International Development questions
Questions Wednesday June 29th 11.30 am
Question 5: Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock): What support her Department provides to projects facilitating peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis.
MPs from Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel have been targeting the UK’s £72 million aid programme to Palestine, which goes roughly in thirds to the United Nations refugee agency, the Palestine Authority and various ‘co-existence’ projects.
Some MPs have argued the UK should focus all the money on co-existence projects – which is code for saying that it should be withdrawn from the Palestine Authority.
It’s not clear whether Friends of Israel are intending to undermine the precarious position of the moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but this would undoubtedly be the result of such a policy.
The MPs argue that the money that goes to the Palestinian Authority allows them to use more of their own income to make welfare payments to families of Palestinian prisoners.
There are four answers to this:
The first is humanitarian.”The PA operates social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments to households who have lost their main breadwinner. I hope you will also agree that dependent spouses or children should not be held responsible for the crimes of family members, or forced to live in poverty as a consequence” – former aid minister Sir Alan Duncan
The second is also humanitarian. Israeli prisons refuse to provide adequate food and shelfter for their 6,000 Palestinian prisoners forcing them to rely on food and clothing brought by relatives who in turn have no income.
“The military prison authority provides detainees with basic food rations once a month. The provided rations do not meet necessary daily requirements, both in terms of quality and nutritional value.” – civil rights organisation Addameer
“The prisons are overcrowded and do not provide adequate shelter against extreme weather; food rations are poor in both quantity and quality, often spoiled or infected with insects and worms; and clean clothes and adequate supplies (such as blankets, mattresses or sanitary cells) are lacking. Many of the prisons are infected with mice and cockroaches and do not have enough, or even proper, ventilation.” Miftah
The third is political. The Palestinian Authority is answerable to Palestinians and it has no intention of abandoning the families of prisoners. As Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations explained to MPs on the Commons International Development Committee:
“The idea that you could have, at this stage in the conflict, a Palestinian Authority that does not treat its prisoners in a certain way, I do not think can exist with the reality we are in.
“If you asked the Northern Ireland warring parties to disavow the people of violence at the wrong moment in that process, one would have undermined that process…
“We de-Palestinianise the PA at our own peril, because the less credibility and legitimacy we impose on it vis-a-vis its own public, the less useful it is, to be honest, for the main purpose it is designed for, which is to be a vehicle for making a peace deal.” Committee report
The 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails include many of the leading Palestinian politicians, such as Marwan Barghouthi, and other elected members of the Palestinian parliament.
The fourth is economic. Palestine would not need any aid from the UK or anywhere else if the Israelis lifted their restrictions on the Palestinian economy.
As the aid minister Sir Alan Duncan said in March 2014: “A 2011 International Monetary Fund report estimated that without movement and access restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger in terms of GDP a year, amounting to about $6.3 billion. That would remove its dependence on aid.”
Palestinians are entrepreneurial and their economy is very resilient in spite of the crippling burden of the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli theft of land, water and resources in the West Bank, which alone was estimated by the World Bank to cost $3.4 billion a year or 35% of Palestine’s GDP.
The UK’s Palestinian aid budget is a subsidy not so much to Palestinians as to the Israeli government whose obligation it is under international law to shoulder all the costs of occupation.
When this question was last asked:
Just 0.2%—2 pence in every £10—of the £72 million the Department spends in the Palestinian territories goes to co-existence projects bringing Palestinians and Israelis together through the Conflict, Security and Stability fund. Why will the Department not support Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow—MEET—which does brilliant work with Israeli and Palestinian students, or, for example, Save a Child’s Heart? Co-existence and humanitarian work are the two pillars on which peace and a two-state solution will be built.
Aid Minister Desmond Swayne We are strengthening Palestinian institutions and supporting economic development. Last year, we supported 60,000 children in school and created thousands of jobs. Results are monitored quarterly.
Palestinian-Israeli Co-existence Projects
Aid Minister Desmond Swayne): We support projects that bring Palestinians and Israelis together, to which end we have made provision for funding through our conflict, security and stability fund to support co-existence projects, but I am keen to identify what more we can do.Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what support her Department provides to projects facilitating peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis.
Stephen Metcalfe: Why do he and his Department think that it is a good use of taxpayers’ money to continue to support the Palestinian Authority?
Sir Desmond Swayne: The reason why we think it is a good idea to support the Palestinian Authority is that they deliver essential public services, not least healthcare and the education of 770,000 pupils. I believe that it is in our national interest to build up Palestinian institutions so that in a future Palestinian state, they can be reliable and effective partners for peace.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Will the Minister join me in recognising the contribution to peaceful co-existence of Israelis who speak uncomfortable truths, whether that be the Mayor of Tel Aviv speaking out against occupation, the veterans of Breaking the Silence speaking out against the reality of occupation, or Peace Now mapping settlements that are undermining the chances of a two-state solution?
Sir Desmond Swayne: Yes, and I am concerned about any potential closing of space for non-governmental organisations.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Has he examined Save a Child’s Heart, an initiative by the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian children and save their lives?
Sir Desmond Swayne: Yes, I hosted a delegation of Members from across the House who brought this excellent organisation to my attention recently, and my officials are conducting due diligence.