A veiled effort to inhibit pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses’

In another article Dr James J. Zogby, president of Arab-American Institute, wrote:  

“Far from being designed to combat antisemitism, [the Anti-Semitism Awareness Bill] is a thinly veiled effort to inhibit pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses — something that the pro-Israel organisations who helped write the bill have acknowledged.

“The [IHRA] description of antisemitism is both correct and instructive, as are several examples of contemporary antisemitism mentioned in the guidance… Where the guidance goes off the rails is when they try to expand the definition to include ‘antisemitism relative to Israel’.

“With this expansion of the definition of antisemitism, the guidance becomes both subjective and open to dangerous abuse by those who would use it to silence criticism of Israel.

“At the same time that these efforts will act to intimidate and silence pro-Palestinian activity on campuses, they will also serve to embolden pro-Israel student groups to file repeated and frivolous complaints against pro-Palestinian organisations and professors, while diluting and distracting attention from real antisemitism when it rears its ugly head.

“What I find most ironic here is the degree to which this entire discussion has turned reality upside down. I understand awful and hurtful things have been said and that some pro-Israel students may feel “uncomfortable” in some instances or that the BDS debate on their campuses may make them feel like they are in a “hostile” environment. But it is inexcusable to ignore the harassment and threats and defamation endured by students who are advocating Palestinian rights. Oftentimes they are the ones operating in a hostile environment. They are the ones targeted by well-funded campaigns and subjected to threats and harassment. And when Arab Americans write opinion pieces in school newspapers, the comments’ sections are filled with bigotry and hate.”

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Why Labour should not adopt the full IHRA guidance – by its author

As the Labour Party weighs up whether to write the IHRA guidance on antisemitism into its legally enforceable code of conduct, it might like to know that there have been two attempts to write the IHRA code into American law. Both failed.

They failed largely because Kenneth Stern, the main author of what became the IHRA guidance, urged members of Congress not to adopt the Anti-Semitism Awareness Bill which would put his code on the statute book.

Here’s what he wrote in his evidence to Congress:

“I write as the lead author of the [IHRA’s] definition of antisemitism to encourage you not to move the Anti-Semitism Awareness Bill which essentially incorporates that definition into law for a purpose that is both unconstitutional and unwise.

“If the definition is so enshrined, it will actually harm Jewish students and have a toxic effect on the academy.

“The worst way to address [antisemitism] it is to create a de facto hate speech code, which is what this Bill proposes to do.

“In 2011 I co-wrote an open letter (together with the President of the American Association of University Professors and on behalf of the American Jewish Committee) outlining how the definition was being abused .. in an attempt to restrict academic freedom and punish political speech. I remain convinced that the arguments advanced in it were correct.

“The definition was never intended to be used to limit speech on a college campus; it was written for European data collectors to have a guideline for what to include and what to exclude in reports.

“Some [of those] who urged the University of California to adopt the definition were clear that they saw it as a vehicle to stop anti-Israel speech, including promotion of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.

“I disagree with BDS,.. but it is wrong to say that BDS is inherently a form of antisemitism. Even if it were, it would be improper to try to censor pro-BDS campus activity, which is political speech and should be answered by more speech and education, not by suppression.

“If this Bill is passed, its proponents will have the ability to threaten [US Government] funding at colleges and universities where political speech against Israel occurs, and where administrators then don’t try to stop it, or fail to put the university on record [as] calling such speech antisemitic.

“Think of the precedent this would set.

  • If denying the right of Israel to exist is enshrined as antisemitism by law, would Congress then pass parallel legislation defining opposition to a Palestinian state as anti-Palestinianism?
  • Would it adopt a definition of racism, perhaps including opposition to affirmative action?
  • Would it pass laws defining Islamophobia, anti-LGBT animus, anti-immigrant bias, anti-white bias, etc.?
  • And if campus political speech cannot employ “double standards,” does this mean that political speech against China or Russia or the US which doesn’t employ parallels against other countries might someday be legally suspect too?

“I have been writing about how to address campus bigotry for over 25 years and trained more than 200 college and university presidents on how to engage [with] this issue on their campuses. In my view, this legislation – which is a direct affront to academic freedom – will make the situation on campus worse.

[In a footnote he suggested it would be a better approach for a university to conduct surveys of students, review their curriculum, hold more classes on antisemitism, on hatred, on how to discuss difficult issues, on how to engage [with] the conflicting narratives about Israel and Palestine, etc]

“This legislation is intended to have a negative impact on academic freedom and free speech. Pro-Israel activists will suffer in the aftermath, because they will be seen as trying to suppress speech with which they disagree.”

“There are many things a university can and should do to address antisemitism and other forms of hatred. Imposing a definition of antisemitism makes those steps less likely to be taken, because administrators will default to discouraging and suppressing speech, fearful that if they don’t outside groups will pressure them to do so, using [anti-discrimination legislation] as a threat or a weapon.”

Trump strategy begins to emerge

There is still no sign of the Trump plan to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, but there are signs of what his strategy may be.

The two most difficult issues to resolve are Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital, and Palestinian refugees, who have a right of return to or compensation for their homes in Israel.

Trump’s plan appears to be to take both these issues “off the table” – by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and by cutting off funds to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

That would just leave the issue of an independent Palestinian state – which he wants to resolve by resurrecting the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, in which Jordan takes responsibility for security in a Palestinian mini-state in parts of the West Bank and Egypt takes over Gaza.

This ‘solution’ has already been rejected many times by the Jordanians as well as the Palestinians and if this was the much-heralded Trump plan, it would be declared ‘dead on arrival’, according to Ha’aretz.

According to Anshel Pfeffer in Ha’aretz, “Netanyahu’s solution is for the Palestinians to be bullied into accepting limited autonomy in Gaza and a few enclaves in the West Bank. That’s all.

“And twenty months into the Trump administration’s tenure, that is exactly what has been happening. Jerusalem is “off the table,” the administration and key Arab regimes are supporting a separate agreement with Hamas in Gaza, and with the defunding of UNRWA, Washington has indicated it is about to take the refugees issue off the table as well.

“What about the rest of the world? So far, the outcry from other governments, from the West to the Arab world, has constituted little more than a weak chorus. No more.”

UK policy has been clear on Jerusalem. It should be a shared capital for the Israelis and the Palestinians. The key question for the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be whether he stands firm on UNRWA by maintaining and if necessary increasing the UK’s contribution (as the Germans are doing).

Trump move “heartless and dangerous”

On Friday August 31 the US officially announced it was cutting its entire aid budget to UNRWA, the United Nations agency which runs the refugee camps for Palestinian refugees in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Jerusalem.

The EU called the US decision “regrettable” and said it would leave a substantial gap in the agency’s funding.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that “the loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney called the Trump administration’s decision “heartless and dangerous.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the decision was “a flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”

In Israel Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote that: “Israel long ago declared war on the agency, America followed it as usual, all with the aim of removing the refugee issue from the agenda.

“Anyone familiar with the conditions in the refugee camps knows just how dependent their inhabitants are on the UN agency. There might be some waste, certainly there are freeloaders, reform is absolutely necessary, but UNRWA provides basic humanitarian assistance.

“Without it there are no schools, clinics and food in the camps. America owes an indirect debt to the people there; it funds and supports the Israeli occupation, and it has never lifted a finger to reach a genuine solution to their suffering.

“But the new America has lost its shame, too; it no longer even wants to pretend to be the honest broker, or take care of the world’s needy, as its position obliges it to do. Let us say, then, shame on you, America.”

The European Union issued a statement pledging to continue supporting UNRWA and implied that it may increase funding to the agency if deemed necessary.

The statement says that other than the EU’s member states, “many others in the international community, including many Arab states, have pledged their support to the continuity of the work that UNRWA is doing.”

The German foreign minister said Germany would increase its contributions to UNRWA because the funding crisis was fuelling uncertainty.

Sewage or garbage choice for Bedouin

To live next to sewage or next to a garbage dump.  That is the choice now facing the Bedouin from the village of Khan al Ahmar which the Israeli government wants to demolish, according to this Amira Hass report in Haaretz (click for full version).

The 180 villagers have spent a summer fighting the planned demolition of their makeshift homes and their now-famous school built of mud and tyres in the Israeli High Court.

International protests, from the UK government and others, have helped to defer the demolition, but not to defeat it.  Essentially all the arguments in court have been about alternative sites for a forced transfer, not about whether the demolition will go ahead.

New Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will have an opportunity to make a statement about Khan al Ahmar – something his predecessor never did. That may be why the Israeli government never really believed the UK was serious in its protests.

Yet this stretch of desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, where the Bedouin have eked out a living by grazing sheep and goats, is the most strategically important real estate in Palestine, a narrow waist between the north and south of the West Bank without which a Palestinian state could be neither contiguous nor viable.

The last four American presidents, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, all made it clear to the Israelis that this was their red line.  No building on planning area E1.  But under Trump there are no red lines and nor is there any clear message from the British government.

Once the bulldozers have demolished Khan al Ahmar, the Israeli government will move quickly to bury the two-state solution in concrete, joining up the existing settlements until they have a huge settler city stretching across the West Bank.

The key question is not what the Government will say, but what it will do.  Representations are useless unless they are backed up by some kind of threat. Once the Israelis sense that there is no threat, they will send the bulldozers in, destroying not only the makeshift huts of the Bedouin but the entire structure of the peace process and the “two-state solution”.

What is needed now is plain speaking. If you demolish Khan al Ahmar, we will recognise Palestine.

Labour NEC’s antisemitism code is more fit-for-purpose than the IHRA code

It’s inevitable that some people, presented with a complex issue at short notice, do not have time to read the texts or think seriously about the issues and base their opinion on what other people or organisations say.

In the case of Labour’s proposed new code of conduct on antisemitism they have been saying: “Why not import the IHRA code?  That’s what all the mainstream Jewish organisations say. What’s the harm in just accepting it?”

“Why not import the IHRA code?”

In fact the Labour Party has always accepted the IHRA definition in full.  And, as you can see from the two codes printed side by side below, the proposed Labour Party code also accepts 90% of the examples given by the IHRA.  Where it differs, it is in the direction of greater clarity and precision – necessary in a disciplinary code – and protecting freedom of speech.

“That’s what all the mainstream Jewish organisations say”

Well, yes, but 40 Jewish organisations have signed a global letter urging governments not to accept the IHRA code, including in the UK Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish Voices and Free Speech on Israel. In addition Labour’s code is supported by Brian Klug, well-known academic and Fabian author, who is Jewish, as are two members of the NEC working party that drew up the new code, Jon Lansman and Rhea Wolfson.  What is also true, but less frequently pointed out, is that many of those who oppose the new code are not Labour.

