Boris admits ‘huge suffering’ among Palestinians, but time ‘not ripe’

Monday October 30

The Foreign Secretary told the Commons that huge numbers of Palestinians have suffered and lost their homes at the hands of the Israeli government, but the time was not ripe for action.

Making a statement on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the letter from a British foreign secretary that led to the foundation of Israel, Boris Johnson rejected calls for immediate recognition of the state of Palestine.

“We must in time recognise a Palestinian state,” he told MPs, but “the moment is not right yet to play that card. After all, it is not something we can do more than once: that card having been played, that will be it.”

He was responding to Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry who had told him there was “no better way of marking the Balfour centenary than to recognise the state of Palestine”.

She reminded him that it has been the policy of his government for nearly six years – since November 2011 – to recognise Palestine “at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help to bring about peace”. “If not now,” she asked him, “when?”

She was supported by the SNP’s Chris Law, who called on him to open an embassy in Palestine, and Conservative former foreign office minister Sir Hugo Swire who called on him”finally to recognise the state of Palestine”.

Layla Moran, the new Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West who is of Palestinian heritage, said “the Foreign Secretary speaks of playing a card, but this is not a game. Recognition is not something to be bestowed; it is something that the Palestinians should just have.”

Grahame Morris, the MP who chairs Labour Friends of Palestine and who won the 274-12 Commons vote in favour of recognition, called on the Foreign Secretary to go to the next stage and end UK trade with illegal settlements.

Boris Johnson admitted that the Balfour promise was conditional, offering support for a national home for Jewish people but only if it could be achieved without prejudicing the civil and religious rights of the Palestinians.

He also admitted that the Balfour declaration was deficient. “It should have spoken of political rights” (rather than just civil and religious rights), “and it should have identified the Palestinian people” (rather than just referred to the ‘existing non-Jewish population’ of a country that was then 90% Palestinian Arab).

It was a tacit acceptance that the Balfour promise will remain unfulfilled until the 6 million Palestinians in Israel/Palestine have equal political rights to the 6 million Jewish Israelis – a prospect which looked as distant at the end of his speech as at the beginning.

He dismissed the idea of economic pressure on Israel citing the argument last heard in the apartheid era that “the biggest losers would be Palestinian workers who benefit immensely from the economic activity generated by Israeli companies”.

And his admission that the experience of many Palestinians was – and still is – “tragic” makes one wonder it will take to persuade him to finally take the first small step on the road to justice by adding the UK’s name to the list of 138 counties that already recognise the state of Palestine.

He ended with a flourish, promising “to make sure that Balfour does not remain unfinished business”. But although he “wanted” to recognise a Palestinian state, “we judge that the moment to do that is not yet ripe”.


