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Netanyahu Vows to Never Remove Israeli Settlements From West Bank

‘We’re Here to Stay, forever. We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle,’ Netanyahu tells settlers 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he will not evacuate Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“We are here to stay, forever,” the prime minister said at an event in the settlement of Barkan, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. It has been proven that it does not help peace,” he said. “We’ve uprooted settlements. What did we get? We received missiles. It will not happen anymore.

“And there’s another reasons that we will look after this place, because it looks after us. In light of everything that is occurring around us, we can just imagine the result,” he said, citing threats to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and a main highway that runs along the border with the West Bank.

“So we will not fold. We are guarding Samaria against those who want to uproot us. We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle,” he said, using the Jewish name for part of the West Bank.

The prime minister has made similar pledges in the past. “I have no intention of evacuating any settlement or uprooting any Israeli,” he said in a January 2014 briefing for Israeli reporters between his meetings with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos, Switzerland. “The days of bulldozers uprooting Jews are behind us, not ahead of us,” he said in an interview with the Maariv daily in January 2013.

Settlements are one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue reached headlines only last week, as part of U.S. attempts to restart the peace process, when Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians are still seeking a pledge of support from the Trump administration for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – the foundation of U.S. Middle East policy for the past two decades. The last round of peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2014.

For his part, Netanyahu faces pressure from right-wing coalition partners not to give ground on Jewish settlement building in occupied territory that Palestinians seek for an independent state. The settlement issue contributed to the breakdown of negotiations three years ago.

Most countries consider settlement activity illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land – many of which the Palestinians also claim – as well as security interests.

Education Minister Naftali Bennet also spoke at the event, attended by a few thousand residents of the surrounding settlements, saying “we shouldn’t need permits, building in Judea and Samaria should be unrestricted. The freedom to build in our country.”

Netanyahu added that “it’s simply wonderful to see the developments here. I remember when we came to Barkan and we saw the vineyards, we saw the grapes, we stomped on the grapes – but today there are new grapes here. In the [settlement of] Tapuach, there’s high-tech fruits, and this industry is ripe. We are working to advance industry, employment, water, tourism, public diplomacy and to fight against organizations calling for a boycott.

“We are doing this for two reasons: the first reason is simple, this is the land of our forefathers. This is our country.”

This was the third time this week that Netanyahu spoke inside the West Bank this year. Earlier this summer, he spoke at the stone laying ceremony of the ultra-Orthodox town of Betar Ilit, and at the cornerstone laying ceremony at Ariel University’s department of medicine, which Sheldon Adelson also attended.

An estimated 450,000-500,000 Israelis live across the Green Line including the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. A widespread consensus has emerged that any future agreement on a two-state solution should include some of the settlement blocs (anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of the area beyond the Green Line) within Israel’s permanent border. Some past and present Israeli officials cite security rationale, while others say that uprooting so many people from their homes is not a viable option. Israel, in exchange, would agree to swap a more-or-less equivalent amount of its own land with a future Palestinian state.

Judy Maltz and Reuters contributed background to this report

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.809444

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May ditches William Hague’s promise to recognise Palestine

The 180-degree turn in the Government’s policies on Palesttine, which Mrs May started in December last year, was completed this month with the ditching of William Hague’s 2011 promise to recognise Palestine “at a time of our choosing”.

The first hint came with the unexpected announcement of a three-hour debate on “Israel Palestinian talks”on July 5th. Although backbenchers constantly clamour for a debate on Palestine, the Government has not allowed a debate in its own time for at least ten years.

The Government played it very low key with the U-turn announced not by the Foreign Secretary but by the newly appointed Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt. Even he did not make it in his speech, but in his response to an intervention from a prominent member of Conservative Friends of Israel:

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Does the Minister agree that any recognition of a Palestinian state before direct peace talks between the two states, Israel and Palestine, would not only be counterproductive but would damage a long-term two-state solution?

Alistair Burt: It is not the UK Government’s intention to recognise a Palestinian state; we believe it should come in due course, at the conclusion of the talks to settle the issue, and I do not believe that position is going to change.​

The policy for the last six years – set out by William Hague when he was Foreign Secretary in November 2011 – has been that the UK accepts that Palestine is ready for statehood and agrees to recognise it in principle, but will not announce it until “a time of its choosing” which would be “when it can best help bring about peace” or “when it will have the maximum effect”.