“What’s the harm in just accepting it?” 

There’s already evidence that organisations will use the loose wording of the IHRA guidelines to stop people saying things that are critical of Israel and have no antisemitic intent. This is already happening. Four examples are given below.

“It would be antisemitic to refuse.”

It is vital that in defending the human rights of Jewish people and fighting antisemitism, we don’t (intentionally or unintentionally) prevent Palestinians and their supporters from defending their own rights.

We print the two codes side by side and provide all the necessary links so that you can make your own mind up in full knowledge of the facts:

Quotes

Richard Burden MP: “If the two documents were looked at side by side without any preconceptions,most people would be hard pressed to say whether one is stronger or weaker than the other.

“We rightly say we must listen carefully when Jews seek to define the oppression they face, so how can we refuse to do the same when Palestinians speak out about theirs?”

Dr Brian Klug: “Examples that are seen to be problematic in terms of protecting free speech must be dealt with separately, which is what the new code does…. Labour is right to discuss the complexities that arise ….and critics are wrong to say that the code simply omits them.  In contrast, critics have not acknowledged these complexities since the code was released.”

Jon Lansman: “The [Labour Party] code fully adopts the IHRA definition, and covers the same ground as the IHRA examples, but it also provides additional examples of antisemitism while giving context and detailed explanations to ensure it can be practically applied to disciplinary cases within the party.

“The only part of the IHRA working examples that is not explicitly referenced relates to claims about the state of Israel being a racist endeavour (this is a subset of an example, not a standalone one). Of all the elements in the IHRA examples, this is the one that runs the greatest risk of prohibiting legitimate criticism of Israel. It cannot possibly be antisemitic to point out that some of the key policies of the Israeli state, observed since its founding days, have an effect that discriminates on the basis of race and ethnicity.”

Former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley: “There is no legal bar on criticising Israel. Yet several of the “examples” that have been tacked on to the IHRA definition (by whom is not known) seek to stifle criticism of Israel irrespective of intent. The House of Commons select committee on home affairs in October 2016 advised adding: “It is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

Links

IHRA code
Labour’s NRC draft
EU leads criticism after Israel passes Jewish ‘nation state’ law
Richard Burden: Why I’m Concerned About The IHRA Definition Of AntisemitismLabour’s code of conduct isn’t antisemitic – it’s a constructive initiative Brian Klug
Labour’s antisemitism code is the gold standard for political parties Jon Lansman
As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist

The two codes compared

Are all the IHRA examples in the NEC’s examples?

IHRA

IHRA points a-e,i and k are replicated exactly in Labour’s code (though not always in the same position).

a. Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

b. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

c. Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

d. Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust)

e. Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

f. Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

g.  Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

h. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

i. Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

j. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

k. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Labour’s NEC

a. Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

b. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

c. Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

d.Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of Nazi Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

e. Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

f. Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

g. Classic antisemitism also includes the use of derogatory terms for Jewish people (such as “kike” or “yid”); stereotypical and negative physical depictions/descriptions or character traits, such as references to wealth or avarice and — in the political arena — equating Jews with capitalists or the ruling class.

h. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

What about points f,g,h and j?

Points f,g and h are covered elsewhere in Labour’s guidelines, though not in exactly the same words. IHRA’s point j is addressed in Labour’s paragraph 16, but more narrowly defined.

IHRA

f. Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

g. Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

h. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

j. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Labour’s NEC

14. It is wrong to accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

12. The Party is clear that the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people. to deny that right is to treat the Jewish people unequally and is therefore a form of antisemitism.

14. It is wrong to apply double standards by requiring more vociferous condemnation of such actions from Jewish people or organisations than from others.

16. Discourse about international politics often employs metaphors drawn from examples of historic misconduct.  It is not antisemitism to criticise the conduct or policies of the Israeli state by reference to such examples unless there is evidence of antisemitic intent.  Chakrabarti recommended that Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.  In this sensitive area, such language carries a strong risk of being regarded as prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party within Clause 2.I.8.

Are all Labour’s points covered by IHRA?

Labour’s NEC

f. Classic antisemitism also includes the use of derogatory terms for Jewish people (such as “kike” or “yid”); stereotypical and negative physical depictions/descriptions or character traits, such as references to wealth or avarice and — in the political arena — equating Jews with capitalists or the ruling class.

 

IHRA definition: what happens?

Example 1

 

The EU published guidelines for the labelling of Israeli products produced in the Palestinian occupied territories in 2015.

But the Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned the EU’s publication of the labelling guidelines saying: “They epitomize the double standard of treating Israel in a different way than other countries involved in territorial disputes.” https://www.bod.org.uk/board-president-condemns-eu-labelling-guidelines-for-territories/

It appears that in the Board of Deputies view that the EU is guilty of ‘double standards’ and ‘treating Israel differently’, and this would mean that the EU itself would have breached the IHRA guidelines, and the EU’s actions could naturally be interpreted as antisemitic.

The EU would argue the Palestinian territory is occupied (not disputed) territory, but the fact that the Board of Deputies sees the EU guidelines as discriminatory is deeply concerning. It demonstrates the IHRA guidelines could be used argue that states can’t use sanctions against the State of Israel.

Example 2

The Board of Deputies has also accused the National Union of Students of falling short of an IHRA guideline by “applying double standards by requiring of [the state of Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

When the NUS NEC voted to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and sanctions (BDS) the Board of Deputies  condemned the NUS saying: “Once again, a divisive motion by the NUS NEC has singled out Israel”

Similarly, when academics wrote jointly to the Guardian to support an academic boycott in 2015, the Board of Deputies  issued a statement saying: “We would ask why these academics are singling out Israel in such a discriminatory  fashion?”

With no modification, this argument could be used against any individual or any group or government, or non-governmental body that supports the BDS campaign. 

Example 3

The Israel-Britain Alliance and the organisation We Believe in Israel have already tried to use IHRA guidelines to limit freedom of speech in universities. Many student groups hold events as part of Israeli Apartheid week, drawing attention to the many examples of segregation in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories.

Israel Britain Alliance and We Believe in Israel  issued a petition to the Government claiming that ”Israeli Apartheid Week also contravenes the International Definition of Antisemism that the Government adopted last year, which states that “claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist and illegitimate endeavour is antisemitic.”

But the examples of segregation are real and fit the UN definition of apartheid. The fact it is shocking is simply a reflection of the facts. To ban students from holding these events would be an unacceptable infringement of their freedom of speech and of Palestinians’ right to protest against their treatment by Israel. 

Example 4

The IHRA guidelines could be used as a way to suppress the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

When Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry recently called for a Palestinian right to return, Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP called on the Labour Party to “urgently clarify” these remarks. The claim of an intergenerational Palestinian right of return ……would effectively turn Israel into a Palestinian state and destroy the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.”

So IHRA guidelines if used in this way would restrict Palestinians’ right to demand a return to their homes and to seek political support for this endeavour.

Model resolution in support of Labour’s antisemitism code

Jewish Voice for Labour has drafted this model motion:

This CLP welcomes the NEC Code of Conduct on Antisemitism as giving clearer and stronger guidance than previous codes and definitions on what antisemitism is and what it is not.

We note that the NEC code

  1. states emphatically: “Labour is an anti-racist party. Antisemitism is racism. It is unacceptable in our Party and in wider society. “
  2. fully incorporates the 38-word International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and clarifies the controversial aspects of guidance notes attached to it
  3. emphasises the vital distinction between
    i) antisemitism, properly understood as hostility or hatred directed at Jews; and
    ii) legitimate criticism of the state of Israel or the ideology of Zionism
  4. confirms that opinion about Israel, Palestine and Zionism may be judged to be racist where there is evidence of antisemitic intent. This is consistent with the MacPherson recommendations in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.
  5. commits to protecting freedom of expression, including contentious opinions, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998. This includes opinions about Israel and its policies, and about political strategies seeking to influence them.
This CLP therefore calls on the NEC to:
  • resist pressure to replace the Code of Conduct with the IHRA definition and associated guidance;
  • include a broader range of Jewish opinion in any further consultations; and
  • mobilise to fight the alarming rise of racism of all kinds in the UK and abroad.
Supporting argument

The shortcoming of the IHRA document have been the subject of multiple critical comments from Jewish scholars and commentators since it was first adopted by the Conservative Government in December 2016. These are Jews who really care about combating antisemitism, and freedom of speech, and dealing with rising far-right racism of all kinds. The latter two seem to be of no concern to those attacking the Labour leadership.

Since the Code was made public we have seen the Global Jewish Statement, released to media on July 17, in which 40 Jewish organisations in 15 countries oppose the IHRA for its negative impact on a clear understanding of antisemitism and its role in suppressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Brian Klug, a leading authority on antisemitism, discusses the Labour NEC code of conduct, comparing it favourably with the IHRA document and explaining why the latter is being held up as a sacred text.

The Institute of Race Relations explains that the MacPherson principle specifically does not give members of an ethnic or religious the sole right to determine what is or is not racist conduct.

This briefing from Jewish Voice for Labour was sent to all Labour MPs and NEC members.

Antony Lerman, another leading authority on antisemitism, discusses the NEC code and reaction to it.

Portraying British Jews as one monolithic bloc all determined to police what may or may not be said about Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians is dangerous and wrong. Such a portrayal is antisemitic!

MPs protest as bulldozers move in to demolish Khan al Ahmar

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

(Urgent Question): I had hoped to ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the imminent demolition of the village of Khan al-Ahmar and the threat of the forcible transfer of its residents, but in the light of developments this morning, I must instead ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the demolition that has commenced at Khan al-Ahmar and the village of Abu Nuwar and on the actual forcible transfer of the residents of those villages.

The Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt)

This morning, officials from our embassy in Tel Aviv and from our consulate general in Jerusalem visited Khan al-Ahmar to express our concern and demonstrate the international community’s support for that community. Once there, they did indeed observe a bulldozer, which began levelling the ground. While we have not yet witnessed any demolition of structures, it would appear that demolition is imminent. We deeply regret this turn of events. The United Nations has said that this would not only constitute forcible transfer, but pave the way for settlement building in E1. In accordance with our long-standing policy, we therefore condemn such a move, which would strike a major blow to prospects for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.

