Sarah Champion calls for new inquiry into treatment of Palestinian children

Only one of 40 recommendations from UK lawyers carried out and only one of 88 recommendations from UNICEF, says Rotherham MP

Read full debate in Hansard

I strongly welcome the fact that the Government addressed the issue of Palestinian child detainees during the third universal periodical review of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council two weeks ago. They recommended that Israel take “action to protect child detainees, ensuring the mandatory use of audio-visual recording in interrogations with all child detainees, ending the use of painful restraints, and consistently fully informing detainees of their legal rights.”

That important statement signals a positive intent to engage constructively with this issue.

I called this debate in the same spirit: I want to support and encourage Israel to meet its international obligations regarding the rights of children. It meets them fully for Israeli citizens but, alas, does not do so for Palestinian children. To be clear, I am not making a judgment about the crimes Palestinian children are alleged to have committed or about Israel’s right to uphold the law. This debate is specifically focused on Palestinian children in military detention.

Two years ago, I secured a similar debate. I would love to tell the House that many of the issues discussed then have now been addressed, but sadly the situation remains largely the same. In March 2013, UNICEF published a report entitled “Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations”, which concluded that “the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.”

Last year, the authoritative west bank non-governmental organisation Military Court Watch found that, four years after the publication of the UNICEF report, only ​one of its 88 recommendations—No. 21, on access by lawyers to medical records—had been substantially implemented.

A year before the UNICEF report, a group of senior UK lawyers published an independent study entitled “Children in Military Custody”. Published in 2012 and funded by the Government, it found that Israel was in breach of at least eight of its international legal obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child and the fourth Geneva convention, due to its treatment of Palestinian children held in military detention.

The UK report set out 40 recommendations on arrest, interrogation, bail hearings, plea bargaining, trials, sentencing, detention, complaints and monitoring. Military Court Watch stated last year that only one of the UK report’s recommendations—No. 33, on the separation of children from adults in detention—had been substantially implemented. The empirical evidence is clear: half a decade after the publication of the UNICEF and UK lawyers’ reports, which contained dozens of recommendations to ​bring Israel’s military system of detention of Palestinian children in line with basic international legal standards, there has been limited implementation by the authorities.

Although I praise the Israeli Government for allowing the studies to go ahead, it is disappointing that that leading international democracy has largely not acted on the recommendations, which were made in good faith. I now turn to the specific areas I would like the Minister to focus on.

The prevalent practice of night-time raids by Israeli military personnel causes a huge amount of distress to children and their families. Inevitably, night raids on civilian population areas by any military tend to terrify those communities. After 50 years of use, they can become hugely debilitating. Although conducting night arrest operations reduces the potential for clashes with local residents, the practice cannot be said to be in the best interests of the child—a primary consideration under the UN convention on the rights of the child.

The UK report recommended: “Arrests of children should not be carried out at night save for in extreme and unusual circumstances. A pilot study of issuing summonses as an alternative means of arrest should be carried out.”

UNICEF made similar recommendations. Following those recommendations, it was most welcome that Israel announced the introduction of a pilot scheme in February 2014, whereby summonses would be issued requiring attendance at police stations for questioning, in lieu of arresting a child at night. That was to be similar to the practice for Israeli children. Military Court Watch reports, however, that the use of summonses in lieu of night arrest has been very low. It found that 6% of the children affected in 2017 reported being served with a summons as an alternative to a night arrest; in 2016 the figure was just 2%.

Even in cases in which summonses are used, Military Court Watch identified a number of issues: in most cases, the summonses were delivered by the military after midnight; relevant parts of the summonses were ​frequently handwritten in Hebrew without Arabic translation; relevant information, such as the nature of the accusation, was missing; and no reference to the child’s legal rights was included in any of the summonses. Military Court Watch further reports that, in the 80 cases it documented in 2017, 65% of children still reported being arrested at night, in what are frequently described as terrifying raids undertaken by the military.

There is some good news, but overall, since the summons scheme has been in operation, it has been apparent that, first, it is infrequently utilised and, secondly, arrests in terrifying night raids continue to be the norm. Furthermore, the indications—yet to be confirmed—are that the pilot scheme may now have been discontinued altogether. Will the Minister therefore please request from his Israeli counterparts confirmation as to whether the pilot scheme is still operational? Will he also request data on the use of summonses since the pilot scheme was announced in 2014, and will he urge that children should not be arrested at night except in extreme and unusual circumstances?

Next I would like to speak about the right to silence. As we all know, the right to silence is an ancient and fundamental legal right, granting protection against self-incrimination. Significantly, that right is also enshrined in Israeli military law. When implemented properly, it provides vulnerable children with some protection against undue pressure during interrogations, which may lead to false confessions. Military Court Watch notes that 84% of children continue to report not being informed of their right to silence. It further notes that in the 16% of cases in which “children were informed of this right, the manner and circumstances in which the information was conveyed raises serious questions as to whether the notification is sufficient.”

Another fundamental legal right is timely access to legal representation. International legal standards provide that interrogations should take place in the presence of a lawyer to protect against self-incrimination and to provide safeguards against potential ill-treatment or coercion. Israel’s highest court has confirmed the fundamental nature of the right to consult with a lawyer during the interrogation stage of an investigation.

In the 2015 update to its report, UNICEF noted that Israel’s military prosecutor highlighted that Israeli military order 1651, issued in 2009, provides a detainee with the right to meet and consult with a lawyer. Although military law is silent on when such a consultation should take place, it is accepted that it must occur before questioning, subject to limited security exceptions. As in many situations, however, there is a large gap between the law and what happens in practice.

Military Court Watch reports that, in the 80 testimonies it collected in 2017, 81% of the children reported not having access to a lawyer before interrogation. As a result, most children still consult a lawyer for the first time in a military court, after the critical interrogation phase is over. Given that context, the UK legal charity Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights has implemented a Know Your Rights campaign in partnership with Defence for Children International-Palestine to empower and educate Palestinian children in the occupied west bank to secure their basic rights if detained in Israel’s military detention system.

The campaign started in 2014 and is ongoing, due to the Israeli authorities’ continuing non-implementation of basic human rights and due process safeguards. I therefore ask the Minister to engage with the Israeli authorities to ensure, as a bare minimum, that: first, all children are, at the time of arrest, informed in their own language of their right to silence, and relevant documents are provided to them in that language; secondly, all children are able to consult a lawyer of their choice before their interrogation and, preferably, also during interrogation; and, thirdly, in order to ensure compliance, a breach of those principles results in the discontinuance of the prosecution and the child’s immediate release. I further ask the Minister to urge the Israeli authorities, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) suggested, to allow a parent or guardian to accompany the child during questioning—a right afforded to Israeli children when questioned by the Israeli police.

