FCO questions Tuesday June 18th
William Hague again ruled out taking Government action against trade with illegal Israeli settlements and refused even to say whether he believed the Government had the powers (under EU and GATT trade rules) to ban trade with illegal settlements.
He also repeated his request to the Palestinians “to enter negotiations without pre-conditions” which would mean starting talks while the Israelis are still building illegal settlements on Palestinian-owned land.
His answers will harden the prognosis that there is virtually no chance of a breakthrough when US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his fifth visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah at the end of this week.
Hague said there would be EU action on labelling so consumers are better informed, but the only chance of any progress will be if EU governments exert economic pressure on Israel to reinstate the freeze on settlement building that was lifted in September 2010 – leading to the breakdown of talks.
The Foreign Secretary repeated his refusal to curb the £195 million-a-year EU imports that sustain Israel’s illegal settlements, telling Grahame Morris MP: “I do not believe that imposing a ban on settlement goods will promote peace”.
When he was asked explicitly by Richard Burden MP whether it would be within the law for the UK to ban settlement trade, he dummied: “The question before us is not so much about what would be within the law as about what best promotes peace”.
He then agreed with Conservative Friends of Israel vice-chair James Clappison MP that Palestinians should drop their insistence on a settlement freeze: “We encourage the Palestinians to enter negotiations without pre-conditions.”
Palestinians continue to refuse talks without a settlement freeze because:
- Insisting that Israel stops building settlements is not a “precondition”. It’s the law.
- The Israelis agreed to this before the last set of talks. Why sit down to talks with someone who isn’t even doing what they agreed to before the last set of talks?
- In the 20 years since the Oslo peace talks started, the Israelis have taken Palestinian land with impunity, doubling the number of settlers to 550,000.
- Talks without a settlement freeze are a trap. They allow the Israelis to win by doing nothing.
- It’s inherent in the idea of negotiations that you can’t change the parameters in the middle of talks.
- You can’t move goalposts in mid-football match, so why allow Israel to build settlements in mid-talks?
- Israel is building its own preconditions in bricks & mortar and calling them settlements.
- Palestinians already dropped their claim to 78% of mandate Palestine in 1988. They can’t be expected to give up more.
Nia Griffith MP asked about progress on the treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli prison system since the publication a year ago of the Foreign Office-funded report on “Children in Military Custody”. Independent reports have shown that limited progress has been made on only two of the 40 recommendations in the report.
The MP said the lack of reform had been “lamentable” and called for deadlines on specific issues such as the use of audio-visual recordings in all interrogations. Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said he would “continue to press on the matter”.
David Ward MP said that if the Foreign Secretary could not support a Government ban on trade with illegal settlements, he could “provide some moral leadership by saying that he will personally agree to boycott such goods”.
Moral leadership was not, however, forthcoming: “I am not in close control of the fresh produce purchased in the Hague household, since certain of my other duties interfere with that. While I am Foreign Secretary, I do not expect to have that onerous responsibility placed on me.”