UK funding enables the agency to provide protection, health and education services for nearly 5.5 million Palestinian refugees. The UK’s programme of work in the OPTs reflects our desire to see the creation of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security side by side with Israel.

My noble friend Lord Cope raised the issue of Palestinian nationhood, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. The UK’s position in this matter has been consistent over a very considerable period. We will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when it best serves the objective of peace. Sadly, we have not yet reached that point. In support of this ambition, we maintain pressure on the parties to end all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution. This includes Israeli settlement activity, demolition of Palestinian property in the West Bank, and evictions of Palestinians from their homes, particularly in east Jerusalem; equally, the Israelis have the right to live in peace and security, free from the threat of terror from Hamas and other militant groups. However, settlement development and related activity call into question Israel’s commitment to peace. We would strongly oppose any move to annex all or any part of the West Bank.

For the Palestinian economy to improve, Palestinians and Palestinian goods must be permitted to move more freely and on an equal regulatory footing. Palestinians need to be better able to exploit trade opportunities within the region and beyond. The recent memorandums of understanding between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan are a welcome sign of the Palestinians’ and Jordanians’ desire to increase trade between them. We call on Israel to allow this. We remain clear that the main constraints holding back Palestinian economic development are those imposed by the Israeli occupation. These constraints must be lifted to stimulate the Palestinian private sector. This can be done without compromising Israel’s security.

I emphasise, as my honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury made clear in Bahrain, that the UK remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, of our commitment to that objective. I also pay tribute to him for his book, Beyond the Balfour Declaration. I have been reading parts of it—I cannot claim to have read it all—and what I have read impresses me. It is one of the most analytical and balanced commentaries I have come across; I think that was the book the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, was referring to.

The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, also laid out a very welcome and positive vision of what might be possible for Israel and the Palestinian Authority—a vision that I think we would all share, nurture and want to encourage. We should thank the noble Lord for that optimism, and we should all be prepared to hold true to it and see what we can do to let it fructify and materialise.

I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the UK Government remain in regular contact with the US Administration on this issue and have been clear about our parameters for the minimum requirements for peace. The Foreign Secretary has discussed this directly with Jared Kushner on a number of occasions.

We welcome US efforts to improve the Palestinian economy. However, a negotiated political solution must be the umbrella to any economic proposals, if we are to ultimately unlock lasting and sustainable economic growth for Palestinians. We therefore continue to encourage the US Administration to bring forward detailed proposals for a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that addresses the legitimate concerns of both parties. We have been clear that we believe the only way to achieve this is through substantive peace talks leading to a two-state solution.

In the meantime, we believe that much can and should be done to improve the economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As I have indicated, the United Kingdom is doing what it can to provide support, help and encouragement, and we call on Israel to engage and work with the Palestinian Authority to that end. The United Kingdom looks forward to continuing to support all efforts towards peace.

This has been a perhaps short but interesting and instructive debate in which your Lordships, from a variety of backgrounds, have offered views and opinions with authority. It is an important contribution to what I think is the concerted desire of us all to see a resolution to this difficult and perplexing problem in the Middle East. I think we all believe that a better future awaits Israel and the Palestinian Authority, if we can find that magical component to create peace. Then, the two communities can hopefully have a secure future, living side by side with each other.