Audio-visual recording of interrogations is a practical safeguard. The UNICEF and UK reports recommended audio-visual recordings of all interrogations of children. Such recordings provide an essential further safeguard against potential ill-treatment or coercion; they also provide protection to interrogators against false allegations of wrongdoing. One would assume that that would be a win, win outcome. Perhaps in response to the recommendations, the military authorities issued military order 1745 in September 2014, requiring the audio-visual recording of all interrogations of minors in the west bank. However, the order limited that protection to non-security offences, thereby rendering it largely redundant, as most offences involving Palestinian children, including stone throwing and protesting, are classified as security offences. I ask the Minister to urge the Israeli authorities to remove the security offence exception from the military order providing for audio-visual recording ​of detainees and to ensure that all interrogations of children are audio-visually recorded and the tapes made available to the child’s lawyer before the first hearing.

I will now say something about the prevalence of confessional evidence in the military court system, and the process by which those confessions are obtained. It is extraordinary and disconcerting that Israel’s military court system has a conviction rate of 95%, according to its own figures. Confessional evidence is central to securing convictions in that system, whether direct confessions or confessions by others. Effective scrutiny of those confessions is virtually impossible, due to the lack of basic legal safeguards to which I have already referred. There is compelling evidence that the lack of legal protections for Palestinian children is destructive of their safety and welfare. An expert psychiatric opinion from Dr Carmon, commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, considered the emotional and developmental factors that lead children to make false confessions during interrogations. The implications of such confessions should be understood by all of us. Dr Carmon says:

“The violent arrest process and psychological interrogation methods mentioned…lead to the breaking of the ability of the child or adolescent to withstand the interrogation and flagrantly violate his or her rights. These interrogation methods, when applied to children and adolescents, are equivalent to torture.”

“These methods deeply undermine the dignity and personality of the child or adolescent, and inflict pain and severe mental suffering. Uncertainty and helplessness are situations that can too easily lead a child or adolescent to provide the requested confession out of impulsiveness, fear or submission. It is a decision that is far from free and rational choice…These detention and interrogation methods ultimately create a system that breaks down, exhausts and permeates the personality of the child or adolescent and robs him or her of hope. These methods are particularly harmful to children and adolescents who live in poor, isolated populations, in a state of conflict, political tension, and/or severe social stress, such as the occupied Palestinian population. The harmful effects on children can also harm the society to which they belong.

Every child has the right to be a child, to his or her dignity, and to protection from all forms of violence.”

The arrest process and interrogation methods referred to by Dr Carmon were described in great detail in the UK and the UNICEF reports. It is deeply disturbing that two years after the release of the UNICEF report that concluded that ill treatment appears to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”, the UN agency issued an update that found “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”

The reality is that we are not in a position to demand. The purpose of this debate is to reach out a hand of friendship and to offer the skills and expertise that we have in this country on this topic, to work in partnership with Israel.

Although UNICEF is yet to release any further updates, reports issued by the US State Department, Military Court Watch and others indicate that the situation today remains substantially unchanged. It is worth recalling that the UK report noted that if the process of arrest and interrogation is occurring to a significant extent as described, Israel would be in breach of the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

As a bare minimum of protection, I urge the Minister to make representations to ensure that no child is subjected to physical or psychological violence, no child is blindfolded or painfully restrained, and no child is subject to coercive forces and threats. Any statement made as a result of torture or ill treatment must be excluded from evidence in proceedings. I ask the Minister to make inquiries to UNICEF about when the agency will release its next update, and to commend it on the important work it has done.

Two years ago, in a debate on the same subject, I referred to Israel’s policy of transferring Palestinian detainees—adults and children—from the west bank to prisons located in Israel, in violation of article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention. International law classes this activity as a war crime. In UK domestic law, the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the International Criminal Court Act 2001 class this activity as a war crime. The latest data released by the Israeli prison ​service indicates that in 2017, 83% of adult detainees and 61% of child detainees were transferred and detained unlawfully. This practice affects approximately 7,000 individuals each year and it has continued for 50 years. Strikingly, however, Israeli military authorities informed UNICEF in late 2014 that they have no intention of changing this policy.

That rejection undermines the credibility of the international legal order, and therefore harms the security of us all. I have been to Ofer military court and spoken to parents. Because of the restrictions on movement and the requirement of permits to visit their children in Israel, some parents never get to see their children in prison. The unlawful transfer and detention of children in Israel is not just a legal issue but one of basic humanity. Has the Minister or anyone in his Department had any conversations that would shed light on Israel’s decision to explicitly reject the specific UNICEF recommendation? What further steps does he intend to take to encourage Israel to meet its international legal obligations on the transfer of prisoners out of occupied territory? Can the Minister ascertain how many UK citizens are currently involved, directly or indirectly, with the unlawful transfer and detention of Palestinian prisoners outside the occupied territory? What measures will he take in respect of those individuals in accordance with the law?

By now I am sure everyone is aware of the case of Ahed Tamimi, a now 17-year-old girl from the west bank village of Nabi Saleh. In December, she was arrested in the middle of the night after being filmed confronting and slapping Israeli soldiers in her village following the shooting of her 14-year-old cousin. Like all Palestinian female prisoners, Ahed has been transferred to a prison in Israel. The case is polarising: on the one hand, there are those calling for her immediate release; on the other, Israel’s minister for education calls for the military courts to impose a life sentence.

It is important that we all recall that Ahed is just one of more than 800 children arrested each year, according to the most recent data released by the military authorities. Most of these children are arrested in the middle of the night, frequently brutalised and systematically denied their legal rights. We need these children and their parents to have faith and confidence in a political solution and in due regard for the law. History has taught us that if politics and the law fail to meet the needs of the people, people turn to other solutions. The treatment of Palestinian children during arrest and detention is an issue that has been allowed to fester for too long and needs resolving. It concerns us all, because when Israel—our friend and a democratic state—breaks international law and obligations, it makes it that much harder to enforce them in respect of other countries around the world. Israel’s decisions have a global impact.

Two years have elapsed since the Minister’s predecessor explained to me and other MPs in this Chamber that the Government would fund the UK lawyers’ return to Israel to review progress on the implementation of their report recommendations. Allowing the UK lawyers to enter into constructive technical dialogue with their Israeli counterparts, where they can share the UK’s good practice, should expedite the implementation of the practical reforms that are urgently required to protect Palestinian children.



Targeted action is not a boycott

As its name implies, the BDS movement advocates three policies: boycott, divestment and sanctions. The boycott campaign is aimed mainly at civil society, the divestment campaign at investors, pension funds and banks and the sanctions campaign at persuading governments to sanction other governments.  The boycott campaign can be directed against Israeli settlements in the West Bank (the TUC has supported this policy since 2009 and the Co-op since 2013) or against companies that are complicit in the occupation of Palestine or against all Israeli products.


