Only seven weeks after the House of Commons debate calling on the Government to recognise the state of Palestine, in which 43 MPs took part, MPs held another debate on ending the conflict in Palestine in which 48 MPs took part (and 55 attended) on Monday December 1.
The debate was mandated by an e-petition signed by 124,000 people calling on the Government to do “all it can to address the problems between Israel and Palestine in the name of humanity”.
The first was the biggest-ever backbench debate which MPs had not been forced to attend by a three-line whip and the second was one of the biggest debates ever held in Westminster Hall – showing how far Palestine has risen up the political agenda.
The second debate was introduced, like the first, by the Labour MP for Easington Grahame Morris, who moved on from narrow issue of recognition to a broader focus on what the UK government could do to help resolve the conflict.
He proposed an end to trade with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and an end to the arms trade with Israel, including the suspension of all arms export licences.
“Settlement products are the proceeds of crime,” he said. “They are illicit goods, the product of a brutal occupation and the exploitation of the occupied and their resources. By trading with those who produce them, we financially encourage them.
“And one need not be an expert in international law to know that shooting tank shells at children sleeping in UN shelters, launching missiles at small children playing on the beach in Gaza and bombing sick and injured patients lying in hospital beds are immoral and criminal acts. The UK should have no part in them or in supplying arms and components that allow such things to happen.”
From the Liberal Democrats Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood put forward a similar series of demands: First, the Government must recognise Palestinian statehood.
Secondly, the European Union must review the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which allows Israel privileged access to European markets on two conditions – the “consolidation of peaceful coexistence” and “respect for human rights”.
Thirdly, Israel is on the Foreign Office’s list “countries of concern” on human rights grounds and the Liberal Democrat party’s policy is for a “presumption of denial” of arms sales.
From the Conservatives Sir Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland, warned that “those who unquestioningly support the unreasonable conduct of the Israeli state are not doing Israel any favours.
“The …. opinion that says that everything Israel does is right and justified because of violent attacks is condemning the Israelis’ children and their children’s children to a worse and less safe Israeli state.
“The world has a chance to put pressure on Israel, which at this very moment is contemplating legislation that will remove the rights of Palestinians living in that country. Every single claim of moral authority and decency will be eliminated for Israel in perpetuity if that law is passed. I want to see an Israel with the true democratic values it espouses.”
Veteran Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman said: ”The Israelis have the fourth largest military force in the world and nuclear weapons. They believe that they can get away with anything.
“But they had better take a look at how the Berlin wall fell. They had better take a look at how apartheid in South Africa crumbled overnight. They had better take a look at how peace was brought about in Ireland. They do not have time on their side.”
Former Middle East minister Alistair Burt said there was “a need for bravery and courage among the leaders to do things and face off their own people. Until the leaders are prepared to break the deadlock, we will get nowhere.”
Birmingham Labour MP Roger Godsiff said he used to believe in the two-state solution, but thought it was no longer viable. “The Israeli Government have no interest whatever in negotiating with the Palestinians or in trying to reach a settlement. I fear that the only resolution will be through conflict. That is not what I want, and it is not what the people of the Middle East want, but that is what is going to happen.”
The Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, Pauline Latham, said that on recent visit to the West Bank city of Hebron she had been shocked by the way the Israelis were behaving.
“Israelis are throwing their rubbish down on to the Palestinians who have to put up a barrier to ensure that rubbish does not hit them. Palestinian children going to school in Hebron have been stoned by Israelis.”
The Palestinians were being impoverished by restrictions on movement and trade and building that were crippling private investment in Israeli-controlled areas, while Israelis continued to build their illegal settlements, gobbling up acres of valuable land.
David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East said the Israeli Government had suffered from insecurity which they brought on their own citizens through the continuing dispute.
“But the cost of that insecurity has been overwhelmingly outweighed by the territorial gains that they have made and continue to make daily. Why should they engage in meaningful negotiations when they gain so much from the conflict?”
Extracts from the debate
Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab): There is a palpable sense of frustration from the UK public, which is reflected in the fact that more than 124,000 people signed the e-petition that brought about this debate. Many outside the House are bemused by the fact that the policies of successive Governments remain unchanged, despite their repeated failure.
Before the start of this debate, I was chatting to someone who described the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Our position on the Israel-Palestine conflict meets that definition exactly. It is now almost 20 years since the Oslo accords and the road map to peace, and we seem to be further away from peace than ever. However, the British Government stubbornly refuse to change their foreign policy.
Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Is he as dismayed as I am that the current and former Foreign Secretaries have consistently said that the building of illegal settlements in Palestine narrows the window of opportunity for a two-state solution, yet they have failed to do anything about it?
Grahame Morris: Unfortunately, our rhetoric falls short of action. More than half the members of Israel’s Government reject the two-state solution and the international consensus out of hand. Recently, the Israeli Defence Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said:
“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”.
This summer, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had previously claimed to support a two-state solution, let his mask slip and revealed his true intentions:
“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
For decades, Israel has maintained the rhetoric of peace and negotiations for an international audience, while simultaneously entrenching and deepening the occupation. Now even the rhetorical fig leaf of a negotiated solution has been stripped away, leaving Israel’s expansionist aims naked and clear for all who have eyes to see.
There is now a growing gap in credibility between rhetoric and action. If we want to see an end to the horrifying cycle of violence and abuses of human rights, and if we wish to bring both parties to the negotiating table in good faith, we need to close that gap.
What should we do? Members, and hopefully the Minister, may wish to consider my proposal that we put an end to trade with and investment in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Those settlements are illegal and constitute a grave breach of article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention. Our Government and EU Ministers regularly decry Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise as a great barrier to peace and say, quite rightly, that the settlements threaten the viability of the two-state solution.
We have reached a contradictory situation in which we economically sustain the very obstacles to peace—the illegal settlements—that we so often condemn as individuals in government.
Settlement products are the proceeds of crime. They are illicit goods, the product of a brutal occupation and the exploitation of the occupied and their resources. By trading with those who produce them, we financially encourage them. Those settlements are built on the foundations of immense suffering—that of the Palestinians who have seen their homes destroyed, have been expelled from their own land and are living under brutal oppression—yet we make the illegal settlement enterprise profitable for the occupying power. That seems to me a gross injustice. Personally, I do not think that we should have to boycott settlement goods; we should not be allowed to buy them in the first place.
We should also end the arms trade with Israel, based on United Nations evidence that serious breaches of international law occurred before, during and after the most recent assault on Gaza. One need not be an expert in international law to know that shooting tank shells at children sleeping in UN shelters, launching missiles at small children playing on the beach in Gaza and bombing sick and injured patients lying in hospital beds are immoral and criminal acts. The UK should have no part in them or in supplying arms and components that allow such things to happen.
I believe that all arms export licences should be suspended. Moreover, given Israel’s record of violating international law, the arms trade with Israel should be completely banned in both directions.
The UK and the European Union have some of the world’s strictest rules in place for controlling the export of arms and components. Considering that Israel already has a history of using UK-supplied arms in the occupied territories, including Gaza, in breach of those rules, there is no excuse for the rules not being enforced. The UK’s relationship with Israel may have been profitable for arms companies, but it has had a devastating impact on the people of Gaza, which at the current rate of progress will not be rebuilt for many decades.
Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): It is crucial as part of that international pressure to get the stranglehold on Gaza lifted so that the people there can properly develop their economy and society? That in itself would contribute to a two-state solution by turning off the tap that feeds extremism.
Grahame Morris: I hope that we will play our part through diplomatic pressure … to lift the blockade and siege of Gaza on humanitarian grounds.
Britain bears a tremendous deal of historical responsibility for the conflict, going back to the Balfour declaration when Britain held the mandate for Palestine, but our efforts to resolve the conflict have been demonstrably inadequate. We are at a tipping point for the Middle East, so it is critical that the UK and the wider international community are honest brokers for peace and take practical action to tackle the root causes of the conflict. Only when Israel ends its policy of occupation and colonisation of Palestinian lands will a genuine peace between Israel and Palestine be possible.
George Galloway (Bradford West) (Respect): The attempt to equate violence from the illegally occupied with violence from the illegal occupier is preposterous. It is a legal and moral right of an occupied people to rise up against their illegal occupier. And after all, it is not as if the occupation has just started: the West Bank and Jerusalem have been illegally occupied for 47 years. How much longer do we expect the occupied people to wait for their rights?
