Month: October 2014

Highlights from Foreign Office questions Tuesday October 28th

Question 5. Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): What recent steps the Government have taken to assist with the reconstruction of Gaza.
Mr Philip Hammond: On 12 October, at the reconstruction conference in Cairo, the UK pledged £20 million to help kick-start Gaza’s recovery. It is essential that both sides take the necessary practical steps to allow reconstruction. Reconstruction of Gaza is necessary and urgent to get the economy back to business, but progress to a political settlement must follow quickly on its heels.
Andrew Griffiths: I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Many were concerned about the impact on ordinary Palestinians during the 50-day conflict. Of particular concern was the bombing of the hospital in Gaza. Will he advise us what the Government are doing to help rebuild vital medical facilities in Gaza?
Mr Hammond: The Secretary of State for International Development is deeply engaged in that question. As I have said, we have pledged £20 million and we will continue to work with the UN and other agencies, but we urgently require an unsticking of the process that allows construction materials into Gaza so that physical reconstruction can commence. When that process is under way, I am sure there will be significant further pledges of assistance on top of the billions of dollars already available to reconstruct Gaza as a result of the Cairo conference.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Have any arrangements been agreed to ensure that much needed building materials for hospitals, schools and homes will not be diverted to rebuilding the terror tunnels, which Hamas claims it has started to do?
Mr Hammond: This is the essential challenge: ensuring that construction materials in the quantities needed can enter Gaza under a monitoring regime that is satisfactory to the Israelis as well as the Palestinians and that they are applied to the rebuilding of homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, and not diverted for military purposes. Such a mechanism is in place. There was a temporary glitch—hopefully—earlier this week in its operation, but officials are working flat out to try to resolve it. I hope we see major progress over the next few days.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does he agree that, while Hamas continues to rule Gaza with such brutality and to amass missiles—as we have heard, many of them are from Iran—the prospect of a viable and democratic Palestinian state looks ever more unlikely?
Mr Hammond: The challenge to the authority of the Palestinian Authority from what is happening in Gaza is an impediment to progress on a broader Middle East peace settlement, but I am of the view that we must first bring humanitarian relief to Gaza, which means getting started urgently on reconstruction. We then need a sustained ceasefire and settlement around Gaza as a step to proceeding to a resumption of the wider Middle East peace process. I hope for significant American leadership to revitalise that process over the coming weeks and months.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I agree that the urgent and pressing matter is the humanitarian and reconstruction needs currently faced by the people of Gaza. Is it a forlorn hope—can he give us some hope—for a political solution in the medium to long term that allows the security needs of the Israelis and the Israeli nation to be met at the same time as the lifting of the economic constrictions and the strangulation of Gaza? That has to be the way forward.
Mr Hammond: He is exactly right. All Members would agree that the Gazan economy needs to be reactivated so that people can get back to something like life as normal. The stranglehold imposed by the access regime needs to be relaxed, but it can be relaxed only in the context of Israel feeling safe and secure.
Israel and Palestine
Question 7. Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): If he will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to participate in projects which bring them together and build a new generation of leaders committed to peace and dialogue.[905694]
Question 10. Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to support projects that foster co-operation and co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians
Question 11. Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Whether he has discussed with his Israeli counterpart the content of the debate on 13 October 2014 on Palestine and Israel; what recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on the future of the peace process; and if he will make a statement.[905698]
Mr Tobias Ellwood: Despite the tragic events during the summer, we remain committed to supporting efforts for peace. Our embassy in Tel Aviv and the British consulate general in Jerusalem work closely with all sectors of society, including the ultra-Orthodox communities, Israeli Arabs and Palestinian communities affected by the occupation, to build constituencies for peace.
Mr McCann: On an International Development Committee visit to the Middle East earlier this year, it was noted that the Conflict Fund had insufficient funding to support groups that were promoting peace from both sides. I urge the Minister to expand the Conflict Fund pool and look again at organisations such as Cherish, Parents Circle and Middle East Education Through Technology, which are trying to get peace in the region.
Mr Ellwood: Certainly, we are keen to receive strong applications for the Conflict, Stability And Security Fund—as the Conflict Fund is now called—for joint projects that bring Palestinians and Israelis together to achieve peace. I will certainly look at it and write to him..
Ian Austin: It is important to step up the work that the Minister outlined, because the only way to resolve this conflict is through a stable, two-state solution with security and peace for both Israel and Palestine. There is no legalistic, unilateral or bureaucratic route to that objective; it will be achieved only by getting Israelis and Palestinians working together to build trust, to compromise and to negotiate and by means of economic development and trade in the West Bank and by the reconstruction and demilitarisation of Gaza.
Mr Ellwood: The whole House would agree with him. I, too, had the opportunity to visit Gaza, Jerusalem, Israel and the Occupied Territories over the last few weeks. I was astonished by the amount of energy there and by the people who absolutely want to work together. One example of that is the UK-Israel tech hub, which is driving economic and technological collaboration between the UK and Israel. The hub is working with Israeli and Arab experts, including Palestinian, to support work and build partnerships in the quick-growing Arab internet sector.