This formula has been repeated endlessly over the last six years, but the Government missed every opportunity it was presented with – when the Kerry talks broke down in April 2014, when the House of Commons voted 274-12 in favour of recognition in October 2014, when France said it would recognise Palestine in January 2015.

In fact the pledge may have been a dead letter since William Hague was ambushed at a private meeting of Conservative Friends of Israel in March 2012 when – according to the Mail on Sunday – “the normally ice-cool foreign secretary exploded with rage during an angry showdown with 30 MPs who accused him of being part of a ‘bigoted’ Foreign Office plot against Israel”.

The official UK policy remained, however, to nudge and prod the United States to take a more robust line against the Israeli government’s frequent breaches of international law and if necessary vote against the US at the UN Security Council.

The new policy announced by Alistair Burt to recognise Palestine only “at the conclusion of talks” means essentially that the UK will only do so when Israel itself recognises Palestine – which puts the UK in the position of being an even more unconditional supporter of the Israeli government than the US.

This led to a number of exchanges in the Commons:

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD):  Given the Minister’s comments, it seems that that position has moved and that recognition is being ruled out until the end of talks on a peace process rather than being something that the Government would be able to do at any time?

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Let me urge the Minister and the Government to seize the moment we are now offered by the Balfour centenary to throw our support behind Palestinian statehood.

When violence and extremism are rising on all sides, when hard-liners are assuming increasing control, when the humanitarian crisis is getting even worse, and when all eyes are on an American President whose grand plan for peace exists only in his mind, we need the ​British Government, more than ever, to show some leadership and to show the way towards peace—and recognition of Palestinian statehood would be one significant step in that direction

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): We have never said—no one has ever said—that recognition of Israel should be a matter of negotiation. Israel is recognised as a matter of right, and quite rightly so, but if we believe in even-handedness between Israel and Palestinians, that same right must apply to Palestinians.

As usual in a debate about Israel-Palestine, there were far more MPs who wanted to speak than could be fitted in, so many of them could only make interventions.

The Speaker usually tries to call the same number of “pro-Israeli” and “pro-Palestinian” speakers (even though there are far more who would like to make “pro-Palestinian” speeches) and he succeeded this time with ten “pro-Israel” and 10 “pro-Palestine”.

But eight of the first 11 speakers were “pro-Israeli” and seven of the last nine were “pro-Palestinian”, so with MPs subject to shorter time-limits towards the end of the three hour debate the “pro-Israeli” MPs were on their feet for longer.

Scroll down or go to our website https://palestinebriefing.org/ for further extracts from the debate arranged by subject.
Go to Hansard for a full report

Returned minister threatens Israel with…‘continued conversations’

The return of the Conservative MP Alistair Burt to his old job of Middle East minister was widely welcomed by MPs on both sides of the divide during Foreign Office questions on July 11.

He was a former chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel who became more and more blunt in his comments on the Israeli government the longer he stayed in the job – paying several visits to the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh and the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar.

He lost his job and returned to the backbenches in October 2013 and has now achieved what few sacked ministers ever achieve: he has returned from the back benches and been reappointed to his old job.

But there were signs that the new Alistair Burt has come back a chastened man. He still “strongly condemns” the illegal settlements, but sometimes he adopts a more measured tone, threatening the Israelis with “continued conversations in relation to suggestions that new housing units should be built in East Jerusalem”:

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): What steps he is taking to encourage the Israeli authorities to stop the building of illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Alistair Burt: We regularly raise these issues with Israel, calling for a reversal of the policy of settlement expansion. I reiterated that in the House of Commons last week, and recently both the Foreign Secretary and I have made statements strongly condemning proposals for new settlement expansion in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Tommy Sheppard: Only last week, the right-wing Israeli Government announced a further expansion of the illegal settlement programme, so it is clear that, whatever action the British Government are taking, it is not working. Is it not therefore time that Her Majesty’s Government gave a more robust response to this problem, including by discouraging investment in and trade with the illegal settlements, and ensuring the proper labelling of imported goods so that they are designated as coming from “an illegally occupied Palestinian territory”?