All this poppycock about peace talks—there are no peace talks and there is no peace process. There are not “two countries” involved in this. There is only one country, which is occupying the land of another. All this started in this very building, almost 100 years ago, when Mr Balfour, on behalf of one people, offered to a second people the land that belonged to a third people, without consulting any of the three peoples involved. We have a historic obligation greater than any other country’s to side with the victims of Mr Balfour’s act, yet there is no sign of it here.
Parliament recently took a decisive and important decision, but the Government have not caught up with it. They continue to support Israel and to license the export of arms to Israel. Israel is the criminal in this picture: in 1967, it was ordered by the United Nations to withdraw from the land it had illegally occupied, yet it continues to refuse to do so. We should not be trading with it, exporting anything to it or allowing the importation of anything from it. After all, that is what we do with other international law breaker.
If Members think that Gaza has been an erupting sore of enormous international strategic importance—and indeed it has been—they better start thinking about Jerusalem. The ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, the Judaisation of Jerusalem, the driving out of Christians and Muslims from Jerusalem, the closure of the al-Aqsa mosque for the very first time since Israel illegally got its hands on it in 1967 and the fighting that has been alluded to all add up to a crisis about to erupt.
Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): On the fundamental principle of whose land it is, the Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) is right. What is more, the world more widely is beginning to take that view, and opinion across the world is changing fast. Those who think that Palestine belongs to Israel or that it should not be a state must realise quickly and deeply that they are on the wrong side of the argument.
Looking back 30 years and think about where those of the right were in looking at the fate of Nelson Mandela. Look at world opinion now, when no decent person thinks he should have remained in prison. However, there are some even in this House who think that Palestine belongs to Israel and that greater Israel is what it should be.
Opinion is changing. The Jewish voice in Israel and the United Kingdom, as elsewhere, is changing significantly in favour of a Palestinian state. That land does not belong to Israel, and anybody who thinks it does is in the wrong.
Those who unquestioningly support the unreasonable conduct of the Israeli state are not doing Israel any favours. The sort of expatriate, extreme, let us call it right-wing, opinion that says that everything Israel does is right and justified because of violent attacks is condemning the Israelis’ children and their children’s children to a worse and less safe Israeli state.
Those who really support the interests of Israel, as I do—I believe I do—should realise that it is acceptable to criticise the unacceptable conduct of the Israeli state, which I fear will condemn that country to permanent conflict.
The world has a chance to put pressure on Israel, which at this very moment is contemplating legislation that will remove the rights of Palestinians living in that country. Every single claim of moral authority and decency will be eliminated for Israel in perpetuity if that law is passed. I want to see an Israel with the true democratic values it espouses.
I have known Mahmoud Abbas for more than 20 years. He essentially recognises the state of Israel. He wants peace. I have seen the maps, the proposals and the details that have consistently been rejected by the Israeli Government. If only the Israeli Government could step forward and say yes, we would have a two-state solution with two countries living side-by-side in peace. Mahmoud Abbas has even offered a demilitarised Palestine with some other kind of security guarantee.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): We rightly talk about the horror of Gaza, on which the Israelis have imposed a total blockade. After killing 2,000 people and demolishing huge amounts, they are not permitting any real rebuilding.
We pay too little attention to what is going on in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is a living hell for the people who dwell there and want to live peaceful, decent lives. We are doing nothing about it. We get clichés from the Government. We get minor condemnations, but nothing is being done. Barack Obama could have backed up John Kerry when he made a proper effort to bring peace about, but he sat in the background.
You cannot appeal to the Israelis’ better nature, because they do not have one. You can, however, threaten them financially. When £10 billion of loan guarantees were withheld by George Bush senior, the Israelis scuttled off to Madrid. It is only sanctions and an arms embargo that work.
The anticipation of a two-state solution, which we all support as a cliché, is bogus, because there will not be a two-state solution. The Israelis have the fourth largest military force in the world and nuclear weapons. They believe that they can get away with anything, but they had better take a look at how the Berlin wall fell. They had better take a look at how apartheid in South Africa crumbled overnight. They had better take a look at how peace was brought about in Ireland. They do not have time on their side.
Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): There is a need for bravery at some stage and courage among the leaders to do things and face off their own people. Until the leaders are prepared to break the deadlock, we will get nowhere.
The debate is about what the UK should do. The first thing is to never give up. A former Israeli Prime Minister told me a couple of weeks ago that a two-state solution is not a gift from Israel to the Palestinians; it is Israel’s security. The UK should therefore remain solidly behind the efforts being made to restart direct talks and should pull no punches with either state about the need for urgency.