The Labour Party confirmed on December 13th that Jeremy Corbyn supports  targeted action against illegal Israeli settlements.  This would not be a boycott and nor would it be a temporary sanction to be lifted when certain conditions are met.  It would be a statement of law – that we will permanently target trade with settlements that are illegal. The UK Government already in its business guidance to UK firms says it does not encourage trade with Israeli settlements and it has withdrawn the support of its embassies and consulates from UK businesses intending to trade with settlements.

Hopefully, Jeremy Corbyn will support a complete ban on trade with settlements, but it is worth remembering that what he proposes is different only in degree and not in kind from what the Government already does. The Government does not use the word ‘sanctions’ in this context, though it has used the word ‘disincentives’ which means much the same.

There are already many precedents for the imposition of sanctions on countries that conquer territory by military force.  It took only 17 days for the UK to impose sanctions in the case of Crimea – from the date when unmarked Russian troops were first seen in Crimea till the European Council meeting when sanctions were imposed.  It is now just over 50 years since the Israel conquered the West Bank by military force and started building illegal settlements.



Why Jerusalem is so important to the Palestinians

Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine under the British Mandate which ended in 1948.  The United Nations put forward a partition plan in 1947 dividing Palestine into two states but leaving Jerusalem and Bethlehem under international control.  At the end of the Israelis war of independence, the Israelis controlled West Jerusalem, but not the Old City in East Jerusalem and the areas to the north and south of it.

Israel army tanks invaded East Jerusalem in June 1967 and the Israeli parliament passed a law in 1980 annexing East Jerusalem (and surrounding areas) as part of the Israeli state. This has never been accepted by the UN or by any country other than Israel itself.

Ever since Israel was founded in 1948, West Jerusalem has been recognised by the international community as part of Israel, but not as its capital.  That has been Tel Aviv. This is not because they are necessarily against the idea of an Israeli capital situated in Jerusalem, but because it has to be part of a negotiated peace settlement.

Every US President in the last 50 years has refused to recognise Jerusalem or move the US embassy – even though Congress passed a law to that effect in 1995.

In all negotiations (including Brexit) it is a fundamental principle that nothing can be finally agreed until everything has been agreed. The status of Jerusalem can only be settled as a part of a comprehensive peace agreement.

No country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem. At one time 16 countries did so (without recognising it as the capital), but one by one they all moved their embassies back to Tel Aviv.

The founding principle of the UN in 1945 was to stop the acquisition of territory by force. If Trump is recognising the whole of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory (and that is not entirely clear yet) it means he is accepting the right of countries to take land by force. Certainly, by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Trump is breaking ranks with the rest of the world and undermining the diplomatic solidarity of the international community in upholding the principles of international law.JerusalemEastAndWest

There is a real danger that the recognition of Jerusalem will be taken by Netanyahu as a signal that he can gradually annex most of the Palestinian territories.

UK policy is that Jerusalem should be a shared city.  The policy of the Palestinian Authority is that East Jerusalem should be their capital, although President Abbas has said they would be willing to discuss a shared city. Many on the Israeli left believe that Israel should let go of occupied East Jerusalem.  “There will be no peace without the division of Jerusalem,” said the leader of Meretz Zehava Gal-On.

However, there are 350,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem, 38% of the whole population and a substantial majority within the boundaries of East Jerusalem.

The strategy of the current Israeli government is to create settlements in East Jerusalem and gradually drive the Palestinians out. The Israelis known that Palestine is not a viable state without East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians would almost certainly recognise West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital just as soon as Israel recognised East Jerusalem as their capital.


Why Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as ‘capital’ of Israel

There appear to have been two main reasons why President Trump made his statement about Jerusalem on December 6th – both of them related to internal US politics.  The first was to win the support of Evangelical Christians in the election of a new senator for Alabama on December 12th.  The second was to raise the profile of the Middle East tour by Vice-President Pence planned for December 15th.

Both ended in disaster. The Alabama election was lost and the Vice-President’s tour has had to be curtailed since the Palestinians refused to speak to him, the Mayor of Bethlehem made it clear he would not be welcome and the leader of the Egyptian Christians cancelled his meeting with him. He will not now visit a single church or meet a single Christian on a visit which was billed as being to “bring an end to the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East”.

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on the day of Trump’s announcement that he would not meet Pence as the Americans were no longer qualified to act as “honest broker” in the Middle East peace process.

Pence could hardly complain about this, since he himself had criticised Obama for wanting to act as “honest broker” in the Middle East in 2012. “We certainly want to be honest, but we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides. But America is on the side of Israel,” Pence said at the time.

The issue of Jerusalem is high on the agenda of Evangelical Christians and there is a lot of evidence that Pence, as an Evangelical, pushed the President to carry out his campaign promise to move the US Embassy and send him on a visit to what he imagined would be a hero’s welcome in Jerusalem.

In June – when every commentator was saying that the campaign promise had been dropped – Pence reassured a meeting of Christians United for Israel that “it is not a question of if, it is only when.” In October he announced the visit and said it would focus on the persecution of Christians. In December he was standing at Trump’s shoulder as he made his declaration.

What really alarmed the Palestinians was that he made so little attempt to hide that his conviction that Jerusalem should belong to Israel was not political but religious. “My passion for Israel springs from my Christian faith,” he told the Christians United for Israel.

“Though Israel was built by human hands, it is impossible not to sense that just beneath its history lies the hand of heaven.”

Interviewed a few days after the declaration by the Christian Broadcasting Network, he said: “If you believe you know His Will, then it shuts the discussion.”

Netanyahu, on the other hand, was elated by the declaration and went to Paris in a buoyant mood for a meeting with President Macron that was intended to focus on Iran. Instead almost the entire meeting was given over to forceful denunciations of the Trump declaration and the illegal settlements.

He went on to a breakfast meeting in Brussels with 23 European foreign ministers in the hope of persuading some of them to follow the American example and move their embassies to Jerusalem.
Instead the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was able to tell him that none of the EU 27 would follow Trump’s lead, not even the Czech Republic.
“There is full EU unity on this, that the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states with Jerusalem as the capital of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine.

“The EU and member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem until the final status of the holy city is resolved through direct negotiations between the parties.”

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz focused on Mogherini’s broad grin as she told him: “He can keep his expectations for others — because from the EU member states’ side this move will not come.”

In response to a comment from Netanyahu that peace must be built on ‘reality’, Mogherini verged on sarcasm: “You want three states, four, five, ten? Two states are the only viable and realistic option.”

Mrs May said: “We disagree with the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital before a final status agreement.

“We believe it is unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region. The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it.

