Month: March 2013

‘Palestine only needs aid because of Israeli restrictions’ Minister

MPs’ criticisms of UK aid rejected

 

Report on DfID Questions on Wed March 13th

Aid minister Alan Duncan told MPs this week it was “essential” that Israel eased its restrictions on the Palestinian economy and that the UK and other international donors continued to support the Palestinian Authority in a consistent manner.Movement and access restrictions, such as the Israeli wall, 540 roadblocks in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, were the only reason why the Palestinian Authority needed to be supported by international donors.Without the restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger, he said, citing a report from the International Monetary Fund.Removal of the Israeli restrictions would boost Palestine’s gross domestic product by £4,200 million a year ($6.3bn) and “that would remove its dependence on aid”, said the minister.

He urged Israel to remove its restrictions and to meet its legal obligations to transfer tax and customs revenues which it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

He rejected an accusation from Conservative MP Mike Freer that British aid were being “used to pay salaries of up to £2,000 a month to convicted Palestinian terrorists”.

“DfID’s support to the Palestinian Authority is used specifically to pay for the salaries of civil servants,” the minister said. “The list of approved recipients is subject both to vetting processes and to independent audit.”

He went on to reject a suggestion  from Conservative MP Gordon Henderson that British aid money had funded an anti-smoking puppet show at a community centre in East Jerusalem where “the children were urged to replace cigarettes with machine guns”.

The Minister replied that the puppet show “was performed not by an NGO, but by a visiting organisation. No UK or UN funds had anything whatever to do with sanctioning this performance, and the community centre itself was angered by the content and made its own disapproval very clear.”

As it appeared in Hansard ……

Oral Answers to Questions

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The Secretary of State was asked—

March 13th 2013  

 
Palestinian Authority
Question 3. Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the financial stability of the Palestinian Authority.
Minister of State Mr Alan Duncan: We estimate that the Palestinian Authority’s funding gap in 2013 is likely to be at least $500 million, which will continue to make it hard for it to pay salaries and deliver essential public services. The PA must of course show financial discipline itself, but for it to become stable it is essential that international donors support it in a consistent manner and that Israel eases its restrictions and meets its legal obligations to transfer tax revenues.
Mike Freer: I thank the Minister for that answer, but is he aware that British aid donations to the Palestinian Authority general budget are being used to pay salaries of up to £2,000 a month to convicted Palestinian terrorists, many of whom have been properly convicted? What assurances can the Government provide that no further UK aid donations will be spent in that way?
Mr Duncan: I can assure him that we have a system in place under which DFID’s support to the Palestinian Authority is used specifically to pay for the salaries of civil servants. The list of approved recipients is subject both to vetting processes and to independent audit.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that the best way to improve the financial stability of the Palestinian Authority would be to lift the blockade of Gaza and movement and access restrictions on the West Bank? Does he also think that the EU should be trading with the Palestinians and not with the illegal Israeli settlements?
Mr Duncan: A 2011 International Monetary Fund report estimated that without movement and access restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger in terms of GDP a year, amounting to about $6.3 billion. That would remove its dependence on aid.
John Howell (Henley) (Con): Is there not a more general question about international donor money being used to support Palestinian institutions that have taken violence against Israel? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that money genuinely contributes to financial stability and is not used in a way that undermines the peace process?
Mr Duncan: We rigorously monitor any danger there might be that the Palestinian Authority in any way incites violence, but it is committed to do exactly the opposite, and it is right that we support it, the potential Government of a Palestinian state. We wish to see further progress towards the peace process over the months ahead.
Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): We all support the creation of a viable two-state solution in the Middle East, but that will come about only if the Palestinians are able to run an effective country. What assessment have the Government made of the structures available in the Palestinian Authority to make that happen?
Mr Duncan: The structures are sorely stretched, which is why we continue to support the Palestinian Authority, and of course we also urge other donors, particularly the Arab states, to carry their fair share of commitment, because if the Palestinian Authority were to collapse there is a serious danger that all prospects of proper peace negotiations would collapse as well.
Question 7Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): What processes are in place to ensure that non-governmental organisations in the Palestinian Authority that are funded by the UK, the EU and the UN do not promote incitement of hate.
Minister of State Mr Alan Duncan: We deplore incitement on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including any comments that could stir up hatred and prejudice. UK, EU and UN-funded NGOs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are subject to rigorous due diligence assessments designed to ensure that funds are used only for legitimate development purposes.
Gordon Henderson: I welcome the Minister’s answer, but in east Jerusalem last year a UN-funded Palestinian NGO performed a puppet show promoting non-smoking. This well intentioned educational message was corrupted somewhat when the children were urged to replace cigarettes with machine guns. Will the Minister assure me that no British financial aid donations, direct or indirect, are being used to fund such propaganda?
Mr Duncan: I am aware of that puppet show, put on in a funded community centre, and I am grateful to my Friend for raising it. It was an utterly stupid and irresponsible way of corrupting an otherwise sensible no-smoking message. It was performed not by an NGO, but by a visiting organisation. No UK or UN funds had anything whatever to do with sanctioning this performance, and the community centre itself was angered by the content and made its own disapproval very clear.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I agree with the Minister that it is very important that we oppose all those who promote hate in the Middle East. May I invite him to say that we must also stand with those human rights organisations in Israel and in Palestine that stand out against hate crimes such as the so-called price tag attacks?
Mr Duncan: It is essential that we make a stand against the incitement of hate from either side in any way. I share the Gentleman’s commitment to doing so in his great understanding of this issue.