Secondly, the UK should urge Arab states … to press heavily on the Palestinians…. Hamas must end the war, and it must find no justification or support for its current position, but Israel should recognise the reality of the impact of this summer’s attacks on Gaza, whatever the justification, and ensure that there is no repeat.
Finally, we should recognise the reality of our position. We are a supporter, including financially, of the development of a Palestinian state and friend of the security of the state of Israel. We must constantly encourage both and avoid making things worse by precipitate action or extreme statements.
However, the UK Parliament is entitled to take positions that it believes protect the two-state solution or signal its belief in doing so. I did not support the recent motion… , but the vote deserved to be taken seriously. Reactions in Israel were instructive, with the Government of the state of Israel mostly reflective, but with one or two Ministers lurching in the wrong direction and suggesting that vote supported terrorism. It did not.
Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (Ind): The failure is that no one is prepared to take the next step. It is no good saying that there is a great resolution from the UN; I was at the UN last week and listened carefully to the words of the Secretary-General about the situation. Unfortunately, he knows that he is a political eunuch when it comes to providing anything that will really lead to Israel responding positively, creatively and helpfully.
The overwhelming majority of Palestinian people want peace. They were told that they would get justice on several occasions throughout several different presidential Administrations in the United States, but the United States, which still has the most clout, has failed to deliver the powerful pressure on Israel that would force it to look again.
It is manifestly unfair for our Government to continue not to apply as much pressure as possible. If that means preventing our industry from selling weapons and other goods to Israel, so be it. As Sir Gerald Kaufman said, the one thing that wakes up the Israeli public and Israeli politicians is when they are hit with financial implications.
What we need is a positive, hard punch that says that Israel needs to change. If not, it will become a pariah, similar to South Africa during the days of apartheid. Only when there was concerted effort against South Africa did it know that its time had run out.
Mr Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): The Israeli Government are not in the slightest bit interested in what the British Government or the European Union say; their only interest is in not the words but the actions of the American Government, who will not allow Israel to go under.
Of course the Americans say again and again, “You’re wrong—you shouldn’t do it”, but in the Security Council they will always veto any proposals that could put Israel under threat in their eyes.
I used to believe in the two-state solution, but it is no longer viable. The Israeli Government have no interest whatever in negotiating with the Palestinians or in trying to reach a settlement. I wish I could have better hope for the future of the Middle East, but I despair—day by day, more and more—of whether there will be a solution.
I fear that the only resolution will be through conflict. That is not what I want, and it is not what the people of the Middle East want, but that is what is going to happen.
The American Government provide more than $2.5 billion-worth of arms to Israel every year. They will never allow Israel to be wiped out. The people running Israel, such as Netanyahu, Bennett and Lieberman, are all “greater Israel” and settler people—Bennett is the leader of the settler movement and its spokesperson in Parliament—and they are out to colonise the West Bank.
Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What struck me when I was out there [with the Internationa Development Committee] was the comparative poverty and lack of infrastructure in the Palestinian communities, a large part of which is due to Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and their ability to trade. It is estimated that those limitations cost the Palestinian economy 85% of its GDP. Area C, which makes up the largest proportion of the West Bank, is widely considered to be the wealthiest area in the region in terms of natural resources. Output from that area would be of huge benefit to the Palestinian economy and could increase its GDP by a quarter, but that is impossible due to Israeli access restrictions on the land.
It is not only restrictions on movement and trade that impoverish Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; building restrictions on Palestinians in Israeli-controlled areas are crippling private sector investment. Meanwhile, Israelis continue to build their illegal settlements, gobbling up acres of valuable land.
What shocked me more than anything else when I was there was going to Hebron to see where Palestinians are living. Illegal settlements are built on top of them and the Israelis are throwing their rubbish down on to the Palestinians, who are not allowed to trade properly. They have to put up a barrier to ensure that rubbish does not hit them.
Palestinian children going to school in Hebron have been stoned by Israelis. That does not strike me as the actions of an educated nation. I was shocked by the way the Israelis were behaving. The whole process of denying Palestinians the right to a proper life changed my mind about how I saw the Israelis.
