Foreign Commonwealth & Development office questions
Questions Tuesday March 2nd 11.30
What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on forced evictions and dispossessions in East Jerusalem.
Middle East Minister James Cleverly: The United Kingdom provides legal aid to vulnerable Palestinian communities at threat of demolition. In 96% of cases, those receiving UK-funded legal support have remained in their homes. The UK ambassador joined ambassadors of European states to urge the Government of Israel to cease demolitions. He attended a meeting with Israeli authorities on 25 February. At the United Nations Security Council on 26 February, the UK permanent representative called on Israel to end demolitions of Palestinian homes and allow the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid.
Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): I, like many colleagues, have heard repeated stories from Palestinians who are facing forced eviction, dispossession and demolition of their homes in areas such as Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem. I and many other people see that as a deliberate attempt to re-engineer the demographic make-up of occupied East Jerusalem. What more can the Government do, rather than just urge the Israeli Government to stop it? What more can the British Government do to bring an end to this unacceptable situation?
James Cleverly: The United Kingdom has a close and productive working relationship with Israel. When we speak, the Israelis absolutely do listen. She dismisses our urgings, but I remind her that the UK’s voice has had an influence on decisions made by the Government of Israel. We will continue to engage, as the Foreign Secretary did very recently with his counterpart Foreign Minister Ashkenazi and the Israeli ambassador to the Court of St James’s only last month.
What diplomatic steps he is taking to support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. (912769)
James Cleverly: The UK is actively encouraging both parties back to dialogue. The Foreign Secretary met his opposite number on 10 February. I spoke to the Palestinian head of mission here in the UK on 2 February. The UK has been working with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, alongside the United States and international key partners, to progress specific areas of co-operation, including water and gas provision, energy infrastructure and trade facilitation. We are also seeking to re-establish formal Israeli-Palestinian mechanisms, such as the joint economic committee and its relevant sub-committees.
Sarah Atherton: The International Criminal Court’s controversial determination on jurisdiction relating to Israel and the Palestinians not only undermines the Middle East peace process but heightens the exposure of our armed forces to vexatious claims by setting a precedent that non-state actors can initiate proceedings. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of reforms of the ICC?
James Cleverly: The UK respects the ICC’s independence, but we are working with other countries to bring about positive change within the court. The UK was instrumental in the establishment of the independent expert review, which reported in September, together with other state parties. Additionally, the UK is driving forward reforms to governance, prosecutorial excellence, and a more rigorous approach to budget control and value for money.
Jonathan Gullis: It has been almost a year since my Friend expressed his hopes that the European Union would produce a balanced and independent report into the Palestinian Authority’s school curriculum, which contains shocking material inciting violence against Israel and Jews. What steps will the Government take if the long-awaited report, due for publication this month, falls short of the required standard?
James Cleverly: I thank my Friend for raising this point and for the consistent approach that he has taken to this issue. We remain concerned about the allegations in Palestinian Authority textbooks and have lobbied European partners to bring forward their report in a timely manner. I have also discussed the issue directly with the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, and we have regular discussions with the EU to encourage it to get this report into the public domain. In the interim, the UK will continue to raise our concerns bilaterally with the Palestinian Authority at the very highest levels.
What recent assessment the Government have made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (912777)
James Cleverly: The UK remains concerned about the fragile humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Gaza. The UK is providing £4.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the OPTs, including £1 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s emergency appeal and £2.5 million to the World Food Programme for cash assistance. The UK supports UNRWA as a vital humanitarian force in the region and the FCDO is running a prioritisation exercise across all its programmes to ensure that every pound goes as far as possible.
Alan Brown: The Minister rightly highlights forced evictions and demolitions breaking international law, but none the less, Israel continues with its evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa. The proposed construction of 1,200 houses at Givat HaMatos is out to tender at the moment. Action is needed, not just words, so when will the UK Government implement trade bans on goods from illegal settlements?
James Cleverly: The UK’s position on this issue is long standing and clear. We oppose the points that the Gentleman has put forward. We raise the issue of demolitions regularly with our Israeli counterparts, and we will continue to do so at every opportunity.
Andy Slaughter: [Inaudible.]—aid budget implies the loss of a third in UNRWA funding, and there are rumours that the Government could be planning to cut twice that. UNRWA is responsible for almost 6 million Palestinian refugees, including the education of 500,000 children, the healthcare of 3 million and emergency food aid for over 1 million. Because of the occupation, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and surrounding countries rely on UNRWA for basic public services, so will the Minister give a clear and courageous answer and guarantee at least the current level of funding?
James Cleverly: The UK Government regard UNWRA as an important partner in support of the people in the OPTs and surrounding areas. We are going through a prioritisation exercise at the moment, the outcome of which will be published in due course.
Joanna Cherry: As schools around the world deal with the challenges of the covid pandemic, Palestinian schoolchildren face a further threat. According to the United Nations, 53 Palestinian schools in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli Government demolition orders. Does the Minister agree that demolishing any school is wrong and that any such action should have consequences?
James Cleverly: The UK regularly raises the issue of demolitions and our position on this is clear. We will continue to do so, and we will continue to highlight the importance of education, which remains one of the Government’s priorities.
Wayne David: The Israeli covid-19 vaccination programme is the best in the world. However, the Minister has indicated that Israel has a legal responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of Palestinians on the West Bank. Will he therefore join me in urging the Israeli Government to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Palestinians are vaccinated, as well as Israelis?
James Cleverly: The UK is justifiably proud of the work it is doing on the international stage with regard to vaccinations, including through Gavi and the COVAX scheme. We are pleased to see the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority co-ordinating their work with regard to vaccinations, and we look forward to that vaccination programme rolling out not just across Israel but to the people who are living in the OPTs.
Angela Richardson: (Guildford) (Con): The growing ties between Israel and her Arab neighbours are extremely positive developments that provide an opportunity to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process, which has regrettably stalled for many years. Will my Friend outline what more the UK can do to help support the resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, alongside our allies in the region? (912814)
Dominic Raab: We have supported the normalisation of relations, which is a good step around the region. Of course, this also led to the suspension of the threat of annexation on the West Bank, which was very important. As a result of that, I was able to go to talk to President Abbas and Prime Minister Shtayyeh and encourage them to resume dialogue on West Bank issues, which is very important for security, and to make sure that Palestinian public servants are paid. Plans are at least mooted for elections on both sides—both in Israel and on the Palestinian side. Ultimately, we need leadership from both sides to secure the peace that my Friend and other Members want. We need a two-state solution, and the UK will support all those efforts.
Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to War on Want’s new report into Israel’s military court system in the occupied West Bank. Does he agree that Palestinian civilians should not be tried in military courts? What is his Government doing to support Palestinian human rights defenders who are being tried in them? (912817)
Dominic Raab: She is right to draw attention to the treatment of Palestinians. The reality is that I do not think there is a bar on the use of military systems of justice under international law—let alone under the International Criminal Court system. Indeed, we use a military justice system with some of the highest standards in the world. What is crucial is that there is adequate due process to ensure that people’s rights can be fairly and duly heard.