Israel and Gaza - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:20 pm on 27 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 3:20, 27 February 2024

My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Development and Africa in another place on Israel and Gaza. It reads as follows:

“Let me begin by reiterating Israel’s right to defence against Hamas. We condemn the slaughter, abuse and gender-based violence perpetrated on 7 October 2023, Hamas’s use of civilian areas, its continued failure to release hostages and its ongoing launching of attacks into Israel. We are equally deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza, with tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed and injured.

The most effective way to end fighting in Gaza—the absolute focus of our diplomatic efforts right now—is to agree an immediate humanitarian pause. This would allow for the safe release of hostages and a significant increase in the aid going into Gaza. Crucially, it would also provide a vital opportunity to establish the conditions for a genuinely long-term and sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and the loss of life. That is a position shared by our close partners. It is an outcome that we believe is in reach right now and we urge all sides to seize it.

Many people may ask, including some in this House: why call for a pause and not an immediate ceasefire? We do not believe that doing so, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward. Simply calling for a ceasefire will not make it happen; there is a different and better way to stop the fighting permanently —push for a pause and then in that pause secure the sustainable ceasefire that can hold for the longer term without a return to the fighting.

The British Government have set out the vital elements to achieve a lasting peace: the release of all hostages, the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel, Hamas no longer being in charge of Gaza, the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the West Bank and Gaza, accompanied by an international support package, and a political horizon which provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution. Once we secure a pause, we will need to take action on all these elements to create irreversible momentum towards peace.

Meanwhile, I want to stress that Britain and our partners continue to do all we can to alleviate the suffering. We have trebled our aid commitment this financial year and we are doing everything we can to get more aid in and open more crossings. Last week, Britain and Jordan air-dropped life-saving aid to a hospital in northern Gaza. Four tonnes of vital supplies were provided in the air drop, including medicines, fuel, and food for hospital patients and staff. The Tal Al-Hawa Hospital set up by the Jordanian armed forces is located in Gaza City and has treated thousands of patients since the start of the crisis.

Women are bearing the brunt of the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza today. Many thousands are pregnant and will be worrying about delivering their babies safely. That is why over the weekend we also announced £4.25 million-worth of new funding for the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency in response to an appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This new UK funding will help make giving birth safer and improve the lives of mothers and their newborn babies.

It is clear, however, that the flow of aid needs to be rapidly and significantly scaled up. We have reiterated the need for Israel to open more crossing points into Gaza, for Nitzana and Kerem Shalom to be opened for longer, and for Israel to support the UN to distribute aid effectively across the whole of Gaza. The Foreign Secretary’s representative for humanitarian affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Mark Bryson-Richardson, is based in the region and is working intensively to address the blockages preventing more aid reaching Gaza. We also continue to urge Israel to limit its operations to military targets and to avoid harming civilians and destroying homes.

We have also expressed our deep concern about the prospect of a military incursion into Rafah and its consequences. Over half of Gaza’s population is sheltering in that area, including more than 600,000 children. They have nowhere to go, and the Rafah crossing remains vital to ensure that aid can reach the people who so desperately need it.

The path to a long-term solution will not be easy. Ultimately, a two-state solution is the best way to ensure safety and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. The Foreign Secretary underlined this at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Rio last week, and the Prime Minister and all ministerial colleagues will continue to press for this in all their engagements with regional partners, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We welcome the prospect of further normalisation agreements between Israel and Arab partners. We are committed to supporting their enduring success and to supporting efforts to ensure that normalisation delivers benefits for the Palestinians as well.

Our long-standing position remains that we will recognise a Palestinian state at a time that is most conducive to the peace process. The Palestinian Authority has an important long-term role to play and will need continued support from us and our partners, but it must also take concrete steps on reform. The Palestinian people need a technocratic and effective Administration who can win the confidence of the people of Gaza. We stand ready to support the Palestinian Authority to achieve this aim, following the announcement of the Prime Minister’s and previous set of Ministers’ resignation yesterday.

We also remain concerned about the situation in the West Bank, and have taken action in response to extremist settler violence.

