The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 20 April.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement on the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
I know the whole House will join me in condemning the horrific murder of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee by a terrorist just over a week ago, and in offering our deepest condolences to Rabbi Leo Dee and the rest of the family in their pain and grief. My colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, recently joined Lucy Dee’s family in London to sit shiva, the Jewish mourning period. I pay tribute to the extraordinary and noble decision of the Dee family to donate Lucy’s organs, saving five lives so far and possibly more. That act of compassion and generosity in a moment of tragedy stands in vivid contrast to the senseless and abhorrent violence that robbed a family of its mother and two sisters.
The United Kingdom unequivocally condemns that act of terrorism. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on the Friday, shortly after Maia and Rina had been murdered, to offer our sympathy and co-ordinate our response. We also condemn the second act of terrorism against Israel on Good Friday, when a car rammed into civilians in Tel Aviv, killing an Italian citizen and injuring many others, including some British nationals.
Those callous acts are more examples of the attacks that have plagued the lives of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians for too long. As the British Government have made clear, the UK remains steadfast in its commitment to work with the Israeli authorities, the Palestinian authorities and all parties in the region and in the international community to bring an end to the terrorism that Israel faces and to the destructive violence that we continue to witness.
The people of Israel deserve to live free from the scourge of terrorism and anti-Semitic incitement, which gravely undermine the prospects for a two-state solution. The UK strongly condemns the numerous terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians this year, including the killing of seven Israelis on Holocaust Memorial Day. In recent months, Israel has also faced indiscriminate rocket, missile and drone attacks from groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and from hostile groups in Lebanon and Syria, unjustifiably and unlawfully threatening the lives of civilians. Israel must also contend with appalling rhetoric from Iran and others calling for an end to its very existence. That underlines the threats that Israel faces every day, and the UK will never waver from supporting Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence.
However, our support for Israel is not confined to its defence and security. I can also inform the House that on
The road map is the product of detailed negotiations to deepen and expand our co-operation up to 2030, following the elevation of our relationship to a strategic partnership in 2021. It provides detailed commitments for deepening UK-Israel co-operation, including in trade, cyber, science and tech, research and development, security, health, climate and gender. The road map also demonstrates the seriousness with which we take the global problem of anti-Semitism. The UK is proud of being the first Government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition. There is no better tool to define how anti-Semitism manifests itself in the 21st century.
I turn now to the alarming violence we are seeing across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The conflict is exacting an ever-greater human toll. The number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli security forces in the West Bank, including 15 year-old Muhammad Nidal, and Israelis killed in acts of terrorism, including Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee, is significantly higher than at this point in 2022. In that regard, we call on the Palestinian Authority to denounce incitement to violence and resume their security co-operation with the Israeli authorities. We say to the Israeli Government that although Israel has a legitimate right to defend its citizens from attack, the Israeli security forces must live up to their obligations under international humanitarian law.
In this situation, it is all too easy for actions by one side to escalate tensions. The raid by Israeli police on Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan and on the first day of Passover was one such incident. When Israeli security forces conduct operations, they must ensure that they are proportionate and in accordance with international law. The anger that arose across the region and beyond from the police’s actions in Al-Aqsa underlines the necessity of respecting and protecting the sanctity of Jerusalem’s holy sites, especially when Ramadan, Passover and Easter overlap, as they have done this year. It is vital that all parties respect the historic status quo arrangements in Jerusalem, which allow coexistence between faiths. I welcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent announcement on de-escalating tensions. We value Jordan’s important role as custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and I pay tribute to the Jordanian authorities for protecting the safety and security of the holy sites and all who worship and visit them.
Let me restate clearly the position of the UK: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees. To be clear, the UK-Israel road map agreement that I have mentioned in no way alters our position on the Middle East peace process. A two-state solution offers the best prospects of achieving sustainable peace.