Alistair Burt: This is a long and difficult process, as he rightly knows. We have a policy on labelling, and continued conversations will go on with the state of Israel in relation to suggestions, such as we heard last week, that new housing units should be built in East Jerusalem. This is a complex process and the UK does not believe in boycotts or sanctions, but clear labelling has been in place for some time so that consumers can take their choice.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con): We have contributed to a number of EU structures that have been demolished. Will he ask the Government of Israel for our money back?

Alistair Burt: I think he is referring to some work done by the EU. The EU has not sought compensation from the state of Israel in relation to that, and no decision has been taken on any further action.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Settlements are a barrier, but they are far from the only barrier to peace. The building blocks for the peace process are trade and economic development in the West Bank; demilitarisation and democracy in Gaza; and support for co-existence projects that get Israelis and Palestinians working together, the funding for which, I am sorry to say, this Government have stopped. Will the Minister reinstate funding for co-existence projects, to build the peace process?

Alistair Burt: He understands this issue extremely well, and I agree with his analysis that this is a complex issue, where there are many different building blocks to try to revitalise the peace process, and settlements are far from the only barrier to that. Trade and investment remain important, but we will be looking further at what prospects there are for any new initiatives. I am aware of the co-existence projects that he mentions, and I will certainly be looking at that when carrying out my joint responsibilities in the Department for International Development.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): We are all glad to see the Minister for the Middle East back and working on this issue again, but this is the second time in the space of a week that the Foreign Secretary has declined to speak about the Middle East and devolved the job to the Minister instead—and that follows his failure even to mention Israel or Palestine in the Tory election manifesto. I simply ask the Minister: when are we going to hear the Foreign Secretary stand up and condemn the new illegal settlements?

Alistair Burt: I thank her for her warm welcome. I much enjoy being back in this role, no matter what is thrown at me as part of it. The Foreign Secretary strongly condemned the proposals that were announced for the West Bank recently. I like to think he has confidence in his Minister for the Middle East—as he has confidence in his full ministerial team—to answer appropriate questions, although I have never known him to be shy of answering a question when necessary.

MP who says “Israel-Palestinian conflict doesn’t matter” wins FAC vote

“Totally the wrong person to head such an influential committee”

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the Middle East peace process seems likely to be abandoned after the defeat of chairman Crispin Blunt by relative newcomer Tom Tugendhat who has been an MP since 2015.
Tom Tugendhat MP
The former military intelligence officer is on record as saying that that the UK “was wrong” to support Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council in December 2016 and that “the Israel-Palestinian conflict doesn’t matter”.

The MPs’ committee had already collected and published written evidence from 42 organisations and was ready to start oral hearings when Mrs May announced the election on April 18th.

Former chairman Crispin Blunt had said the committee wanted to examine the UK’s role in the Israel-Palestine conflict in the year of the centenary of the Balfour declaration.

He added that the inquiry could look at the activities of the Israeli diplomat who tried to recruit British supporters in a botched plot to “take down” the Deputy Foreign Secretary Sir Alan Duncan.

“The Government may have formally closed the issue of Shai Masot, but one of our terms of reference invites consideration of the way that foreign states and interested parties seek to influence UK policy.”

Political parties are now nominating MPs to sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the new committee will decide whether to continue with the inquiry, but it seems unlikely to happen under the chairmanship of Tom Tugendhat.

Indeed the inquiry – and fear of its consequences – may have been a factor in the election of Tom Tugendhat, a supporter of Theresa May, with 317 votes against 184 for Crispin Blunt and 71 for John Baron.

Tom Tugendhat has a degree in Islamic Studies, speaks Arabic and was a military intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, but holds the surprising opinion that Arab people are no longer interested in the Israel-Palestine dispute (see article below).

If he persuades MPs on the committee to ditch the inquiry, the evidence from 42 organisations will remain on the House of Commons website at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/foreign-affairs-committee/inquiries1/parliament-2015/inquiry1/publications/

Conservative commentator Peter Oborne wrote in the Daily Mail: “Tom Tugendhat’s election as chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has been hailed as a triumph for moderation. I fundamentally disagree.

