Month: July 2014

Robertson tells Israel it’s time to show restraint

All 37 MPs who spoke in a short debate on Tuesday were unanimous in condemning the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, but beyond that there was little support for the actions of the Israeli government.
 
A handful of MPs, led by Peter Bone (Con) and Robert Halfon (Con), called on the Government to support Israel in its wider aims, not just to track down the murderers but to “dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas organisation”.
 
Middle East minister Hugh Robertson rebuffed them, telling Peter Bone that “it is crucial that any actions that the Israeli Government take are precisely targeted to find the perpetrators and that they avoid a more general escalation”.
 
He drew on his military background to argue the case for calm, restraint and proportionality, telling Louise Ellman (Lab): “I was a soldier for 10 years, and took part in campaigns against terrorism, and when we lose people—civilians or soldiers—in these situations, that is precisely the time when we need to show leadership and show restraint.
 
Mike Freer (Con) said his constituents would be disappointed to hear him use the “tired phrase” proportionate respons and asked him sarcastically what he thought the proportionate response was to three teenagers being murdered.
 
He received a curt reply: “The correct response to the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers is to find the perpetrators and to bring them to justice. We expect exactly the same response in that part of the world as we would find here—no more and no less.”
 
Hugh Robertson also rejected calls for the withdrawal of British support for the new technocratic government set up under the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement on the ground that it was “backed by Hamas”.
 
He replied that “they are a non-violent government and have no contact with Hamas”, though he added that if it turned out that any minister was a member of Hamas “that would absolutely be the end of this Government’s dealing with them”.
 
He had been in the West Bank recently talking to members of Fatah and their relationship with Hamas was desperate. “They hate Hamas and regard it as being responsible for the splits that have occurred.”
 
Asked whether he thought Hamas were responsible for the murder of the three teenagers, he said he had no hard evidence to back that up, but there was “some indication on the Palestinian side that that might be correct”.
 
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Lab) asked him to send his heartfelt sympathy to the grief-stricken families of the three murdered youths, but added:
 
“Will he also send our sympathy to the families of the five Palestinians whom Israeli troops murdered during their search for the missing youths in a collective punishment which has involved hundreds of arrests and the looting and ransacking of houses?”
 
Crispin Blunt (Con) made a similar point: “The anger and outrage of the people of Israel at the appalling murder of these three teenagers are wholly understandable …, but equally understandable are the anger and outrage of Palestinians at the death of 1,406 children in the conflict since 2000. Would adding to this awful toll by the threatened Israeli reaction be either legal or wise?”
 
Richard Burden (Lab) said Palestinian teenagers who also die in Israeli strikes and military operations have names, faces and families, for whom their deaths are equal tragedies.  He asked the minister to confirm that collective punishment is a crime under international law.
 
Friends of Israel MPs also repeated their claim that UK overseas aid to the Palestinian Authority had been used to provide salaries for the families of convicted Palestinian terrorists.
 
“On the question of salaries,” the Minister said, “this is not true; it is an old rumour. The money is paid through a World Bank trust fund to vetted people, who are nominated civil servants.”
 
Michael McCann (Lab) said: “I disagree profoundly with the Minister’s statement. We do provide funding to the PA and it is absurd to suggest that that money can be ring-fenced; the Palestinian Finance Minister confirmed to me that they do pay Palestinian prisoners in jail.”
 
The minister replied: “I have not yet seen the report of the International Committee, but, clearly, if the Committee has evidence to support the allegations the Member has made, that would be a very serious matter.”
 
Another Friends of Israel theme was raised by Philip Hollobone (Con) when he complained of a “constant stream of hate and abuse from state-sponsored TV and media in the Palestinian Authority”.
 
The Minister said he did not know whether there was any truth in this allegation. “I have been specifically reassured that there is not. If the International Development Committee has evidence that that is not the case, we will be keen to see it.”

Extracts from debate on Israeli Teenagers (Abduction and Murder) Tuesday July 1st

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Hugh Robertson:  There is no reason, belief or cause that can justify the abduction and killing of innocent civilians. We send our deepest condolences to the families of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach.

I welcome President Abbas’s condemnations of the abduction. We are encouraging Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue to work together to find the perpetrators. It is also vital that all parties avoid action that could escalate the situation further. All security operations must be handled with due care, restraint and a proportionate use of force.

It is too early to be clear about the full implications for the Middle East peace process, but we will do our utmost, with our allies and partners, to keep open the prospects for a return to negotiations on a two-state solution.