Let me end by repeating our commitment to finding a lasting resolution to this conflict that ensures that Israelis and Palestinians can live in the future with dignity and security. The goal of our diplomacy in the Middle East is to see an end to the fighting and to create a permanent peace based on a new political horizon for the region, and we will continue working tirelessly to make this happen. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:28, 27 February 2024

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement; when I left the other place to come to the Chamber, the debate was continuing.

It is sad, but since the last Statement, there has been another month of intolerable conditions, civilian deaths, famine and disease in Gaza, and of course another month of hostages’ families in Israel living in complete anguish. The ICJ said that Israel must take measures to ensure humanitarian access; last week, the World Food Programme suspended its operations in northern Gaza; and MSF said:

“We no longer speak of a humanitarian scale-up; we speak of how to survive even without the bare minimum”, and that bare minimum is having a disastrous effect, particularly, as the noble Lord said, on women and girls, and especially on children. Children are now suffering hugely from malnutrition, which has not only an immediate impact on their health but even much longer-term impacts, which will last throughout the rest of their lives.

Today, in the other place, in his response to Minister Mitchell’s Statement, David Lammy mentioned the report from the Association of International Development Agencies, which said that visas for 100 humanitarian workers in Gaza and the West Bank have expired or are about to expire, with no humanitarian visa renewals since the outbreak of the war, leaving many workers facing deportation at a time when Palestinian people need them most. Last week I met a worker from Action Against Hunger who had to leave Gaza. No NGO wants to break visa conditions. They will comply with regulations. They do not want to put their workers at risk. It leaves them particularly vulnerable.

Andrew Mitchell acknowledged the problem in his response today, but it is not clear what specific representations have been made to the Israeli authorities for an automatic extension of these visas on humanitarian grounds. They had been extended before, so why not now? I hope the Minister can reassure us that the Government will make the strongest possible representations to ensure that these visas are extended or renewed.

Minister Mitchell also mentioned, as the Statement did, the increase in aid, particularly this month—the air drops and more trucks going through—but what assessment have we made of that increase and what further increases are needed to meet the horrific conditions that are currently applying in Gaza? Can we assist in further air drops? Are there possible sea routes through? Can we use some of the Jordanian crossings as well as aerial routes?

I have said before that Israel must comply with all the measures set out by the ICJ—and must do so now. In the other place, Kit Malthouse asked what steps the Government are taking to enforce the ICJ’s interim ruling—not condemning or discussing but enforcing. He asked specifically about Rafah. Do His Majesty’s Government believe that a full-scale Rafah offensive would be consistent with the ICJ ruling? I do not believe that anyone in this House thinks that it would be, so I hope the Minister can respond to it. Minister Mitchell said that

“the rulings of the Court are binding and must therefore be respected”.

We need some clarity on the sorts of messages that we are giving to the Israeli Government with regard to a possible assault on Rafah.

Obviously, we are getting to a very delicate position, particularly with some of the talks that are going on the moment. David Lammy said in the other place that

“it is through diplomacy, not debate in Westminster, that we will ultimately secure an end to this war”.

The talks in Paris over the weekend appear to be making some progress. Minister Mitchell said that he was “neither optimistic nor pessimistic” but that the Government were completely committed to ensuring that the talks are successful. I hope the Minister can tell us exactly what we are doing and particularly what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is doing, to ensure that we are working with our allies to do our utmost to ensure that those talks are successful.

I think that most people in this House agree that both sides should stop fighting now and all hostages should be released. We also agree, when talking about a two-state solution, that we need—as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said earlier this month—to work with our international partners to give hope to that process and to move towards recognising a Palestinian state—not wait for the end of the process but give hope so that talks and negotiations can succeed. Does the Minister agree—because David Lammy made this call—that there is an opportunity for the Government and the Opposition to work together to support that diplomatic process to deliver a two-state solution?

I suspect that the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, agree with many of the things that I have said. I hope that in the debate next Tuesday we can focus on some of these issues. I believe that this is a time when, for once, we should put politics aside, and I hope that the Government and the Official Opposition, who genuinely share the same aspirations and positions, can work together, so that we can—as David Lammy called for—put out a joint statement calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. I hope the Minister agrees with that.