We do not underestimate the challenges but firmly believe that, if both parties show bold leadership, peace is possible. The Israelis and the Palestinians showed leadership recently when their representatives met in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss ways to de-escalate. Those talks—the first of their kind for many years—were a positive and welcome step. The UK is working with both sides and our international partners to support this process and uphold the commitments that were made.
The UK continues to be a strong supporter of all efforts to promote peace in the Middle East and a lasting and sustainable agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and we will work with all parties to progress that goal. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I join the Government in condemning the appalling and cowardly murder of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee, and send our deepest condolences to Rabbi Leo Dee and the rest of the family.
This year has been one of the deadliest for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: 98 Palestinians, including at least 17 children, have been killed by Israeli forces, and 17 Israelis have been killed so far in 2023. Each life lost is a tragedy, and every Palestinian and Israeli deserves a just solution to the conflict. As Andrew Mitchell said in the debate on the Statement:
“When the House speaks with one voice, particularly in its condemnation of human rights abuses, we have an impact, and our voices are heard”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/4/23; col. 394.]
We must therefore be united in strongly opposing all actions that make a two-state solution harder to achieve, including rocket attacks, the expansion of illegal settlements, settler violence and evictions and demolitions, and condemn all acts of terrorism.
Last month, the 2030 Roadmap for UK-Israel Bilateral Relations was signed, and Andrew Mitchell assured the other place that it did not indicate any change in the UK’s long-established position on a two-state solution. Can the Minister therefore explain why there was no mention of this objective in the road map?
Andrew Mitchell also referred to the meetings between the Israelis and Palestinians in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss ways to de-escalate the rising tensions. What are the Government doing with our international partners to support that process, and what is the Government’s assessment of both Israeli and Palestinian commitments made in those meetings being met?
Earlier today it was reported that a Jordanian MP has been arrested following allegations of attempts to smuggle weapons into Israel. Given concerns that the violence could spread, can the Minister tell us whether we are working with Jordan on de-escalation and engaging on this issue?
Andrew Mitchell said:
“The UK’s position on settlements is absolutely clear: settlements are illegal”.
Earlier this month, UN special rapporteurs called on the international community to raise this issue. Have the Government taken any specific steps on this call?
The Minister stated in the other place that
“the UK is clear that the demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and call into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution”.
He also said that the UK Government
“are also focused on preventing demolitions from happening in the first place … through our legal aid programme”.
Can the noble Lord tell us what resources have been devoted to this programme and what assessment has been made of the success rate in challenging demolitions within the Israeli legal system?
The damage that Israeli restrictions on movement, access and trade inflict on the living standards of ordinary Palestinians, especially in Gaza, is huge. Can the noble Lord tell us what progress has been made on the UK’s call for access into and out of Gaza, in accordance with international humanitarian law, for humanitarian actors, reconstruction materials and those, including Palestinians, travelling for medical purposes? What support are we giving to UN agencies and key partners on the ground in this regard?
In conclusion, Andrew Mitchell stated that
“the UK will recognise a Palestinian state at a time when the Government believe this will best serve the objective of peace”.—[
Can the noble Lord specify the conditions the Government believe need to be met for this to happen?
My Lords, given that it will be a while until we have the repeat of Thursday’s Statement on Sudan, I thank, through the Minister, the envoy for his responsiveness to me on that issue.
I share in the condolences expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, to the family—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, personally provided solace to them—and, in the wider context, to the families of the 17 Israelis killed so far in 2023 and the 17 Palestinian children among the 98 Palestinians. The murders of civilians are especially egregious and must be condemned. The responsibility of those in control is to reduce tension, and this is of course made harder when an Israeli family is devastated by loss, but also when the occupying power, Israel, does not even allow the registration of a Palestinian killed, as we read today. We join in the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of statehood of our ally and friend Israel, but recognise that this is one of the bloodiest years in many, far outstripping the violence last year.
