Hague gives Obama a year to sort out peace process

After that Europeans won’t vote with US on Palestine

American leadership of peace process will be ‘in doubt’

UK not to support Palestine at UN because of US Congress

Foreign Secretary William Hague came under pressure on three issues during a Commons debate about the Gaza crisis on Tuesday November 20th: did Hamas bear principal responsibility? was Israel’s response proportionate? And why wasn’t the UK supporting Palestine at the UN? He also said the US should press for a peace settlement ‘within a year’.

Principal responsibility

In his statement William Hague said “Hamas bears principal responsibility for the start of the current crisis” but this was challenged by MPs of all parties.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): We cannot all subscribe to the hierarchy of blame offered by the Foreign Secretary for the immediate crisis.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Surely the Foreign Secretary sees the double standards in his statements….surely the principal reason behind this ongoing conflict is an ongoing illegal occupation and an ongoing siege and blockade in Gaza.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): Many people believe that the blockade of Gaza amounts to an act of aggression perpetrated by the state of Israel against the Palestinians every single day, whether a rocket or a shot is fired.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Unless the blockade of Gaza is ended, there will be little chance of a permanent end to the violence.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said that, although the rockets were the proximate cause of the crisis, the deeper causes reflect the failure over years and decades to achieve a two-state solution.

“Every time a military solution is prioritised over a political solution, greater future problems are generated. Indeed, there is and can be no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Proportionate response

“Acknowledging as I do Israel’s right to defend itself does not oblige the British Government to suspend judgment on the wisdom of its chosen actions.

“The scale of the casualties in Gaza, together with the continuing blockade, fuels hatred and emboldens those seeking to isolate Israel internationally.

“Permanent occupation and blockade is not a strategy for peace; it is a recipe for repeated conflict.”

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Israel has an unambiguous right to defend itself, but along with such rights go duties and in this case the duty is to use only proportionate means to effect that defence. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that targeted assassination, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the imposition of casualties on women and children is consistent with that duty?

The Foreign Secretary refused to get into a debate about whether the Israeli response was proportionate or disproportionate until a ceasefire had been agreed

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is it not interesting that when Assad lethally represses the Syrian people, he is the bad guy, yet when Netanyahu lethally represses the Palestinian people, he is the goodbye—[Interruption.]I mean the good guy—I wish it was goodbye! It is this kind of discriminatory attitude by the international community that will prevent there being peace in the Middle East.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): No one is trying to justify rocket firing into Israel, but does the Foreign Secretary recognise that Israeli air strikes have caused so many civilian casualties in Gaza that the killing of children—the burning to death of children—should be considered a war crime?

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Palestinian victims of Israeli atrocities are so many that they often go unnamed. I would like to name the four youngest members of the El Dallo family: Sara, 7; Jamal, 6; Yusef, 4; and Ibrahim, 2. They were four of nine family members and of 26 children killed in Israeli air strikes in the last week

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): There will be no solution to this appalling and tragic situation if any side feels that it can act with impunity, in particular, where Israel’s recent actions are found to have breached international law and fallen far, far short of the UN Convention On The Rights Of The Child.

United Nations vote

The Foreign Secretary revealed for the first time why he is urging President Abbas to drop the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, even though he has often said he believes Palestine should be recognised as a state.

The reason is “because of the possible reaction of the US Congress and the possibility of Israel withholding tax revenues”.

The US Congress has said it will block funding to the Palestinian Authority if the PLO submits its motion on statehood to the UN on November 29 and Israel has said it will withhold tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians as an illegal sanction to try to bankrupt the PA..

“That is the reason for our position on the matter, and it has the best interests of the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state at heart.

“In international affairs when our heart and our head pull in different directions, we have to give precedence to the considerations of our head.”

The Shadow Foreign Minister said: “Labour urges the Government to support the Palestinians’ bid for enhanced status at the United Nations at this month’s General Assembly meeting. This is not an alternative to negotiations, but a bridge for beginning them.