“In line with relevant Security Council Resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Balfour events to attend

Britain’s Broken Promise: Time for a New Approach, Tuesday 31st October 2017 at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster SW1H 9NH. The Balfour Project. Speakers include Emily Thornberry, Crispin Blunt, Sir Vincent Fean, Tom Brake. Tickets at:

The British Legacy In Palestine: Balfour And Beyond, Thursday 2nd November. 12- 4:30pm Palestinian National Theatre – Hakawati, Jerusalem. Free but register at:

Justice Now: Make it right for Palestine, Saturday 4th November 2017. National March and Rally. Assemble 12 non Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, London. FOA, PSC and others

Boris admits ‘huge suffering’ among Palestinians, but time ‘not ripe’

Monday October 30

The Foreign Secretary told the Commons that huge numbers of Palestinians have suffered and lost their homes at the hands of the Israeli government, but the time was not ripe for action.

Making a statement on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the letter from a British foreign secretary that led to the foundation of Israel, Boris Johnson rejected calls for immediate recognition of the state of Palestine.

“We must in time recognise a Palestinian state,” he told MPs, but “the moment is not right yet to play that card. After all, it is not something we can do more than once: that card having been played, that will be it.”

He was responding to Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry who had told him there was “no better way of marking the Balfour centenary than to recognise the state of Palestine”.

She reminded him that it has been the policy of his government for nearly six years – since November 2011 – to recognise Palestine “at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help to bring about peace”. “If not now,” she asked him, “when?”

She was supported by the SNP’s Chris Law, who called on him to open an embassy in Palestine, and Conservative former foreign office minister Sir Hugo Swire who called on him”finally to recognise the state of Palestine”.

Layla Moran, the new Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West who is of Palestinian heritage, said “the Foreign Secretary speaks of playing a card, but this is not a game. Recognition is not something to be bestowed; it is something that the Palestinians should just have.”

Grahame Morris, the MP who chairs Labour Friends of Palestine and who won the 274-12 Commons vote in favour of recognition, called on the Foreign Secretary to go to the next stage and end UK trade with illegal settlements.

Boris Johnson admitted that the Balfour promise was conditional, offering support for a national home for Jewish people but only if it could be achieved without prejudicing the civil and religious rights of the Palestinians.

He also admitted that the Balfour declaration was deficient. “It should have spoken of political rights” (rather than just civil and religious rights), “and it should have identified the Palestinian people” (rather than just referred to the ‘existing non-Jewish population’ of a country that was then 90% Palestinian Arab).

It was a tacit acceptance that the Balfour promise will remain unfulfilled until the 6 million Palestinians in Israel/Palestine have equal political rights to the 6 million Jewish Israelis – a prospect which looked as distant at the end of his speech as at the beginning.

He dismissed the idea of economic pressure on Israel citing the argument last heard in the apartheid era that “the biggest losers would be Palestinian workers who benefit immensely from the economic activity generated by Israeli companies”.

And his admission that the experience of many Palestinians was – and still is – “tragic” makes one wonder it will take to persuade him to finally take the first small step on the road to justice by adding the UK’s name to the list of 138 counties that already recognise the state of Palestine.

He ended with a flourish, promising “to make sure that Balfour does not remain unfinished business”. But although he “wanted” to recognise a Palestinian state, “we judge that the moment to do that is not yet ripe”.

Mark Balfour centenary by recognising Palestine, says Thornberry

Balfour Declaration statement in House of Commons

30 October 2017
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Balfour declaration—issued on 2 November 1917 by my predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour—and its legacy today.
As the British Army advanced towards Jerusalem in the last 12 months of the first world war, with the aim of breaking the Ottoman empire’s grip on the Middle East, the Government published their policy concerning the territory that would become the British mandate for Palestine. The House will recall the material sentence of the Balfour declaration:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
A century after those words were written, I believe that the Balfour declaration paved the way for the birth of a great nation. The state of Israel has prevailed over every obstacle, from the harshness of nature to the visceral hostility of its enemies, to become a free society with a thriving and innovative economy and the same essential values that we in Britain hold dear. Liberty, democracy and the rule of law have found a home in Israel—more so than anywhere else in the Middle East. Most of all, there is the incontestable moral purpose of Israel to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland.
We should not brush aside how the pernicious extent of anti-Semitism in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—decades before the holocaust—created the necessity for the Balfour declaration. It was in 1881 that the most powerful adviser at the court of Tsar Alexander II vowed that one third of Russian Jews would be forced to convert, one third would emigrate and the remainder would be left to starve. The moral case for establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” was to provide a haven from such horrors. So Her Majesty’s Government are proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel, and we shall mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration on Thursday in that spirit.
I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel and a believer in that country’s destiny while also being profoundly moved by the suffering of those who were affected and dislodged by its birth. That vital caveat in the Balfour declaration—intended to safeguard the rights of other communities, by which, of course, we mean the Palestinians —has not been fully realised. In the words of Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, the tragedy of this conflict is not that it is a clash between right and wrong, but rather a
“clash between right and right”.
The Government believe that the only way of bringing peace is through a two-state solution, defined as a secure Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, standing alongside a viable, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state, the homeland for the Palestinian people, as envisaged by UN General Assembly resolution 181. For Israel, the birth of a Palestinian state would safeguard its demographic ​future as a Jewish democracy. For Palestinians, a state of their own would allow them to realise their aspirations for self-determination and self-government.
When the parties held their first peace conference in Madrid in 1991, the leader of the Palestinian delegation, Haidar Abdul Shafi, described those aspirations as follows:
“We seek neither an admission of guilt after the fact, nor vengeance for past iniquities, but rather an act of will that would make a just peace a reality.”
I believe that a just peace will be a reality when two states for two peoples co-exist in the Holy Land, and that is the goal we must strive to bring about.
The House knows the troubled history of the peace process so far. The truth is that no direct talks have taken place between the parties since 2014. But the US Administration have shown their commitment to breaking the deadlock, and a new American envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has made repeated visits to the region. The Government will of course support these efforts in whatever way we can, and we urge the parties to refrain from acting in ways that make the goal of two states ever harder to achieve. For Israelis, that means halting settlement activity in the occupied territories. The pace of construction has regrettably accelerated, notably with the approval of the first new housing units in Hebron for 15 years and the first completely new settlement in the West Bank since 1999. For Palestinians, it means restoring full counter-terrorism co-operation with Israel, in line with UN resolution 2334, and implementing the recommendations of the Quartet report on curbing incitement.
Britain is one of the largest donors to the Palestinian Authority, with the primary aim of strengthening the institutions that would form the basis of any future Palestinian state. It may be helpful for the House if I set out the Government’s view of a fair compromise between the parties. The borders between the two states should be based on the lines as they stood on 4 June 1967—the eve of the six-day war—with equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interests of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. There must be security arrangements that, for Israelis, prevent the resurgence of terrorism; and, for Palestinians, respect their sovereignty, ensure freedom of movement, and demonstrate that occupation is over. There needs to be a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question, in line with UN resolution 1515. In practice, this means that any such agreement must be demographically compatible with two states for two peoples and a generous package of international compensation should be made available. The final determination of Jerusalem must be agreed by the parties, ensuring that the holy city is a shared capital of Israel and a Palestinian state, granting access and religious rights for all who hold it dear.
This vision of a just settlement finds its roots in another British-drafted document: UN resolution 242, adopted 50 years ago this November, which enshrines the principle of land for peace based on the 1967 lines. That essential principle has inspired every serious effort to resolve this conflict—from the Camp David peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt almost 40 years ago, to the Arab peace initiative first placed on the table in 2002, which offers normal relations with Israel in return for an end to occupation.​
I believe that the goal of two states is still achievable, and that with ingenuity and good will, the map of the Holy Land can be configured in ways that meet the aspirations of both parties. A century after the Balfour declaration helped to create the state of Israel—an achievement that no one in this House would wish to undo—there is unfinished business and work to be done. We in this country, mindful of our historic role, and co-operating closely with our allies, will not shirk from that challenge. I commend this statement to the House.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. As we approach the centenary of the Balfour declaration, Labour Members are glad to join him in commemorating that historic anniversary and expressing once again our continued support for the state of Israel.
In 1918, Labour’s first Cabinet Minister, Arthur Henderson, said:
“The British Labour Party believes that the responsibility of the British people in Palestine should be fulfilled to the utmost of their power…to ensure the economic prosperity, political autonomy and spiritual freedom of both the Jews and Arabs in Palestine.”
The Labour party has adopted that position, not least in recognition of the egalitarian goals that inspired the early pioneers of the Israeli state. We think, in particular, of the kibbutz movement—a group of people dedicated to establishing a more egalitarian society free from the prejudice and persecution that they had experienced in their home countries. Even today, despite the challenges that I will address in respect of its relationship with the Palestinian people, modern Israel still stands out for its commitment to egalitarianism—in particular, its commitment to women and LGBT communities in a region where these groups are far too often subject to fierce discrimination.
Today, it is right to think about the successes of Israel, but we must also be aware that 100 years on, the promise in the Balfour letter cited by the Foreign Secretary—that
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”—
remains unfulfilled, and we have more to do. I urge the Foreign Secretary to take the opportunity of the centenary to reflect once again on Britain’s role in the region, as his predecessor did 100 years ago, and ask whether we could do more to bring about lasting peace and stability in the Middle East. Can we do more to ensure that the political rights, as well as the civil and religious rights, of Palestinian people are protected, just as Mr Balfour intended all those years ago?
On that point, as the Foreign Secretary well knows, I believe that there is no better or more symbolic way of marking the Balfour centenary than for the UK officially to recognise the state of Palestine. We have just heard the Foreign Secretary talk in explicit terms about the benefits for both Israel and Palestine that the birth of Palestinian statehood would bring. Surely we can play more of a part in delivering that by formally recognising the Palestinian state.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that in 2011, one of his other predecessors, William Hague, said:
“We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state…at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help to bring about peace.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 290.]
Almost six years have passed since that statement—six years in which the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories has become ever more desperate, six years in which the cycle of violence has continued unabated and the people of Israel remain at daily risk from random acts of terror, six years in which the pace of settlement building and the displacement of Palestinian people have increased, and six years in which moves towards a lasting peace have ground to a halt.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House today whether the Government still plan to recognise the state of Palestine and, if not now, when? Conversely, if they no longer have such plans, can the Foreign Secretary tell us why things have changed?