Mark Balfour centenary by recognising Palestine, says Thornberry

Balfour Declaration statement in House of Commons

30 October 2017
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Boris Johnson)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Balfour declaration—issued on 2 November 1917 by my predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour—and its legacy today.
As the British Army advanced towards Jerusalem in the last 12 months of the first world war, with the aim of breaking the Ottoman empire’s grip on the Middle East, the Government published their policy concerning the territory that would become the British mandate for Palestine. The House will recall the material sentence of the Balfour declaration:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
A century after those words were written, I believe that the Balfour declaration paved the way for the birth of a great nation. The state of Israel has prevailed over every obstacle, from the harshness of nature to the visceral hostility of its enemies, to become a free society with a thriving and innovative economy and the same essential values that we in Britain hold dear. Liberty, democracy and the rule of law have found a home in Israel—more so than anywhere else in the Middle East. Most of all, there is the incontestable moral purpose of Israel to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland.
We should not brush aside how the pernicious extent of anti-Semitism in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—decades before the holocaust—created the necessity for the Balfour declaration. It was in 1881 that the most powerful adviser at the court of Tsar Alexander II vowed that one third of Russian Jews would be forced to convert, one third would emigrate and the remainder would be left to starve. The moral case for establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” was to provide a haven from such horrors. So Her Majesty’s Government are proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel, and we shall mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration on Thursday in that spirit.
I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel and a believer in that country’s destiny while also being profoundly moved by the suffering of those who were affected and dislodged by its birth. That vital caveat in the Balfour declaration—intended to safeguard the rights of other communities, by which, of course, we mean the Palestinians —has not been fully realised. In the words of Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, the tragedy of this conflict is not that it is a clash between right and wrong, but rather a
“clash between right and right”.
The Government believe that the only way of bringing peace is through a two-state solution, defined as a secure Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, standing alongside a viable, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state, the homeland for the Palestinian people, as envisaged by UN General Assembly resolution 181. For Israel, the birth of a Palestinian state would safeguard its demographic ​future as a Jewish democracy. For Palestinians, a state of their own would allow them to realise their aspirations for self-determination and self-government.
When the parties held their first peace conference in Madrid in 1991, the leader of the Palestinian delegation, Haidar Abdul Shafi, described those aspirations as follows:
“We seek neither an admission of guilt after the fact, nor vengeance for past iniquities, but rather an act of will that would make a just peace a reality.”
I believe that a just peace will be a reality when two states for two peoples co-exist in the Holy Land, and that is the goal we must strive to bring about.
The House knows the troubled history of the peace process so far. The truth is that no direct talks have taken place between the parties since 2014. But the US Administration have shown their commitment to breaking the deadlock, and a new American envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has made repeated visits to the region. The Government will of course support these efforts in whatever way we can, and we urge the parties to refrain from acting in ways that make the goal of two states ever harder to achieve. For Israelis, that means halting settlement activity in the occupied territories. The pace of construction has regrettably accelerated, notably with the approval of the first new housing units in Hebron for 15 years and the first completely new settlement in the West Bank since 1999. For Palestinians, it means restoring full counter-terrorism co-operation with Israel, in line with UN resolution 2334, and implementing the recommendations of the Quartet report on curbing incitement.
Britain is one of the largest donors to the Palestinian Authority, with the primary aim of strengthening the institutions that would form the basis of any future Palestinian state. It may be helpful for the House if I set out the Government’s view of a fair compromise between the parties. The borders between the two states should be based on the lines as they stood on 4 June 1967—the eve of the six-day war—with equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interests of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. There must be security arrangements that, for Israelis, prevent the resurgence of terrorism; and, for Palestinians, respect their sovereignty, ensure freedom of movement, and demonstrate that occupation is over. There needs to be a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question, in line with UN resolution 1515. In practice, this means that any such agreement must be demographically compatible with two states for two peoples and a generous package of international compensation should be made available. The final determination of Jerusalem must be agreed by the parties, ensuring that the holy city is a shared capital of Israel and a Palestinian state, granting access and religious rights for all who hold it dear.
This vision of a just settlement finds its roots in another British-drafted document: UN resolution 242, adopted 50 years ago this November, which enshrines the principle of land for peace based on the 1967 lines. That essential principle has inspired every serious effort to resolve this conflict—from the Camp David peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt almost 40 years ago, to the Arab peace initiative first placed on the table in 2002, which offers normal relations with Israel in return for an end to occupation.​
I believe that the goal of two states is still achievable, and that with ingenuity and good will, the map of the Holy Land can be configured in ways that meet the aspirations of both parties. A century after the Balfour declaration helped to create the state of Israel—an achievement that no one in this House would wish to undo—there is unfinished business and work to be done. We in this country, mindful of our historic role, and co-operating closely with our allies, will not shirk from that challenge. I commend this statement to the House.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. As we approach the centenary of the Balfour declaration, Labour Members are glad to join him in commemorating that historic anniversary and expressing once again our continued support for the state of Israel.
In 1918, Labour’s first Cabinet Minister, Arthur Henderson, said:
“The British Labour Party believes that the responsibility of the British people in Palestine should be fulfilled to the utmost of their power…to ensure the economic prosperity, political autonomy and spiritual freedom of both the Jews and Arabs in Palestine.”
The Labour party has adopted that position, not least in recognition of the egalitarian goals that inspired the early pioneers of the Israeli state. We think, in particular, of the kibbutz movement—a group of people dedicated to establishing a more egalitarian society free from the prejudice and persecution that they had experienced in their home countries. Even today, despite the challenges that I will address in respect of its relationship with the Palestinian people, modern Israel still stands out for its commitment to egalitarianism—in particular, its commitment to women and LGBT communities in a region where these groups are far too often subject to fierce discrimination.
Today, it is right to think about the successes of Israel, but we must also be aware that 100 years on, the promise in the Balfour letter cited by the Foreign Secretary—that
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”—
remains unfulfilled, and we have more to do. I urge the Foreign Secretary to take the opportunity of the centenary to reflect once again on Britain’s role in the region, as his predecessor did 100 years ago, and ask whether we could do more to bring about lasting peace and stability in the Middle East. Can we do more to ensure that the political rights, as well as the civil and religious rights, of Palestinian people are protected, just as Mr Balfour intended all those years ago?
On that point, as the Foreign Secretary well knows, I believe that there is no better or more symbolic way of marking the Balfour centenary than for the UK officially to recognise the state of Palestine. We have just heard the Foreign Secretary talk in explicit terms about the benefits for both Israel and Palestine that the birth of Palestinian statehood would bring. Surely we can play more of a part in delivering that by formally recognising the Palestinian state.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that in 2011, one of his other predecessors, William Hague, said:
“We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state…at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help to bring about peace.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 290.]
Almost six years have passed since that statement—six years in which the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories has become ever more desperate, six years in which the cycle of violence has continued unabated and the people of Israel remain at daily risk from random acts of terror, six years in which the pace of settlement building and the displacement of Palestinian people have increased, and six years in which moves towards a lasting peace have ground to a halt.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House today whether the Government still plan to recognise the state of Palestine and, if not now, when? Conversely, if they no longer have such plans, can the Foreign Secretary tell us why things have changed?