The United Kingdom has repeatedly raised its concerns with the Israeli authorities and others, for instance during my visit to Khan al-Ahmar on 30 May. On 12 June I issued a video message emphasising the United Kingdom’s concern at the village’s imminent demolition, and I reiterated that concern to the Israeli ambassador to the UK on 20 June. My friend the Foreign Secretary has also expressed his concern, most recently during his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in London on 6 June. The Foreign Secretary’s statement on 1 June also made it clear that the UK was deeply concerned by the proposed demolition, which the UN has said could amount to “forcible transfer”, in violation of international humanitarian law. As recently as Monday, the British ambassador to Israel raised the issue with the Israeli national security adviser. Later today, the British ambassador will join a démarche alongside European partners to request as a matter of urgency that the Israeli authorities halt demolition plans.

Israel believes that, under its independent court system and rule of law, it has the right to take the action that it is beginning today, but it is not compelled to do so, and need not do so. A change of plan would be welcomed around the world, and would assist the prospects of a two-state solution and an end to this long-standing issue.

Richard Burden

As we speak, bulldozers are flattening the village of Khan al-Ahmar and destroying its school, which was built with international donor support, and which provides education for about 170 Bedouin children from five different communities. The village of Abu Nuwar is also being destroyed today.

People who live in these villages threaten no one. Their crime is to have homes on land that Israel wants, in order to expand the illegal settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim. To speak plainly, this is state-sponsored theft: a theft that will cut the West Bank in ​two, making a contiguous Palestinian state near-impossible and the prospects of a two-state solution still more remote. More importantly, as the Minister said, the forcible transfer of the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar and Abu Nuwar contravenes international humanitarian law. It is a war crime.

As the Minister also said, he—along with over 100 Members of this House and peers, and about 300 international public figures—has repeatedly urged the Government of Israel not to go ahead with the demolitions. Now that they have ignored those calls, the question is whether the commission of this war crime will have any consequence. If not, why will Mr Netanyahu believe other than that war crimes can continue with impunity? What practical action do the UK Government propose to take to hold those responsible for this war crime to account, and is it not time finally to outlaw commercial dealings by UK firms with illegal settlements in the West Bank?

Alistair Burt

As he set out, this is an area of land that many of us know quite well from visits made over a lengthy period. This is a community that was moved before and moved to settle where they are, unable to get planning permission under Israeli planning law and therefore they built the settlement they did. The discussion that has taken place since the formation of the settlement has been about the rights and wrongs of that building and about the difficulties of Israeli law as to what would happen next. However, I think that the overwhelming sense of many of us is that this should not be happening and need not be happening. The damage it proposes to do, at a time when many of us are looking to a move on the Middle East peace process in which this piece of land might play a significant part, rather pulls the rug away from those of us who want to see a two-state solution—which, as many say, is perhaps why this has been done.

As I have said, both the timing and the action itself are deeply concerning, but nothing is irrevocable yet. In terms of what we are doing, we are already in conversation with like-minded European partners about what should be done next.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

I believe in a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. However, it is beyond comprehension that a remarkable country like Israel, cultured, sophisticated and democratic—whose people down the centuries have themselves known such terrible suffering—can countenance such wicked behaviour, which is contrary to all international laws and humanitarian conventions, as she continues to bulldoze Palestinian villages like Khan al-Ahmar, whose residents’ houses are, I understand, at this moment being flattened. What other country would dare to behave in this barbaric way? Will the Government condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms?

Alistair Burt

The short answer to the last part of my friend’s question is yes. The wider issue that he raised—and he put this extremely well in the Westminster Hall debate last week—was the contrast between an Israel for which many of us feel very deeply, and which we believe has many admirable qualities, and some of its actions which seem to go against that history and culture, and about which we have a sense of deep ​concern and sometimes bemusement. I know that it will have its reasons to defend its actions, and it is for the Israeli Government to do that, but the rest of us are disappointed and very perplexed today.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker, and I congratulate my Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who chairs the Britain-Palestine all-party parliamentary group, on securing it.

Just a week ago, when the Minister spoke about Khan al-Ahmar—it is a village that both of us have visited, and I know that he has worked on this issue assiduously—he agreed that, if the village were demolished, if its 181 residents were forcibly removed, and if their homes and their school were razed to the ground to make way for new illegal Israeli settlements, that action would “call into question the viability of a two-state solution. ”

It could, he said, be construed as “a breach of international humanitarian law”.

However, he also said: “It is still possible for any demolition not to go ahead. ”—[Official Report, 26 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 744.]

A week on, I am afraid that—as we all know—we are no longer dealing in woulds, coulds and possibilities. We are dealing with the reality: the reality that this forcible eviction and demolition, this breach of international law, this hammer blow to the two-state solution, is taking place as we sit here today.

We are all tired of asking what can be done to cajole or compel the Netanyahu Government to start listening to their international allies, to start complying with UN resolutions on settlements, or to start acting with some basic fairness and justice on the issue of building permits. That is all increasingly just a waste of breath. I therefore wish to ask the Minister two different questions today, which I believe are more worth while.

Does the Minister share my concerns that we are fast approaching a dangerous place where even some respected Palestinian figures are moving away from the idea of a two-state solution towards seeking democratic control over a single state, with all the implications that that would have for the potential Israeli minority? If he does share those concerns, will he also agree with me that before that shift in opinion can take hold, and before the actions of the Netanyahu Government render a two-state solution a geographical impossibility, this is the time for the United Kingdom to lead the major nations of the world in recognising the Palestinian state, and to do so immediately, while there is still a state left to recognise?

Alistair Burt

I thank her for what she has said. I agree with many of her remarks. The danger that she identifies of a two-state solution slipping away has, of course, been potentially real for some time. Individual actions such as this are doubly difficult to understand and accept at a time when we have all been anticipating a development that would be workable and allow us to move forward.

No one quite knows what the boundaries of a future state might be, but we all have a sense of what the parameters would be. That is why the concerns about ​the E1 area outside Jerusalem have been so important and have perhaps led to some restraint over the years. But if that is to go, what is left and what is next? So that is what we need to do. As I said a moment ago, we are currently in conversation with like-minded European partners about what the response should be and there are a number of options, but the best thing we should be thinking through is what option preserves the important chances there still are for a two-state solution, which has been so long sought for and is still in the mind of the UK the only viable possibility of providing both justice for the Palestinians in some measure and security for the state of Israel. If there is a different answer, I, in 30 years, have not heard it.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

 

Many of us on both sides of this House who call ourselves friends of Israel rightly hail that nation as a bastion of liberal values in a troubled region, so does my friend agree that it is right that we ask the Israeli Government to abide by the very highest standards that they set for themselves, and will he underline again the point he has just made: the real solution to all of this, yet again, is to keep pushing for the peace process to be resurrected and following that path forward?

Alistair Burt

My friend has been, and is, a good friend of the state of Israel, as many of us have been over many years, and I can sense the pain behind his question. We do indeed rightly hold a democracy to high standards and will continue to do so.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP)

This is devastating news today at a human level for those who have been impacted, but also for the peace process. Does the Minister agree that sustainable and lasting peace is built on respect for one another and respect for the rule of law? Does he agree with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that the demolition violates international law? If so, will he set out what kind of action he is thinking about taking, rather than merely expressions of regret? Is it time for a global response? Finally, may I join others in this House, the Scottish Government and other states in calling on this Government to recognise Palestine as an independent state?

Alistair Burt

I am grateful to the for his comments and the way in which he put them. At such a fragile time, it is difficult to see what steps can be taken next, after what will be seen as a provocative gesture, that would make it still viable to keep working on the solution we want to see, but that still remains a possibility. There was much talk when Jerusalem was recognised by the United States as the capital of Israel that that was the end of everything. It was not and it remains entirely possible to proceed. Jerusalem should be a shared capital—that is what the United Kingdom believes—and despite the Americans’ position we do not believe that has been taken off the table. But every time there is a move that makes that solution less likely, it becomes more difficult to see what the alternative is. As I have said, there will be a range of options and we are considering with friends and others what might be done.

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)

My honourable friend is precisely that: he is an honourable man and a reasonable man, and I have some sympathy for him that ​each and every time he comes to the Dispatch Box to talk about this issue he provides that reasonableness, but he does provide a commentary at a time when we are looking for more leadership and I would just ask him this. At the moment the latest news is that the Americans are discussing the Kushner peace process with the Russians. Has my friend or any of his officials or fellow Ministers in the FCO had any input or sight of the Kushner peace plan, or are the British not playing any part in this whatsoever?

Alistair Burt

The American envoys have been in regular contact both with officials and the Foreign Secretary and on occasions with myself. They have kept many of the proposals very close to their chest. We have said that it is very important that they should continue to engage with the Palestinian Authority and we would again seek that, although everyone can understand why those circumstances are difficult. We have urged that the US envoys might certainly talk more widely to partners when they get close to producing their response to this. I am sure, as I have said before, that the US being the only broker in this is unlikely to be accepted now. We are very keen to work with others when these proposals come forward to find an answer.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)

It is, sadly, all too clear that, as well as destroying people’s homes, as we have heard today, the Government of Israel are in the process of severely damaging their international reputation when it comes to respect for the rule of law. Given all the criticism that he has made from the Dispatch Box and other countries have echoed, why does he think the Government of Israel feel they can get away with doing what they want?

Alistair Burt

I do not know whether it is appropriate to answer in the terms that he has offered. He poses his own question, which I think will be out there for many others to consider. We remain clearly very attached to Israel as an ally in many respects in terms of defence and security particularly in what is a difficult region, but, as is sometimes the case even with the closest friends, there are areas where we are not only not certain of their course of action but believe it to be fundamentally wrong, and this is one of those. So we must manage that relationship. This provides another opportunity for us to talk further about what will happen in the future but, every time there is something like this, it makes it that bit more difficult to see that something we have all been working on for so long is going to result in the solution we are all seeking. But we will continue to press for that.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)

Are we mad in continuing to express concern or even condemn and yet expect a different outcome? No, we are not mad because actually we do not expect a different outcome and, by our refusal to act, we make ourselves complicit, don’t we?

Alistair Burt

My friend has experience of government and of relationships with those in the region and understands the background of which he speaks. It does make it all difficult, but I say to him that we have not all given up on the prospects of a two-state solution, which, as I have said, I do not see an alternative to, ​and the UK’s determination to keep in contact with all sides in relation to this and press that case is perhaps even more imperative now than it was this morning.

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)

Like the Minister, I visited the village a few weeks ago and saw for myself the school that the community had built there, which is currently, as we speak, being destroyed along with the community’s homes. Today, I am also, like the Minister, perplexed and dismayed that Israel appears not to comprehend or to be prepared to take note of the outrage and the damage done to its reputation by this forcible transfer of communities, which is regarded as a breach of international law. Can he assure us that, as well as the talks he mentioned with like-minded European partners, he will ensure that the Government make the case to the President of the United States when he is here this month that this cannot be allowed to continue and make clear the damage it is doing, because he does appear to have some influence?