It is therefore regrettable that this year looks less and less like a year of opportunity for peacemaking but rather, one of increased violence, notwithstanding the recent meetings referred to in the Statement. Israel is suffering from terrorism outwith and within its borders, but it is moving to wider breaches of international law with impunity; and moves to put those in the new Government of Israel—the most extreme members of the most right-wing Government in its 75 years—in civilian control of military administration of the illegally occupied territories is, in effect, a proposal for annexation. There is a combination of continuing lack of robust security and control within the Palestinian Authority, but also an Israeli Government facing unprecedented opposition at home.
Of course, for peace there needs to be talk, as the Statement highlighted, and I agree with the Minister in that regard. However, for a significant breakthrough, who would talk? It is correct that Israeli Governments are faced with groups who deny the very existence of the state, but now others face Israeli Ministers who deny the very existence of the Palestinian people. US Israeli groups are refusing to meet Prime Minister Netanyahu because of concerns about the consequences of what he described to CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday as legislation to
“make corrections in our judicial system”.
If we all believe in the rule of law—I hope the Minister will agree with this—then the burden is placed on an occupying power as a sovereign entity. However, the only reference to the illegal occupation in the road map referred to is one line in the security section of the introduction:
“We will cooperate in improving Palestinian livelihoods and Palestinian economic development”.
This suggests to any reader that we consider Palestine to be a federal province rather than an occupied territory. However, regardless of the view on that, we have actively and deliberately cut economic development support to Palestine, inhibiting the development of livelihoods, which acts against avowed UK policy. As I have raised previously, why has UK support for Palestine, which was £102 million in 2020, been reduced to £6 million in 2023-24? Department for Business and Trade funding for economic development in the area, which was stressed specifically in the road map Statement, has been cut from £25 million to zero. What impact does the Minister believe that will have, and what likelihood is there that there will be support for economic development within Palestine? If the UK plays a role, it must be to make a two-state solution viable in a practical way.
Finally, I welcome chapter 12 of the road map, on gender, but why is it silent on other areas of tolerance? Avi Maoz was a deputy Minister under Netanyahu—a religious nationalist, anti-Arab and anti-LGBTQ coalition partner representative. Mr Maoz has described LGBT people as a threat to the family and said that he wanted to cancel gay pride parades. He has also said that a woman’s greatest’s contribution is in marriage and raising a family. Are UK Ministers engaging with all parties in the coalition in order to develop the road map, or only with certain of them? Regarding those who are still in government who are homophobic, are the Government intending to work with them on chapter 12, and why have other areas of tolerance been excluded? I hope the Minister can respond to these points.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lords from the two Front Benches for their support for the Government’s Statement and add our unequivocal condemnation of acts of terrorism which, tragically, saw yet another family, that of Rabbi Dee, ripped apart, with the incredible loss that he and the Dee family have suffered, with the loss of both his wife and two beautiful daughters. I know I speak for the whole House in once again reiterating both our collective sense of abhorrence of the act of terror that took their lives and our strong sense of solidarity and support at this very trying time.
That said, there has been the generosity and strength of spirit shown by Rabbi Dee himself through his engagement. Noble Lords will have read the letter that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary sent to Rabbi Dee. I had the opportunity to visit Lucy Dee’s family and meet her parents, sisters and brother at their home and join the shiva. I can share with noble Lords the incredible sense of tolerance and recognition. There was no hate being directed to those who had carried out these abhorrent acts. There was, yes, a call for justice, but, equally, a recognition of our common humanity. There could not be no better example of that then in the donation we saw of Lucy Dee’s organs, one of which went to a Palestinian Arab.
It reflects a common humanity when we see such acts of violence as we have seen and some acts of terror as we have witnessed recently. As the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, both alluded to, the toll on human life is incredible. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, every life lost is a tragedy in itself. That is why I assure both noble Lords that we remain absolutely committed to a two-state solution, where we see not just the independence of both states. In the world in which we stand, ultimately there will be an interdependence between a future Palestinian state and the State of Israel.
