Gaza — [Mr Jim Hood in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:17 pm on 25th February 2015.

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Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling 3:17 pm, 25th February 2015

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr McCann. For the record, I am the parliamentary chair of Labour Friends of Israel.

All of us around the Chamber have really good instincts about what needs to happen. We want peace for the Palestinian people and the Israelis. It is a tragedy and a blight on the international community that, six months after the end of last summer’s Gaza conflict, people in Gaza are still suffering as a result of a humanitarian crisis.

I would not often say this, but I want to recognise the British Government for continuing to support humanitarian efforts. However, I have one or two questions for the Minister. When he replies, will he comment on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s recent statement that only $135 million in pledges have been received from donor countries, leaving a shortfall of nearly $600 million? That means that assistance programmes have been suspended. All of us want a quick response to the crisis facing the people of Gaza, although hopefully it is only a short-term one.

Efforts to reconstruct Gaza in the longer term throw up greater challenges, some of which have been addressed today. I would like the Minister to comment on the remarks made not by the Israeli Government or any other country in the area but the UN Under-Secretary-General, Mr Feltman, who expressed alarm at the reports of Hamas rearming. He said that there were “dangerous developments” in the area. Given the general acceptance that under the Oslo accords there should be a demilitarisation policy, will the Minister comment?

I want the cycle of violence to be broken. I will not be in the next Parliament; but Members cannot return again and again to discuss the aftermath of yet another conflict in Gaza. Given what the UN Under-Secretary-General said, there is potential for that to happen. I hope the Minister—or, indeed, my hon. Friend the shadow Minister, when, as I hope, he assumes a ministerial role—will continue working with the UN to deter the continued arming of the Hamas regime.

Britain has much to do. It is a question of encouraging Israel and President Abbas; looking towards work with Egypt, the Quartet and the Arab League; and coming together to make Hamas face the real choices it has if it wants to open up Gaza in the best interests of its people. Even the Arab League secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, said on Sunday that the dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority was hindering efforts to reconstruct in Gaza. He told the London-based paper Al-Hayat that the Arab League was holding consultations with donor countries. However, he also said:

“The internal differences and the absence of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are behind the delay in reconstructing the Gaza Strip”.

This morning I listened to an interview on Radio 4 with two mothers, one Gazan and one Israeli. The astounding thing was that, regardless of their views on the particularities of the current situation and what caused it, they both identified what it was doing to their children—Israeli and Gazan children. They both talked about its traumatic impact, even while there is supposed to be a ceasefire. Peace is not easy. It is really difficult, and we all, as people of good will, must play our part in it. That includes the UK Government.