Alistair Burt

The short answer to that must be yes, I cannot imagine a conversation between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States that would not cover such a significant world issue, in which of course the United States does indeed have an important part to play.

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)

Article 53 of the Geneva convention expressly prohibits the destruction of property in occupied territory other than for military purposes. Given that there can be no possible military purpose in destroying the residential community of Khan al-Ahmar, does my friend agree with my assessment that, even as we speak, the state of Israel is committing a war crime?

Alistair Burt

I am not sure if the UK is in a position to make that judgment, but certainly, as has been made clear, the United Nations has already said that it could constitute forcible transfer and clearly now that things have actually begun that matter becomes a much sharper one for consideration.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)

I have visited Khan al-Ahmar twice and have met many of the families there. This is a personal violation for them, as well as a war crime, but it is also a strategic step. There are 46 Bedouin villages and their future may well hang on whether the Israeli authorities get away with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. This allows for the splitting of the West Bank and for the annexation, which is now openly talked about, of the West Bank by Israel to take place. If not now, when are the Government going to act? When are they going to act against illegal settlements and end trade? When are they going to recognise Palestine and when are they are going to recognise their historical obligations and take a lead internationally, rather than wringing their hands?

Alistair Burt

I say again that it is my view—and, I think, the view of the Government—that we want to keep the opportunity of the two-state solution open and viable. That requires remaining in contact with the Government of the state of Israel. All these issues—the concerns about the building of settlements and their strategic position—are a vital part of the land jigsaw that the envoys are presumably working through and ​they must come forward as the basis for negotiations between the Palestinians and the state of Israel. It should be the United Kingdom’s job to do everything it can to keep those channels and opportunities open, and the actions that we will take in response to this will be in accordance with those principles.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)

Can my friend confirm that the village of Khan al-Ahmar is in area C of the West Bank, that under the Oslo accords it is under the direct control of Israel and that the Israeli courts have ruled it to be an illegal settlement? Will he also confirm that the Government of Israel have offered alternative accommodation with running water and proper civilisation? [Interruption.]

Alistair Burt

Both those statements from my Friend are true, as far as they go. It is just a question of what the background and context might be. The settlements in the area are deemed illegal, but between 2014 and the summer of 2016 just 1.3% of building permits requested by Palestinians in area C were granted, and between 2010 and 2015 only 8% of all building permits in Jerusalem were given in Palestinian neighbourhoods. Practically, this leaves Palestinians with little option but to build without permission, placing their homes at risk of demolition on the grounds that they do not have a permit. While recognising Israel’s judicial system and recognising the rights that it believes it has in relation to this, other circumstances have to come into consideration, which is why the United Kingdom takes the view that it does about this demolition.

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)

For the two Bushes, Clinton and Obama, building on area E1, where Bedouins have grazed sheep and goats for years, was a red line, but now, under Trump, there are no red lines. Does the Minister not appreciate that his concern, disappointment and bemusement—as I think he even said—do not seem enough when bulldozers will literally be concreting over all hopes for a two-state solution by constructing a continuous West Bank settlement?

Alistair Burt

She makes her own points very strongly. It is right that this has been considered a red line, for the reasons that she has set out. It is yet to be seen what the international reaction to this will be.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

Does my friend see the link between this urgent question and the debate later today in Westminster Hall in the name of the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, about incitement in the Palestinian education system? These cruel and illegal actions form part of an unshakeable Palestinian perception of Israeli policy over five decades in the occupied territories that breeds the anger and despair that contribute to an environment of historic hatred that is going to become almost impossible to reverse.​

Alistair Burt

My own observation, from my recent visit, is that the separation is growing, particularly between young people. Whereas there are older people in Palestinian areas and in Israel who can talk about living in each other’s villages and about times past, that now seems impossible for some younger people. This is built on the failure over many decades to reach a solution that would allow that sort of life to continue. I do not think there is any future unless the people of Israel and the Palestinian people find a way back—with all the security guarantees that need to be given—to the sort of life where their security is built on their neighbours and not on walls and division.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)

I have also had the honour and privilege of visiting Khan al-Ahmar, where I met many wonderful people who were just trying to live in peace and do the best for their families and their community. Surely the time has now come for the British Government formally to recognise the state of Palestine. Surely the time has also come for us to impose sanctions and cease all trade with the illegally occupied territories.

Alistair Burt

I hear what he says. That is not the policy of the United Kingdom, for reasons that we have given before, but I have indicated that we are in consultation with European colleagues and considering what response there might be to these circumstances.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)

Like my friend, I consider myself a friend of Israel and a strong supporter of a two-state solution, but is it not the case that these demolitions cast serious doubt on Israel’s own commitment to those objectives?

Alistair Burt

Again, the short answer is a worrying yes. Israel has many friends around the world. I count myself as a friend of the Middle East as well as a friend of individual separate states. In my experience, the determination to reach a just solution had slipped down the agenda of the world in recent years, but it has now gone back up the agenda, partly as a result of President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem and partly as a result of the feeling that, although we have said it many times before, maybe there is just one last chance before we get into a situation that none of us wishes to see. It is possible that the events of today, a little like the catalyst of Gaza recently, might be a further reminder that that chance is slipping away and that the door might be closing all too quickly.

Sylvia Hermon (North Down) (Ind)

The Minister, for whom I have enormous regard, has described how British officials were taken by surprise this morning when they went to visit the villages and found bulldozers on site—

Alistair Burt

indicated dissent.

Hermon

They were not surprised?

Alistair Burt

They were not surprised, ma’am. They went there because they knew that things were happening. They were not taken by surprise.

Hermon

I thank the Minister for that clarification. They were not taken by surprise, but they went there because they feared that demolitions were going to take place. I would like to be reassured that, when the reports came back that the bulldozers were indeed on site, the Foreign Office immediately contacted the White House and asked the Americans to use the influence that they seem to have in Israel to save those villages from demolition. Did that happen? Have we contacted the White House? Did the Foreign Secretary make that call? Did the Prime Minister make that call? Did anyone in the British Government make that call to the White House?

Alistair Burt

Forgive me—I do not know the answer to that question. I have been dealing with DFID questions in the House this morning and then I moved on to this. I do not know what official contact there has been between us and the United States, but the asks an extremely good question. I cannot imagine that in dealing with this issue we are not in direct contact with our friends in the United States, and I will certainly make sure that we are.

Ross Thomson (Aberdeen South) (Con)

Strong concerns have been expressed this afternoon, and I join those calls for the demolitions to be halted. Israel has provided welfare for the rapidly growing Bedouin communities and proposed solutions to improve their quality of life. Does the Minister recognise that Israel is trying to work with those communities to resolve this undeniably sensitive situation?

Alistair Burt

I know from my previous experience that, again, the short answer is yes. Proposals have been put forward, including by Benny Begin some years ago, and a lot of work has been done with the Bedouin community from the Negev and in the area. However, there is a fundamental point at which people’s rights, feelings and desires have to be taken into account. In this particular instance, it is not deniable that Israel has indeed come forward with alternative accommodation, but the question is, as it would be for any of us: if someone offers you something, you have a choice as to whether to accept it, but if that choice is taken away, the circumstances are rather different. What we have sought to stress to Israel is that, although this particular case has been through its legal system and alternatives have been provided, this is not what that community, which has already been moved, wanted. Accordingly, many people believe that those rights and wishes should be somehow taken into account, in a state that values and prizes the need for rights and laws to protect the most vulnerable, as my friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said. He is surprised that that has not been the case.

Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that the demolition of structures in the Khan al-Ahmar encampment would be a violation of international law and has called on the Israeli authorities to stop it. If the demolition goes ahead, which is likely given the previous record of the Israeli authorities, do the Government intend to take steps to hold the authorities to account for their actions?

Alistair Burt

I can only repeat what I said earlier, which is that we are in discussion with other partners about what the response might be, but I hope that I made clear the UK’s deep concern and our condemnation of an action that threatens the two-state solution.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

There is clearly a strong feeling today that we need more than just condemnation. Given that Israel’s settlements, the demolitions and the forcible transfer of people are illegal under international law, the British Government could tell UK businesses that they should not collude with illegality in their commercial dealings with the settlements any more than they should collude with illegality in the UK.

Alistair Burt

I hear her views and understand where they come from, but that has not been our policy in the past. We have left the choice to people who know the background and the circumstances that relate to settlements and their produce. However, as I said earlier, the UK reserves all its actions while it considers what it might do.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)

I too am a friend of Israel, which is why I will not pretend that what is taking place today is happening out of some concern for the welfare of the Bedouin community in Khan al-Ahmar or is the result of some planning dispute. What is happening is a deliberate policy intention of the present Israeli Government, who have no regard or concern for a two-state solution and simply want to expand illegal settlements, which will ultimately undermine the security and legitimacy of the Israelis and grossly infringe the human rights of Palestinians. Having been to Khan al-Ahmar and knowing what lies ahead if the demolition happens without a serious international response, I have to say that if Israel is going to demolish Palestinian villages on the grounds that they are illegal settlements, is it not time for this country and our European partners to take targeted economic sanctions against illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank?

Alistair Burt

I refer the to what I said previously about potential action. Like one or two other Members, he speaks from a background of support and understanding for the state of Israel and therefore with even greater concern and upset at what is happening and the reasons behind it. He will have spoken for many both inside and outside, just as others have done.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab)

We are now hearing of dozens of Palestinians being hospitalised as a result of the tragedy of the start of the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar this morning. That demolition is a war crime, so how will the British Government ensure that Israeli decision makers are held to account for what has happened today?

Alistair Burt

May I start by thanking her for trying to get hold of me today? I got the telephone message a little too late to respond, but I appreciate that she attempted to get in touch.

I said earlier that the British ambassador would be joining a démarche of Israel this afternoon in response to the actions that have been taken. I assure the Lady, as I assured the House, that there is no shortage ​of opportunity for either Ministers or our ambassador or consul general to make a case. It is not the lack of making a case that is the concern; it is the lack of listening to the case. Accordingly, we need to see, in consultation with others, what we can do. We have different views about the future security of the state of Israel, but I wish that we were all coming from the same place. We will continue to make our case as strongly as we can.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

Like so many Members, I was inspired by the community of Khan al-Ahmar when I visited last November, and I know that the Minister was, too. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, has said that the demolition is a war crime, but it also highlights our potential influence in stopping such crimes as a member of the UN Security Council with deep cultural, diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel worth more than £7 billion in annual bilateral trade. I know that the Minister cares about this issue and that the Government have issued strong words, but is it not time to go beyond words and to start using all possible leverage to stop illegal demolitions?