Israel has, of course, an absolute right to protect its citizens. That is why, when the events unfolded at the Al-Aqsa mosque, we were among the first directly to raise the reaction that we saw across the Arab and Islamic world. I engaged quite directly with the Israeli authorities, as I did with the Palestinian authorities and other key neighbours. We immediately needed a de-escalation. Of course, we saw further attacks, with the missiles that were launched into Israel from both Lebanon and Gaza, but, thankfully, with both the Palestinians and the Israeli Government, notwithstanding some of the responses, after that period ended—and long may it last—we saw a de-escalation and, thankfully, the violence that was being experienced receded.
Turning to some of the specific questions, I assure both noble Lords that the United Kingdom remains absolutely engaged on the issue of Israel and our relationship with the OPTs. Recently, I have been engaging directly. I had a conversation with the Israeli ambassador on Friday. Prior to that, I met Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian representative. There were a couple of points about the road map, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, that I was able to deal with. This in no way undermines or changes the position of the United Kingdom Government on the two-state solution. Equally, however, it is important that we recognise Israel as a partner and move forward on a bilateral basis to strengthen our relationship. As both noble Lords alluded to, there were specific references made to the importance of our relationship and our different partnerships, but also Israel’s current role in the OPTs. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, alluded to, the issue of security is paramount, but the welfare of Palestinians in the OPTs is also important.
On the point on settlements raised by both noble Lords, again, the United Kingdom Government are absolutely clear. We regard the settlements as illegal and against progress on the two-state solution. Many within Israel have also challenged the current Government in the calls they have made on certain of the outposts. On the converse, I would say, as I saw myself through my visit to Israel when the new Government came in, Israel is a robust democracy where the independence of the judiciary is respected. Many within Israel are having the very discussions which have seized many parts of the world. It is important that that vibrancy of that democracy demonstrates the discussions that are taking place.
On the issue of the two-state solution and recognition of Palestine at the appropriate time, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referenced my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell. It is very important—we have been stressing this through our direct engagement—that the next step must be a restart of direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government. We are certainly working with key partners, and directly with both, to ensure that we play our part. That is why we were involved in the discussions that took place on de-escalation at both Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh. I visited Cairo in this respect. I also had a very constructive meeting with Foreign Minister Shoukry about the important role that Egypt and Jordan play, as two countries that have signed peace agreements with the State of Israel.
On the issue of routes into and providing support to the Palestinian Territories, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, understandably raised, and I recognise, that there has been a reduction of support in many parts of the world through the reduction of ODA, but, last year, we again supported the UN on the ground, including UNRWA. When I went to Hebron recently, I also visited an UNRWA school. It is important that other countries in the region also support the livelihood and education of Palestinian children.
When I met Ministers in the Israeli Government, I also raised the importance and responsibility of raising the prosperity agenda, seeing opportunities that can exist for all citizens, including, in this instance, Arab citizens within the State of Israel. I visited Technion when I went to the city of Haifa, and saw how education is both empowering and enabling all communities within Israel, but we want that opportunity equally for people within the OPTs and, ultimately, progress towards a viable, sustainable Palestinian state. For that, we need not only strong co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority but the support of those key partners who have signed deals with Israel. That is why, within the road map, we also stressed the importance of strengthening the Abraham Accords. I do not see them as separate routes; they are all part of the same equation to see how we can strengthen and see stability and security prevail within that part of the world.
On the issues raised about economic development, I agree with both noble Lords on the issue of two-state solutions; I do not think there is a difference between the views of any parties about the importance of the viability of a two-state solution. In that, I am on record, as are colleagues of mine, including the Foreign Secretary, on the position I have already stated on the illegal settlements, but also that, ultimately, the next important step is negotiation—but there needs to be valid partners for that. The security and stability of Israel are important, as is the welfare and progress of every Palestinian. There is loss of life—we see the Dee family and what has been suffered. We see demolitions: I went to Masafer Yatta—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised this—to profile the importance of retaining institutions which have been built, such as schools and community centres, and to highlight the importance of the welfare of Palestinian communities, particularly those beyond Area A, according to the Oslo Accords.