He will remember that on 13 October 2014, the House stated that the Palestinian state should be recognised. The anniversary of the Balfour declaration is a reminder that when the British Government lay out their policies on the Middle East in black and white, those words matter and can make a difference. With the empty vessel that is the American President making lots of noise but being utterly directionless, the need for Britain to show leadership on this issue is ever more pressing.
Will the Foreign Secretary make a start today on the issue of Palestinian statehood? As we rightly reflect on the last 100 years, we have a shared duty to look towards the future and towards the next generation of young people growing up in Israel and Palestine today. That generation knows nothing but division and violence, and those young people have been badly let down by the actions, and the inaction, of their own leaders. Will young Israelis grow up in a world in which air raids, car rammings and random stabbings become a commonplace fact of life? Will they grow up in a country in which military service remains not just compulsory, but necessary, because they are surrounded by hostile neighbours who deny their very right to exist? Will young Palestinians grow up in a world in which youth unemployment remains at 58%, reliant on humanitarian aid and unable to shape their own futures? Will they inherit a map on which the ever-expanding settlements and the destruction of their own houses make it harder and harder to envisage what a viable independent Palestine would even look like?
I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary agrees with the Prime Minister about whether it is worth answering hypothetical questions, but as we mark the centenary of the vital step taken by a former British Foreign Secretary in recognition of Israeli statehood, I ask this Foreign Secretary how he believes he will be remembered in 100 years’ time. Will the Government in which he serves be remembered for recognising the statehood of the Palestinian people and taking a similarly vital step towards correcting an historic wrong? I can assure him that if the Government are not prepared to take that step, the next Labour Government will be.

Boris Johnson
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for the spirit in which she addressed the questions. She asks, if I may say so, the right questions about the way ahead. The UK is substantially committed to the support of the Palestinian Authority and to building up the institutions in Palestine. British taxpayers’ cash helps about 25,000 kids to go to school, we help with about 125,000 medical cases every year and the Department for International Development gives, as she knows very well, substantial sums to support the Palestinian Authority with a view to strengthening those institutions.​

When it comes to recognising that state, we judge, in common with our French friends and the vast majority of our European friends and partners, that the moment is not yet right to play that card. That on its own will not end the occupation or bring peace. After all, it is not something we can do more than once: that card having been played, that will be it.

We judge that it is better to give every possible encouragement to both sides to seize the moment and, if I may say so, I think the right hon. Lady is quite hard, perhaps characteristically, on the current Administration in Washington, which is perhaps her job—

Emily Thornberry
It ought to be your job, too.

Boris Johnson
Indeed, and I am hard where it is necessary, but there is a job to be done. At the moment, as I think the right hon. Lady would accept, there is a conjuncture in the stars that is uncommonly propitious. I will not put it higher than that, but there is a chance that we could make progress on this very vexed dossier. We need the Americans to work with us to do that and we need them to be in the lead because, as she will understand, of the facts as they are in the Middle East.
We need the Palestinian Authority, with a clear mandate, to sit down and negotiate with the Israelis and do the deal that is there to be done, and which everybody understands. We all know the shape of the future map and we all know how it could be done. What is needed now is political will, and I can assure the right hon. Lady and the House that the UK will be absolutely determined to encourage both sides to do such a deal.

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)
Of course it is right to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration, but as we have already heard, we often concentrate too much on the first part of the declaration at the expense of the second. Does anyone really believe that the statement—the very clear statement—that
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”
has been adhered to?
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that a positive way in which to mark this important centenary would be for the UK finally to recognise a Palestinian state,

something many of us in this House believe would honour the vision of those who helped bring about the state of Israel in the first place?