Grahame M. Morris: May I draw the Minister’s attention to comments made last week by the Israeli deputy Defence Minister, Moshe Yalom, a Likud party MP and close ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He said about President Abbas: “He is a partner for discussion; a partner for managing the conflict. I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and maintain relations in a way that works for our interests.” Has the Foreign Secretary discussed those comments with Israeli officials?
Mr Ellwood: We take on board the comments made, and it is interesting to note that on Yalom’s visit to the United States, no senior representation was there to meet him. That is perhaps a reflection of how out of sync those comments were. As the Foreign Secretary has reiterated, it is important that we focus on humanitarian efforts, which were discussed at the Gaza donor conference in Cairo, which I attended. Then we should see an immediate return to negotiations.
David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Even strong supporters of the state of Israel are concerned that building on the West Bank is likely to postpone the peaceful dialogue that we all want to see. What is the Government’s position on that?
Mr Ellwood: The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have condemned the building in the Occupied Territories. Such building certainly makes it more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it against accusations that it is not taking the process for peace seriously. We very much encourage all sides to come to the table. I visited the E1 area on my recent visit, and it was clear what difficulties this building would cause in the conurbation between Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem. We discourage the building of any further settlements there.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Illegal settlements are not just about how to defend the Israeli Government. Surely, the result of such settlements is to put the possibility of a two-state solution further and further into the future, to the extent that it could be argued that such a solution has now been completely undermined. Does my Friend accept that no leader of the Palestinians could accept a solution that, for example, made it impossible for a Palestinian state to have East Jerusalem as its capital?
Mr Ellwood: The issues raised by such settlements are very serious indeed, but we must not allow them to deflect from the bigger issue of reaching an actual settlement. It is possible for land swaps to take place and, as he implies, what is happening is illegal under article 46 of the Hague regulations. However, we do not want people to be distracted by the settlements; we want them to come to the table and restart the negotiations.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the key point is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to get round the negotiating table to discuss a two-state solution without preconditions, reflecting Israel’s security interests and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians?
Mr Ellwood: My Friend’s question illustrates the complexity of the situation. We do require leadership on both sides. From Israel we require a commitment to dialogue and to avoiding all actions that undermine prospects for peace, including settlement activity, while the Palestinian Authority must show leadership in recommitting itself to the dialogue and establishing itself as the authoritative voice in Gaza.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): There are massive asks on both the Palestinian and Israeli leadership in taking us to a place where we can have meaningful peace discussions. Will the Minister reconsider his earlier comment that the issue of settlement building was something of a distraction, and that we should not be fixated on it. It is no more a distraction than achieving peace in the region and security for the Israelis.
Mr Philip Hammond: I would like to answer this question, because I know exactly what Mr Ellwood was trying to say earlier on. The settlements are illegal and building them is intended to undermine the prospects of the peace process. We must not allow that to happen. These are buildings; buildings can be transferred and demolished. Where these buildings are built must not be allowed to define where the final settlement line can go. We must be very clear about that.
Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): I very much welcome the comments condemning the illegal settlements, but if the Government’s response to calls for sanctions against Israel is “not yet”, how many additional illegal settlements are required for the answer to be “now”?
Mr Ellwood: The Foreign Secretary has just made it clear that we do not want the settlement issue to hog the wicket here. We need to focus on the humanitarian efforts. Gaza will face an emergency in a number of weeks when the winter weather approaches. That is a priority. Then we need both sides to come back to the table. That is our focus at the moment, and we do not want to be distracted by the settlement issue.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I welcome the contributions by UK doctors and others to reconstruction in Gaza, but is not the cycle almost bizarre? We fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to do valuable work in building schools and homes, the Israeli defence force destroys some of them, and then regularly we pay to have them rebuilt after a long period of argument about whether the cement will be used for the schools or for tunnels. What can we do to resolve this cycle?
Mr Ellwood: My Friend is absolutely right. We do not want to repeat this cycle. In six years, we have been round this buoy three times. A different mood is developing. We are picking up the agenda that was arrived at in April with John Kerry. As I mentioned, we had a successful donor conference in Cairo, and there is growing pressure on Israel to come to the table, but also on the Palestinian Authority to show proper leadership in Gaza, and that was reflected in its cabinet meeting there two weeks ago.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will the Government condemn in the strongest terms the current efforts by the Israeli Government and settler movements to divide the area of al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest places in the whole of the Muslim religion? Does the Foreign Secretary concur with the US State Department’s statement last week that Israel is poisoning the atmosphere and making support difficult, even from its closest allies?
Mr Philip Hammond: I share his concern. Anything that makes it more difficult to reach a peace settlement is extremely unhelpful and we condemn it. We want both sides to work for a sustainable peace. I think that the degree of frustration now being experienced, even among Israel’s closest friends, is expressed by the response he referred to from the United States, hitherto often seen as an uncritical supporter of Israeli actions.
MPs who voted for the motion to recognise Palestine are shown in blue, those who did not vote are shown in brown and ministers who were not allowed to vote in black.
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Settlement-building ‘intended to undermine peace’ – Hammond