Ending the gratuitous demolition of Palestinian buildings would create a much safer place for everyone to live in. Ensuring that businesses can operate in the region would secure investment. The UK Government should be encouraging investment and entrepreneurship through their aid programmes, even more than at the moment. There is a lot more to do and the Government can do a lot more to help.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): [The peace process] certainly needs kick-starting—frankly, it needs bringing back from the dead— … and the pressure needs to be exerted on the more powerful party, which in this case is the Government of Israel.
The contrast I was drawing was between the negotiating mistakes the Palestinians may have made over time and the Israeli Government’s unfortunate practice of physically undermining the peace process, particularly through the settlement programme, which is a much more serious step.
What do we do in response? First, the Government must recognise Palestinian statehood.
Secondly, the European Union must look at the EU-Israel Association Agreement, article 1 of which commits the parties to “the consolidation of peaceful coexistence”. Article 2 of the agreement commits Israel to “respect for human rights”, and there are also questions in that respect. A formal review of the association agreement, with all the possible economic implications for Israel, must therefore be looked at.
Thirdly, arms sales: Israel is a country of concern on the Foreign Office’s human rights list, and the Liberal Democrat party’s policy is that that should earn it the presumption of denial of arms sales.
Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): Two routes have been tried—one is violence, the other is negotiations. The violent route will not work. Israel has tried that route and the route of suppression, with attempts at ethnic cleansing, for nigh on 70 years, and that has not worked. That has been matched by violence by the Palestinians on the other side, which has usually resulted in their suffering even more. That has not worked for them, but it has not broken their will. Violence will not work.
The negotiations have proved unsuccessful: why? Negotiations usually require both sides in a dispute to concede something. What more, really, could the Palestinians concede?
The Israeli Government have certainly suffered from the insecurity that they have brought on their citizens through the continuing dispute, but the cost of that insecurity has been overwhelmingly outweighed by the territorial gains that they have made and continue to make daily. Why should they engage in meaningful negotiations when they gain so much from the conflict?
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): The House’s decision on Palestinian statehood was an important step, but my constituents find it difficult to understand why there is not tougher action in some further areas. After the summer in Gaza, why is there not a comprehensive ban on arms exports to Israel?
Given that something like 40% of the West Bank is now under the control of illegal settlers—our Government condemn them as illegal—why do we not show our condemnation by taking measures to stop the trade on which those settlements depend, or by wider sanctions conditional on an end to illegal settlements?
Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): When people call for disinvestment from Israel and take selfies with their iPhones of themselves protesting, they are being hypocritical because their iPhones would not work without Israeli technology. When people make those demands, they should think of the national health service and the contributions made to it by development in Israel.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Moving towards recognising Palestinian statehood … is the single biggest thing that those of us outside, representing the international democratic interest, can do. Doing that is not about a little token PR win for Palestine or about one in the eye for Israel; it is about trying to create a more equal process and trying to say that international standards will and do apply—not just to Israel, but to Palestine. Any Palestinian state that is created or recognised will have to adhere to all the legal instruments to which they wish to bring Israel.
In any situation of historic conflict, people need to recognise that they cannot be secure against each other; they can be truly secure only with each other. They cannot prosper against each other; they can truly prosper only with each other. That is why we need a two-state solution and why that needs strong international support.
Israel cannot go on believing that it can ignore all the world all the time and still buy the arms and sell all the illegal settlement goods that it wants to sell. The public have got fed up; the international public are indignant at the failure of the diplomatic musings and all the excusery and ruses used to exercise a veto at the UN.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am sure that everyone in the Chamber today wants to see a prosperous Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel. I am certainly a supporter of the two-state solution and I voted for the recognition of Palestine in the recent parliamentary debate.
Israel is far from perfect. Some of its actions are undoubtedly counter-productive, especially and most visibly in its settlements policy. [But] the recent violence in Jerusalem cannot be seen in a vacuum. It has been fomented, I am afraid to say, by repeated, inflammatory and false allegations from the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas, accusing Israel of planning to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and other Muslim holy sites.
There has been no word at all about the fact that Jews were completely forbidden to worship at the western wall between 1948 and 1967, and a slight restriction on access to Haram al-Sharif has been inflamed out of all proportion.