In terms of the talks that are currently ongoing, I hope that we will be able to have some positive news when we debate this issue next Tuesday, but I know the Minister is not in a position to give definite answers. I hope that he will remain committed, and I know that he has been working tirelessly on this issue, to ensuring that we can achieve peace and security in the Middle East.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, does not wish this to become partisan, but I remind the House that in these Statements there are not just His Majesty’s Government and His Majesty’s loyal Opposition; the Liberal Democrats also have an opportunity to raise a few questions. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, I will raise some questions on aid and will press a little more on the question of a two-state solution and the international context.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, has talked a lot about aid, but I wonder whether the Minister could say a little more about what tripling aid means. Tripling sounds great, but what does that mean in practice? What does

“Four tonnes of vital supplies” actually mean? What percentage of people who have been displaced in Gaza are actually being fed through the aid that is coming through? What percentage of people in Gaza are without food and clean water at the moment? Getting a sense of the real numbers is important.

Clearly, we support the Government in trying to get as much aid in as possible, but, like the Official Opposition, we are calling for a ceasefire. Can the Minister say a little more about why His Majesty’s Government seem so reluctant to say that there should be a bilateral ceasefire, which would appear to be the most effective way of ensuring that aid can get through and providing an opportunity to negotiate for the return of all the hostages?

In particular, I note that Minister Mitchell in the other place talked about a two-state solution and said that His Majesty’s Government’s position is that

“we will recognise a Palestinian state at a time that is most conducive to the peace process”.

Can the Minister tell us how the Government will know when it is most conducive to the peace process? Is there some thinking in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about what that would actually mean? Can the Minister tell us a little more about His Majesty’s Government’s sense of a pathway towards a two-state solution, and what he, and particularly the Foreign Secretary, will be saying to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority about ways towards that?

Finally, in all the penumbra of the situation in Israel and Gaza there is the spectre of Iran in Yemen, Iraq and Syria and on the border with Lebanon. Have His Majesty’s Government given any further thought to proscribing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and what assessment have they made of the wider security situation, particularly on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for their questions.

I first put on the record my thanks to the noble Lord; he mentioned talking as one. Your Lordships’ House, the other place and indeed this Parliament have shown that when it matters on key issues, we do come together, as we have done on Ukraine. There is very little between the approach of both His Majesty’s Official Opposition and the Government.

I will continue to brief directly. The noble Lord will be aware that a number of His Majesty’s Opposition Front Bench have come to see me; I have updated them regularly. I have also had an opportunity to update the leader of the Liberal Democrats directly at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and to help to facilitate direct engagement as well. It is important that both the Israelis and the Palestinians know that we are fully engaged in our approach.

I will first say that both I and my noble friend Lord Cameron are fully immersed in this. Indeed, just prior to arriving in your Lordships’ House, I was with him discussing this very issue. We are very much engaged on the current live discussions. There is a trailing in the media. Of course we want an immediate stop in the fighting. It goes without saying. We can play on— I have said this from the start—whether it is a pause, ceasefire or cessation, but we need to make sure that the fighting stops and that the conditions are there to allow for it to stop on a permanent basis. We do not want any loss of life. If there is a legacy that we can provide to those 1,200 Israelis who lost their lives and to the now thousands who have lost their lives in Gaza, it is ensuring that on this occasion, the end means the end, and that we build that sustainable peace and deliver the two-state solution that everyone wants.

Picking up on the specifics, I should say that some progress is being made on the negotiations. I talked to the lead negotiator and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Qatar on Saturday; he updated me on some of the specifics, including the challenges that remain. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has been directly engaging with the Israeli Government. When he met Prime Minister Netanyahu, of course the conversation was wide-ranging, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins. We also land the quite specific points about the importance of the UN operations and all the different agencies on the ground there, notwithstanding some of the issues. We have rightly had concerns raised about UNRWA, but we have been working through that to ensure that other agencies get the support they need and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, the visas to operate. We use every opportunity to make that very clear. To be frank, the Israeli Government themselves also recognise the importance of that humanitarian support. International humanitarian law is important, and Israel’s obligations under that as a state are very clear.