“Yes, the ambitious former soldier has a bright future. But his views make him totally the wrong person to head such an influential committee. He criticised President Obama’s admirable deal for nuclear peace with Iran. He opposed British support for the UN vote condemning Israel’s settlement programme in the West Bank.

“He supported Western military intervention in Syria. And he is ambiguous about Saudi Arabia’s murderous campaign of bombing in Yemen (though, to be fair, he has expressed reservations about some of the methods).

“By calling Mr Tugendhat a moderate, the implication is that his predecessor as committee chairman, Crispin Blunt, is an extremist. In fact, Mr Blunt was widely admired for holding the Foreign Office to account whenever it failed. I fear Mr Tugendhat owes his job to backers of the Iraq War. He has a big challenge to prove he is not a Cabinet stooge.”

It was a mistake to vote for UNSC2334, says new chair of Foreign Affairs Committee

From the Spectator: “Like all the best mistakes, it was done for the right reasons. Knowing that for once the US wouldn’t veto, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning settlement building in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

“The UK was no doubt keen to be with the consensus but we were wrong to back the Resolution. This time was different. Not because Israel has changed, nor the expansion of the settlements is exacerbating the efforts towards a settlement, but because the world has changed and so have we.

“The Arab Spring showed that the Israel-Palestinian conflict doesn’t matter…… The voices in the Arab Spring protests called for many things, from jobs to freedom, but nothing about Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood, students and even Salafists who met in Tahrir Square demanded the downfall of the Mubarak regime. In the face of unemployment and kleptocracy, Israel was irrelevant….
.
“Backing an outgoing US administration, an anti-Zionist myth, and many dictators’ propaganda message doesn’t just undermine Israel and ignore recent tectonic change, it hurts our regional allies and weakens us. To write our own future we need to think more about the message our votes send and be prepared to stand against consensus. This time we got it wrong.”

 

Extracts from July 2017 House of Commons debate on Israel-Palestine

Minister drops recognition pledge

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Does the Minister agree that any recognition of a Palestinian state before direct peace talks between the two states, Israel and Palestine, would not only be counterproductive but would damage a long-term two-state solution?

Alistair Burt: It is not the UK Government’s intention to recognise a Palestinian state; we believe it should come in due course, at the conclusion of the talks to settle the issue, and I do not believe that position is going to change.​

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD):  Given the Minister’s comments, it seems that that position has moved and that recognition is being ruled out until the end of talks on a peace process rather than being something that the Government would be able to do at any time?

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Six years ago, the then Foreign Secretary said: “We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state…at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 290.]

Let me, then, urge the Minister and the Government to seize the moment we are now offered by the Balfour centenary to throw our support behind Palestinian statehood, just as we threw our support 100 years ago behind Israeli statehood.

When violence and extremism are rising on all sides, when hard-liners are assuming increasing control, when the humanitarian crisis is getting even worse, and when all eyes are on an American President whose grand plan for peace exists only in his mind, we need the ​British Government, more than ever, to show some leadership and to show the way towards peace—and recognition of Palestinian statehood would be one significant step in that direction

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): We have never said—no one has ever said—that recognition of Israel should be a matter of negotiation. Israel is recognised as a matter of right, and quite rightly so, but if we believe in even-handedness between Israel and Palestinians, that same right must apply to Palestinians. It is time, on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, to fulfil what the House voted for on 13 October 2014 and recognise the state of Palestine.

Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen) (Lab/Co-op): Recognising Palestine as a state gives moral and political support to moderate Palestinian voices pushing back against violent extremists, and I would encourage the House to decide on a timeframe for that to happen.

Balfour centenary to be marked ‘sensitively’

Middle East Minister Alistair Burt: I wish to recognise that this is the centenary of the Balfour declaration. This is a part of our history that divides opinion in this country and in the region, and we will treat it sensitively. I do not think it is incompatible to be proud of the UK’s role in the creation of the state of Israel and yet to feel sadness that the long-standing issues between the relative communities created by it have not yet been resolved. It was a historic statement and the UK is proud of its role in the creation of Israel, but it is unfinished business and, accordingly, in this centenary year we are especially focused on encouraging the Israelis and the Palestinians to take steps that will bring them closer to peace.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Last November, the then Minister for the Middle East assured the House that the British Government would neither celebrate nor apologise for the Balfour declaration. I welcomed that position for its acknowledgement that although for many the declaration was the beginning of their deliverance from centuries of persecution, for others its unfulfilled passages were the root of their communal loss. In such a context, celebration or apology betrays the legitimate historical sensitivities of either party, when we should be focused on how to move the issue forward to the benefit of both parties.