Peter Bone (Con): May I press my Friend on a few issues? It is true, I believe, that overseas aid to the Palestinian Authority has been used to provide salaries for the families of convicted Palestinian terrorists. Given the propaganda celebrating the abduction of the Israeli teenagers, should we review that? Will the Government support the Israeli Government not only in their actions to track down the perpetrators of this evil crime, but in dismantling the infrastructure of the Hamas organisation?

Does my Friend share my concern that part of the Palestinian Fatah-Hamas unity Government is a terrorist organisation that carries out such dreadful crimes? It seems completely illogical that it can be thought of as part of a democratic process.

Hugh Robertson: On the question of salaries this is not true; it is an old rumour. The money is paid through a World Bank trust fund to vetted people, who are nominated civil servants. 

As for the actions of the Israeli Government, it is crucial that any actions that the Israeli Government take are precisely targeted to find the perpetrators and that, in doing that, they avoid a more general escalation.

On the question of Fatah and Hamas, the technocratic Government are signed up to the Quartet principles. If anybody in that Government were an active member of Hamas, which remains a terrorist organisation, that would absolutely be the end of this Government’s dealing with them.

As to the effect on the peace process, it is an absolutely pivotal part of British Government policy at the moment to try to create the conditions under which the peace process can be restarted. If this situation goes on, with further settlement building on the one hand and applications to international organisations on the other, there will not be another chance.

Ian Lucas (Lab): I hope the Minister will assure us that the British Government will now seek to work with international allies to call for calm, to encourage dialogue and work towards peace.

Hugh Robertson: We absolutely agree with him that this is a moment for exercising maximum restraint.

As for who is responsible, it is too early to say. The Israeli Government are very clear about the fact that Hamas was responsible. When I was in Israel 10 days ago, there was some indication on the Palestinian side that that might be correct, but we have no hard evidence in London to back that up.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Lab): I commend the Minister for his balanced response. May I ask him to send the heartfelt sympathy of, I am sure, every Member in the House—very much including myself—to the grief-stricken families of these abducted and murdered youths? What has been done to them has no conceivable justification of any kind.

Will the Minister also send our sympathy to the families of the five Palestinians whom Israeli troops murdered during their search for the missing youths in a collective punishment which has involved hundreds of arrests and the looting and ransacking of houses? Nothing whatsoever can justify the murder of these Israeli youths, but it is very important indeed to see it in the context of a conflict that will go on until there is a fair settlement.

Hugh Robertson: It has often struck me, in the context of the Middle East, that there cannot really be a hierarchy of victimhood, and our sympathy must be with all who have lost their lives.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Lab/Co-op):  What does the Minister think should be done to address the unremitting messages of hate that come from Palestinian media? They are partly responsible for this situation and are a grave impediment to peace.

Hugh Robertson: I was a soldier for 10 years, and took part in campaigns against terrorism, and when we lose people—civilians or soldiers—in these situations, that is precisely the time when we need to show leadership and show restraint. Absolutely all efforts should be directed at finding the perpetrators but it is very important that all those actions are directed at doing that, and nothing wider.

Richard Burden (Lab): It was an appalling crime and it is a tragedy for their families and friends. Does the Minister agree that Palestinian teenagers and children who also die, in Israeli strikes and military operations, have names, faces and families, for whom their deaths are equal tragedies? Will he say to the House, in the appalling situation we are in at the moment, what he thinks are the responsibilities under international law of the Palestinian Authority and what are the responsibilities of the Israeli Government as an occupying power in the West Bank, and will he confirm that collective punishment of the Palestinian people is a crime under international law?

Hugh Robertson: The role of the technocratic Government is very clear. These youths were not abducted in an area that is inside their security control, but it is perfectly possible—but not yet confirmed—that the perpetrators of this crime did come from an area that was controlled by them. It is absolutely their job and responsibility to co-operate with the Israeli Government in bringing the perpetrators to justice, and it is absolutely the responsibility of the Israeli Government to ensure the action they take is precisely targeted at the perpetrators and no wider.

Robert Halfon (Con): Hamas is Hamas is Hamas: it is a terrorist organisation whether it is part of the so-called unity Government or not, and Hamas has celebrated the kidnapping of these children and their murder. Surely it is now time to cut off relations with the Government given that they are co-opted with a terrorist organisation. Does my Friend agree that, far from showing restraint, the British Government should give Israel every possible assistance to take out the Hamas terrorist network.

Hugh Robertson: Hamas is a terrorist organisation and remains a terrorist organisation, and one that is proscribed by the British Government. The key thing about the technocratic Government was that they signed up to the Quartet principles and renounced violence and no member of Hamas is a member of that Government.

