Foreign Secretary criticised for ‘softly-softly’ approach
Is this the right time for action? No, says Hague
Talks ‘paused’, not failed
Having pinned his entire strategy on US-sponsored peace talks for the last four years, and having seen them end in abject failure, the Foreign Secretary stood at the despatch box like a man in total denial – the talks were only ‘paused’, there was no need to do anything except sit and hope ‘to see them revived’.
When Labour MP Ben Bradshaw put it to him that the Israelis had deliberately scuppered the talks with a surge in settlement building and asked “is now not the time for a recalibration of our policy towards Israel, beginning with the illegal settlements?“, Wiliam Hague’s answer put paid to any hopes of a more robust policy or of a UK-led initiative.
“Is the time right now for such a recalibration? I think the honest answer to that is ‘no’…. Secretary Kerry has said that there is a pause in the negotiations; we would like to see them revived. I think everything we do has to be consistent with supporting that.”
Liberal Democrat MP David Ward said if the talks were ‘paused’, there was certainly no pause in Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements which had continued apace throughout the negotiations:
“What is the point of something being illegal under international law if the international community is not willing to deal with the criminal breaking the law? Is not this softly-softly approach towards Israel failing to bring about peace and justice for the Palestinians?”
The Foreign Secretary affected not to notice when one of his own senior backbenchers tossed him a well-crafted question pointing to the double standards at the heart of Britain’s policy towards Israel and Palestine.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire): “The Foreign Secretary has said that the UK’s continuing support for the new Palestinian government depends on its commitment to the principles of non-violence and accepting Israel’s legitimate right to exist. Does the UK’s continuing support for Israel also rest on a commitment to non-violence and the Palestinians’ right to a home of their own?”
William Hague was obviously unprepared for this shaft of sunlight on an embarrassing inconsistency in his foreign policy and decided that the best policy was to give the question what his predecessor George Brown once called ‘a total ignoral’:
“We have in this country,” he intoned, “a long-standing recognition of Israel and support for Israel’s right to exist.”
What he was ignoring was the debate within the Foreign Office over the best way to revive the peace talks. Is it just to sit and wait? Or is it to exert gentle economic pressure on the Israelis – for instance, by discouraging UK firms from trading with illegal settlements in the West Bank?
The Foreign Secretary has recently taken the first small step in the latter direction by issuing business guidance on the Government website. It was never announced and this was the first time Mr Hague had referred to the new policy, though he presented it as ‘long-standing’ when it actually dates from December 3:
“The UK’s position on this is long-standing: settlements are illegal—we neither support nor encourage trade, we make clear the risks to business.”
However small, this was significant because it was the first time that the Foreign Secretary has taken action on the settlements, as opposed to verbal protests which he makes regularly and repeated at question time:
“I deplore the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to expand the number of illegal settlements.”
“We are very clear about where we stand on settlements.”
“We have made our views about recent settlements announcements abundantly clear.”
He was also asked by Conservative MP Rob Wilson and Labour MP Grahame Morris what steps he was taking to ensure that residents of East Jerusalem are permitted to vote in the Palestinian elections – despite threats to stop them from Israel’s prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu.
“It will be of paramount importance that those elections, which are scheduled to take place within six months of the formation of the new government, are free and democratic and that Palestinians throughout the occupied territories are able to take part in them. We will of course make representations to the Israelis and to the Palestinians about that.”
Grahame Morris and SDLP MP Mark Durkan also pressed the Foreign Secretary to protest about the Israeli refusal to allow ministers in the new technocratic government from travelling from Gaza to the West Bank, forcing the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to conduct the swearing-in ceremony earlier this month by video-link.
Netanyahu has also arrested and jailed 24 members of the present Palestinian parliament – mainly without charge or trial – making it impossible for them to meet or function or even vote to approve the new government and the holding of elections.
The Foreign Secretary agreed with Mark Durkan that it was important to lift travel restrictions on Palestinian ministers so that the new government is able to function.
Questions to Foreign Secretary
Tuesday June 17th
3. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con):What discussions he has had with the Israeli Government on the new Palestinian Government.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague):The Minister for the Middle East last discussed the matter with Israel’s chief negotiator on the Middle East peace process, Tzipi Livni, on 12 June. We have been clear that reuniting Gaza and the west bank under a Government committed to peace is a necessary condition for resolving the conflict.
Andrew Selous:The Foreign Secretary has said that the United Kingdom’s continued support for the new Palestinian Government depends on their commitment to the principle of non-violence and acceptance of Israel’s legitimate right to exist. Does the UK’s continuing support for Israel also rest on the commitment to non-violence and the Palestinians’ right to a home of their own?
Mr Hague:We have in this country a long-standing recognition of Israel and support for its right to exist is evident in this country, but we want to see all sides in the Middle East come together to agree a two-state solution that brings lasting security and peace to Israel and a sovereign, viable state for Palestinians. We will continue to press both sides to resume the negotiations, which are going through a pause at the moment, because time is running out to bring about that solution.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Foreign Secretary believe that Hamas can currently be peace negotiators when only a month ago its Prime Minister called for the bombing of Tel Aviv?