Settlements ‘can be demolished’

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has finallly said what no government minister has dared say before – that Israel’s settlement-building programme is not only undermining the peace process but “is intended to undermine the prospects of the peace process”.

This strips away the pretence that the Government believes Israeli prenier Benyamin Netanyahu is sincere when he says he supports the two-state solution and wants peace.

If building settlements is intended to undermine the peace process – and Netanyahu has approved three new settlement expansions in East Jerusalem since the end of the 50-day War in August – then it is clear that Netanyahu does not prioritise peace.

In an unexpected intervention during Foreign Office questions Mr Hammond said new settlement building “will not be allowed to define” the final border between Israel and Palestine and pointed out that buildings “can .. be demolished” if they are on the wrong side of the line.

He adopted a stronger tone than his junior minister Tobias Ellwood who earlier tried to downplay the issue, saying merely that the Government “discourages” further settlement building because it “makes it more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it” and added that “we do not want people to be distracted by the settlements.”

Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies asked the junior minister to reconsider his comment that settlement-building was “a distraction” and Liberal Democrat MP David Ward asked him how many illegal settlements would have to be built before the Government took action.

At that point the Foreign Secretary intervened to say that he knew exactly what his junior minister had been trying to say earlier on. “The settlements are illegal and building them is intended to undermine the prospects of the peace process. We must not allow that to happen.

“These are buildings; buildings can be transferred and demolished. Where these buildings are built must not be allowed to define where the final settlement line can go. We must be very clear about that.”