Alistair Burt

I am grateful to the for what he said. Of course, if there was an agreement, the land rights would be sorted out as part of it, so we would not have such issues. The imperative remains to seek and reach an agreement between the Palestinians and the state of Israel that ends such risks. Today’s actions make it even more imperative that that happens even more urgently in order to protect the rights of Palestinians and, indeed, to see Israel granted the security it needs in an ultimate agreement relating to the conflict.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab)

I have just heard that 35 people have been injured so far today as a direct result of the demolition. I know the Minister to be a very decent man, so will he pledge specifically to investigate why JCB bulldozers were used in the demolition of homes, given that it is certainly a serious breach of international law, if not a war crime?

Alistair Burt

I in turn greatly respect her and will indeed ensure that that investigation is carried out.

Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)

Without wanting to impugn the Minister’s personal integrity—I hold him in the highest regard, although we do not agree on this—regret and condemnation are not enough. We have international obligations, not least those specified in the last line of the Balfour declaration, which states that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the…rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

Palestinian settlements are being demolished in order to make way for illegal Israeli settlements, which is a breach of international law, so are we going to call the Israeli ambassador in? Are we going to tell him that we will no longer trade with those illegal settlements? I suggest that that is what we need to do.

Alistair Burt

The has a long held a passionate commitment to this cause and has a fair way of expressing it, and it is true that we do not always ​agree. We will of course be in contact with the Israeli ambassador, but I cannot anticipate the actions of the British Government at this stage.

Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)

Like the Minister, I had the privilege of vesting Khan al-Ahmar just last September. Part of the site includes a school with 170 children that was part-funded by the EU, so will the Minister set out what representations he has made to the Israeli Government for reparations if the school is to be demolished? The EU and the British Government must be far stricter, because this situation involves children, and Israel is in breach of article 50 of the Geneva convention.

Alistair Burt

The UK has not directly funded any structures in recent years that have been demolished by the Israeli Government. We have consulted EU partners on the demolitions, and we are keeping the case for compensation under review. No decision has been made about whether we will claim compensation in future. We are focused on preventing demolitions from happening through our funding to a legal aid programme that helps residents to challenge decisions in the Israeli legal system. Our work with the Norwegian Refugee Council has been extremely effective over the years in providing a counter to some of the demolition applications.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

I too have visited the village of Khan al-Ahmar, and I am one of the 25 MPs who signed a letter saying that this forcible transfer is a war crime. Rather than condemning the action and reserving our options, we need to hear more from the Minister about what will be done to hold those responsible to account. Does he accept that the longer he ducks the issue of allowing trade with illegal settlements and not recognising the state of Palestine, the vicious circle will just continue until it is too late?

Alistair Burt

I understand, particularly the Gentleman’s last point. I have indicated that the British ambassador is taking part in a démarche this afternoon in relation to the Israeli Government. We are in consultation with European partners and colleagues on what actions might be taken. I cannot say anything further than that.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)

Some 181 people live in Khan al-Ahmar, and more than half of them are children. The Minister has acknowledged that the actions of the Israeli Government are contrary to international law, but those actions are also simply cruel. As we have heard, people are being injured by this demolition process. It is a grievous situation. What plans do the Government have to contribute towards humanitarian assistance efforts for the people who are being forcibly displaced?

Alistair Burt

We are very active in all areas of the West Bank in supporting humanitarian needs through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the like. Plainly, we did not wish to see this demolition and, in company with others, we must now consider what we can do to support those who have been displaced. This is obviously very immediate, and I will report back to the House as soon as we have a clear answer to the Lady’s concerns.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)

We are kidding ourselves if we think we can stop this illegal work with diplomacy. Diplomacy has always failed in the past, so something else needs to be done. The Minister has responded four times on the issue of banning the import of Israeli goods produced in illegal settlements, but he says such a ban has not been British policy in the past. Does that mean he is considering a change? If not, why not?

Alistair Burt

There are circumstances in which a Minister cannot win, no matter what he says. I am accurate in saying that that is the current policy, but I also indicated, without any suggestion of a change in policy, that the United Kingdom’s response to today’s activities has not yet been fully considered. We are talking through with other partners what that response might be. I do not want to set any hares running by saying any more in response to the Gentleman’s question.

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)

The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population represents a step change in the nature of the occupation. The Minister has recognised that it could well deal a fatal blow to a two-state solution. As he has said, representations making the case to his Israeli counterparts clearly have not worked. Does he accept that this is the moment for a fundamental reappraisal of the Government’s approach?

Alistair Burt

The short answer is probably no, because the fundamental determination of the Government’s approach is to do everything we can to keep the option of a two-state solution alive and to work with all parties, including the state of Israel, towards that end. The is absolutely right in saying that, because of the long-standing international concern about this community and because of the recognition of the significance of where the community is, the actions taken today constitute, in his words, a “step change” in what is happening. I do not think it undermines our determination that that ultimate settlement is the only thing that will deal with all these matters. So long as a two-state solution remains a viable possibility, it should still form the United Kingdom’s policy. Of course, in relation to this particular action, as I indicated earlier, we have to consider what response there might sensibly be.

Dan Carden (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

I visited the community of Khan al-Ahmar in February 2018 and met the schoolchildren and the families there. What is happening today is truly heartbreaking. I believe the Minister, and I believe that he thinks his actions are the right way forward, but how far away must the peace process be from realisation and how bad does the atrocity have to be before he is genuinely willing to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us what actions and what sanctions his Department and this Government are at least debating?

Alistair Burt

That is a good question. At what stage do I—that is less relevant—and the British Government give up on the two-state solution? There are plenty of voices out there telling us to do so: “It is just not going to happen. It is fantasy. It has all gone.” I do not believe that, and I do not want it to be the case, for the reason I gave earlier—I do not see a viable alternative.​

The poses a very real question: at what stage do we give up on a two-state solution? I do not want to give up on all those friends over the years, on those behind the Oslo accords and on those who worked so determinedly for a two-state solution. I do not want the United Kingdom to be in a position of saying, “We are washing our hands of this,” but there comes a point when it is completely impossible. Until the envoys have reported and until the work has been done, I do not think that stage has yet been reached. Each issue that makes it more difficult, as we have seen today, runs the risk of that day coming closer.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)

Israel will rightly face international condemnation and obloquy for these actions, but the demolitions will go ahead anyway. Aside from the Trump regime in America, which is part of the problem, is there anybody out there to whom Israel might listen? The impression it gives at the moment is of a state going rogue that does not actually want to be part of the international community.

Alistair Burt

The puts it very forcefully. Israel co-operates in a variety of international organisations, and all the states that work with Israel must and should have some influence with it. He is right to talk about the United States, which is plainly its major relationship, but Israel has a strong relationship with the EU and it has a growing relationship with a number of other Arab states in the region.

This has to be a relationship built not only on what Israel is but on what Israel is to become. Accordingly, such actions raise question marks that friends do not wish to see. Let us see where the influence can be, and let us try to work together so that the Israel we see today, and the Israel we want to see, is the Israel that will be staunch in defence of rights, secure in its own existence and supported by its neighbours, but that works for a just settlement with those who live in the Palestinian areas and in Gaza.

Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

Following this shameful demolition, what must the state of Israel do for this Government to act? That has to be the question. The Minister has said many times this afternoon that it is not UK Government policy, but does he agree that the time has come for the UK at least to examine genuinely hard-hitting, far-reaching economic sanctions, because negotiation, pleading and appeals to international law have demonstrably failed?

Alistair Burt

I can only repeat what I said earlier. Our policy remains a determination to do everything we can to see that the two-state solution remains viable, to do nothing that will make it less likely and to work with others who are determined to see it become a possibility. All our actions and responses should still be guided by those principles.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)

We have now been discussing this for 50 minutes, and I have yet to hear the Minister state a single practical action that the Government propose in response to this atrocity. Like others in this House, I do not doubt his sincerity, but I am alarmed by his reticence to do something about it.​

The Minister has hinted that the Government are considering further measures, and he has alluded to discussions with international partners. If the Government themselves are not prepared to take action in the field of economic sanctions to try to put pressure on Israel, will he give a commitment that this Government will not oppose such measures if they are proposed by other Governments in international forums?

Alistair Burt

I understand his admonitions, but I will not make policy standing here at the Dispatch Box. I indicated that this needs a considered response, which we are undertaking in company with others. I am sorry that is not as neat as a swift, immediate response, but I think it is the right response. We will consider with others what to do.

I have listened very carefully to the House, and I hope others have listened to the feeling the House has expressed and take due note of the deep concerns that Members have rightly expressed, whatever position they have taken in the past, about the actions that have taken place today. I hope those concerns will go loudly around the world.

New push for recognition of Palestine in House of Lords

The Government is under renewed pressure to fix a date for the the UK to recognise Palestine after a special three-hour debate in the House of Lords on Thursday June 7 called by the former Liberal leader David Steel.

Of the 29 peers who spoke, 20 called osteeln the Government to go ahead with the long-promised recognition of the state of Palestine. Only four made any attempt to defend the Israeli government.

The heaviest criticism came from Lord Steel himself and from senior Conservative peers, including Michael Ancram, the party’s former deputy leader, and two former Conservative ministers.

Unlike the House of Commons where the Speaker tries to balance every speaker critical of Israel by calling an MP who is a Friend of Israel,  the House of Lords debate was overwhelming and unrelenting in its criticism of the Israeli government.

Lord Steel said he hoped that the recent slaughter of 62 Palestinians in one day in Gaza would awaken the international conscience in the same way that the 1960 Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

Michael Ancram, now sitting in the Lords as the Marquess of Lothian, scorned not only Israeli actions against the Palestinians but also the UK’s failure to condemn them.

“What worries me is the West’s reaction: concern, yes, but condemnation, no. I do not believe that it does anyone any favours to stay our tongue. ”

In a long statement to the Commons about the killings in Gaza the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, described them as “extremely concerning” but appeared to avoid using the word “condemn”.

David Steel ended his speech by calling on the Government to “recognise the state of Palestine without further delay” – a point that was taken up by most of the subsequent speakers, whether Conservative, Labour, Liberal-Democrat or crossbench.

Lord Ray Collins, the Labour speaker in the Lords debate, also backed recognition and challenged the minister: “Who do the Government not recognise Palestine now – and if not, when?”