“The Foreign Secretary argued that recognition at the UN could “risk paralysing the process”, but when will he understand? There is continued illegal settlement building. There are continued rocket attacks. There is continued fear and anxiety. There is continued occupation. There is continued blockade. But there are no meaningful negotiations, and there have not been any for a number of years.

“The British Government, among others, have a heavy responsibility to advance that goal at the United Nationals in the coming weeks.”

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “I find his reason for that refusal utterly incomprehensible. It is not that I disagree with it; I simply do not understand why our voting for the resolution would make the situation worse. Surely it would make it much better.

“Israel pockets any concession made by the West to accommodate its position and then not only does nothing but makes the situation worse—by illegal settlement building, for example.”

Many MPs said the UK’s refusal to vote ‘yes’ would boost Hamas and undermine Fatah.

Douglas Alexander said: “The marginalisation of the Palestinian Authority by these events further diminishes the prospects for immediate negotiations—and Palestinian unity—and Hamas will undoubtedly claim itself to be the victor, whatever the outcome.”

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): In seeking to discourage a vote on observer status at the UN, he is undermining those Palestinians who seek a peaceful solution and bolstering Hamas and other extremists.

Mr Hague denied he was undermining Fatah and said: “There might not be a better Palestinian leadership for Israel to come to a peace agreement with than the current one.”

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Will the Foreign Secretary …. heed the advice (of President Morsi of Egypt) to vote ‘yes’ to the recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, thereby demonstrating some small progress for those Palestinians who are promoting the path of diplomacy, not violence?

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): When an organisation such as Hamas gets international sympathy and support,…. does he not think Israel’s approach is a mistake, and if so, is he willing to say so?

Mr Hague replied: …. Israel is making a mistake through settlement building, through not easing access into Gaza and through not, so far, making a more decisively advantageous proposition to the Palestinians about a two-state solution than they have made in recent years.

Within a year

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Meaningful progress towards a two-state solution is made only when American Presidents in their second term use that freedom to make the huge effort that is required. What are the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister doing to persuade Barack Obama that he needs to make such an effort?

Mr Hague replied: “The US will hear very clearly from us at every level that this provides an opportunity—perhaps the last opportunity—to push this forward.

“If that does not happen within a year from now, the US would probably find the votes of many European nations being very different, the process being very different and American leadership of that process being in considerable doubt.

“The US still has a unique degree of leverage over all concerned and a particular influence on Israel, so it is important for the Americans to be able to lead such efforts. The EU should act in a way that buttresses and supports those efforts—unless they are not made or come to an end.

Other MPs

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) urged Mr Hague to send his Middle East minister Alistair Burt to visit Gaza, and talk to the people and their elected representatives and examine for himself the destruction Israeli war planes have wrought on the people of Gaza.

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): I visited Gaza in early 2009 with other Members of the House in the weeks following Operation Cast Lead. The evidence of destruction and misery that I saw there was almost indescribable. May I urge the Foreign Secretary not just to warn Israel against a ground invasion but to condemn those plans in the strongest possible terms?

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Under normal circumstances the hospitals and medical facilities in Gaza operate without essential supplies, and that has been exacerbated in the past week. What efforts have the UK Government made to ensure that essential medical equipment and supplies reach Gaza urgently?

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): May I press the Foreign Secretary once again on the importance of ending the blockade if we are to make progress in the peace process? The impact of the blockade on the Palestinian people, in terms of the destruction of their economy, has been mentioned, but there is also an impact on Israel: there is a thriving tunnel economy and most of the weapons currently being used in Gaza come through it. There could be a win-win situation if we can make progress on the issue.

From Conservative Friends of Israel:

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my interests as declared in the register. There is a world of difference between Hamas, which specifically targets Israeli children, and Israel, which does its best to avoid killing Palestinian children, although both sometimes fail.

Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): First, I declare an interest: I have just returned from a trip to Israel and the West Bank. Israel has made genuine efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza, to maintain the fabric of civilian life there, and that has been done despite the current hostilities and increased number of rocket attacks.

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