Mr Hague: Of course, our policy on Hamas is what it has been for a long time. We look to Hamas to renounce violence, to recognise Israel and to accept previously signed agreements. We call on all those in the region with influence over Hamas to encourage it to take these steps. It has not done so; it should do so. The new Government of the Palestinian Authority do not contain Hamas members. They have signed up to the Quartet principles, which we welcome.
Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): The all-party group on Egypt was in Cairo over the weekend. We heard from the Foreign Minister the reassurance of Egypt maintaining its support for the long-standing peace agreement with Israel. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that that is an essential pillar for going forward? Does he also agree with the view that, with all that is going on in the region, both the Israelis and the Palestinians would be unwise to miss the opportunity they have now? Unless they seek a proper negotiation and solution, the outlook for both is bleak if we cannot rekindle the Middle East peace process.
Mr Hague: My friend is absolutely right. As I said a moment ago, time is running out. Secretary Kerry, through his tireless work in the past year and a half, has created an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to succeed in negotiations on final status issues and on arriving at a two-state solution. Unless that opportunity, which is still open, is seized by both sides, the outlook will be very, very bleak within the next few years.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Will the Foreign Secretary elaborate on discussions he has had with the Israeli Government on the kidnapping of Israeli civilians?
Mr Hague: We deplore the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. I discussed this on Sunday with the Israeli security Minister, Mr Steinitz. I will be talking to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman, later today. We again appeal for the safe return of the three teenagers.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I welcome the EU Foreign Minister’s statement, which condemned all extremism and all violence against civilians but welcomed Palestinian reconciliation. Is there any way in which the considerable economic ties between the EU and both Palestine and Israel can be used to encourage both parties back to the negotiating table?
Mr Hague: For Israelis and Palestinians, the outlook for economic ties with the whole of the European Union would be very bright indeed if a two-state solution could be agreed. We have been clear that an unprecedented offer of close economic ties is available for Israelis and Palestinians. That is part of the great prize of settling these issues and a further incentive to do so. Illegal Settlements: West Bank
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What his policy is on trade with illegal settlements in the West Bank.
William Hague: I deplore the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to expand the number of illegal settlements. The UK’s position on this is long standing: settlements are illegal—we neither support nor encourage trade, we make clear the risks to business, and we ensure all consumers can make their own choice through the labelling of goods.
Mr Bradshaw: In February, the Foreign Secretary said that the recent talks were the last chance for a two-state solution. Given the Netanyahu Government’s relentless expansion of the illegal settlements, which scuppered those talks, and the warning from Senator Kerry that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state, is now not the time for a recalibration of our policy towards Israel, beginning with the illegal settlements?
Mr Hague: As the Member knows and as I have just said, we are very clear about where we stand on settlements. But is the time right now for such a recalibration? I think the honest answer to that is no, because our efforts are geared towards a resumption of negotiations if it is at all possible. Secretary Kerry has said that there is a pause in the negotiations; we would like to see them revived. I think everything we do has to be consistent with supporting that, but we have made our views about recent settlements announcements abundantly clear.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of how we can change the situation whereby Palestinian Arabs living in the west bank continue to be tried under martial law in the Ofer military court, whereas Israelis living there are subject to civil law?
Mr Hague: Of course, this is a further continuing difficulty and it reinforces the case for these issues to be fully resolved, and for a final status settlement of these issues that brings about a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Otherwise, there will constantly be the great variety of extremely troubling issues that are raised in this House.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Is not Britain’s role to get Israelis and Palestinians who believe in peace and a two-state solution working together and trading with each other, instead of campaigning for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, which just drive people further apart? The Palestinians working at SodaStream are paid three times more than the average Palestinian, so boycotting such companies would actually hurt the very people they claim to be trying to help.
Mr Hague:As the Member knows, we do not encourage boycotts in any way. The British Government do not support boycotts or a de-legitimisation of Israel, but we do support, as did the last Government, labelling of products from illegal settlements in the west bank, and I think that is the right thing to do. But the Member is quite right that our emphasis is on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, and this is a more important time than ever to try to do that.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD):It is certainly urgent. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the public can have confidence in the labelling of goods from illegal settlements, or can the supply chain be sufficiently complex to ensure that the public do not have the information they may seek?
Mr Hague: The evidence I have seen is that the guidelines on this are well observed, and work is going on on EU-wide guidelines. But of course, where there are serious problems with them, if my Friend or others would like to bring that to our attention, I will investigate.25.
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, to achieve a democratic solution, residents of East Jerusalem must be permitted to vote in the Palestinian elections—and that includes releasing Palestinian MPs who are held in administrative detention, and the free passage of movement?
