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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