In terms of success—the optimism or the pessimism— I am an eternal optimist. I always say that, in the most challenging situations, you look for that silver lining, to see how we can actually focus and amplify that hope so that we can get a result. That is where both I and the Foreign Secretary have been fully focused.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the hostage families. A week or so ago, together with the Prime Minister, I met the hostage families at No. 10. They also had other meetings while here in London, which the UK Government facilitated. That again shows the point of the noble Lord, Lord Collins: our diplomacy is important. We must ensure that we leave no stone unturned and no door unopened—both for the families, to give them the support they need, and to ensure that their loved ones are returned. Meeting with the hostage families is always heartrending. I have met several of them several times over, and we will continue to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the areas of aid and humanitarian support. I will run through some of the specifics. We are asking Israel to ensure the safety of aid convoys; to ensure that the UN has people, vehicles and equipment, and fuel within Gaza; to open the crossings, Kerem Shalom in particular, seven days a week; to remove restrictions to ensure greater consistency on goods; to allow unencumbered access to aid coming from Jordan; to open the Ashdod port as a route for aid to reach Gaza; to open the Erez crossing to allow direct access to the north of Gaza; and to restore water, fuel and electricity connections.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about specifics. To take one example, the £4.25 million of aid to which I alluded will ensure that the UNFPA—the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency—can support 100,000 vulnerable girls and women in Gaza. I hope this gives a sense of the specifics on which we are focused.

The Government are pursuing a five-point plan with key partners to ensure the release of the hostages and the scaling up of aid, to which the noble Baroness referred. We are sometimes seeing a double-digit number of trucks going through on a daily basis. This is not enough. The target has always been 500 to 600 trucks. This remains part and parcel of the current agreement which we hope will get over the line and ensure that the bare minimum of 500 to 600 trucks going into Gaza is fully realised.

The issue of working with key partners remains live. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary was fully engaged at Munich. There will be a follow-up meeting on which I will update noble Lords appropriately. I have also again been in the Gulf, where I met with representatives of countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We are also looking at a third element—reconstruction. We are asking every country, whether a partner in the region or our traditional partners, to say what they can do in this respect. We are seeing Qatar play an important role in hostage negotiations. There are those who can step forward and provide support for reconstruction. Countries such as Egypt are playing a vital role in influencing the Palestinian Authority: we have seen developments here. This is a collective effort. We need to ensure that we as a House and we as a Parliament speak as one and that our partners are working to the same plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to the debate next week when I am sure we shall return to specifics. We want this situation to stop immediately. Whatever term we use, it has to be sustainable, but it can be sustainable only if both sides agree to it. There are those who have influence on both sides. We have strong relationships both with the Palestinians and, importantly, with Israel, which allow us to make these quite specific points. I have met civil society leaders in Israel. I last visited Israel in November and hope to do so again very shortly. No one wants this conflict to continue. Let us not forget that there are people from both the north and south of Israel living in the centre of the country because of the existing situation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also asked about the north of Israel and Lebanon. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary and I visited Lebanon together. We made a specific offer to the Lebanese army to ensure that we see a scaling down of the current rise in attacks from Hezbollah and of the conflict with Israel. We want to ensure that the Lebanese army moves in, and that the Hezbollah grouping moves north of the Litani river. Quite specific conversations are happening in this respect. As ever, I will update both the Front Benches and specific noble Lords on this issue, beyond the official Statements, as we regularly do.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 3:48, 27 February 2024

My Lords, the Minister rightly included among the vital elements for a lasting peace the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel and Hamas no longer being in charge of Gaza. How are we to achieve these aims unless Israel continues its military campaign?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Lord raises an important point. He will know that the Israeli army is one of the most sophisticated. It has said that its operation has moved into a new phase in which it can focus on specific military targets and on where it sees that some of the missiles which continue to be launched on Israel are targeted. It has also made quite public declarations that it wishes to protect the civilian population. The Government feel, as the noble Lord will recognise, that Gaza is a small strip of land. There are currently 1.2 million people in Rafah. We have made the point to Israel that specific provision for the number of civilians in Rafah—particularly women and children—is an important consideration. I fear that a ground offensive without these provisions will result in a humanitarian catastrophe.