Mr Hague: It is very important that Palestinians are able to vote freely in the elections, which are envisaged within six months, for the new technocratic Government being created. Of course, we will make that point to the Israelis and to the Palestinians themselves. Middle East 17.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): It was good to hear the Foreign Secretary condemn the abduction of three Israelis. Unfortunately though, Hamas, which is now part of the unity Government, declared the abduction to be a success. Will he further condemn the Hamas Prime Minister who, in April 2014, said:“Abducting Israeli soldiers is a top priority on the agenda of Hamas and Palestinian resistance.”We will not get peace with a unity Government who include people with such views.
Mr Hague: Let me say again that the new Government of the Palestinian Authority contain no Hamas members and have signed up to the Quartet principles, but I absolutely condemn any encouragement to foment further tensions, including the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. That is exactly the sort of thing that obstructs a successful peace process and is presumably designed to do so. It is important that Hamas or anyone else desists from it.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Last year, the Palestinian Authority paid more than £60 million to Palestinians convicted of terror offences. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of that policy of financially rewarding terrorism? Is he aware of recent reports that the Palestine Liberation Organisation has been mandated by the Palestinian Authority to continue that awful practice on its behalf?
Mr Hague: The Palestinian Authority is working very hard, as we want it to do, in its new incarnation and with its new members. It is committed to the Quartet principle of bringing about a lasting and peaceful two-state solution with Israel, and we look to it to do that. We expect all its actions to be consistent with doing that. We give considerable financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, and I know that the Department for International Development takes great care over the allocation and use of that aid. Topical questions
Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to ensure that the upcoming Palestinian elections in places such as East Jerusalem will be free and democratic?
Mr Hague: As I mentioned earlier, it will be of paramount importance that those elections, which are scheduled to take place within six months of the formation of the new Government, are free and democratic and that Palestinians throughout the occupied territories are able to take part in them. We will of course make representations to the Israelis and to the Palestinians about that.
Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): The Foreign Secretary referred to the pause in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but there has been no pause in the expansion of what he himself has described as illegal settlements. What is the point of something being illegal under international law if the international community is not willing to deal with the criminal breaking the law? Is not this softly, softly approach towards Israel failing to bring about peace and justice for the Palestinians?
Mr Hague: No one has succeeded in bringing about lasting peace so far, but we have to continue to try to do so. The only way in which Palestinians will be able to enjoy what I think we all believe in here—a viable and sovereign state of their own—is through successful negotiations arriving at a two-state solution. All our actions are therefore consistent with promoting that.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP):Has the Secretary of State emphasised to the Israeli Government that travel restrictions or other constraints that would prevent Ministers in the technocratic Government from meeting will mean only that they are unable to meet their responsibilities not just to all Palestinians but to the peace process?
Mr Hague:Of course we want the technocratic Government of the Palestinian Authority to be able to function. They have committed themselves to the Quartet principles—that, to us, is a very important test—and so we want them to be able to function and to make decisions. Questions on International DevelopmentWednesday June 18th 2014
Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): Given that the unity Government of Palestine have unequivocally endorsed the Quartet principles, will the Secretary of State confirm that she will robustly continue DFID’s financial support to them, or even increase it?
Justine Greening:We will continue to provide support to the Palestinian people. The UK has welcomed the formation of the new interim technocratic Government. We have also made it clear that our continued support for that new Government will rest on their commitment to the principles of non-violence and their acceptance of all previous agreements and obligations, including Israel’s legitimate right to exist.
Statement by Foreign Secretary William Hague on June 3rd:
“We welcome yesterday’s announcement on the formation of a new interim technocratic government for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under a government committed to peace is a necessary condition for resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We have made clear that our continued support to the new government will rest on its commitment to the principle of non-violence, and an acceptance of all previous agreements and obligations, including Israel’s legitimate right to exist. We now look to the new government to demonstrate these commitments through its actions as well as its words.”
ON RADIO 4 FRIDAY 19 JUNE 2014 AT 9 AMKirsty Young’s castaway this week is the Palestinian author and human rights activist, Raja Shehadeh.
TUESDAY 23 JUNE Mother of one of the Hares boys Umm Fady speaking about the treatment of Palestinian teenagers at the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group. Passholders only.
EDM 49: 49 MPs have signed EDM 49 on the treatment of Palestinian children: “That this House notes that Israeli forces continue to use excessive force including live ammunition and rubber coated metal bullets on unarmed protestors, including children and that 1,400 children have been killed in this way since 2000; further notes the lack of transparency in the investigation of such incidents; acknowledges the excellent work that Defence for Children International Palestine do in increasing awareness of these deaths; further notes that since January 2008, 129 children have been affected by settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including four fatalities with each of the cases occurring near Palestinian neighbourhoods, villages or roads located close to Israeli settlements and the nature of the violence includes being shot at, beaten, pelted with stones and sprayed with gas; and calls on the Government to press the Israeli government to respect the right to peaceful protest and prioritise the safety of all children who come under such attack on a routine basis.”