‘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.
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