Photo of Lord Swire Lord Swire Conservative

Can my noble friend tell me how he reconciles Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recently articulated vision for post-conflict Gaza and the possibility of a two-state solution?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, my noble friend will know from his own time at the Foreign Office that the current Prime Minister and Government of Israel do not articulate the two-state solution. However, it is the long-standing position of successive British Governments and, as I have again articulated, it is our firm view and that of the US, key partners in Europe and key partners in the region that the two-state solution is the only solution that will provide the sustainable security, justice and peace that are equally deserved by Palestinians and Israelis.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, the Minister has repeatedly referred to the need for a sustainable peace and a two-state solution, with which virtually everyone must surely agree. The Foreign Secretary has made clear that that will inevitably include the recognition of a Palestinian state. I would like the Minister’s response to a significant but unfortunate development in the last 10 days that makes a two-state solution that much more remote: the statement by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who we have long known from his actions has no intention of recognising or accepting a Palestinian state, making it plain and explicit that Israel’s control over the West Bank will remain indefinitely and that he is totally opposed to a two-state solution. As that means violating international law, among many other things, can the Minister tell us in concrete terms, in pursuit of a two-state solution, what representations the Government and the international community are making to the Israeli Government, but specifically to the Prime Minister, as to how on earth he expects to achieve a sustainable peace in the Middle East if the Palestinians are constantly denied a homeland?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I think I have made our Government’s position clear: it needs to happen. The Palestinians deserve a state, and that is what we are working on. My noble friend Lord Cameron articulated the important issue of recognising Palestine at the appropriate time within the process that is currently under way. It does not need to happen on day one, but nor does that mean it will happen at the end of the process. It is important that we work with key partners, and the issue of recognising Palestine, including at the UN, is part of that process. It is not just the United Kingdom that has articulated that very clearly to Israel but our key partners and, importantly, the United States. The noble Lord will have heard Secretary of State Blinken be very clear that the United States rejected Mr Netanyahu’s proposals for Gaza, including security buffers. We share that position. Equally, we will implore and advocate. The noble Lord is quite right: the existence of Israel and a future Palestinian state is enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions and constitutes international law. That needs to be abided by.

Photo of Lord Walney Lord Walney Non-affiliated

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Pannick’s question raises an important tension in the Government’s position. It is hard for the Minister to maintain both the laudable position that there must be no future for Hamas in Gaza, and that its capability to repeat the 7 October atrocities must be removed, and the position that the only way to a sustainable ceasefire is if both sides agree.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I do not think there is a contradiction per se. First and foremost, Hamas has kidnapped Israeli citizens. As challenging as it may be, we need to ensure that, when it comes to a negotiation, those people who can deliver an outcome that we all desire—the release of the hostages —are pressurised, advocated upon and implored. That is an important bridge that the Qataris are providing. We are clear that, for the here and now, that first pillar that needs to be delivered—hostages being released and aid going in—depends on Hamas agreeing to it. We are very much focused on that. I have mentioned the important role of Qatar and, for that matter, Egypt.

Equally—and I think this is consistent—Hamas does not believe that Israel should exist. That is totally incompatible with the position of not just the UK but many countries around the world. There is a need for a reality check here: terrorism does not result in recognition as a state. We have seen in our own British history that violence is never the means to the end. The only times when organisations such as the PLO and the IRA made real progress was when they recognised that an armed struggle is no longer valid. Hamas does not believe that, which is why we believe it cannot be part of a future Palestinian Administration.

Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend has hit the nail on the head, has he not? He suggests that Hamas does not accept the right of Israel to exist, and the Israeli Government do not accept a two-state solution. When two combatants will not agree on what, as my noble friend has said, is the only solution—a two-state solution—surely the inexorable logic is to pick up on the word that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, used: enforcement. Is it not the case that the only way we will get a peace settlement in the Middle East is by the international community enforcing its will on these two combatants in a way that we have not yet considered?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I assure my noble friend that we are considering all elements. When we look at the two combatants, as he described them, Israel is a recognised state with international obligations and is important as a partner and friend. We remind it of its obligations. Those with influence over Hamas are reminded that violence is never a means to an end. Enforcement means we ensure that every lever of our diplomacy, every lever we have working with our international partners, is used on both sides to ensure, first and foremost, that the fighting stops; secondly, that we build the process to ensure sustainable peace; and, thirdly, that it is understood that there will be no future peace unless we have two nations that recognise not only their own sovereign right to exist but, equally, that the people and citizens of those two countries must enjoy equal rights, security and justice.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour

My Lords, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is intolerable, but I want to ask the Minister about the role of UNRWA in all this. UNRWA was certainly in league with Hamas in many of its recent actions, and on 7 October. Now it seems to be playing a role in preventing aid getting across. I heard today, for example, that it was preventing forklift trucks appearing at crossings to allow the transfer of goods. It was also stopping the world food agency getting food in, which Israel is trying to promote. UNRWA is playing a bad game. What does the Minister think of that?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

UNRWA has been severely challenged over the reports and allegations made against specific members of UNRWA staff. In that regard, I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me that the UN acted quite decisively on the individuals whose names were shared by Israel with UNRWA. I do not agree with the noble Lord on some of the specifics of what these individuals were doing. From speaking with the Palestinian Authority, I understand that they had an important role in Gaza in providing support. I am not aware of the specific report about forklift trucks that the noble Lord raises. I will certainly look into that.

As I said earlier, we are fully supporting the wider UN effort. The noble Lord will know that the Secretary-General and former French Foreign Minister Colonna are conducting an investigation into the specifics of UNRWA and its future. It is important that the concerns that we and our international partners have raised are fully mitigated before we look at any future funding and support for UNRWA.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister accept some well-earned thanks for the tireless efforts that he and the Foreign Secretary have made in recent days? But I think he is saying now—perhaps he will confirm this—that, for any short-term pause or ceasefire to be sustainable, it needs to be anchored in a medium to long-term diplomatic negotiation about Israel and Palestine and their respective statehoods. Does he not think that the position he has spelled out this afternoon risks once again slipping back into a situation in which Israel, which we all recognise as a state, declines to recognise Palestine as a state, and the longer-term negotiations therefore get nowhere?

Would it not be better to think in terms of a situation in which all participants in the negotiation for a long-term solution—not just Israel and Palestine; it would certainly need to include all the Arab states around—recognise from the beginning that they are talking about two states and that the only point of the negotiations is to determine their mutual relationship in peaceful coexistence?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. He has also demonstrated his insights as a very distinguished former diplomat. I can assure the noble Lord that is exactly what we are doing. I mentioned the immediate, the medium and the long term. These are all pillars that we are currently working on. I assure the noble Lord that it is not just our traditional partners; we are working very much with key partners in the Gulf; we are working with those countries which have peace agreements with Israel—namely, Jordan and Egypt—but also, importantly, the Abraham accord countries, which are also playing an important role. Our approach is that every country, every nation across those pieces, from the negotiations to the delivery of the two-state solution ensuring peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, whatever equity they can bring to the table, they should bring it now, so we can determine the plan and work to a single process, which involves, as the noble Lord says, all key partners, the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also all those who long for, as we do, a sustainable peace now to ensure stability and security for the whole region.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, the concept of a two-state solution must be more than an empty slogan. I recall some years ago even Prime Minister Netanyahu appeared to accept the concept. Obviously, Israel must have security guarantees, and presumably the new Palestine state must be demilitarised with proper guarantees, but how does the noble Lord see the next steps? The two-state solution can only come about as a result of a step-by-step movement. What are the immediate steps in prospect?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I think I have already stated what the immediate step is. Before we can go anywhere in terms of the political horizon, we need the fighting to stop; that must be the first part of the delivery of this process, and that is exactly where we are focused—in terms of those who have influence over Hamas, but also we are working very closely with Israel to create the conditions to allow the hostages to be returned and for aid to enter Gaza on the scale that is now needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. That is needed now. However, we fully accept that there will need to be reconstruction, there will be a need to ensure sustainable amenities and there would also need to be security guarantees for Israel. I assure all in your Lordships’ House that is exactly the kind of conversations across the piece that we are having, not just with the Israelis and Palestinians but also, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with key partners in the region, who also want to see for their own citizens security and stability in the region.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Nottingham Lord Clarke of Nottingham Conservative