The debate coincides with a new initiative launched by the former UK consul-general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, now chairman of the Balfour Project Trust, with Open Bethlehem and other organisations to lobby the UK and EU governments on recognition.

In the Lords the Minister for Human Rights, Lord Tariq Ahmad, responded to the debate by saying that the position of the Government remains the same as it has been since 2011: “We will formally recognise the state of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace”.

The word ‘formally’ acknowledges the fact that the UK Government has been committed to recognition in principle since 2011 and is theoretically just waiting for a good time to announce it.

But as the UK has missed any number of opportunities to announce it – when the Kerry talks broke down in 2014, when Sweden recognised in 2014, when France said they were going to recognise in 2015, when the Security Council passed resolution 2334 in 2016 – most people have concluded that recognition is being blocked by Downing Street.

Lord Ahmad also urged Israel to stop its plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and its primary school following the visit to the village by the Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt last week.

The Israeli High Court gave the go-ahead for demolition from the start of June but nearly 60 UK MPs have visited the village and 67 have so far signed Early Day Motion 1167 which calls on the UK to put meaningful pressure on the Israeli government to abandon its plans.

 

Highlights from the House of Lords debate on Palestine

David Steel, Lord Steel of Aikwood

Thursday June 7 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu …. has allied himself to the most reactionary forces in the Knesset and come close to destroying any hopes of such an outcome with the growing illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the construction of the wall, routed in places condemned even by the Israeli courts, and the encouragement of Donald Trump’s opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.

It was that last event that provoked the mass demonstration at the Gaza fence, dealt with not by water cannon but with live ammunition from the Israel Defense Forces. That resulted not only in the deaths that I mentioned but in over 3,600 people being injured. One Israeli soldier was wounded. According ​to the World Health Organization, 245 health personnel were injured and 40 ambulances were hit.

Last week, Razan al-Najjar, a 21 year-old female volunteer first responder, was killed while carrying out her work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She was clearly wearing first-responder clothing at the time. In the meantime, the Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, one of the reactionaries to whom I referred a moment ago, has declared that there are “no innocent people” in Gaza, while an UNRWA report declares that the blockade situation is so bad that Gaza is becoming unliveable in.

I do not know whether the Israeli Government know or care about how low they have sunk in world esteem.

I spent some years active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Only much later did I realise one noted fact about those who had led the white population’s opposition to apartheid—my dear friend Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Harry Oppenheimer, Hilda Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, Helen Joseph, Joe Slovo and so many others were predominantly Jewish—which was that they knew where doctrines of racial superiority ultimately and tragically led. I rather hope that the recent slaughter in Gaza will awaken the international conscience to resolute action in the same way that the Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign by anti-apartheid forces worldwide.

The Israeli Government hate that comparison, pointing to the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or sit in the Knesset, but on visits to that beautiful and successful country one cannot help noticing not just the wall but the roads in the West Bank which are usable only by Israelis, just as facilities in the old South Africa were reserved for whites only.

We are entitled to ask the Minister to convey to the Prime Minister that she needs to be more forceful, honest and frank when she next meets Mr Netanyahu. Yesterday’s Downing Street briefing said she had, “been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives”, which surely falls into the description of a continuing limp response.

We cannot allow the Israeli Government to treat Palestinian lives as inferior to their own, which is what they consistently do. That is why our Government should not only support the two-state solution, but register our determination and disapproval of their conduct by accepting the decisions of both Houses of our Parliament and indeed the European Parliament and recognise the state of Palestine without further delay.

Michael Ancram, Lord Lothian

We owe our friends our honesty. Over the years, I have often praised Israel and the Israeli people, for whom I have great admiration. But Israeli actions against the Palestinians, which are legally and morally wrong, should be condemned. It cannot be morally or legally right to lay claim to parts of someone else’s territory by building settlements on it or by building a wall across it, which effectively creates a new territorial border.

Nor is it right, with or without ill-judged United States’ support, unilaterally to proclaim the whole of Jerusalem the capital of Israel, in the process striking a vicious blow to the search for a two-state solution. Nor is it enough to pray national security requirements in aid of otherwise illegal or immoral acts. No level of threat from Palestinian protests on the border of Gaza can excuse the killing of innocent children or medical staff, as Lord Steel referred to. Nor can the disproportionate and one-sided shooting of some 70 Palestinian protesters on that same border be anything other than totally unacceptable.

What worries me is the West’s reaction: concern, yes, but condemnation, no. I do not believe that it does anyone any favours to stay our tongue. Perhaps I may say to my friend the Minister that I do not believe it is enough to call them either disappointing or disturbing. I have long been a friend of Israel and I remain a friend because I believe in it, but I have no hesitation in condemning its recent behaviour. Equally, I condemn unprovoked acts of violence by those who oppose Israel, but many of them cannot be in the same category of friendship as Israel is to us. Democratic Israel should know better than what it is doing at the moment.

Just as I am a friend of Israel, I am a friend of Palestine. Just as I believe in Israel, I believe without qualification in the statehood of Palestine. I believe in a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent Palestine. In short, I believe in the two-state solution because I can see no other lasting or fair alternative. But it must be based on fairness, and fairness to the Palestinians is today in very short supply.

Former Middle East minister Peter Hain

If Israel’s relentless expansion into Palestinian territories cannot be stopped, we face one of two possible outcomes. The first is that all Palestinian presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem remains in a permanent and ever more formalised “Bantustan” status; islands of minimal self-governance with the continued denial of basic rights, facing perpetual insecurity and possible future physical removal, deprived of full access to water and subject to all manner of restrictions on land rights and free transport across their own territory. The second is that they are absorbed into a common Israeli-Palestinian state with the opportunity for pluralism and human rights advancement.

Tense and difficult though the current standoff may be for Israel, it is not going to be defeated and therefore holds the stronger hand. Would Palestinians, absorbed into their traditional homeland, albeit alongside Jewish citizens with a narrow majority over them, drop their historic grievance and quickly adjust to the new reality? That is optimistic to say the least. But if the window for the two-state solution has indeed closed, should the EU, the US and the UK make it plain to Israel that a one-state alternative may be the only one available to ensure its own security?

If so, what guarantees might there be for Jewish citizens both within Israel and worldwide if they agree to this merger? Could the Arab nations join those in the West like the US and the UK to provide the post-World War Two guarantee of “never again”? Could a federal or confederal state provide a way forward, with common security, a unified economy, common civil rights and guarantees of religious freedom for Jews and Muslims, but considerable political autonomy for the territories within it of “Israel” and “Palestine”?

Is it not the blunt truth that we must either undertake a massive social and geographical reverse engineering to re-enable a genuine two-state outcome, with two sovereign independent states based on 1967 lines with equal land swaps—and without all the unreasonable Israeli caveats that drain the Palestinian state of any real meaning—or recognise a common-state reality and make it truly democratic, with enfranchisement and rights for all?

I am making a plea for honesty because it seems that the international community is publicly sheltering behind the policy of a two-state solution, while privately knowing that it has become a convenient mantra rather than a deliverable policy.​

Baroness Sheehan (LD)

Let us start with the Israeli Government. Their actions include: the demolition of homes for which planning permission was repeatedly sought but not granted by the Israeli authorities; the demolition of schools; forcible transfers; illegal settlements on occupied land; the forced evacuation of Palestinian villages such as Khan al-Ahmar, which is under daily threat; the confiscation of land in occupied territory; and collective punishment. The Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, claimed that, “there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip”, which has a population of 2 million.

I ask three things: the Government should recognise the state of Palestine, with no more prevarication; support the UNOCHA humanitarian funding appeal for Gaza and help make up UNWRA’s shortfall since the US’s shameful pulling of support; and, lastly, pursue accountability for all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as violations of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Former Middle East minister Richard Luce, Lord Luce (CB)

We have a major responsibility to keep the flames of hope alive. That is our role. We helped to build and recognise Israel in 1948; we must now work vigorously to recognise a new Palestine. That is not happening at the moment. We must certainly do everything multilaterally, working with other countries such as France, Germany and elsewhere to ensure that all the Security Council resolutions are not eroded but maintained, including Resolution 242.

Lastly, we must prepare the ground for the recognition of a Palestinian state. I see no alternative to our leading the international community towards helping to create conditions among the Palestinians that mean they are more unified and we can recognise them internationally. It was a great Finnish mediator for the UN who said:​ “Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal”.

It might help, however, if some leaders of the quality and vision of Mandela and de Klerk emerged to help the process forward.

Lord Cope of Berkeley (Con)

It would perhaps have been best if we had been able to recognise Palestine at the time we recognised Israel. That was, after all, the start of the two-state solution, when the United Nations set it down. It had been discussed a great deal but that is when it was first laid down by the UN. The two-state solution has existed since then and it goes on from there.

However, the reasons I support recognition now are not merely historical. The two-state solution, as has been said by Lord Hain, is at risk because of the huge amount of Israeli building and development in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and because of the ruthless and brutal nature of the occupation, both generally and particularly, of course, in Gaza. The United States has long helped Israel ride roughshod over the United Nations’ authority in that part of the world, and now President Trump and his Administration have broken ranks again by moving the United States embassy. Peace can come only by wide agreement, and in my view British recognition of Palestine would help to redress the balance between the two and change the terms of the argument.

As a matter of fact, it is the symbolism of this that matters most—as it was, indeed, with the recognition of Israel all those years ago. It is the symbolism of moving the embassy that matters most. The present symbolism is of the United Kingdom refusing to recognise Palestine, which 130 out of 193 members of the United Nations have done. Palestine, after all, is a country which Britain told the Security Council in 2011 had developed the capacity to run a state; we said that that was the best way for it to live in peace with Israel. Above all, recognition would give the Palestinians hope.

So we in the United Kingdom should not simply go round and round the old arguments, deploring the killings, the fighting, the settlements and so on. We should do what we can to move it all forward. We should recognise Palestine as soon as we can.​

Lord Ahmed (Non-Afl)

I join other Lords who have asked Her Majesty’s Government to recognise Palestine as a state alongside the state of Israel, which was promised by the British Government 68 years ago; to call for an end to Israeli settlements and support the right of return; to stop selling arms to Israel that are then used to kill Palestinian men, women and children; to ban British citizens from serving in the Israeli Defence Force; and to stop abstaining from UN and UN Commission on Human Rights resolutions supporting values that we claim are dear to us in this country. The UK Government need to stop treating the Israeli state as if it has some unique right that means it can do what it wants when it wants, including killing and maiming innocent children and women.