Whether it is the toll of the tragic and abhorrent deaths through terrorism of Lucy Dee, Maia and Rina, or the death of 15 year-old Muhammad Nidal, these are all individuals, yes, but they are all families, and the impact is being felt by everyone across both Israel and the OPTs.
I assure noble Lords that, since taking on this brief, I have prioritised the importance of direct engagement by the United Kingdom Government, and I will continue to do so and update the House accordingly.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entries in the register of interests, particularly those relating to friendship with Israel.
My noble friend the Minister and I have been friends and have worked together for a long time. I have never been prouder of him than when I saw his visits to the Dee shiva. Sometimes Ministers have to deliver difficult messages and do difficult things, but I thought that he showed immense humanity in his visits. I think the whole House is proud of the way in which he expressed himself there.
All that makes it slightly more difficult for me to say the following. The Palestinian Authority has a “pay for slay” system, where money is handed over by way of a pension or stipend to Palestinians who murder Israeli citizens, particularly Jews. When we were in the EU, the EU administered the prisoners scheme and held a list; we did not have direct access. Now, we administer that scheme ourselves. Will the Minister make it clear to the Palestinian Authority that British taxpayers’ money will not be paid out for the murderer of a mother and two girls on a visit to the seaside? Will he tell the authority about the requests made at Sharm el-Sheikh and, in particular, at Aqaba? Will he tell the authority that it has lost control of Jenin and Nablus and needs to re-establish itself because a consequence of its absence there is that armed gangs are murdering Palestinians within its area?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks. On his specific questions, I assure him that we have stressed to both the Palestinians and the Israelis—I did so directly to the Palestinians—the importance of ensuring that the security co-operation that has existed and continued between both sides, notwithstanding the challenges that have been faced on the ground, is restored at the earliest opportunity.
I further assure my noble friend that no UK aid—this has been looked at over a period of time—is used for payments to Palestinian prisoners, their families or the so-called martyrs fund. However, we stand by the importance of supporting essential needs in the West Bank and Gaza, which I am sure my noble friend recognises. Equally, we stress and ensure that checks and balances and mitigations are put in place to ensure that such support and funding reaches the most vulnerable.
On my noble friend’s other point, as I reassured the Israeli ambassador on Friday, these issues are raised directly. The strength of our investment in our relationships with both the Israelis and, in this instance, the Palestinian Authority means that we will continue to raise these issues at the highest levels with the PA.
My Lords, following on from the question asked by my noble friend Lord Collins, can the Minister tell the House precisely what steps the Government are taking to work with the international community to prevent yet more Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank? The latest plans involve nearly 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem; these developments are entrenching a one-state reality and denying Palestinians basic rights. What hope is there for both peace and the two-state solution in these circumstances? For how much longer are the Israeli Government going to get away with ignoring their obligations under international law with impunity with respect to illegal settlements?
My Lords, I have already stated the Government’s position but, to be absolutely clear, we regard the settlements as illegal under international law. They call into question the progress on and commitment to a two-state solution. We have urged Israel to halt its settlement expansion, which threatens the physical viability of a Palestinian state; we did so recently in direct bilateral discussions with the Israeli Government. We have also acted with our key partners: the United States, France, Germany and Italy. We jointly issued a statement on
On demolitions, as I have already said, some of the strongest statements that we can make are through direct visits. We are committed to working with all parties in respect of these demolitions and evictions of Palestinian property; most notably, at the moment, a demolitions order remains over the Palestinian town of Masafer Yatta. As I have said, I had visited directly and, in doing so, have raised this issue directly with the Israeli ambassador and Israeli Ministers. I will continue to do so.
