Foreign Commonwealth & Development office questions
Questions Tuesday March 2nd
“The United Kingdom has a close and productive working relationship with Israel. When we speak, the Israelis absolutely do listen,” the Middle East minister James Cleverly told the Commons at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday March 2nd.
Unfortunately for the Minister MPs raised a number of issues on which the Israeli government may have been listening to him, but they certainly weren’t taking any notice of what he said.
Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab), who chairs the parliamentary all-party group on Palestine, raised the issue of evictions in East Jerusalem and the Minister said he had several times “called on Israel to end demolitions”
The Sunderland MP pointed out that the Israeli government went ahead regardless. “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?”
SNP MP Alan Brown pointed out that “the Minister rightly highlights forced evictions and demolitions breaking international law, but none the less, Israel continues with its evictions. Action is needed, not just words, so when will the UK Government implement trade bans on goods from illegal settlements?”
The Minister started his reply with the the answer he usually gives if anyone asks him about the campaign to boycott Israeli goods: “The UK’s position on this issue is long standing and clear.” But he had to perform a U-turn in mid-answer when he realised that a ban on settlement goods is not a boycott of Israel as the settlements are not in Israel.
You can hear it for yourself on this tweet.
There was scarcely any more reassurance for Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) who asked him about the rumoured cut of two thirds in the UK contribution to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, “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?”
The Minister would only say: “We are going through a prioritisation exercise at the moment, the outcome of which will be published in due course.”
Sarah Atherton (Conservative) (Wrexham) was concerned that the International Criminal Court’s inquiry into war crimes committed in the West Bank and Gaza “heightens the exposure of our armed forces to vexatious claims”. She called on the Minister to support “reforms” of the ICC that would prevent the inquiry from going ahead.
The Minister’s reply did little to allay fears of an attempt to stop the inquiry going ahead by starving the ICC of funds: “The UK is driving forward reforms to governance of the ICC, prosecutorial excellence, and a more rigorous approach to budget control and value for money.”
Labour’s shadow Middle East minister Wayne David called on the minister to urge the Israeli government to accept that they had a legal responsibility to ensure that Palestinians are vaccinated against Covid as well as Israelis. :
The minister replied: “We look forward to that vaccination programme rolling out not just across Israel but to the people who are living in the occupied Palestinian territory”.