Foreign & Commonwealth Office questions
Report-back from Tuesday December 4th
Middle East minister Alistair Burt told the Commons at Foreign Office questions that the long-awaited Trump plan is the “only thing” that will bring a resolution to the long-standing crisis. .
Asked by Labour MP Alex Cunningham about the escalation of violence on the Gaza border, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the ending of support for refugees, the Minister said “the only thing that will deal with the concerns that he raises” is the Trump plan.
Referring to Trump’s son-in-law and his lawyer, who have been entrusted with the job of sorting out the Middle East, he said: “We are keen to ensure that when the envoy’s proposals come forward, they get a strong reception, and people can work on them to try to bring a resolution to this long-standing crisis.”
Jason Greenblatt has already provoked strong reactions. Israelis Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has already called his plan a “waste of time” and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas refuses to speak to him and has urged Trump to sack him.
The UK opposes the two decisions President Trump made in the run-up to the publication of his peace plan – moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and more recently the defunding the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which prompted Jeremy Hunt to say explicitly: “We do not agree with the American Administration’s decision on this issue.”
But Palestinians fear that the UK will offer only mild verbal resistance when President Trump unveils his plan – due by January 6.
The minister also brushed aside questions about recognition and settlement trade. Asked by Labour MP Andy Slaughter why the Government allowed the import of goods from settlements it declared to be illegal, the minister replied: “We allow the import of goods, but the labelling makes that clear, so customers can make their own choice about whether to buy goods from those areas.”
Pressed by Alex Cunningham on when he would announce the UK’s long-promised recognition of a Palestinian state, the minister would only say: “We have said very clearly that we recognise a two-state solution.”
The MP also pressed him on his promise earlier this year to push for an international element in the Israeli army’s inquiry into the use of live fire at the Gaza border.
The minister said: “We are still pressing the Israeli authorities in relation to exactly what we said previously.”
Since the Great Return March protest began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 214 Palestinians and wounded more than 18,000 according to Al Jazeera on 11 Nov 2018.
As reported in Hansard
Questions Tuesday December 4th
Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con): What discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on the recent escalation of violence in the region.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What recent steps he has taken towards establishing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.
Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt: The recent upsurge of violence in Gaza reminds all of us of the need to ensure that the Middle East peace process gets moving, because that is the only thing that will make a difference. Both the Foreign Secretary and I have recently seen US envoy Jason Greenblatt, and we will continue all our efforts.
Maria Caulfield: The UN General Assembly is scheduled to vote on Thursday on the US-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas for the increasing violence and attacks on civilians and for the worsening situation in Gaza. Will the UK Government be supporting that resolution?
Alistair Burt: We do not disclose the intention to vote in advance. What I would say is that it is very clear that we condemn Hamas’s action and conduct; we call for a permanent end to its terror and rocket attacks in relation to Israel; and we continue to proscribe the military wing of Hamas, to impose sanctions against individuals and to have no contact with Hamas. [The UK voted in favour of the motion but it failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority with 87 countries voting for and 57 against, so it was not carried.]
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Given the Government’s view, which I know the Minister shares, that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, why do the Government allow the import of goods from those settlements and investment by British companies?
Alistair Burt: We allow the import of goods, but the labelling makes that clear, so customers can make their own choice about whether to buy goods from those areas.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What assessment has he made of the Hezbollah terror tunnels from Lebanon into Israel that have been discovered?
Alistair Burt: The tunnels demonstrate the continual threat to the state of Israel from those who would mean it harm. Again, however, that emphasises the need—I am sure the whole House shares this view—to ensure that there is a resolution of the issues between Israel and its neighbours, so that there can be permanent peace and security for all in the region.
Alex Cunningham: Ministers keep telling us that they want to wait and see President Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan. In the meantime, we have seen an escalation of violence, death on the Gaza border, a worsening humanitarian crisis, continued demolition of Palestinian homes and the ending of US support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Is it not time that the UK said very clearly, “You cannot have a two-state solution if you only recognise one state”?
Alistair Burt: We have said very clearly that we recognise a two-state solution. We are keen to ensure that when the envoy’s proposals come forward, they get a strong reception, and people can work on them to try to bring a resolution to this long-standing crisis. It is the only thing that will deal with the concerns that he raises.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): Earlier this year, in response to deaths on the Gaza border, the Minister said that the Government would support Israel’s investigation into them and push for an international element to those investigations. How is he getting on with that?
The Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt): We are still pressing the Israeli authorities in relation to exactly what we said previously. That is the best way to try to find an answer to the tragedy that happened in Gaza.