Hugh Dykes, jLord Dykes (CB)

We have the two worst leading politicians in Israeli history dealing with this matter. Netanyahu is a hopeless Prime Minister, despite all the publicity that he gets and the glowing support for him from right-wing extremists in Israel. There is a growing number of the latter at the moment, which is a disturbing factor in an otherwise very tolerant and fair-minded country that I always enjoyed visiting, although I must say I do not like going there very much at the moment. Meanwhile I believe I am right that Mr Lieberman is the only Foreign Minister to live in a foreign country; he actually lives in the Palestine Occupied Territories, occupied illegally because the United States has now imposed 37 vetoes allowing Israel to ignore international law, disagree with the international community and do what it likes.

This cannot go on. It is not right for Israel to think that this is a good policy. Israel will suffer as well as this goes on and gets worse. Arab and other countries in the Middle East have different views about these matters and want some action on Israel so that there are proper negotiations. It can be done.

Where is the de Gaulle in Israel? Where is the Rabin? What a tragedy that he was murdered, as Lord Steel said. Where is the de Klerk or the Nelson Mandela? There is no leadership of that quality yet, but it will come as the Israeli public wake up and improve their electoral system, which is very flawed and seriously adds to the extremism of the present political process in Israel in a very disturbing way. It can be done: the will is there. The United Nations must be allowed to ask the international community to respond properly and faithfully in this case.

Lord Polak (Con)

I refer the House to my non-financial interest as president of Conservative Friends of Israel.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Ali Jafar from al-Sawahera, near Ramallah. He had just completed his shift as a senior manager at SodaStream at Idan Hanegev industrial park close to Rahat in southern Israel. The factory was moved due to the pressure of the need to expand coupled with the pressure mounted by the BDS campaign, because Mishor Adumin is in the disputed territories.

Peace between Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab states could be had on the basis of the formation of a Palestinian state with expanded access to the Temple Mount. Most experts agree that no true peace can be achieved without a long-term agreement for the Temple Mount. The goal would be that Israel would grant Muslims permanent access to and building rights on most of the Temple Mount, and the Jews be granted permanent access to and building rights on a much smaller portion of the Temple Mount itself.

Former ambassador Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)

Israel’s wisest Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, used often to say that the Palestinians, “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, in the search for peace. For a long time, he was quite right but, now, that affliction has fallen on the Israelis themselves. As, by a long way, the most powerful state in the region, with improving relations with important Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Israelis could now move towards a two-state solution from a position of strength.

What can be done? I make no apology for revisiting the recommendation of your Lordships’ International Relations Committee that the UK should recognise the state of Palestine. In that way at least we could demonstrate that we would not accept anything that fell short of a two-state solution. I know the Government’s response by heart, that this will only occur as part of a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israel dispute. Indeed, I know it so well by heart that I used to use it when I was a working diplomat, and that was 23 years ago. That position had some credibility when there was an active peace process in being; today it has zero credibility and it is a shame that we are still deploying it.​

Baroness Morris of Bolton (Con)

The Palestinians in Gaza have every right to protest against the circumstances in which they live. With over half the population living in poverty and with chronic unemployment, they suffer food and water shortages, only four hours of electricity a day, shortage of medicines and, too many times, denial to leave Gaza for cancer treatment or to accompany their children to hospitals elsewhere. Despite being well educated, entrepreneurial, resourceful, resilient and just decent, good people, they are powerless to change these circumstances, because they are not in control of their own destiny.

Palestinians in Gaza and throughout the Occupied Territories simply long to enjoy the civil rights which we all take for granted and the freedom to live ordinary lives. Recognition of the state of Palestine would be the  first step in that long journey.

Former MEP Sarah Ludford, Baroness Ludford (LD)

As a staunch friend of Israel, and vice president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, I am adamant that Israel’s long-term security depends on achieving a just settlement with the Palestinians. Israel cannot be a healthy democracy when it lives alongside poverty, misery and despair and occupies the territory of a resentful people. A colonial occupation morally demeans Israel as well as harming Palestinians, so Israel needs a Palestinian state—but preferably as a result of a political negotiation.

While I have no problem in principle with unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, I never get an answer when I ask how that helps to catalyse the final-status talks.

Lord Warner (CB)

After a decade of blockade, Gaza remains an open-air prison—David Cameron’s description, I think—that was described by the UN as unliveable in. Half this prison population are children, who live without hope, and unemployment is at about 45%. Water is undrinkable and raw sewage pours into the sea. The great majority of people live on humanitarian aid. If they are lucky, they have four hours or so of electricity a day. The head of Israeli military intelligence, Herzl Halevi, has warned his Government that Gaza will “blow up” eventually.​

Despite Gaza’s grim situation, the protests around Nakba Day on 15 May were relatively moderate. In so far as any protesters were armed, it was with catapults and stones, some Molotov cocktails, admittedly, and a few flaming kites. At a press conference on 10 May, the Hamas leadership congratulated its personnel on abstaining from gunfire—a rare event. It seems that only one Israeli soldier was injured. On the evidence available, little attempt was made to disperse protesters by non-lethal means such as tear gas or water cannon. In that situation, the Israeli military behaved like people auditioning for a Sam Peckinpah film, killing at least 50 Palestinians and probably more. Estimates vary upwards from 60 to 100 and include about 10 children. Many of those killed were shot in the back while running away or had their hands up. On Israeli intelligence’s own assessment, fewer than half of those killed were said to be, to use its own term, “Hamas militants”—whatever that means.

In addition, it was claimed by Time magazine in its edition of 28 May that “Israeli soldiers methodically cut down some 2,700 Palestinians”.

Palestinian lives now have a very low value for many Israelis. To many outsiders, Israeli soldiers look a bit like James Bond and seem to be licensed to kill by their political and military command structures. Those in authority politically know only too well that they face no effective deterrent response from the Governments of the US, the UK, Europe or other Arab countries. As Lord Steel said, the UK Government should now follow Parliament’s lead and recognise a Palestinian state as a response to this latest Israeli outrage.

Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)

Although I welcome yesterday’s report that our Prime Minister has raised concerns with the Israeli Prime Minister about the state-perpetrated and indiscriminate ​violence by Israeli forces against unarmed women and child protesters, I cannot fathom why the UK Government abstained last month in a crucial vote on the UN Human Rights Council resolution seeking an independent investigation following the killing of an estimated 110 unarmed Palestinian protesters and the injuring of more than 12,000.

The abstention by our Government was utterly unjustified. It was said to be on the basis that the investigation would not include an investigation into the actions of what they referred to as “non-state actors”—Hamas. Our Government must surely be aware that such a request for an extension to the terms of the investigation to include Hamas will be seen simply as an irrelevant, politically driven diversion to avoid accountability, and that Britain will be seen only as safeguarding Israel and being devoid of any care for the plight of Palestinian people.

Given that Israel appears on our list of countries with a human rights record “of significant concern”, is it not time for Britain to review its position on selling arms to Israel, which is at odds with our laws and our fundamental British value of protecting innocent citizens globally?

Will the Government condemn outright Israel’s announcement this week that it intends to build 3,900 new illegal-settlement homes on the West Bank? It is worth noting that one of our own Ministers, Sir Alan Duncan, last year claimed that the West Bank settlements were a “wicked cocktail” of illegality and occupation, and that those who supported them should be barred from public office?

The Earl of Sandwich (CB)

We cannot expect the people of Gaza to tolerate, as they have, such disproportionate and destructive action for much longer. Many people in Israel too are demanding a rethink of policy, whether it is a two-state or a single-state solution, and I hope that our Government are rethinking their own interpretation of Balfour and what that might mean for a new state of Palestine.

Frank Judd, Lord Judd (Lab)

We cannot escape the issue of Jerusalem and the provocative action by the President of the United States which was designed to destabilise the region. I am convinced that we have to stay with the two-state approach, but if we are to do that, the recognition of Palestine cannot be delayed. It is absolutely imperative that if we mean what we say about a two-state solution, and if we really respect the Palestinian people, we have to give them equal status with the people of Israel, and that involves recognition.

Jenny Tonge, Baroness Tonge (Non-Afl)

It is some 50 years since the Six Day War, when the intentions of the Zionist movement became clear: to carry on expelling and killing Palestinians, and grabbing their land and their homes until the ambition of a greater Israel is achieved from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. It is not fooling us any longer.

Our Government have stood by feebly, often abstaining on UN resolutions while slaughter and dispossession continue, bleating about a two-state solution and refusing ​to recognise the state of Palestine. We recognise Israel, of course we do, but which Israel is that? Where are its borders? What are we recognising? If that is the excuse for not recognising the state of Palestine, it applies to both states, and both states should be recognised as soon as possible, as many Lords have said.

The most recent excuse given by the Government for abstaining from UN resolutions and taking no action against the Israeli Government is, of course, the activities of Hamas. Most recently, our Government would not condemn Israel for the killings during the “Great March of Return” in Gaza because Hamas might have had a hand in it. Slings and stones were used against one of the strongest armies in the world with a nuclear arsenal. The Israel Defense Forces were shooting indiscriminately at children and medical personnel, as well as other Gazan people. Shame on them and shame on us for not reacting.

Bruce Grocott, Lord Grocott (Lab)

My memory in Parliament does not go back as far as David Steel’s —although I speak from 40 years of experience. Overwhelmingly, debates 40 years ago did not recognise the rights of the ​Palestinian people. Most of them were described as terrorists for wanting a Palestinian state. This time, the position has been dramatically reversed.

I have noted that as the speeches have gone along. By my reckoning, 17 of the 25 speeches so far have been massively understanding of the unremitting plight of the Palestinians. In the four minutes I have, my message is this: something has to change.

With great respect, I am afraid that I know what the Minister will say: that he supports the two-state solution, condemns violence on both sides and wants to support the Middle East peace process. I have read those words from where he is sitting from time to time over the years, but something must change.

What can the British Government do? Things are not static; they are getting inexorably worse. Israelis ask why the world picks on them, but when states occupy neighbouring states, the international community takes action, by and large—it certainly did when Russia was occupying neighbouring states—but 50 years down the track I can see no such action here, other than people saying, “Please don’t build these settlements”. Well, the Israelis have long since not bothered to take much notice of that.

