Month: December 2012

Hague urged to ban all settlement trade

Israel “impervious to protests” – MPs from all three main parties urge him to move from words to action

Conservative joins calls for sanctions

MPs from all three main parties urged the Foreign Secretary to impose economic sanctions on the Israeli government if they went ahead with a new settlement in the E1 area that would split the West Bank in two.

In a Question Time dominated by the Palestinian issue William Hague told the Commons that the Israeli ambassador had been summoned to the Foreign Office to see the Middle East Minister Alistair Burt.

He had “strongly advised” the Israeli government to reverse the decision announced on Friday in reprisal for the UN vote on Palestine.

But backbenchers across both sides of the House agreed that the time had passed for diplomatic representations and it was now time for “actions not words”.

Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab) said: “Is it not clear that the Netanyahu Government are completely impervious to words of condemnation or even the summoning of ambassadors, and that the time has come for action?”

“Will he now take the lead in Europe by implementing a ban on all trade with the settlements, which, as he himself has repeated again in this House, are illegal?”

This was backed up by Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con) who asked: “What steps would need to be taken to introduce a sanctions regime?”

And by David Ward (Bradford East) (LD) who asked what difference it made to the Israelis whether their actions were lawful or unlawful if the law was never enforced by the international community.

The Foreign Secretary admitted that, if implemented, the plans announced by the Israelis would make the two-state solution “almost inconceivable”.

E1 is a planning zone east of Jerusalem that the Israelis have earmarked for settlement expansion since 1999 but where they have been forced to freeze development as a result of intense American pressure.

Geographically E1 is on the narrow waist where the West Bank is only 18 miles wide. A settlement on this land would cut the south off from the north and the capital from the rest of the West Bank and would be the last nail in the coffin for a viable Palestinian state.

Cocking a snook at the US-imposed freeze of building houses on E1, the Israelis have built infrastructure for a large town, including a police station and street lights on a barren hill where the only residents are goats and sheep belonging to local Bedouins.

Labour MP for Preston, Mark Hendrick, has tabled Early Day Motion 817 which expresses grave concern at Israel’s plans to build on E1 in retaliation for the UN General Assembly vote to recognise Palestine as a state.

He moves the adjournment on Tuesday December 11th on the issue Israel’s plans to build 3,000 houses in the E1 block in reprisal for the UN vote on Palestine.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab) asked the Foreign Secretary: “Is not the building of additional illegal settlements, in addition to settlements that already house 500,000 people, a blatant breach of international law, together with the theft by the Israeli Government of huge sums of tax revenues belonging to the Palestinians?

“When will we take action such as economic sanctions or an arms embargo against this rogue state that is committing criminal acts?”

William Hague admitted that the E1 announcement “creates doubts” about Israel’s stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD) also hinted strongly at the need for sanctions by asking what discussions the Foreign Secretary had had with European partners “bearing in mind that the EU is Israel’s most important trading partner”.

Labour’s Stephen Timms asked, since the Foreign Secretary had said settlement building in the E1 area would be unlawful, “what prospect is there of prevailing on Israel to comply with the requirements of international law?”

Liberal Democrat Duncan Hames said the Foreign Secretary “must grow weary of repeating to the Israeli Government his condemnation of illegal settlements” and asked for an assurance that he would not “shy away from putting economic muscle behind our protestations”.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab) asked: “What discussions have been held with the European Commission on the labelling of settlement goods?

Labour’s Richard Burden asked about the “growing legal opinion internationally that anyone who trades with an illegal settlement is themselves complicit in an illegal act”.

But the Foreign Secretary ruled out economic action on the grounds that there was no “enthusiasm” and there wasn’t a “consensus” in the EU. “Nor is it our approach.”

He would add only that “if there is no reversal of the decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries can take and I will discuss that with my counterparts in other EU nations”.

The Foreign Secretary also came under fire for abstaining at the United Nations in the 138-6 vote to recognise Palestine as a state. Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander asked him to “explain how abstaining enhanced the UK’s influence with either Israel or the Palestinians?”

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab) said “the UK’s failure to back the Palestinian resolution has severely undermined our credibility in the Middle East”.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD) said Israel’s reprisals against the Palestinians “serve only to undermine the authority of Mahmoud Abbas and of the Palestinian National Authority, which he leads and in addition encourages those Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, who wrongly believe that violence is justified”.

The Foreign Secretary conceded that the Israeli moves “undermine the Palestinian Authority and could therefore embolden more extreme elements”.

MPs also raised the high civilian death toll in Gaza where 103 Gazan civilians and four Israeli civilians were killed during the recent outbreak.

Labour’s Chi Onwurah said she had been “overwhelmed by messages from constituents asking me to express their horror and despair at the violence and the casualties in Gaza”.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab) asked “what steps he is taking to encourage Israel to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza”. She pointed out that since 2003 as many Gazans had died during periods of calm as during periods of conflict.

“That appears to show that there has been systemic failure by the Israelis in protecting civilians in Gaza. What he is going to do about that?”

The Foreign Secretary said he “underlined” to Israel the need to abide by international humanitarian law and avoid civilian casualties.