Even after this intervention Mr Ellwood insisted that: “We do not want the settlement issue to hog the wicket here. We need to focus on the humanitarian efforts. We do not want to be distracted by the settlement issue.”

He preferred to dwell on the reconstruction conference in Cairo, which he had attended, and the £20 million the UK had pledged to help kick-start Gaza’s recovery after the 50-day War.

But Mr Hammond’s plain speaking puts the settlement issue back at the heart of the dispute between the UK and Israel – and also questions the integrity of the Israeli prime minister.

This parallels the line taken by the US State Department who recently refused to meet the notoriously hawkish Israeli defence minister while he was in Washington and have repeatedly condemned the latest settlement-building announcements. State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has not ruled out countermeasures.

The Government issued revised guidance last December that they would “no longer encourage or support” UK businesses trading with illegal Israeli settlements, but the Foreign Secretary’s comments suggest that tougher measures may finally be on the way.

They are unlikely to go far enough for former Conservative aid minister Sir Alan Duncan who suggested last week that British politicians should treat any Israeli MP who supports settlements – which is practically all of them – as an extremist.

“Anyone who supports illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is an extremist who puts themself outside the boundaries of democratic standards.  They are not fit to stand for election or sit in a democratic parliament and they should be condemned outright by the international community and treated accordingly.”

Nothing changes, but everything changes after recognition vote

recognisepalestine

MPs voted in favour of the UK recognising Palestine by an unexpectedly large majority of 262 after a five-hour Commons debate called by Easington MP Grahame Morris. Commentators were quick to dismiss it as “merely an expression of Parliament’s view” that will not commit the Government because it was “only” a backbench debate.

But although the vote is not binding on the Government, it is clear that MPs have changed their views and it is only a matter of time before the Government will have to change its policies. And, although recognition is a minor issue and will not directly affect the lives of Palestinians, there is a good chance that this decisive vote will lead to stronger steps that will begin to put real pressure on the Israelis. The 274-12 vote came about because of a deep underlying shift in MPs’ attitudes to Israel, caused by their shock at the brutality of the Gaza war and their huge postbags of letters from constituents demanding action.

It emerges from the vote that:

  • Half the MPs listed as supporters of Labour Friends of Israel voted in favour of recognising Palestine despite last-minute pleas from senior Israeli politicians to vote against.
  • 40 Conservative MPs – including some members of Conservative Friends of Israel – backed the recognition motion and the Conservative Home website reported that ‘support for Israel is slipping away’.

Ed Miliband put a ‘one-line whip’ on the vote – meaning that MPs could either vote for the motion or abstain – but 80% of his MPs and 21 of 26 members of his Shadow Cabinet voted for the motion. MPs received a huge number of emails – 57,808 through the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website alone – from their own constituents urging them to attend the debate and vote for recognition. This represents a sea-change in both parties.

Conservative Friends of Israel, who are strongly opposed to the recognition of Palestine, claim to have 80% of Tory MPs on their books (242 of 303), but in the event only six Conservatives voted against. Part of the reason may have been that CFI, realising they were going to lose, encouraged their supporters to stay away from the vote – in the hope that the motion would be approved without a physical division where MPs are counted through the voting lobbies. That would mean that the motion would be declared ‘carried’ but no one would know exactly how many or which MPs had voted for or against the motion.

This plot was foiled by two MP who supported recognition but shouted ‘no’ when the Speaker called for ‘ayes’ and ‘noes’ and acted as tellers for the ‘noes’ – without which the Speaker would have been obliged to call off the division. Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn rose on a point of order after the division to explain that he and Batley & Spen MP Mike Wood volunteered as tellers “to ensure that democracy could take place and that Members could record their vote, because those who were opposed to the motion declined to put up tellers”.

