Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee 3:15 pm, 29th April 2004

Indeed, the report refers to that. In Jenin, among other places, we saw projects that had been destroyed. Work by the European Union included building new housing for refugees in Jenin—housing that was destroyed by the Israeli defence forces. It must be of real concern that it has not been possible for the UK, the EU and others to establish an accord with the Israeli defence forces on protecting development projects funded through international contributions. It must be of real concern to hon. Members that there is no guarantee that projects will be protected if further money is spent on development assistance.

What is happening in the middle east is an ongoing tragedy for all involved. A few weeks ago, I spoke to a meeting of the Conservative Friends of Israel about the report. A representative of the Israeli embassy in London—I do not think that I am misrepresenting his remarks—said that we had produced a comprehensive and balanced report, but that the choice was ultimately between Israeli security and Palestinian humanitarianism. I think that that is a false choice, and I am glad that the Government agree. Paragraph B25 on page 15 of their consultation paper states:

"Israel's stated top priority is security, and the prevention of terrorist acts against Israeli citizens. But poverty and injustice caused by occupation and disproportionate Israeli actions can fuel Palestinian rejectionism and undermine public support for peace and reform. These factors, combined with large numbers of young people out of school and unemployed, help perpetuate the violence."

Lastly, it may interest hon. Members to know that the Select Committee's report has received a favourable response elsewhere. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency—Sweden's equivalent of DFID—wrote to me at the end of last week:

"SIDA is currently preparing a new Country Strategy Proposal to be submitted to the Swedish Government by the end of this year. In line with our policies not to produce new Reports when excellent material is already available SIDA has decided to base our analysis of the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories mainly on the Report prepared by your Committee. In our view, the Report highlights to the point the situation for the Palestinian people in the absence of a real peace process. This view is also shared by our colleagues in our Field Office in Jerusalem".

I fully recognise that, on an issue as contentious and as sensitive as development assistance to the occupied Palestinian territories, one is unlikely ever to achieve universal agreement. I hope, however, that the Chamber recognises that the report is an honest attempt by members of a Select Committee of this House to bear witness to the facts as we see them and unanimously to make recommendations that we hope the Government will adopt and pursue.