This is a touchstone issue for millions of Arabs and Muslims, and I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that their eyes will be on us. The centenary must be handled with the utmost care and consideration. In the conversations that I had with almost all Arab ambassadors in my capacity as a former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it was clear that uncertainty and anxiety surround the centenary.

Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con): Regional players and previously hostile states are moving closer towards accepting an ideal of peace, and I note that at the Security Council briefing on the peace process last month, the Arab League Secretary-General reaffirmed a commitment to the 2002 Arab peace initiative. Perhaps this provides an opportunity for constructive dialogue.

As we commemorate 100 years since the Balfour declaration and our support for the region, we should revive the effort for peace through meaningful talks and truly make 2017 the anniversary of the Balfour declaration and an anniversary for peace.

Ross Thomson (Aberdeen South) (Con): The Balfour declaration of 1917 is one of the most significant and important letters in history. as we proudly mark the centenary year of the Balfour declaration, we are presented with a unique opportunity to renew the Middle East peace process.

Settlements and occupation

Minister condemns settlements (1): The United Kingdom’s view is clear and unchanged: settlement building seriously undermines the prospects of two states for two peoples. I am extremely concerned by reports this week of plans to construct more than 1,800 new housing units in East Jerusalem. In the UK’s view, all settlements are illegal under international law. If confirmed, the plans would be the latest example of an accelerating policy of illegal settlement expansion. That would take us further away from a two-state solution and raises serious questions about the Israeli Government’s commitment to achieving the shared

Minister condemns settlements (2): It has long been our position that settlement activity is ​illegal and that it undermines the viability of two states for two peoples. We are gravely concerned that an increase in the pace of settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank presents a strategic threat to a peaceful resolution of this conflict. As a strong friend of Israel, we urge the Israeli Government to show restraint on the construction of settlements

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con):  What steps are the Government taking to ensure that this country will adhere to the UN Security Council’s demand that, in international relations, states make a distinction between Israel and the occupied territories? Will the Minister guarantee that, as the UK leaves the EU, it will continue to make that kind of diplomatic differentiation? Does he agree that the UK should not be trading with illegal settlements?

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The key issue is not whether we are doing all that we can to encourage talks, but what we are doing to help to achieve change in practice. We need to think about where we have leverage to enable us to do that, and one of the areas in which we have leverage is the issue of settlements. Of course we all disapprove of settlements—no announcement of a new settlement goes by without an expression of disapproval from our Government, and I welcome that—but is it not time that we started using the leverage that we have and that we use in other parts of the world? Settlements are illegal. When Crimea was annexed by Russia, we applied a series of disincentives to companies that colluded with that illegality. Why is it so difficult for us to do the same in relation to settlements in the occupied territories?

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab): The blockade and effective occupation of Gaza, and the illegal settlements, imperil not only the children of Palestine, subjecting them to a form of collective punishment for acts that they played no part in committing, but the future of Israel itself. They create a deep divide in Israeli society that Pardo sees as potentially the beginning of a path to civil war.

This year, 2017, marks the 50-year anniversary of the occupation. We must ask ourselves what a further 50 years of the politics of oppression, aggression and division will mean. Currently, we see an Israel in clinical denial, sipping cappuccino on the lip of the volcano, and a Palestine in clinical despair, with an acute sense that politics is incapable of delivering a solution. As the former Mossad chief has made clear, the root cause of both is the blockade and the occupation. I hope that today the House will speak with one voice, for the sake of both the Palestinian and Israeli people, in calling for an end to the blockade, for immediate humanitarian assistance in Gaza, and for an end to the illegal settlements.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I would be the first to admit that settlement expansion is counterproductive, and I have made that point to the Israeli Government.