If the two ‘no’ tellers are included there were 195 Labour MPs voting for recognition – more than twice the current total of MPs who support Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East. While it has been Labour Party policy since 2011 to support the recognition of Palestine, first by the UN and now by the UK, there was no obligation on MPs to turn up for a backbench debate and the numbers were another indication of the rapid fall-off in uncritical support for Israel on the Labour benches. Coalition ministers were told to abstain, but Conservative and Liberal-Democrat MPs were free to vote as they liked.

Although only 40 Conservatives voted for the motion, this was a big increase from the 10 or 15 known to support the Palestinian case in the past.

The real surprise was the number of Conservatives who abstained because they were disillusioned by recent actions of the Israeli government. Typical was the distinguished chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Sir Richard Ottaway who told the Commons that he had stood by Israel through thick and thin for 20 years but was outraged by the recent Israei annexation of Palestinian land and “such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion”.

It was the highest ever attendance at a backbench debate (other than the European referendum debate which was whipped) and out of a total of 43 speeches, only six were from opponents of recognition, with the result that Conservative MPs who have previously been reluctant to express their support for the Palestinian case spoke with passion and eloquence, as though a gag had been removed.

In the event there were 195 Labour MPs supporting the motion, 40 Conservatives, 28 Liberal Democrats, nine Scottish and Welsh nationalists and four Northern Irish (2 SDLP, 1 Independent, 1 Alliance). The noes were six Conservatives, five Ulster Unionists and one Liberal Democrat. Other than the 140 MPs on the “payroll” vote of ministers and ministerial aides who are expected to abstain in backbench debates, the number of MPs who abstained or were absent was 220.  Even if they had all voted ‘no’ (and a number have said they would have voted ‘yes’ but could not be there) opponents of recognition would still have had only 232 votes against the 278 votes in favour of recognition.

Baroness Warsi, who resigned from the Government in August in protest at the strongly pro-Israeli policy, said at the time that many of her ministerial colleagues and most of the officials in the Foreign Office agreed with her, but policy came from a small group at the top. There was a natural majority not only in the country, but also in Parliament and in the Foreign Office for the recognition of Palestine, but “you’ve a small group of politicians who are keeping a close grip on this and who are not allowing public opinion, ministerial views, parliamentary views and the views of the people who work in this system.”

Call it what it is – theft, apartheid, extremism 

We should not use euphemisms to describe what is happening in Palestine. We should use words like ‘theft’, ‘apartheid’, ‘criminal’, ‘extremist’. That’s the view expressed by Conservative MP and former minister Sir Alan Duncan in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute on Tuesday 14 October 2014.

“Illegal construction and habitation is theft, it is annexation, it is a land grab – it is any expression that accurately describes the encroachment which takes from someone else something that is not rightfully owned by the taker. As such, it should be called what it is, and not by some euphemistic soft alternative.

“Settlements are illegal colonies built in someone else’s country. They are an act of theft, and what is more something which is both initiated and supported by the state of Israel.

“It is no exaggeration to say that many settlers are state-supported militia, defying international law, driving out the rightful inhabitants from their land, and creating an illegal economy at the expense of those who have been cruelly displaced.

“No settlement endorser should be considered fit to stand for election, remain a member of a mainstream political party, or sit in a Parliament. How can we accept lawmakers in our country, or any country, when they support lawbreakers in another?  They are extremists, and they should be treated as such.”

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Cameron rejects Commons’ vote

David Cameron lost little time in pouring cold water on Monday’s vote in the Commons, telling Liberal Democrat MP David Ward during Prime Minister’s questions, that Palestine will not be recognised until “negotiations that bring about a two-state solution”.

This is precisely what the House of Commons rejected by voting by 274-12 on Monday that Britain should recognise Palestine without any preconditions and without waiting for peace talks – because, as Grahame Morris said in his introduction, there were no peace talks and no prospect of peace talks, so this would give the Israelis a veto on UK policy and recognition should be a matter for the UK alone.

Negotiations broke up on April 29th after nine months of fruitless of talks when the Israelis announcement yet another illegal settlement in Palestinian East Jerusalem and there is no likelihood of talks restarting at any point in the near future.

