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Palestinian Territories (Settlements)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:01 am on 17th December 2008.

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Photo of Martin Linton Martin Linton Labour, Battersea 11:01 am, 17th December 2008

The hon. Gentleman thinks along the same lines as me, and I shall come to the UN resolutions when I have presented one or two more facts.

Many of the new settlements that are being built on the west bank are for evacuees from Gaza, so the notion that Israel was giving occupied land back to the Palestinians turns out to be an optical illusion. It gives back one piece of land and takes another. The removal of outposts is also something of an optical illusion. Most of them have not been touched, but the occupants of the ones that have been closed down have been moved to illegal settlements in East Jerusalem. It is just one piece of Palestinian land being swapped for another.

Roadblocks on Palestinian roads are up by 12 per cent. since Annapolis, demolitions by 21 per cent., injuries to Palestinians in clashes with the Israeli army by some 26 per cent. and deaths by some 51 per cent. It is no surprise to me that the Palestinians feel angry, frustrated and above all cynical about peace initiatives, which should be the one beacon of hope to them. The United Nations human rights rapporteur said that the Palestinian population was

"being collectively punished by policies that amount to a crime against humanity."

To prove that they were not engaged in collective punishment, the Israeli authorities then devised an individual punishment for the rapporteur last week by locking him up at Ben-Gurion airport and refusing him a visa.

As I said, I do not need to convince the Minister that settlement building should be stopped. It is what he regularly says to the Israeli ambassador, and what he or his colleagues said to the Israeli Prime Minister last week and the Israeli President, who visited last month. It is what they have been saying to every representative of the Israeli Government for many years, and it is what people in this country say to me whenever I discuss the issue with them.

I have been collecting signatures in Battersea, Balham and Wandsworth in my constituency—a one-constituency petition—solely calling for an end to settlement building in the west bank. Hundreds of people have already signed it, and I hope that the same thing will be done in other constituencies. This issue strikes the great majority of people in this country as unjust. I am also in the process of helping to launch a new organisation next month called Labour Friends of Palestine, the main campaign of which will be to call for a halt to the expansion of settlements.

The trouble is that the issue is hardly ever discussed in the Israeli press. We huff and we puff, but the Israelis just keep on building. That brings me to the point raised by Mr. Breed. If we want the Israelis to stop, we will have to find more effective methods of persuasion. The United Nations has passed 429 resolutions against Israel, and the Security Council has passed 88 resolutions condemning, censuring or deploring Israel's actions. Another 42 Security Council resolutions have been stopped only by the veto of the United States. We must remember that nearly every one of those resolutions was passed under chapter VI of the UN charter that deals with the pacific settlement of disputes, which places duties on both sides in a dispute but has no enforcement mechanism. Many international lawyers regard chapter VI resolutions as outside the scope of international law. They are, in effect, voluntary resolutions.

The only UN resolutions that unequivocally have the force of international law and can be enforced by sanctions or military action are chapter VII resolutions. It was under chapter VII that Iraq was required to disarm after the Gulf war, and it was under chapter VII that the US invoked war against Iraq. Small wonder that Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said:

"For its entire diplomatic history, Israel has sought to avoid a Chapter 7 resolution dealing with Arab-Israeli disputes."

There is one exception: resolution 338, which was passed at the end of the Lebanese civil war under chapter VII, and which in turn binds the parties to implement resolution 242, which was passed under chapter VI but is now enforced under chapter VII. One of its provisions is for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict, and, as it was passed in 1967, it clearly refers to the west bank and East Jerusalem.

Now that the Palestinian Authority recognizes the territorial integrity of Israel, which is the most important development in recent years and one that I fully support, there is clearly a legal obligation on the Israeli Government to withdraw forces from the west bank and East Jerusalem. I would love to live in a fantasy world where we would just politely ask the Israelis to hand the west bank back to the Palestinians in accordance with the UN resolution, but we have been doing that for years and nothing has happened—actually, something has happened: things have got worse, and because the evacuation of Gaza did not lead to an immediate outbreak of peace, some Israelis have persuaded themselves that giving up the west bank would lead to more violence, not less. I quote Dore Gold again:

"Prevailing wisdom says if Israel gives land back the terrorists will stop. But just the opposite is the case...Terrorism is not based on political grievance. Jihadi terrorism comes from a sense of victory. A withdrawal from Jerusalem would empower radical Islam."

Such tortured logic would suggest that the solution to the Palestinians' grievances is to take more land from them, but that is precisely the attitude that plays into the hands of the terrorists, and precisely the attitude that helped to create the jihadis in the first place. Dore Gold was the political adviser to Binyamin Netanyahu and later to Ariel Sharon, and he may be at the heart of Israeli policy making in two months' time, after elections in Israel.

The sad truth that I come to is that the Israelis show no signs of actually wanting negotiations to succeed. One Israeli official quoted in The Guardian this morning said:

"Negotiations are good, results are bad."

It is impossible to conduct negotiations with a party that does not have an interest in their success. All Israeli politicians pay lip service to the peace process, but the fact that Israel continues to expand the settlements makes it difficult to believe that they are entirely sincere. How can they expect Palestinians to negotiate when they are taking over more Palestinian land every day? It is not within human nature to enter into negotiations in such circumstances.

It is entirely up to Israelis, of course, to pick their own Government—I would not dream of interfering—but if we believe that the continued expansion of settlements undermines the chances of peace in Israel, in the middle east and in the wider world, we have a responsibility to take action through the international community.

Such action could be through the 23-state solution that the Foreign Secretary spoke about recently—it is important to involve as many countries as possible—or through a chapter VII resolution in the Security Council. But the fact is that the Israelis show no signs of wanting to do it if left to themselves, and the Palestinians cannot do it by themselves. If the rest of the world wants peace, we will have to go out there and get it. First, we will have to persuade the Americans, but with President Obama there may be a chance that the international community will finally show leadership in bringing about a settlement between Israel and Palestine.