Boris Johnson
I agree very much with my right hon. Friend that, as it were, the protasis of the Balfour declaration has been fulfilled, but the apodosis has not.

It should have spoken of the political rights of those peoples and, by the way, in my view it should have identified specifically the Palestinian people. That has not yet happened, and it is certainly our intention to make sure that Balfour does not remain unfinished business.

As I have said, we want to recognise a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution, but we judge that the moment to do that is not yet ripe.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
While the historical context is complex, we have stressed the need to learn some important and relevant lessons from the Balfour declaration. There is plenty of room for lessons to be learned, and for historic and moral responsibilities to be assumed for the betterment of all the peoples of the Middle East today. This must start with the recognition of the state of Palestine as a fundamental stepping stone towards a lasting two-state solution.​
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s words, at least in principle, on that solution. However, we deeply regret that the UK Government have not fulfilled their commission in the declaration that, as we have already heard,
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
The consequence of this failure remains all too clear. We hope that the centenary of the Balfour declaration will serve as an opportunity for reflection and a reinvigorated peace process across the Middle East.
The Scottish National party supports the European Union position of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, and we firmly encourage Palestine and Israel to reach a sustainable, negotiated settlement under international law, based on mutual recognition and the determination to co-exist peacefully. The SNP has consistently condemned obstacles to progress in the peace process, such as the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel or the continued expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
Opposition Members have repeatedly called on the UK Government to use their influence to help to revitalise the peace process. I repeat those calls and ask the Foreign Secretary what efforts he is making to use his influence to bring about a renewed effort to break through the political deadlock and bring an end to this conflict.
The Scottish Government have been clear that they would welcome a Palestinian consulate in Edinburgh. Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to recognise formally a Palestinian state as a fundamental stepping stone to a two-state solution by enabling the opening of an embassy?

Boris Johnson
Of course we are doing everything in our power to push on with a two-state solution. I have spoken about the outlines of a deal that everyone can imagine—the land swaps for peace that can be arranged—but it is also vital that we remember that Israel has a legitimate security interest. If we are to get this done, I am afraid it is essential that not just Fatah and the PA, but Hamas as well, have to understand that they must renounce terror, their use of anti-Semitic propaganda and the glorification of so-called terrorist martyrs. They must commit to the Quartet principles, and then there is genuinely the opportunity to get both sides together.
The hon. Gentleman asks rightly about what this country is doing specifically to advance this, and we are engaged heavily in the diplomacy. Not only is the Israeli Prime Minister coming this week, as is proper, to mark Balfour, but Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, will come next year. We look forward to an intensification of contacts with them in the run-up to that visit.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best route to rediscover the unique moral authority associated with the Zionist project, delivering after two millennia a safe place for global Jewry in the remarkable state of Israel, is for the state of Israel itself, secured by the support of the world’s pre-eminent power of 2017, to take on responsibility for the delivery of the unfulfilled part of the Balfour declaration by the world’s pre-eminent power of 1917, which it plainly is not in a position now to deliver itself, and for Israel to share the security and justice it has achieved for global Jewry with their neighbours?

Boris Johnson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I recognise the great learning and expertise he brings to discussion of this issue and his passion for the cause of finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is something that I agree strongly is in the hands of this generation of Israeli politicians, and they are certainly aware of that. But it is also in the hands of the Palestinians, and as I said a moment ago, they must do certain things if we are to get this process moving. It is also vital, as my hon. Friend rightly observes, that the greatest patron, ally and supporter of Israel—the United States—should play its full role in moving this process forward.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)
The Balfour declaration recognised the rights of the Jewish people to national self-determination in their historic homelands, which go back more than 3,000 years. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that there are now new opportunities in the Middle East to start again to try to secure a negotiated solution to this intractable conflict, so that the Palestinian people as well as the Jewish people can have their own states in the region?

Boris Johnson
I do indeed recognise the opportunity the hon. Lady identifies. I believe there is an unusual alignment of the stars. Effectively, we have the chance to proceed now with a version of the Arab peace plan that has been on the table since 2002. Nobody ever got rich by betting on a successful conclusion of the Middle East peace process, but there is an opportunity and we must do whatever we can to persuade both sides that this is their moment for greatness. That is certainly the case we are making to both of them.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
As we celebrate 100 years of the Balfour declaration, does the Foreign Secretary agree that this event can be regarded as an act of great diplomatic skill on the part of his illustrious predecessor, Lord Balfour, in so far as it triggered a process leading to the creation of Israel, thus providing a strong, stable, democratic and non-sectarian ally for the UK in the heart of the notoriously unstable Middle East?

Boris Johnson
I agree totally with my hon. Friend. The Balfour declaration was an historic event that led to a giant political fact: the creation of the state of Israel, which I believe to be one of the most stunning political achievements of the 20th century. As I said, I do not think anybody in this House could seriously wish the undoing of that fact. Nobody looking at Israel—a democracy and a liberal, tolerant society in the Middle East—could seriously wish away that achievement. We should celebrate the existence of the state of Israel—we certainly celebrate our relationship with the state of Israel here in this country—but we must recognise and accept that for others the fact of the Balfour declaration carries very different overtones. They remember it in a very different spirit, so it is important we mark this anniversary with sensitivity and balance.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab)
The best legacy of the centenary of the Balfour declaration would be to make concrete progress towards the two-state solution we all want to see. Does the Foreign Secretary agree, in this centenary year, to support and properly invest in the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, ​which could help us to take that big step? I desperately want to see a Palestinian state and have campaigned for that all my life, but it is very important that Members understand there is no legalistic, unilateral or bureaucratic route to that objective. It will not be achieved by being imposed from the outside or by unilateral declarations here or anywhere else. It will only be achieved by getting Israelis and Palestinians to work together to build trust, to negotiate and to compromise, and for economic development and trade in the West Bank, and the reconstruction and demilitarisation of Gaza.

Boris Johnson
I completely agree with the aspiration the hon. Gentleman sets out. I believe that the future is economic interpenetration and mutual prosperity. That is why next year we are investing £3 million in co-existence projects of exactly the kind he describes.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
Is there anything we can do about illegal settlements beyond saying that we are very, very cross?

Boris Johnson
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who makes a valid point. Beyond our repeated statements of disapproval, Members may recollect that we led the way just before Christmas last year with UN resolution 2334, which specifically condemned new illegal settlements. The Prime Minister and I have been at pains to point out to Prime Minister Netanyahu, both here in London and in Jerusalem, our view that the settlements are illegal. That is a point on which we will continue to insist.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
It is certainly right that the House celebrates the creation of the state of Israel, but it cannot celebrate—in fact, it must condemn—the failure of successive UK Governments to help safeguard the rights of Palestinians. Given our historical role, will the Foreign Secretary set out what single, concrete international initiative he intends spearheading to help secure a viable Palestinian state, and will he set out what conditions would have to be met for the UK to recognise Palestine?