David Ward (Bradford East) (LD):

The Palestinian ambassador, Mr Hassassian, has described Monday’s vote on the recognition of the Palestinian state as “a momentous vote”. Indeed it was. He has also said:“Now is the time for the UK government to listen to its democratically elected parliament and to take decisive political action by recognising the State of Palestine and upholding its historical, moral and legal responsibility towards Palestine”.Does the Prime Minister agree?

The Prime Minister:

Of course, I look forward to the day when Britain will recognise the state of Palestine, but it should be part of the negotiations that bring about a two-state solution. That is what we all want to see—a state of Israel living happily and peacefully alongside a state of Palestine—and that is when we should do the recognition.

Although the parliamentary motion is not binding on government, the hope is that it will encourage other European countries to announce recognition of Palestine – France and Ireland are known to be considering it – to create a bandwaggon effect after the announcement by the new Swedish government earlier this month that they will recognise Palestine.

Already 135 countries (out of 193) recognise Palestine, including many EU states, and the main exceptions are the major West European and North American countries.  Even without the support of the British government, the British Parliament may inspire other countries to follow suit.

But the more important effect of Monday’s vote is that many MPs have voted in support of Palestine for the first time and this may embolden them to go on to give their support to the Palestinians on other issues, such as discouraging or banning trade with the illegal settlement or putting economic pressure on Israel to stop building more settlements.

For Palestinians recognition will make no visible difference – except that a small well-fortified building in East Jerusalem will take down a sign saying “British Consulate-General” and put up a new sign saying “British Embassy to Palestine”.

For the first time the House of Commons has demonstrated its support for the Palestinians’ case and the Palestinians’ hope – and the Israelis’ fear – will be that they will do so again on an issue which will have more than a symbolic effect on the long-running conflict.

