Now is the time to recognise Palestine and to lift the blockade of Gaza

It may take a week or two before the new government of Israel is formed, but it is clear that Netanyahu will still be Prime Minister and it will be a Likud-dominated coalition. Netanyahu made it clear during the campaign that he now opposes a Palestinian state so the new government will not even nominally support the two-state solution.
Lisa Nandy MPWhether Netanyahu changed his mind or whether he only pretended to support the two-state solution in the first place, the fact is that the international community will be at odds with the new Israeli government on this fundamental issue and there will no longer be any point in pursuing diplomatic initiatives that are bound to fail.  Only those who do not really want a solution will continue to pursue unconditional negotiations.

The solution is not hard to find. It is the same solution that is being used by the international community in every other case where a state defying international law.  It involves economic pressure.  In the case of Israel there is an even simpler step that can be taken and one that is already overwhelmingly supported by the House of Commons. That is to grant bilateral diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine.

That is the course advocated by MPs at International Development questions on Gaza in the Commons yesterday. “Now is the time,” said Lisa Nandy MP (above) “to recognise the state of Palestine.”

“Now the mask has slipped and Netanyahu has said he will not allow a two-state solution and will not allow a Palestinian state.  Is not the only solution,” asked Grahame Morris MP”a concerted international action to lift the blockade?”

Recognition is also the course advocated in an article in the Irish Times yesterday by the man who was, until last year, the UK Government’s chief adviser on the Palestinian issue, the former UK Consul-General in Jerusalem Sir Vincent Fean:

“Recognise the state of Palestine now. It is the only way to safeguard the two-state solution to the long-term benefit of Israelis and Palestinians – and to uphold our own values and our own interest.

“Recognition of Palestine on 1967 lines is the logical step now for all states committed to an equitable two-state solution.

“Recognition serves three purposes:

giving hope to the beleaguered would-be peacemakers in Ramallah, whose readiness to negotiate is so heavily criticised by Hamas and by mistaken advocates of futile violence;

signalling to Israelis that there will indeed be a sovereign Palestinian state, so Israel’s leaders need to shape an agreement, not rule one out, and

showing to the world and to ourselves that right matters more than might.

“Sweden showed the way when it recognised Palestine last October.”

Read Vincent Fean in the Irish Times: Binyamin Netanyahu’s victory means we must recognise the state of Palestine

International Development questions, Wednesday March 18th 

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the humanitarian effects of the blockade of Gaza.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the efforts made by the (a) UN and (b) UK to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Minister of State Mr Desmond Swayne: Movement restrictions damage the Gazan economy, with the result that 80% of Gazans are dependent on aid, 57% are dependent on food aid and 43% are unemployed. Most of the UK contribution to the relief effort is delivered through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and I judge that to be effective within the limitations of the funding and the movement restrictions.

Lisa Nandy: As winter approaches, the Minister will know that the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire. It is welcome that the UK has pledged £20 million to help, but what is his Government’s long-term plan, given the re-election this morning of the Prime Minister who believes that the continuation of the blockade of Gaza is a good thing; believes in the building of illegal settlements; has abandoned a two-state solution; and believes that the deaths of more than 2,000 people in Gaza last summer were “proportionate”? Surely now is the time for the Minister to put pressure on his ministerial colleagues, recognise the state of Palestine and end this appalling situation.

Mr Swayne: The Member is right in that the state of affairs in Gaza is desperate. However, on the recent events and the election, I am tempted to call in aid the wisdom of the Ents and say that we should not be hasty. It will be some time before the true policies of the new Government emerge, after long negotiations over a coalition. In the meantime, we remain committed to the two-state solution and we make our representations known on all the issues that she has raised, at the highest level.

Guy Opperman: What specific assessment has been made of the Gaza reconstruction mechanism? How many people have been accessing the building materials?

Mr Swayne: As of this morning, more than 60,000 individuals have had access to building materials, out of the in excess of 100,000 who need such materials. I am confident that the mechanism is working effectively, but clearly there will have to be a step change in movement and access which can result only from a lasting solution.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Israel will have a Government opposed to a two-state solution and a Prime Minister who turned out his vote by an emergency broadcast that said: “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.” What is the international community going to do to get aid to Gaza, which is in occupation and under siege? How is the international community going to provide that aid when the occupation and siege are permanent?

Mr Swayne: A great deal of aid for Gaza was pledged at the Cairo conference. We have delivered a quarter of our pledge, and within the first few weeks of the financial year we will have delivered all of the £20 million we pledged. We have been entering into a considerable diplomatic effort to get other countries that have made pledges to step up to deliver, and I am glad to say that Qatar and Kuwait have now done so.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister will know that some 600,000 tonnes of concrete have been used for the construction of illegal tunnels for smuggling and to enable the firing of weapons into Israel. How can he ensure that aid gets to the people who need it and not to Hamas?

Mr Swayne: One part of the Gaza reconstruction mechanism is the material monitoring unit, which my Department supports. It is designed specifically to do what my friend requests: to ensure that any materials supplied, stored and dispersed are for the proper purpose and that any infractions are reported.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): The Minister says that we should wait and see what is going to happen in Israel, but now the mask has slipped and Netanyahu has said he will not allow a two-state solution and will not allow a Palestinian state. Is not the only solution that will relieve the suffering of the people in Gaza a concerted international action to lift the blockade?

Mr Swayne: We continue to make representations at all levels about movement restrictions, but I repeat what I have said: we will have to wait and see what the new Government’s policy is, after they emerge from the coalition negotiations.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I share the concerns about the election results in Israel and what they mean for people in Gaza and elsewhere in that region. On a number of occasions Israel has had restrictions on parliamentarians being able to cross at the Erez checkpoint to see what is happening in Gaza. Will the Minister seek to get that changed so that people can see what is happening to the aid that we provide and to the people there?

Mr Swayne: I am aware that, like me, the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the MP for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), was recently admitted to Gaza. Such visits do involve bureaucratic obfuscation, and we will continue to make representations in that regard.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): One of my excellent community groups in Saddleworth supports Palestinian women into education. Members of the group inform me that one of the education centres that they know well was recently ransacked by Israeli forces. The education centre is in Palestinian territory. Does the Minister agree that not only are these actions illegal, but they jeopardise future sustainable peace in the region?

Justine Greening: Much of our work in the occupied Palestinian territories focuses on providing basic services, including education. At the Cairo conference one of the main concerns of donors was the need to end the perpetual cycle of violence, reconstruction, then destruction and violence and the need for more reconstruction. I agree with the Member that this cannot continue ad nauseam.

Read Lisa Nandy and questions on Gaza

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