Ultimately, wherever one stands—for example, as a friend and a partner, as we are in the United Kingdom and across this House—on Israel and a future Palestinian state, the fact is that there can be no lasting, sustainable peace until we see that objective being realised; I am certainly clear on that in my mind. However, to do so requires compromise, negotiation and, ultimately, real recognition that sustainable peace will be possible only once we see that reality—but only that reality—and the interdependency that exists between people. There is so much shared there—the culture and the community. What needs to be recognised is that what has happened in the past should not be a sheer determinant of what happens in future. We need to play our part as the United Kingdom. I assure noble Lords that I am seeking to do just that.
My Lords, I certainly share the House’s condemnation of the violence on both sides and agree with the Minister very strongly that the only way forward is a two-state solution. I join my noble friend Lord Pickles in praising the Minister for his personal role in this very sad saga over the last fortnight or so.
Does the Minister agree that the appalling rhetoric from Iran that the state of Israel has no right to exist was quite shocking and deeply unhelpful? What representations will we make to the state of Iran and to the UN on this matter?
Following on from a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the 2030 road map stated very clearly that we were going to do all that we possibly could to boost trade between the UK and Israel, particularly around tech start-ups, support for SMEs, training and R&D. Further to the noble Lord’s point, I think that the House accepts and understands that there will be a reduction in ODA going into those poorer parts of the Palestinian territories, but are we serious about boosting support for small businesses and enterprise in those Palestinian areas to relieve poverty? Surely trade and the creation of wealth will lead to the empowerment of the Palestinian people and make a two-state solution more likely.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. On his final point, it is my firm belief that, ultimately, economic empowerment and education provide real opportunities to progress, irrespective of where a person is in the world. That is why it is important that while we stand very strongly in our position, we also seek to strengthen our negotiations and relationship with Israel.
Equally, on the point alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I reassure noble Lords that this in no way negates our previous position on the OPTs. I made this clear when I met the Palestinian representative, for whom it was also a concern.
Regarding recognition, it appals me when such statements are made by certain individuals in a given Government. We cannot support statements which do not recognise the existence of a particular community or people, and the same applies to Iran. It still shocks me to this day. Israel has been in existence for many decades. It is a reality on the map. You may not like it, but it is a reality, and those who do not like it need to live with it and recognise that Israel plays a very important role in the world.
We have made our position on Iran’s statements very clear. This morning, we sanctioned more individuals within the IRGC. I was very supportive of the proscription that was given to Hamas and of our non-engagement with it, because Israel is a reality—Israel exists. It is equally important that, as we move forward, Palestinians exist. With our approach of being both friends to the Palestinian community and strong friends and partners to Israel, we believe that there is a role. Many in Israel recognise the importance of this, as does the Foreign Minister of Israel, Eli Cohen. That is why the road map also recognised the importance of the economic empowerment and economic progress of Palestinians. While we work towards the two-state solution, the humanity and economic progress of Palestinians should not be forgotten.
My Lords, I join with others in expressing condolences and in the condemnation of violence, however caused and by whom. However, my attention has been drawn to the concluding sentence of the section of the Statement on the mounting death toll, which says:
“We say to the Israeli Government that although Israel has a legitimate right to defend its citizens from attack, the Israeli security forces must live up to their obligations under international humanitarian law.”
A little later, in relation to the al-Aqsa raid and the status quo, it states:
“The raid by Israeli police on Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan and on the first day of Passover was one such incident. When Israeli security forces conduct operations, they must ensure that they are proportionate and in accordance with international law.”
International law is mentioned twice. I am aware of the full explanation which the Minister gave of the Government’s policy, but given that international law is referred to twice, it is surprising that the breach of international law which is constituted by the illegal settlements was not referred to at all. Nor was there any reference to settler violence, an issue which I have raised with the Minister on other occasions.