Highlights of Debate on Motion to recognise Palestine as a State

A Backbench debate on Monday 13 October 2014 was secured by Grahame Morris MP  “That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. An amendment was proposed by Jack Straw to add ‘as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.’ This amendment was accepted.
The amended motion was carried 274 votes for, 12 against.
Highlights from the debate 
Grahame M. Morris: As the originator of the Balfour declaration and holder of the mandate for Palestine, Britain has a unique historical connection and, arguably, a moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine. In 1920, we undertook a sacred trust—a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. That was nearly a century ago, and the Palestinian people are still to have their national rights recognised. This sacred trust has been neglected for far too long. As the Lady has just said, we have an historic opportunity to atone for that neglect, and take this small but symbolically important step.
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I understand the Government’s position, but they should listen to the voice of this House. Virtually everybody who has spoken—not just lefties waving placards in Trafalgar square, but virtually every Conservative MP—has said that now is the time to recognise the justice of the Palestinians’ case.
I have nothing but respect and support for the state of Israel. I think that all of us are very philo-Semitic. But the [Israelis] have to open their hearts. They have to start relaxing controls in and out of Gaza. They have to start relaxing controls at the Bethlehem checkpoint and they have to stop the settlements. There has to be some way forward. We have to recognise, however naive this may sound, that we are part of a common humanity.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): this country has a special duty here. It is easy to try to duck that duty. We are the authors of the Balfour declaration and we were the occupying power. Anybody who goes to the Middle East knows—I am sure that the Minister would agree with me on this—that the views taken by the British Government and the British people run powerfully in the region. We should set an example. Yes, 135 countries have recognised Palestine and yes, we are behind the curve in this matter, but it is not too late for us to set an example to Europe and the rest of the world and show that we believe in equality and fairness in international statecraft as much as we believe in our own country.
Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): What entitles the United Kingdom to withhold a recognition that is the birthright—the long overdue birthright—of each and every Palestinian child? It would be shameful not to take the step of recognition now, when it would make a real difference.
The United Kingdom was a midwife at the birth of Israel and is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. That means an aspiration to take a lead in world affairs. We should take that lead now on this vital issue through a decisive vote of the British House of Commons.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): There The recognition of Palestine by the British House of Commons would affect the international situation. It would be a game changer. I call on both sides of the House to give the Palestinians their rights and show the Israelis that they cannot suppress another people all the time. It is not Jewish to do that. They are harming the image of Judaism, and terrible outbreaks of anti-Semitism are taking place. I want to see an end to anti-Semitism, and I want to see a Palestinian state.
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Their illegal occupation of land is condemned by this Government in strong terms, but no action follows. The Israelis sell produce from these illegal settlements in Palestine as if they were made or grown in Israel, but no action follows. The Israeli Government will go on doing this as long as they pay no price for their obduracy.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I received an e-mail today from a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem. He described some of his life under occupation in East Jerusalem and he asked me to say this tonight: “I want to see light at the end of the tunnel, but I really want to see light at the end of the tunnel; I don’t want to see a train coming at me from the other end.”
Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians …. and I thought that they were listening. But I realise now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion.
The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent.
Under normal circumstances, I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion.
I have to say to the Government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.
Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Recognition of statehood is not a reward for anything; it is a right. The notion that it would put an end to negotiations, or somehow pre-empt or destroy them, is patently absurd; Palestine would still be occupied, and negotiations would need to continue, both to end that occupation and to agree land swaps and borders. Refusing Palestinian recognition is tantamount to giving Israel the right of veto.
A lot of people feel intimidated when it comes to standing up for this issue. It is time we did stand up for it, because almost the majority of Palestinians are not yet in their 20s. They will grow up stateless. If we do not give them hope, dignity and belief in themselves, it will be a recipe for permanent conflict, none of which is in Israel’s interests. Today, the House should do its historic duty.
Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) (Lab): We will be voting tonight for the recognition of a Palestinian state. That is not just about recognising the inalienable right of Palestinians to freedom and self-determination but about Israel’s need to be saved from itself. What Israel is looking at in a one-state solution is a continuation, year after year, of war and violence such as we have seen building in the past 20 years. The Israelis have just finished a third incursion into Gaza in 10 years. Are we suggesting that every two years another 1,500 people should be killed and another 100,000 people rendered homeless as a continuation of the process of driving everybody who is not Jewish out of what is considered to be greater Israel?
Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): What I do not understand is why the Palestinians should have had to pay such a terrible price for the creation of the state of Israel, where it was believed that security could be created, or why the Israelis believed that the brutal expulsion and continued suppression of the Palestinians would ever lead to the sense of security that they seek.
Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): There are moments when the eyes of the world are on this place, and I believe that this is one of those moments.
Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): , three years ago at the United Nations, the then Foreign Secretary said that Palestine met the conditions and was ready for statehood. How long do they have to wait?