Boris Johnson
I have been pretty clear with the House already that we see the most fertile prospects now in the new push coming from America, and we intend to support that. As and when it becomes necessary to play the recognition card, we certainly will do it—we want to do it—but now is not yet the time.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
Notwithstanding the challenges of unfinished business to which my right hon. Friend rightly referred, does he agree that centenaries can be a powerful way to draw people together, thoughtfully and respectfully, even where, as here, the history is complex and nuanced?

Boris Johnson
I strongly agree. It has been salutary for people to look back over the last 100 years at the many missed opportunities and at the reasons Balfour thought it necessary to make his declaration. It was not, as is frequently said, simply that Britain wanted to solicit American support in the first world war; it was genuinely because of a need, an imperative, to deal with the pogroms and the anti-Semitism that had plagued Russia and so many parts of eastern Europe for so long. ​It was vital to find a homeland for the Jewish people, and history can be grateful that Balfour made the decision he did, though we have to understand at the same time the injustice and suffering occasioned by that decision.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op)
In the same week we celebrate the centenary of the Balfour declaration, will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to condemn the actions in Abu Dhabi in recent days, when five Israelis who won medals at the judo grand slam were denied the chance afforded to other athletes of celebrating with their country’s flag and anthem during the awards ceremonies and when one athlete refused to shake the hand of an Israeli athlete? There can be no place for this type of discrimination. If we are to see peace, we have to acknowledge and support both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.

Boris Johnson
I completely agree. We condemn anti-Semitism and displays of such prejudice wherever they occur. The example the hon. Lady gives shows the paramount need to sort out this problem and end this running sore.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is Israel a beacon of hope and democracy in the Middle East but that our strategic partnerships in the fields of security and defence are vital to the safety of both our nations and should be enhanced and developed?

Boris Johnson
My hon. Friend is completely right. We have an intensifying commercial partnership with Israel. It is a country at the cutting edge of high technology of all kinds. We co-operate in financial services, aviation and all kinds of fields, as well as, very importantly, security and intelligence, as he rightly identifies.

Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s measured tone in recognising the rights of Palestinians and the obligations that the Balfour declaration places on the UK Government. When he has dinner with the Prime Minister of Israel, may I suggest that he says that sustainable peace in the Middle East can be built only on the basis of equal rights, equal dignity and respect for all, Israelis and Palestinians alike? On the UK Government’s role, will he point out that we will uphold the Geneva convention, which Britain co-wrote and ratified after the second world war, in that we will not trade with settlements that he himself has said are illegal? Finally, may I point out that the House considered the issue of recognition at length and, following considered debate, voted by 274 votes to 12 that the UK Government should recognise the state of Israel alongside the state of Palestine as part of our moral obligation to the Palestinian people, as set out in the declaration?

Boris Johnson
I certainly agree with the majority view of Members of the House that we must, in time, recognise the Palestinian state. I have to be honest, however: I do not happen to think that now is the most effective moment to do that. In that, we are at one with our partners around the EU.

The hon. Gentleman makes a point about boycotts. I do not think that that is the right way forward. I do not think that boycotting Israeli products makes sense. The biggest losers would ​be the workers from Palestinian and Arab communities who benefit immensely from the economic activity generated by those Israeli companies.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con)
As my right hon. Friend rightly says, we have a long way to go to achieve an end to violence and a two-state solution, but does he agree with me and many of my constituents that this anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate modern Israel, its vibrant economy, its liberty and diversity, its democracy and, above all, the fact that at a time of rising anti-Semitism, it still provides a safe home for the Jewish people?

Boris Johnson
I congratulate my hon. Friend on speaking up for his constituents. He is right to want to celebrate the existence of the state of Israel, though he must recognise that in celebrating the Balfour declaration we must also accept that the declaration itself, on 2 November 1917, today has different echoes for different people around the world, and it is important that we be balanced and sensitive in our approach.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
For a change, will the Foreign Secretary tell me what the Israeli Government have to do to get a peace settlement? A lot of emphasis is put on the Palestinians. How does he think that Donald Trump can resolve the problem, when he has failed to put pressure on the Israeli Government to stop the settlements?

Boris Johnson
I think the hon. Gentleman answered his own question as he sat down. The Israeli Government need to stop the illegal settlements. They are not yet making it impossible to deliver the new map, but every time they build new units—as he knows, there are new units going up in Hebron in east Jerusalem—they make that eventual land swap more difficult and move us further from a two-state solution. That is the point we make to our Israeli friends—and, by the way, that is the point made by many allies around the world.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
It is clearly true that residents of the occupied Palestinian territories do not enjoy the full civil rights promised to them in the Balfour declaration, but is it not also true that neither do the more than 800,000 Jews expelled from countries in the Middle East and north Africa? We must remember that 21% of the population of the current state of Israel are Arab Palestinians, whereas there has been wholescale ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab and north African countries, starting in 1948.

Boris Johnson
My hon. Friend has an excellent point and alludes to the third leg of the Balfour declaration. Balfour spoke of the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities and then of course of the rights of Jewish communities elsewhere around the world. As my hon. Friend rightly says, hundreds of thousands of them were expelled from their homes, too. They will also benefit from a lasting peace between the Arabs and Israelis. That is what we want to achieve and what we are pushing for.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is impossible to reject the Balfour declaration in its entirety, as some may seek to do, and support a two-state solution? ​Will he therefore join me in celebrating Balfour and commit to redoubling our efforts to achieve a two-state solution and peace in the region?

Boris Johnson
I certainly share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for and passionate belief in the vital importance of the state of Israel, which, as I told the House earlier, I believe to be one of the great achievements of humanity in the 20th century, given all the suffering the Jewish people had been through. It is a great immovable fact—I hope—of geopolitics. We also have to recognise, however, that in the course of creating that wonderful experiment, huge numbers of people suffered and lost their homes. Their wishes and feelings must also be respected. It is in that spirit that we mark Balfour today.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)
Is it not the case that the rights of non-Jews in the state of Israel are 100% protected as per the Balfour declaration? Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that it would be wholly inappropriate and wrong for anyone to seek to use this centenary to perpetuate the myth and falsehood that the failure to establish a Palestinian state is wholly the responsibility of Israel, because to do so would be to deny the role of neighbouring Arab countries in 1948 in attacking Israel and preventing the existence of an Arab state, and also the failure of the Arab leadership to grasp peace plans as they have been offered?