My Lords, I fully recognise that the situation and the violence that occurred at the al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan and Israel’s response was called out quite directly by the UK Government. I put out a statement at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to obligations of a particular power deemed to be an occupying power, and that is the situation which prevails in the OPTs—that is why we call them the Occupied Palestinian Territories. That comes with obligations in terms of the protection and rights of those within those territories, and it applies to all people within the OPTs. Al-Aqsa is in east Jerusalem, which we regard as part of the OPTs.
On settler violence, by definition, any violence should be condemned, and we totally condemn settler violence that takes place. Provisions are in place and that is why the obligations on the Israeli security forces, as well as the Palestinian security forces, are key. I come back to my earlier point that an urgent first step to prevent further violence must be co-operation between the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli defence forces, which we have seen in even quite testing circumstances. Certainly, we support efforts being made in that regard.
My Lords, I refer to my registered interest as the president of Conservative Friends of Israel.
I was in Israel for Passover with my family. The attack was horrific. In fact, the other attack—the ramming —happened outside our hotel on the Friday night, when sadly an Italian lawyer passed away from being hit by the car. It was actually frightening. I was with my grandkids; it was all a bit too close.
If I may say, the initial response from the FCDO was, frankly, weak and embarrassing. That first statement over the weekend after the horrific killing of Lucy and her two daughters was embarrassing. But I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, who after his weekend break came out with a very strong statement about terror, followed by the Foreign Secretary’s letter.
In paying tribute to them, I want to pay tribute, as has been done by others, to my noble friend the Minister. We went together to see the family—the parents of Lucy and therefore the grandparents of the two girls—at the shiva in St John’s Wood, and sat together. Unfortunately, in life, I have been to many shivas. This was harrowing in so many ways. Yet, as the Minister suggested, the positivity from the family was not hatred; it was about trying to move forward. They had just lost their daughter and yet were talking like that. So, in that way, I have to say that there is hope. I do not think that the Minister should underestimate the profound effect that his visit, and of him taking time out and sitting with the family, had on the family and the wider community.
Tonight is Yom HaZikaron; in the Israeli calendar, it is the night where the whole of Israel will stop to remember the soldiers who have given their lives for the state. That carries on until tomorrow evening, which becomes Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day—75 years, as has been mentioned.
It is all the more concerning to me that, just before coming into the Chamber this evening, there was another car ramming in Jerusalem. People’s lives are being devastated.
So, I have two questions for my noble friend. The first is picking up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. He talked about LGBT rights. I ask my noble friend: where else in the Middle East, including in the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, does the LGBT community have rights comparable with what it has in Israel? Is there anywhere else in that area that has the rights that the LGBT community has?
Secondly, it has been a couple of weeks since the Prime Minister met with the Prime Minister of Israel. I would be grateful if he could give us a little bit of understanding of that meeting.
My Lords, first I also recognise and thank the noble Lord for going to the shiva. Having him present there was also helpful, I think, when you are trying to bridge certain cultures, be it by faith or community, particularly in such trying and testing circumstances for the family concerned. As I want to again say, it was incredible in terms of the conversations we had, and also the strength of spirit—I certainly felt quite inspired after seeing not just the sense of forgiveness but recognition of a common humanity.
I think my noble friend has already both asked and answered his first question. I think that is a reflection of the vibrant democracy which I alluded to in the state of Israel. Notwithstanding the different and quite passionate discourses that take place in Israel, there are different communities, including the LGBT community. There is a flourishing Israeli-Arab community as well. I think these are realities on the ground which we all very much recognise.
In terms of the discussions in the visit that took place by Prime Minister Netanyahu, it was also building upon the importance of the road map which was signed between Foreign Minister Cohen and Foreign Secretary Cleverly, to see how we could progress that in terms of practical delivery. I am sure that my noble friend recognises, as does the whole House, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister also used that as an opportunity to stress the importance of the two-state solution, and also the importance of the United Kingdom as a constructive partner to both Israel and the Palestinians.