We can do one thing, which the International Relations Committee recommended. We could be just one country, among the 136 states of the United Nations, or 70% of its membership—although we not among them at the moment—that recognise a state of Palestine. We will take as read the Minister’s commitment to the two-state solution and the condemnation of the settlements, but I ask him—I know that he cannot do this on his own authority, but perhaps he can with the rest of the Front Bench—to listen to the many voices in this House asking him to give the Palestinians, amidst all the suffering and bloodshed, the dignity of hearing that we recognise their right to a state and will join forces with the vast majority, and increasing number, of UN states that know that this is the right and proper thing to do.​

Baroness Meacher (CB)

I assert that concern for the people of Palestine is entirely legitimate. It is quite strange that one feels a sense that one needs to say that. It is shocking that anyone who expresses such concerns is dismissed by some as anti-Semitic. Some of the people I most admire in this House and in the wider world are Jewish. I am no anti-Semite. However, as a supporter of human rights and fair treatment of all people, I strongly support the substantial minority of Israeli citizens who are profoundly embarrassed and, indeed, profoundly angered year on year by the unlawful and cruel behaviour of their Government.

The UK, of course, has a huge responsibility for the unfolding disaster in the Palestinian lands. We need to remind ourselves, as others have done, of the British commitment to the Palestinian people at the time of the Balfour Declaration. We know that Commander Hogarth was sent to Jordan to provide assurances to King Hussein. Commander Hogarth’s assurances will have been quoted in this House many times over the years, but I will quote them again. The UK said at the time that, “we are determined that no people shall be subject to another”.

Britain supported the right of the Jews to go to Palestine, but only in so far as this was compatible with the freedom of the existing population, both economic and political.

As a British person, if I am honest, I feel ashamed of my country for our treatment of the Palestinian people at the outset of this saga. One entirely cost-free action, as others have said, would be the recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

There are overwhelming reasons for us to take that action. Parliament voted in favour of recognition of Palestine by 274 votes to 14 in October 2014. Why did we not honour that commitment by our Parliament at that time? More than 136 of the 193 UN member states already recognise Palestine. When we recognise Palestine, the remaining European laggard countries may well join us.

The recognition of Palestine has become urgent to sustain the two-state solution, which, as many Lords have said, is being eroded before our eyes by illegal settlement expansion on an unprecedented scale. ​The US is no longer a reputable international player while the current President remains in office. The role of Europe has become far more important than ever before.

Our Government consistently condemn the settlements but up to now have taken no meaningful action. Again, recognition of Palestine would send a very strong signal to Israel’s Government: get on and sort out the two-state solution. I urge the Minister to support the call of Lord Steel of Aikwood, for UK recognition of Palestine without further delay.

Baroness Northover (LD)

One strong recommendation has emerged in this debate: that one step towards establishing that two-state solution must be to recognise Palestine. I urge the Minister to get the UK Government to do what 130 other Governments around the world have done; that is, to recognise the state of Palestine, This is my party’s position after much fiercely argued debate. I know the government formulation, as I used it in the coalition: “when the time is right”.

When my friend Lord Steel describes the language as weak, the Minister will understand; I have seen his wry smile and that of his officials, to whom I know I should not refer. Sir Vincent Fean, Britain’s official representative to the Palestinian Authority until he retired in 2014, has said that, “the time is right for the United Kingdom to recognise the state of Palestine … If we choose to act decisively, we change the dynamic in the EU and at the UN … a further abstention is abdicating responsibility”.

The region is a tinderbox—we have often said that. Syria, the outflow of refugees into neighbouring states which have supported Palestinian refugees for decades, the instability across the MENA region, the pulling of the rug from the Iran nuclear deal, unpredictability in Saudi Arabia, the blockade of Qatar: all should concern us.

As Lord Luce, pointed out, the US has abdicated its position as a mediator. President Trump cannot act as an honest broker in this situation, capable of delivering a two-state solution. Indeed, the Vice-President, Mike Pence, has said publicly that, “we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides … America’s on the side of Israel”.

Surely Lord Luce, is right when he argues that it is in everyone’s interest that European countries take the lead. Lord Hannay made the point that Europe has the most to lose and the most to gain from such engagement. There is often in these debates an element of whataboutery. It is because of that that we need international engagement that is not partisan, as the US has now declared itself to be.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)

The UK Government have said that they fully support the need for an independent investigation into the Gaza protests and the response to them. Yet during the United Nations Human Rights Council session last month, the UK abstained from calls for a commission of inquiry, arguing that the substance of the resolution was not impartial and balanced.

The UK’s response now is to call directly on Israel to carry out a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border fence, to ensure its independence, to make its findings public and, if wrongdoing is found, to hold those responsible to account. I ask the Minister: did the Prime Minister raise this call with Mr Netanyahu this week and what was his response?

It is appalling that the Trump Administration have chosen this critical moment to halve their funding of UNRWA. Its budget last year was $760 million and, as a direct result of its work, tens of thousands of children in Gaza received schooling and tens of thousands of their parents received healthcare that would not otherwise have been ​available to them. Others have tried to plug the gap, including the Saudis, but when all they can offer are one-off contributions the funding crisis is only delayed rather than stopped.

That is why Labour calls on the Government to take the lead in a longer-term solution by initiating a special global funding conference such as those held in response to humanitarian emergencies—the difference in this case being that we must not wait for the emergency to strike before acting.

I am a patron of Labour Friends of Israel; there is no doubt that Israel has a right to defend itself. The role of Hamas has certainly not helped that situation but a two-state solution is the only way forward, which is why the Labour Party completely supports it. I totally accept the need for action more than simply words.

It is the Labour Party’s policy, if elected, to recognise the state of Palestine immediately. I wish the Israeli Government would do the same. It would go a long way towards building a two-state solution in the region. My question to the Minister is: why do the Government not recognise Palestine now—and if not, when?

Minister for Human Rights, Lord Ahmad (Con)

The UK and the Government remain committed to supporting a negotiated peace settlement that leads to that viable, sovereign and stable Palestinian state, living alongside a safe, secure, prosperous and progressive Israel. Indeed, those adjectives we use for either side apply to both. The Government remain committed to the two-state solution as the best way to bring about stability and peace in the region and to realise the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.

We believe that the occupation in the Palestinian Territories is unacceptable and unsustainable. Anyone who has visited Israel and Palestine would make that assessment. A just and lasting resolution that ends occupation and delivers peace for both Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue.

The recognition of the Palestinian state was raised by many Lords. It is important that we see the creation of a sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state. Our commitment to that vision is why the UK has been a leading donor, as many Lords have acknowledged, to the Palestinian Authority and such a strong supporter of the state-building efforts.

I listened carefully to the contribution of Lord Grocott, who said he had had sight of my notes in the response I would give on recognition. The position of the Government, of course, remains the same at this time: we will formally recognise the state of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace.

I am the Minister for Human Rights, among my other responsibilities at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I have listened very attentively to the expressions and sentiments of your Lordships’ House in what I believe has been a very meaningful and constructive ​debate: those sentiments have registered quite significantly. Recent events have prompted the tabling of this debate, and the events in Gaza are a case in point—the shocking violence at the border in mid-May, which tragically resulted in many Palestinian deaths and injuries, and the barrage of rocket attacks last week from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians.

Arms exports

On our arms policy, we always ensure that the most rigid processes are applied in terms of arms sales, not just to Israel but to other countries. We also seek those assurances when we are negotiating any deals we have with international partners.

UK abstention at Human Rights Council

We listened very carefully to the debate which ensued and the reason we took the decision to abstain was that we did not feel that the resolution was balanced. It did not call for an investigation into the action of non-state actors. We are supporters of the Human Rights Council and continue to support the inquiry in this respect. The detail is still being worked through by the Human Rights Council.

Killing of Palestinian medic

On the specific case of Razan Al-Najjar, the medic who was serving in the Territories, in Gaza, raised by Baroness Sheehan, Lord Ahmed and the Earl, Lord Sandwich, among others, I stand with all Lords in decrying any loss of innocent life anywhere in the world—Gaza is no exception—particularly those medics who put themselves in the line of fire. We stand together in solidarity in recognising their service and, in the case of Razan, her ultimate sacrifice. I assure Lords that in the meeting between Prime Ministers May and Netanyahu issues around Gaza were specifically raised.

​We understand there was a preliminary Israeli military investigation into this, but yesterday the Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s support for an independent, transparent investigation into events in Gaza during her meeting. The Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Warner, and Baroness Northover, all spoke of its importance. The Human Rights Council has made this resolution, as I said earlier, about a commission. While the UK is not required formally to take any further action, as a supporter of the commission’s inquiry in general we will encourage parties to engage constructively with the Human Rights Council and all its mechanisms and processes.

Referral to Criminal Court

We respect the independence of the prosecutor and her role in undertaking a preliminary examination into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. On 8 April, the prosecutor made a statement explaining that recent events and any future incidents may fall within the scope of this preliminary examination. In any event the UK fully supports and recognises the need for an independent and transparent investigation into the events that have taken place in recent weeks, including the extent to which Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement are in line with international law, and the role that Hamas played in the events.

Occupation and settlements

The UK Government consider Israeli settlement activity illegal under international law. Just last month the Israeli Government announced they are advancing plans to construct over 3,100 new settlement units, many deep within the West Bank. These include 120 housing units in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, and over 90 units in the settlement of Kfar Adumim next door to Khan Al-Ahmar. As the Foreign Secretary made clear in his Statement, the UK is gravely concerned about further settlement in the West Bank. We urge the Israeli authorities to reconsider plans that undermine prospects for a two-state solution. Indeed, I made a point, when I visited Israel and Palestine, to visit one of these Bedouin camps.

I raised our concerns about the occupation when I met the Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, in April. The Minister for the Middle East raised his concerns with his Israeli counterparts during his visit last week, and the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister ​have also made clear the UK’s opposition to the policy of settlement expansion to Prime Minister Netanyahu during meetings this week.

We have also repeatedly made it clear that we consider the demolition of Palestinian structures in the West Bank to be entirely unacceptable. In all but the most exceptional cases, demolitions are totally contrary to international humanitarian law. Every single demolition, or eviction of a Palestinian family from their home causes unnecessary suffering and calls into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution.

Demolition off Khan al Ahmar

The Government are particularly concerned by the imminent threat of demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar. This would pave the way for future settlement expansion in E1, directly threatening a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital. This community has lived there peacefully for many decades. We believe that demolishing the village is unnecessary and not the way to treat people with whom you want to live in peace.

The UK has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities not to go ahead with these plans. The Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, visited Khan Al-Ahmar just last week, spoke about his concerns publicly in media engagements and raised them with Deputy Foreign Minister Hotovely.

The Foreign Secretary released a strong statement setting out the UK’s position. Once again, we urge Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and stop its plans to demolish the community of Khan al-Ahmar.