Record number of Questions on Palestine

Pressure builds for a total stop on settlement trade 
Will the Government put any economic pressure on the Israelis to stop expanding their illegal settlements in the West Bank so that negotiations on a settlement with the Palestinians can resume?
In Tuesday’s Foreign Office questions there were a record number of questions – 7 out of 15 – focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict and all but one of them critical of the Israeli government – a sign of how opinion is shifting within the House of Commons.
But the answers brought no more clarity about the Government’s intentions.  The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, placed all his hopes on an American effort to revive the peace process when President Obama visits Israel and Palestine later this month.
He also repeated his promise to “incentivise” and if need be “disincentivise” either side from actions, such as building illegal settlements, which were an obstacle to the resumption of negotiations.
Middle East minister Alistair Burt repeated his mantra that “we do not believe in a boycott”, but MPs were left guessing what the difference might be between a boycott or sanctions and “disincentivisation”.
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) urged the minister to focus on areas where he could do something that would make a difference:
“What he can do something about is the import of illegal goods from settlements, which are running at eight times the level of imports from all Palestinians. Will he now take steps to prevent the import of goods from illegal settlements to the UK?”
 
But the minister would only say that he would work with European partners on the possibility of extending voluntary labelling of Israeli settlement goods brought in by the last government.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab) asked the Foreign Secretary to agree that the starting point for negotiations should be the legal status quo—that the whole of the West Bank and east Jerusalem is Palestinian land, as agreed unanimously by the UN Security Council – and not “facts on the ground” created by illegal settlement building.
 
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab) said he seemed to expect Palestinians to have the patience of Job as they were facing “the single largest proposed demolition of Palestinian homes since 1967” in the Silwan areas close to the old city of Jerusalem.
“What will he do to try to instil a sense of reality among the Israeli authorities to stop this unlawful theft of Palestinian land, which can only hinder the search for a two-state solution?”
Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab) asked the Foreign Secretary to accept that a freeze on settlement building is a requirement imposed by international law, not a precondition imposed by the Palestinians.
Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD)  raised the segregation of public transport in Israel with “settler-only” buses and “Palestinian” buses, introduced this week with echoes of apartheid South Africa 25 years ago and of the southern states of the USA 50 years ago.
“Appeasing the racist regime in Israel must stop. Will the Minister, with his European Union colleagues, end our cosy relationship in view of such behaviour?” 
 
David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab) said that the crux of the matter was that Israeli governments did not believe there would be any serious consequences as a result of what they did.
“Can one understand the sheer anger, resentment and frustration of the Palestinians who see no political progress at all? What would we do if we were in the same position as the Palestinians in the occupied territories?”
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con) said no other country would allow large numbers of migrants to occupy its land, denying the land to local people?
“Why is so much energy put into the likes of Syria after two years, when nothing appears to be done about Palestine’s West Bank, and in particular East Jerusalem, after 40 years?”
Middle East minister Alistair Burt agreed that the barrier between Israelis and Palestinians was getting more and more severe and the opportunities for people to live together in the future were getting more and more remote.
 
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD) said many well-informed commentators and analysts believe that that time for a two-state solution “has now gone”.
The Foreign Secretary said that while he thought that the time for it was “slipping away” and that 2013 might be the last chance, he did not think that the time had yet gone.
 
Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con) asked the Foreign Secretary what he would do if the American peace effort failed “as all the others have”? Was it not time to make it clear to the Israeli authorities that their flagrant breach of international law would finally have to be met by some serious consequences?
 
The Foreign Secretary argued that “we need to allow time and space for this American effort to develop as President Obama visits the region later in the month.
“But I believe that it will important for us to be able to say … what we will do to support the process and to incentivise the parties involved. Of course, it may also be open to us to disincentivise—if I may use that word—those parties at crucial moments.”
Mr Hague first used these words in December when he told the Commons that he had been talking to the French and German Foreign Ministers “about how we can more actively support a US initiative .. with European states contributing to incentives and disincentives for both sides to return to negotiations”.
He repeated the same formula in January when Labour front bencher Ian Lucas asked if he would “use the wish for Israeli to develop stronger trading relations with the European Union as a means of achieving progress in the Middle East”.
 
MPs returning from visits to Palestine
Pleas for hunger-strikers and Gaza fishermen
 
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary may not be aware that last Saturday, in Palestine, I visited the mothers and surviving family members—of Ayman Ismail, who is being held in administrative detention and has been on hunger strike for 246 days, and of Samer Issawi, who is being held on trumped-up charges after being tried twice, once by a civil court which said that he should be released tomorrow and once by a military court which is holding him for 20 years, He has been on hunger strike for 223 days, and is in a critical condition. Will the Foreign Secretary make clear to Netanyahu that if these men die, their blood will be on his hands?
 
Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): I recently visited Gaza as part of a cross-party delegation with Interpal. While there I was alarmed to witness, on three different occasions, the shooting at and intimidation of Palestinian fishing boats that appeared to be clearly inside the six-mile limit agreed by the ceasefire. Earlier, the Foreign Secretary roundly condemned, as is right and proper, the firing of rockets into Israel, but does he agree that peace depends on both sides sticking to the terms of the ceasefire, including Israeli naval ships?
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Like the hon. Members for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), I was on an Interpal delegation to Gaza last week. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what is being done to lift the blockade on Gaza so that the terrible water situation can be addressed. Sewage cannot be processed, fresh water is unobtainable because of the pollution of the aquifer, and the material to set up a desalination plant or something like it cannot be brought in to provide a decent standard of living for the people of Gaza.