John Spellar: Although settlements may not be an obstacle, they are certainly a problem, especially at a time, as My friend mentioned, when Israel’s relations with the surrounding Arab states are at a better pitch than many of us can ever remember. Is it not, therefore, regrettable that the Netanyahu Government are proceeding with settlements when this could be a unique opportunity?

Joan Ryan: I never made any secret of my opposition to settlement building. It is regrettable. A better move towards peace would be if Mr Netanyahu did what I suggested when I stood on a platform with him, and he froze all settlement building.

Ms Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con): The current governing coalition in Israel is the most right-wing in the country’s history. Since the start of the year, the Israeli Government, emboldened by the new Trump Administration, have announced the creation of more than 6,000 new buildings in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and have attempted to legitimise them through the Land Regularisation Bill. The retroactive legalisation of 55 settlements and roughly 4,000 housing units is a significant step away from a peaceful solution.

I am pleased that the United Kingdom voted for resolution 2334 and condemned the passage of the Land Regularisation Bill, but the Government must now step forward and fill that vacuum.

There are three areas in which the Government can exert pressure. First, the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip is neither productive nor appropriate, and the Minister must call for its further relaxation. Relaxing the blockade would weaken Hamas’s hand in the region, and allow for further reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority. Secondly, to that end, we must encourage ​Israel to allow more reconstruction aid to enter Gaza. Tension in the Gulf states has meant that Qatari attempts to get aid in have proved fruitless, and Israel is well positioned to help to rebuild a war-torn society. Thirdly, the draconian restrictions in place on Palestinians wanting to move across the West Bank continue to stoke further tensions, and by easing some of this control Israel could firmly send a message that it wants a peaceful solution and is willing to work towards it.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): There is the remorseless growth of settlements. In the last year or so, we have seen a change in the type and intensity of settlement growth. The 1,800 units in east Jerusalem, including around Sheikh Jarrah in the heart of east Jerusalem, that have been announced in the last couple of days are a fundamental game-changer, as are E1 and the new settlements between Bethlehem and east Jerusalem. All of those will make a viable Palestinian state impossible. There has been a 70% increase in settlement building on the West Bank in the last year. These are continuing breaches of international humanitarian law and the fourth Geneva convention. Just last week, the Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, said that “the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people” is by ending the occupation. That is the issue at the heart of this and unless it is addressed, we will get nowhere.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): I have seen at first hand the impact of Israeli Government policy towards Palestinians living in the West Bank. The ongoing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements cannot be justified, nor can the demolition of Palestinian homes, nor can the use of byzantine laws to seize land from its rightful owners, nor can the military court system, which violates the very principles of natural justice, and nor can the regular intimidation of Palestinian civilians and international aid workers, who too often are victims of settler violence.

Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen) (Lab/Co-op): Only last year, the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the occupation. Settlements are illegal under international law. They breach the fourth Geneva convention, which prohibits the transfer of the occupier’s “own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

But the UN resolution was passed only because of President Obama’s support, and now, with a new and very different President in place, we need clarification on what conversations the Government have had with him.

Other issues

Shadow Foreign Secretary:  If the Government call a debate on such a serious foreign policy issue as the future of talks between Israel and Palestine—this is the first time a Government have done so for 10 years, I believe—and that debate is held in Government time, it would not be unreasonable to expect the Foreign Secretary himself to make the effort to lead the discussion.

Since the Yom Kippur war in 1973 the Conservative party has published 12 manifestos. The most recent election is only the second time it has failed to mention the Middle East even once in its whole manifesto.

Britain has always wanted to be able to co-ordinate its foreign policy with the Americans, and this Government are so weak and wobbly that they feel they have to be in lockstep with Donald Trump. That is where we have the difficulty in relation to Middle East policy, and that may be one of the reasons why the Foreign Secretary will not come to the Dispatch Box and why Israel and Palestine were not mentioned in the Tory manifesto.

If the Minister of State will not say those things today, we can only come to two equally unpalatable and pitiful conclusions: either the Government have abdicated Britain’s leadership role and are simply waiting to take their cues from Trump Tower, or they see no point in putting pressure on the Trump Administration, because they know they will simply be ignored—just like they were over climate change.

Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): There have been no official peace talks since 2014, but I believe there are grounds for hope. Israel’s relationship with a number of other countries has improved somewhat in the face of shared concern over matters such as the rise of Daesh and the hegemonic ambitions of Iran, which is now involved so heavily in many conflicts in the Middle East. collective dispossession. That shared concern appears to have opened up new channels of communication and co-operation, and led to a concerted regional push to revive the peace process.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): As a lawyer, I wish to address the Israeli Government’s flouting of international law and their failure to observe the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Two parallel systems of ​law operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, depending on whether someone is an Israeli or a Palestinian, and that is not right. One law covers Israeli civilians who have been transplanted into the occupied territories, but Palestinians are subject to military law. Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts.

Does the Minister really believe that an Israeli military court that behaves in such a fashion, and that has a conviction rate of just short of 100%, is one that can command the confidence of the international community? I do not, and I think it is important that Members from all parties speak out against Israel’s violation of international law and of the rule of law. There should be no pussyfooting around these issues. Just as we must condemn terrorism, we must condemn so-called democratic states that violate international law and do not observe the principles of the rule of law.

Israel has a proud history as a democratic state, but the policies of its Government are the greatest weapon—the greatest tool—that its opponents could have, striking as they do at the heart of Israel’s proud tradition as an independent democratic state.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab) on Gaza: According to the UN, we are seeing a process of “de-development” in Gaza, so that by 2020 the strip may well be technically uninhabitable. Some 96% of groundwater in Gaza is unfit for human consumption and the sea is polluted with sewage. Power shortages mean that were it not for the increasingly ​hard-to-obtain fuel that runs emergency generators, hospitals would go dark. That would mean up to 40 surgical operation theatres, 11 obstetric theatres, five haemodialysis centres and hospital emergency rooms serving almost 4,000 patients a day being forced to halt critical services.

Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab): Some would argue that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is small by comparison with that in, say, Syria. In reality it is massive in terms of its symbolism and the way it is used. It has a significant impact on how terrorism operates in the region and beyond. It is used to recruit and encourage extremists across the world. We must understand that peace would be more than a stabilising factor within the region; it would go beyond that. In the battle against vicious ideologies like that of Daesh, we cannot and must not underestimate the importance of the Israel-Palestine debate in the wider context of its influence on terror.

I call on the Government to tell us not what they think but what they intend to do. How are we going to move this process forward? As I said the last time I spoke, it is time to move beyond condemnation to accountability.

The fact remains that we have seen 50 years of occupation and 10 years of blockade, and engagement in every peace process that has taken place since 1967 is not unilateral. What has the Oslo agreement brought Palestinians? There has been a 600% increase in the number of illegal settlements. It is time to move beyond condemnation.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): What is happening to democratic debate and expression inside the state of Israel. Hagai El-Ad is the director of an organisation called B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation based in Jerusalem. Earlier this year he addressed the United Nations.

The response of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was personally to launch a Facebook tirade against him and to threaten to change the law to prevent people doing national service from working for that organisation. As a consequence, others joined in and that organisation and its officials received thousands of threats, including death threats.

Breaking the Silence is an organisation that is composed of veterans of the Israeli army; only those who have served in the IDF can be members of Breaking the Silence. It is fair to say that it does not take a mainstream position; it is critical of the occupation. What is the response of Israeli politicians? Some in the Knesset have tabled motions calling for the organisation to be outlawed as a terrorist organisation. That did not get very far, but a law has been passed in the Knesset to make it illegal for Breaking the Silence to go into schools and colleges and speak to young people about the choices facing them.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): The Foreign Office stated in December last year, after the Brexit outcome was known, that the UK’s financial aid to the Palestinian Authority was best channelled directly through EU funding programmes. The Foreign Office said that the mechanism “offers the best value for money and the most effective way of directly providing support.”

Do the Government intend to continue their participation in that funding programme even after Brexit? If not, what alternatives are they putting in place to ensure that they achieve the same value for money and the same effectiveness of outcomes?