Crispin Blunt (Con): The anger and outrage of the people of Israel at the appalling murder of these three teenagers are wholly understandable and shared here because of our special links to Israel, but equally understandable are the anger and outrage of Palestinians at the death of 1,406 children in the conflict since 2000, including 270 in Gaza under air and ground attack in 2009 alone. Would adding to this awful toll by the threatened Israeli reaction be either legal or wise?

Hugh Robertson: The death toll on both sides throughout this conflict is appalling. This is merely the latest in a long line of incidents that has tried to derail the peace process, and it proves once and for all that there is no future in violence.

Andy Slaughter (Lab): Does the Minister agree that we should send our condolences to Israeli and Palestinian dead and their families—and we should stress to all sides that retaliation and escalation are not the way forward?

Hugh Robertson: It is crucial that any reaction is targeted very precisely at the perpetrators, and further bloodshed is not the way to resolve this situation.

Michael McCann (Lab): I disagree profoundly with the Minister’s statement on DFID funding to the Palestinian Authority. We do provide funding to the PA and it is absurd to suggest that that money can be ring-fenced; the Palestinian Finance Minister confirmed to me that they do pay Palestinian prisoners in jail, depending on how long their sentences are.

Hugh Robertson: I have followed the progress of the International Development Committee carefully across the region. I have not yet seen the report, but, clearly, if the Committee has evidence to support the allegations the Member has made, that would be a very serious matter.

Mark Durkan (SDLP): Does the Minister recognise that in any conflict there comes a point where both sides have to recognise that they cannot be secure against each other and that they can be truly secure only with each other?

Hugh Robertson: It has often struck me when dealing with the politics of this region—this is not something that is confined to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories—that it is always easier for people to return to violence than it is to make the difficult compromises and decisions necessary to move the peace process forward.

Mike Freer (Con): Many of my constituents will be disappointed to hear from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the rather well used and tired phrase “proportionate response”. Perhaps the Minister, who I know is a decent man, could advise me on what I say to my constituents about what the FCO regards as a proportionate response to three teenagers being murdered and missiles being fired at Israel on a daily basis.

Hugh Robertson: The correct response to the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers is to find the perpetrators and to bring them to justice. We expect exactly the same response in that part of the world as we would find here—no more and no less.

Philip Hollobone (Con): These murders take place against the background of the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners by the Israelis as a signal of good intent for the peace process, and of a constant stream of hate and abuse from state-sponsored TV and media in the Palestinian Authority. Surely this House and The Government need to make it clear to the Palestinian Authority that this background of hate and contempt for Israel must stop if we are to have a meaningful peace process.

Hugh Robertson: As I have already said, I did not realise that there was any truth in these allegations. I have been specifically reassured that there is not. If the International Development Committee has evidence that that is not the case, we will be keen to see it.

Mark Harper (Con): If it turns out that there is persuasive evidence that Hamas was indeed behind these evil murders, will the Minister return to the Dispatch Box to set out what implications that has for the British Government’s recognition of that Palestinian unity Government?

Hugh Robertson: The Israelis are very clear about who they think is responsible. The Palestinian Authority have indicated that that view may be sensible. We need to find out who the perpetrators were, and then we need to find out what, if any, association they may have with the technocratic Government. At the moment, the technocratic Government are absolutely clear that they are fully signed up to the Quartet principles and that they are a non-violent Government and have no contact with Hamas. Indeed, talking to members of Fatah, it is clear that their relationship with Hamas has been desperate. They hate Hamas and regard it as being responsible for the splits that have occurred, so there is some small reason for hope.

David Burrowes (Con): When Hamas and terrorists are throwing rockets over the border and on to innocent civilians and when Hamas itself sees Israeli teenagers as legitimate targets for terrorist attacks, how can we draw any equivalence when it comes to the response?

Hugh Robertson: The correct response as regards the war on terror, which we have faced in this country for many years through the threat from Irish republicans, is to target what we do very precisely, to avoid escalation and to abide by the rule of law. That is precisely how we relieve the underlying causes of conflict. If one goes further than that, the lessons of history show that that inevitably stokes the conflict and makes things worse.

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Greening: ‘Israelis are crippling the Palestinian economy’

Justine Greening  
Jim McGovern: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what recent assessment her Department has made of the effect of illegal settlements on the economic development of Palestine. [904307]
 
Justine Greening: Denying Palestinians access to the resources of Area C, whether through expanding illegal settlements, declaring closed military zones and national parks, or restricting movement and access, is crippling the Palestinian economy. The World Bank estimates that easing these restrictions could increase Palestinian GDP by 35%.
 