President Abbas fanned those flames when he wrote a condolence letter to the family of a Palestinian terrorist, saluting him as a martyr. Palestinian Authority television opened a recent news broadcast by saying: “Good morning to you, good morning…to your hands preparing to throw stones and ignite the gasoline in the Molotov cocktails.” No peace can hope to be achieved with inflammatory statements such as that, from what is effectively a state broadcaster.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): A settlement has to involve an awful lot more than just the recognition of the state of Palestine. People should cast their minds back to Sabra and Shatila in 1982 and to the Nakba in 1948. The victims of those processes are still living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria; the Palestinian diaspora across the world is huge. They also have rights—they also have the right to return home and a right to recognition. That is extremely important. They should never be forgotten.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The war that took place was the worst of the three in the past seven years, with 2,100 casualties on the Palestinian side, some 500 of whom were children. There are investigations of some 99 potential war crimes, but no report has been issued yet. Demolitions of homes in East Jerusalem have resumed and increased, and the settlements, which now encompass 341,000 illegal settlers, have substantially expanded. Some 160,000 of the Bedouins have been pressured to move from their traditional homes, and the al-Aqsa mosque was stormed at the beginning of November. Last but by no means least, and perhaps most dangerous of all, an Israeli nationality law was proposed very recently that would legally define Israel as a nation state of the Jews and strip Arab citizens of their basic rights
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I still believe that a major contributory factor to peace could be the recognition of the state of Palestine through official channels. Adding the UK’s voice to the 135 states that already recognise the state of Palestine would not only validate the continued viability of the two-state solution but confirm our commitment to advancing peace in the region and send a strong message about the illegitimacy of the ongoing occupation. I am sure that the British Government have taken note of what our Parliament had to say on the question of recognition for the state of Palestine, and I hope that that historic step will be taken before too long.
Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I think that the people in Israel need to recognise the strength of that vote. The old dynamics are changing significantly, because the former controls on news and media have changed significantly. People have much more control of the media and the reports that they receive, and they are much better able to decide for themselves what they believe is right and what they believe is wrong.
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was a tragedy for both peoples, because Rabin was an Israeli leader prepared to make the tough compromises necessary to achieve a just peace. Without an Israeli Government who are prepared to compromise and negotiate in good faith, a refusal to hold Israel to account does not encourage negotiations; it leads to a culture of impunity that is seized on by those on both sides who reject any type of political settlement. Israel is the dominant party in the conflict, and it is afforded an unparalleled diplomatic shield by western nations. In the current dynamic, there is nothing to prevent Israel from doing whatever it wants and taking whatever it wants, to the detriment of both peoples.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): From my talks with members of the French Parliament, it is clear that our vote on 13 October has been taken as an encouragement for the French Parliament to hold similar votes. That is a mark of the good work of this House, and particularly of Grahame Morris, in raising the issue of the recognition of Palestine.
Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): There is now an urgent need to accelerate the reconstruction effort in Gaza. With the region’s weather beginning to turn, there is considerable concern that the humanitarian plight of those in Gaza might be about to take an even worse turn. There is not enough cement or other building materials to allow the reconstruction of the estimated 100,000 homes that were destroyed in the conflict, never mind the other major pieces of infrastructure that have to be rebuilt, such as roads and sewage treatment works. Israel is concerned that without sufficient oversight of goods moving into Gaza, building materials could be used to rebuild tunnels into Israel or in other ways by Hamas.
I understand that the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East process, Robert Serry, has confirmed a further understanding of the trilateral agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the UN permitting some 25,000 owners in Gaza to access building materials for the repair or rebuilding of their homes, albeit with, for example, UN-organised spot checks to monitor how the materials are being used. The news is welcome, but in the context of more than 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed during the summer’s conflict and more than 600,000 people affected, there are a number of obvious questions about whether the reconstruction effort is likely to meet the scale of the challenge faced by ordinary people in Gaza. Many still lack access to a consistent water supply, and blackouts are common for up to 18 hours a day.
Toby Ellwood: On recognising Palestine … is it a tactical decision, a symbolic decision or a strategic decision? How does it fit into the plans that we are working on with the EU, the United States and the UN, and the resolutions that exist? We want to use recognition to assist the strategic process. As parties return to the table, now is not the right time to make that decision, because it would have consequences.
To conclude, we certainly recognise the strong statement made by the vote in the House last month and by today’s debate. We agree that Palestinian people deserve a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel. However, I am afraid we continue to reserve the right to recognise Palestine when that is most likely to lead to a two-state solution, delivering peace for Israelis and Palestine.