 

Don’t Fall For Character Assassination – Marwan Barghouti is a Man of Peace

Read the article by Palestine’s most prominent woman politician Dr Hanan Ashrawi in Newsweek Thursday April 27th 2017:

Hanan Ashrawi

“When 1,500 Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strike to struggle for their rights, the jailer will use every diversionary tactic in the book to ensure that nobody asks the only relevant question: are their demands just and justified? Let me be the voice of the hunger strikers now, since many of them are in solitary confinement as punishment for having protested their detention conditions peacefully.”

Read more

Read more about the hunger strike:

  1. Don’t Fall For Israel’s Character Assassination—Marwan Barghouti Is A Man Of Peace, By Hanan Ashrawi  April 27, 2017 http://www.newsweek.com/marwan-barghouti-man-peace-israel-apartheid-591021
  2. Jack Khoury, Ha’aretz, April 19, 2017. “Palestinian Hunger-striking Prisoners’ Lawyers Call Boycott of All Israeli Court Sessions.” Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-1.784148
  3. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, April 17, 2017. “Demands of the Strikers.” available at: http://samidoun.net/2017/04/1500-palestinian-prisoners-launch-largest-collective-hunger-strike-in-years-take-action-in-support/#demands
  4. Ma’an News, April 19, 2017. “Palestinian women join hunger strike, lawyers declare boycott of Israeli courts.” Available at: https://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=776498
  5. Marwan Barghouthi, New York Times, April 16, 2017. “Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons.” Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/16/opinion/palestinian-hunger-strike-prisoners-call-for-justice.html
  6. Ma’an News, April 19, 2017. “Activist group cries foul over Israeli outrage at Marwan Barghouthi op-ed.” Available at: https://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=776504
  7. Chaim Levinson, Ha’aretz, November 29, 2011. “Nearly 100% of All Military Court Cases in West Bank End in Conviction, Haaretz Learns.” Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/nearly-100-of-all-military-court-cases-in-west-bank-end-in-conviction-haaretz-learns-1.398369. Some sources cite the US State Department figure of an approximately 90 percent conviction rate. See: https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2015/nea/252927.htm In either case, the conviction rate reflects the lack of a fair trial process for Palestinians under occupation. Lisa Hajjar, “Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza.” University of California Press, 2005, p. 59.
  8. Defence for Children International – Palestine. “Issues – Military Detention.” Available at: http://www.dci-palestine.org/issues_military_detention
  9. United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the second to fourth periodic reports of Israel, adopted by the Committee at its sixty-third session (27 May – 14 June 2013).” Available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/co/CRC-C-ISR-CO-2-4.pdf
  10. Defense for Children International – Palestine, No Way to Treat a Child: Palestinian Children in the Israeli Military Detention System, 2 (2016), http://bit.ly/29W41mB.
  11.  Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, 2012. “Eyes on Israeli Military Court: A collection of impressions.” Available at:
  12. http://www.addameer.org/sites/default/files/publications/eyes_on_israeli_military_court-_a_collection_of_impressions.pdf
  13. International Court of Justice. 9 July 2004. “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.
  14. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), art. 14, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/ccpr.pdf; UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 32, Article 14: Right to equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial, ¶ 22, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/32 (Aug. 23, 2007), http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=CCPR/C/GC/32.
  15. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, “Administrative Detention. December 2015. Available at: http://www.addameer.org/israeli_military_judicial_system/administrative_detention
  16. UN News Centre, “Solitary confinement should be banned in most cases, UN expert says,” October 18, 2011. Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40097#.WPjiBtKGNPY
  17. Defense for Children International – Palestine, Palestinian children held in solitary confinement for longer periods, April 17, 2017. http://www.dci-palestine.org/palestinian_children_held_in_solitary_confinement_for_longer_periods
  18. Defense for Children International – Palestine, Palestinian children held in solitary confinement for longer periods, April 17, 2017. http://www.dci-palestine.org/palestinian_children_held_in_solitary_confinement_for_longer_periods
  19. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, “Family Visits.” http://www.addameer.org/publications/families-family-visits-0
  20. Amnesty International, “Israel must end ‘unlawful and cruel’ practices towards Palestinian prisoners.” April 13, 2017. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2017/04/israel-must-end-unlawful-and-cruel-policies-towards-palestinian-prisoners/