Andy Slaughter: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will take steps to ensure that the funding of infrastructure projects in the Jordan valley is not dependent on approval from the Israeli government.
 
Justine Greening: We continue to believe the best approach to development in Area C is to engage constructively with Israel to help Palestinian communities to plan and build for their future without fear of demolition. We consistently emphasise the need for unfettered humanitarian provision, including necessary infrastructure.
Palestinians
 
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what research her Department has undertaken into the humanitarian effects of the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. [200411]
 
Alan Duncan: Israeli movement and access restrictions do tremendous damage to the Palestinian economy; the World Bank has estimated that easing restrictions on Area C alone could increase Palestinian GDP by 35%. In Gaza, Israeli restrictions on movements of goods and people do tremendous damage to the economy and living standards of ordinary people. 80% of the households in Gaza are below the poverty line, and 57% are food insecure. The UN predicts that by 2020 Gaza may no longer be a ‘liveable’ place.

Written questions

Roger Godsiff MP: What representations has Foreign Secretary made to his Israeli counterpart on the recent destruction of fruit trees at the Tent of Nations farm?

Lord Judd: What representations have HMG made to G4S about the legal implications of its remaining involvement with the Israeli Prison Service until 2017, in the light of Article 76 of the 4th Geneva Convention and its application to the detention of Palestinians?

Baroness Tonge: What discussions have HMG had with the new President of Egypt concerning the opening of Rafah crossing to Gaza, in order to facilitate travel and the transfer of medical supplies?

Baroness Tonge: What is HMG’s most recent assessment of the level of medical supplies in Gazan hospitals? Baroness Northover: (extract) “The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that in Gaza at 29% of drugs are at zero stock (less than 1 month’s supply).”

Baroness Tonge: What discussions have the Government held with their European partners with regard to listing Israeli settler groups such as Hilltop Youth as terrorist groups, following the US State Department’s description of recent settler acts of violence as terrorist incidents?

Baroness Tonge: What action do HMG plan to take to promote the education of UK citizens about the events of 1948 in Palestine?

Lord Hylton: What representations have the Government made to the government of Israel about its holding children detained in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in immediate solitary confinement; whether they have any plans to work within the European Union to end the practice; whether they know when the proposed system of summons will start; and whether they will take steps to ensure access by parents to their children in custody?

Baroness Warsi: The system of summons started in February 2014. It has already shown initial success in decreasing the number of children arrested at night. We intend to carry out further analysis on this system over the coming months. As a recent progress report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates, Israel has taken some positive steps towards addressing the recommendations in UNICEF’s Children in Israeli Military Detention report. These include: the introduction of legal obligations to inform the child’s parents of an arrest and grant them legal status to be represented in court, as well as to notify minors of their legal rights; and standard operating procedures on methods of restraint. The Government will continue to work, both through bilateral engagement and through the EU, to encourage Israel to take further positive steps.

Baroness Tonge: What assessment have the Government made of the impact of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office-sponsored report, Children in Military Custody, on Israeli interrogation methods of Palestinian children; and what follow-up to the report they intend to undertake.

Baroness Warsi: The Minister wrote to the Israeli Attorney General on 31 March 2014 to welcome the steps taken to date and to call for further measures, including the mandatory use of audio-visual recording of interrogations, investigation into continued reports of single hand ties being used, and an end to solitary confinement for children. These were key UK recommendations at Israel’s Universal Periodic Review session at the UN Human Rights Council on 29 October 2013.

A progress report published in October 2013 by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that Israel has taken some positive steps towards addressing the recommendations in the report. These include: the introduction of legal obligations to inform the child’s parents of an arrest and grant them legal status to be represented in court, as well as to notify minors of their legal rights; and standard operating procedures on methods of restraint. The Israeli military are also piloting a new procedure across the West Bank, whereby children are issued a summons to attend a police station in the morning, rather than being arrested at night, in their homes. The UK believes that the report “Children in Military Custody” has helped contribute to these changes in practice.

EDM 183 – PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF THE UNITED STATES AND ISRAEL

Tabled by Sir Bob Russell MP

“That this House congratulates the Presbyterian Church of the United States on its vote to divest from Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar, all companies with well-documented ties to the Israeli illegal occupation of the West Bank in defiance of international law, the Geneva Convention and UN resolutions; notes that this is the biggest move yet by any institution in the US to take non-violent action to end Israel’s occupation; and calls on the Government to urge British companies with interests in the West Bank, such as G4S, to terminate their involvement which supports the illegal occupation.” http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/183