Mr Tobias Ellwood, Middle East minister: The UK will bilaterally recognise a Palestinian state when we judge that that can best help bring about peace. The UK will recognise a Palestinian state at a time most helpful to the peace process, because a negotiated end to the occupation is the most effective way for Palestinian aspirations of statehood to be met on the ground.
The UN estimates that it could take 18 years to rebuild Gaza without major change. It says that Gaza could become unliveable by 2020. If the underlying causes are not addressed, it risks becoming an incubator for extremism in the region.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab), shadow Middle East minister:  The Labour party supported Palestinian recognition at the UN and we support the principle of recognition today, because we believe it will strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence.
It is crucial, at this time when help is needed, that President Abbas receives support for the political path he has chosen. We need to support President Abbas to follow the path of peace and not the path the terrorists of Hamas inflict on the people of Israel, Labour believes that, amid the despair today, we need to take a dramatic step.
Labour urges the Government to listen to the House of Commons—listen to the voices on the Conservative Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Labour Benches, all the Benches—and give Palestinians what they have as a right: statehood. This it not an alternative to negotiations; it is a bridge for beginning them.
Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): This year’s conflict in Gaza shows how unequal the two sides are. There were some 1,462 civilians killed on the Palestinian side and seven on the Israeli side. All of those are a personal disaster for the victims’ families and are regrettable, but we can see from the numbers the scale of the imbalance in this situation.
Given the imbalance, Palestinian statehood would not harm Israel in any way, but it would give some support to the Palestinian people.
Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): In line with our traditional policy, we should recognise the Palestinian state as a reality. We would not be granting it anything; we would simply be recognising a fact.
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Every day that the establishment of the Palestinian state is postponed merely guarantees the continuation of the conflict, with more innocent people losing their lives. We owe it to all those who have lost their lives on both sides, and those whose lives are constantly at risk, to bring this tragedy to an end by recognising the Palestinian state without further delay.
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I believe that time has come. We need to support the vast majority of Palestinians who believe in peaceful coexistence with Israel, and face down the violent minority by showing them that non-violence and a willingness to negotiate can help get them somewhere.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): It is the British people who have taken up this cause, with more than 50,000 e-mails sent to MPs over the past two or three weeks. The Labour movement [has been on a journey] from being very sympathetic to Israel as a country that was trying to achieve democracy and was embattled, to seeing it now as a bully and a regional superpower. That is not something I say with any pleasure, but since the triumph of military Zionism and the Likud-run Governments we have seen a new barbarism in that country.
The motion is a positive step, but my constituents wish to see more. They would like us to stop supplying arms to the Israelis when those arms are being used for the occupation and to kill people in Gaza. They would like us to stop importing goods from illegal settlements—illegal under international law. They cannot understand why, if the settlements are illegal, the goods should not be illegal as well.
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): In the recent referendum in Scotland. … we did not ask the people of England, Wales or Northern Ireland whether they wish Scotland to stay. We accepted that it was the right of the Scottish people to decide. The same principle should be applied to Palestine. This is not an issue for the Israelis to decide, even if they want to. It is not an issue for negotiations. It is an issue for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian people alone.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): If we are serious about a two-state solution, 65 years is too long to wait for recognition of Palestine. Even if only to provide parity of dignity—the basic dignity of having one’s nation state recognised—we should recognise it. The time for excuses is over; we should recognise Palestine today.
Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): According to the UN, during this summer’s conflict, a total of 2,131 Palestinians were killed. Of those, at least 1,473 were civilians—young, innocent civilians, in many cases. On the Israel side, 66 Israeli defence force soldiers were killed, and five Israeli civilians. I do not believe that that response is proportionate. Israel has lost the moral high ground in the way it acted.
We should demand the same standards of Israel as we do of any democratic state Some of the acts committed by Israel were clearly unacceptable. Why was it necessary to blow up Gaza’s only power station, leaving already stretched hospitals to rely on generators? Why was it necessary to bomb hospitals and schools, when, as we saw, the threat of loss of life to Israeli civilians was small in comparison? By adding to the suffering of the Gazan people, the Israeli Government have lost the support of the House, and it should cause them great concern.
It is important that moderates in the debate such as me should speak out if we are turning against support for Israel.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Over the past weeks my in-box has been flooded with hundreds of letters from my constituents. Their strength of feeling is undeniable, their arguments are heartfelt, and their conviction is deep-seated—and for good reason. I share those arguments and that conviction.
Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): This House has a duty to support Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian claim to statehood is not in the gift of a neighbour—it is an inalienable right of the Palestinians, and tonight we should speak up on their behalf. There are times when this House has to send a message—when this House has to speak. I believe that the will of the British people is now to support Palestinian statehood
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): if we are to tell Arabs across the region to reject extremism, rockets, bombs and massacres that are deliberately aimed at killing defenceless civilians, we must also do more to support the moderate, democratic, pluralist leaders, such as Mahmoud Abbas, who have painstakingly pursued the diplomatic path towards peace and self-determination.