Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:23 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley 5:23 pm, 29th April 2004

I welcome the opportunity to speak in such an important debate and I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

No one can doubt the suffering of the many Palestinians who find themselves forgotten or the pawns in a gigantic political chess game that always leaves them in misery. Some political players always seek to polarise the conflict and demonise one side or the other. However, when I was in Israel last year, I met relatives of victims of terror. Not all of them wanted to continue and deepen the divisions between the two peoples. One young woman, whose niece and mother had been killed in a suicide bombing, was able to see beyond her grief and recognise the importance of both sides reaching a solution. The majority of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations want the same thing: peace and safety, a chance to make something of themselves and provide for their families, and hope for future.

The report details the situation that faces the Palestinians, their economic conditions and the various pressures on them. As a supporter of the right for Israel to exist within safe and secure borders, and of the establishment of a viable and peaceful Palestinian state, I believe that substantial development assistance for Palestinians is crucial in laying the foundation for lasting peace. I am concerned about the relationship between increased aid, and incitement and misuse of funds. United Kingdom aid to the Palestinians must increase substantially, but that must be based on the condition of vital reforms being made in the Palestinian Authority.

The PA have still not made sufficient efforts to prevent the transfer to terrorist groups of funds intended to support the development of Palestinian society. Despite European Union declarations that the PA are not directing funds to terrorist organisations, Israel has continued to express concerns about that.

Last year I, too, met Salam Fayyad, the PA Minister of Finance, and found him impressive and determined in his role. Although I greatly support his work, there is more to be done to make the finances of the PA transparent. An International Monetary Fund assessment last year found that Yasser Arafat remains in personal control of 8 per cent. of PA funds—some $135 million—and the Department for International Development must redouble its efforts to tackle the lack of financial transparency as a key conflict prevention activity.

The same is true for the issue of incitement in the Palestinian education system, where there is still anxiety about images that are put before young Palestinian people. Other things remain worrying, such as running summer camps named after Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian woman suicide bomber, and the film that is regularly shown portraying a suicide bomber.

If EU and UK aid were conditional on vital reforms in the PA, it could help to stem the corruption and tackle incitement, while also allowing for a long overdue unity of command in the security apparatus, the development of functional institutions and the emergence of a responsible leadership and responsive public services.

One problem in developing the Palestinian economy is the erection of the security barrier, sometimes called a wall, by the Israeli Government. Given the Israelis' experience of terrorism it is understandable that the security of their population is paramount. However, building parts of the barrier on occupied territory will not lead to lasting security. Many Palestinians view the building of the barrier as a land grab, and that makes them less able to consider suicide bombers the horror that they are.

My final point is about the role of DFID. The recently published "Country Assistance Plan for Palestinians: 2004–2006" states that the Department's purpose is

"to work with partners to help end conflict and create a viable Palestinian state that will reduce poverty."

Is there not a danger that that is to broaden its mandate beyond its stated aim of sustainably reducing poverty in the Palestinian areas? There is a difference between working in ways that support the Government's aims and recognising that certain roles are more appropriately handled by the Foreign Office.

I want to ask the Minister about DFID's support for the Palestinian negotiation support unit, an issue that was raised by Opposition Members. There is no active peace process at present, although we dearly hope that it will resume. Funding of support for the role of the negotiation support unit should be addressed. To present the conflict as something driven by and contingent on one side's actions alone, or even principally, is clearly unfair. Israel and the PA need to work to ensure that terrorism is defeated, or it will remain an obstacle to peace.