Boris Johnson
My hon. Friend is completely right. That is why I speak in the terms that I do about the state of Israel. It is a pluralist society, a society that protects the rights of those who live within it. It is a democracy. It is, in my view, a country to be saluted and celebrated. My hon. Friend is, of course, also right in pointing to the many failures of diplomacy and politics that I am afraid have been perpetuated by the Palestinian leadership for generations. We have to hope now that the current generation of leaders in the Palestinian Authority will have the mandate and the momentum to deliver a different result.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
Some Members will be aware that I spent nearly a year and a half in Gaza working as a surgeon in 1991 and 1992. I was there when the Madrid peace process started, and by half-past 4 in the afternoon, young men were climbing on to armoured cars with olive branches. When I came back four weeks ago, my feeling was that we were further from peace than we had been a quarter of a century earlier.
When I spent time on the West Bank recently, I saw settlements expanding at an incredible rate. We blame America, and we expect America to come up with a solution, but people in Israel look to Europe, because they see themselves as part of Europe. I think the United Kingdom and Europe need to use their power to secure a new peace process, and part of that is to do with recognition. How can we talk about a two-state solution if we do not recognise both states?

Boris Johnson
Obviously, I have great respect for the work that the hon. Lady has done in Gaza, and I appreciate the suffering that she has seen there. There is no doubt that the situation in Gaza is terrible. As the hon. Lady knows, the UK Government do a lot to try to remedy affairs by supporting, for instance, sanitation projects ​and education, but in the end a trade-off must be achieved. The Israelis must open up Gaza for trade and greater economic activity to give the people hope and opportunity, but before that happens, Hamas must stop firing rockets at Israel. Hamas must recognise the right of the Israeli state to exist, and it must stop spewing out anti-Semitic propaganda.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)
Last year I had the privilege of visiting Israel and the West Bank with members of Conservative Friends of Israel. I am bound to say that I was disappointed by the lack of impetus, or of willingness, on the part of both sides to engage and get round the table. Does not the centenary commemoration present an opportunity both for the resumption of direct peace talks, and for the United Kingdom to continue to engage and encourage the fulfilment of that two-state solution?

Boris Johnson
I absolutely agree. I hope that both sides of the equation, the Palestinians and the Israelis, will study my statement with care, because I believe that it offers a way forward that would be massively to the advantage not just of their countries, but of the whole of the Middle East and, indeed, the world.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab)
I welcome much of what the Foreign Secretary has said this afternoon, and the sensitivity with which he has said it, although I think he is making the wrong decision about recognition.
During his visit, will the Foreign Secretary raise with Prime Minister Netanyahu the issue of legislation relating to the annexation of settlement blocs in Jerusalem, which would displace 120,000 Palestinian people? That is clearly an impediment to the achievement of the viable two-state solution that is wanted by Members on all sides of the argument.

Boris Johnson
I can answer the hon. Lady’s question very briefly. I will certainly raise that issue, as I have raised the issue of illegal settlements in the past, directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Colin Clark (Gordon) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition will not attend a dinner to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration?

Boris Johnson
I believe that it is disappointing. The vast majority of Members on both sides of the House have said this afternoon that this occasion is of huge importance to the world, because it marks an event in which our country played an enormous part—and, indeed, we still have a large part to play. One would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition would at least be interested in trying to achieve a solution to a problem that has bedevilled the world for so long, and would not, by his absence, be so blatantly appearing to side with one party and not the other. I must say that I find that unfortunate.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
The Foreign Secretary’s refusal to treat Palestinians and Israelis equally, as shown by his refusal to recognise Palestine as a state alongside Israel, is exactly the reason the Israelis are building in Hebron and, last week, annexed further settlements in the Jerusalem municipality. What will the Government actually do to honour Balfour’s assurance ​to non-Jewish communities? So far, apart from warm words, all I have heard is that the Foreign Secretary seems to support trade with illegal settlements, that he is setting new conditions for the Palestinians, and that he is blaming the Palestinian leaders for their own occupation.

Boris Johnson
It is wholly untrue to say that we have offered the Palestinians nothing but warm words. The hon. Gentleman should consider the huge sums that the UK gives to the Palestinian authorities, the massive efforts that we make to help them with their security concerns, and the intimate co-operation that takes place between the UK and the Palestinian Authority. We are doing everything in our power to ready the Palestinians for statehood, but we do not consider that they are ready for recognition yet. This is obviously not the moment, given the problems that Mahmoud Abbas is experiencing. We think that a much more productive approach would be getting both sides together and beginning the process of negotiation on the basis of the programme that I have outlined today, leading to a two-state solution. That is what we need.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s measured statement, and his optimism about the prospects for a two-state solution with Israel, rightly, living in security. Does he agree, however, that the accelerated settlement-building is not just to be gently deprecated, but is truly egregious, illegal, and a growing obstacle to peace?

Boris Johnson
I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and that is the language that we have been using. It is what my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East has said time and again during his trips to the region. Indeed, whenever representatives of either party have come to this country we have strongly condemned the building of illegal settlement units, and we have denounced the recent acceleration in the building of those units. We think that that is making it more difficult to achieve a two-state solution, but it is not yet impossible, which is why we want to seize this opportunity.

Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
I am proud to sit on these Benches as the first ever British Palestinian Member of Parliament. My family are from Jerusalem. They were there at the time of the Balfour declaration, but, like many others, they had to leave as part of the diaspora.
When it comes to recognition, the Foreign Secretary speaks of playing a card, but this is not a game. He speaks of a prize to be given for recognition, but it is not something to be bestowed; it is something that the Palestinians should just have. Can he not see how Britain leads the world on foreign policy? If we are to have a true peace process, we must ensure that both sides are equal as they step up to the negotiating table.

Boris Johnson
I strongly agree with the hon. Lady’s last point. I am full of respect for the suffering of her family in the face of what took place following the creation of the state of Israel, and I know that the experience of many Palestinian families was—and indeed still is—tragic, but our ambition in holding out the prospect of recognition, working with our friends and partners, and trying to drive forward the peace process ​leading to a two-state solution is to give Palestinian families such as her own exactly the rights and the future that they deserve, in a viable, contiguous, independent, sovereign Palestinian state. That is what we want to achieve.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
I know the Foreign Secretary will agree with me that a prosperous democracy where people can freely practise their religion in Israel is part of what we want to see ultimately in the Palestinian state as well. Can he confirm that he will use every opportunity of this centenary of the Balfour declaration to push forward that long-term goal?

Boris Johnson
Absolutely: that is the ambition and the goal, and clearly we hope that the state of which I just spoke will be a democratic, liberal state, just as Israel is.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
As a friend of Israel, I look forward to the day when the Palestinian people can enjoy the security of a sovereign state on the successful conclusion of a negotiated two-state solution. One of the biggest obstacles to achieving that is the Palestinian Authority’s counterproductive unilateral steps to gain statehood recognition through international bodies, so will the Foreign Secretary join me in calling for the PA to stop those harmful measures and instead to express support for the renewal of direct peace talks, because that really is the only way forward?

Boris Johnson
By far the better way for the PA to achieve what it wants is not to go through international bodies, but to get around the table with the Israelis and begin those crucial negotiations.