My Lords, practically every Government from outside that is taking an interest could quite easily agree on the path that my noble friend has been describing, leading to a two-state solution and a permanent ceasefire. The difficulty is there seems to be not the slightest prospect of Hamas ever agreeing to accept the continued existence of Israel and not the slightest chance of a Netanyahu Government agreeing to a two-state solution, which they would regard as giving Hamas a victory for its 7 October activities—and they probably have the majority of the Israeli population at this present time agreeing with them at least on that. As noble Lords have indicated in earlier questions, the only way that anyone can foresee the kind of agreement that my noble friend has been describing being reached is by some sort of enforcement mechanism being applied from outside. A peacekeeping mission would need to be established to try to ensure that it does not all collapse and go back into calamity in a very short time. I realise that that is a big proposition, which could never happen unless the US Government began to take an interest in that kind of intervention. Have the British Government considered that kind of approach? Have we ever raised it with our American allies? Is there any prospect of getting together with the Arab states to contemplate such a thing? Otherwise, although we wish every success to the present activities, I cannot believe that many people listening to this are optimistic about their success.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My noble friend will know from his time in government that there are details that are currently under way with regard to securing what is necessary for Israel and providing it with security guarantees. That will constitute a presence beyond the Israeli Army that is currently in Gaza that has the confidence of the Palestinians within Gaza, but, importantly, has the security guarantees that Israel needs. We are working on that.

On the specifics, of course we are working hand in glove with the Americans. My noble friend will have seen the Secretary of State’s repeated engagements in the region, and we are complementing those. This is very much a coherent effort. If I may personalise this, in my almost seven years at the Foreign Office I have never known a diplomatic effort of this nature that is so intertwined with key partners—not just traditional partners, such as those within the EU and of course the US, but our key partners in the region that are playing the important role of ensuring that the Arab presence on security will be acceptable to the Palestinians. I cannot go into more detail, but I assure my noble friend that we are very much seized of that.

Photo of Viscount Stansgate Viscount Stansgate Deputy Chairman of Committees

I must have given way about six times already.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Speaker (Lords), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I thank the noble Viscount. The Minister and other noble Lords have spoken about getting humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. That is the first thing that needs to be done. How will we in the UK, the US and others get that aid to the people of Gaza and not let it be taken from them by Hamas to store in its tunnels and feed to its workers? I am not reassured that that aid, when and if it comes, is actually going to get to the people of Gaza. I invite the Minister to tell us how the international community can achieve that.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Obviously, the situation in Gaza is fluid, but there are processes that we have to go through that include Israeli checks as the aid goes into Gaza, so there are mitigations in place. Until we get a full assessment of Gaza, it will never be possible to establish what the needs are, but we are hoping that the pause will lend itself to making the needs assessment and the security assessment that are necessary. Perhaps we will hear from the noble Viscount now.

Photo of Viscount Stansgate Viscount Stansgate Deputy Chairman of Committees

I thank the Minister. I want to ask a practical question about the desperately needed humanitarian aid. Like me, other Members of this House may have seen the video footage of the air drop that was made to the hospital in northern Gaza of UK aid in co-operation with the Jordanian air force. Can the Minister assure the House that this is the type of practical activity that will continue for as long as necessary, bearing in mind that, although he said earlier that hundreds of trucks were needed every day, this type of targeted assistance, which, as I understand it, went directly to where it is needed, will continue for as long as possible?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I can make that assurance to the noble Viscount. To pick up on the previous point, such aid deliveries could not be achieved unless they were co-ordinated with Israel. The UK Government are seized of what we need right now. We are working on maritime and air access, and I emphasise access through operational points at the border, particularly Kerem Shalom, which is six lanes wide and was made for the very purpose of ensuring that aid could be delivered expeditiously into Gaza. I am sure I speak for every noble Lord, irrespective of where they are on what is understandably a highly emotive situation: we are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and we need to ensure that we use all the levers and every method possible to make sure that aid reaches those who most desperately need it.