He will remember that on 13 October 2014, the House stated that the Palestinian state should be recognised. The anniversary of the Balfour declaration is a reminder that when the British Government lay out their policies on the Middle East in black and white, those words matter and can make a difference. With the empty vessel that is the American President making lots of noise but being utterly directionless, the need for Britain to show leadership on this issue is ever more pressing.
Will the Foreign Secretary make a start today on the issue of Palestinian statehood? As we rightly reflect on the last 100 years, we have a shared duty to look towards the future and towards the next generation of young people growing up in Israel and Palestine today. That generation knows nothing but division and violence, and those young people have been badly let down by the actions, and the inaction, of their own leaders. Will young Israelis grow up in a world in which air raids, car rammings and random stabbings become a commonplace fact of life? Will they grow up in a country in which military service remains not just compulsory, but necessary, because they are surrounded by hostile neighbours who deny their very right to exist? Will young Palestinians grow up in a world in which youth unemployment remains at 58%, reliant on humanitarian aid and unable to shape their own futures? Will they inherit a map on which the ever-expanding settlements and the destruction of their own houses make it harder and harder to envisage what a viable independent Palestine would even look like?
I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary agrees with the Prime Minister about whether it is worth answering hypothetical questions, but as we mark the centenary of the vital step taken by a former British Foreign Secretary in recognition of Israeli statehood, I ask this Foreign Secretary how he believes he will be remembered in 100 years’ time. Will the Government in which he serves be remembered for recognising the statehood of the Palestinian people and taking a similarly vital step towards correcting an historic wrong? I can assure him that if the Government are not prepared to take that step, the next Labour Government will be.

Boris Johnson
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for the spirit in which she addressed the questions. She asks, if I may say so, the right questions about the way ahead. The UK is substantially committed to the support of the Palestinian Authority and to building up the institutions in Palestine. British taxpayers’ cash helps about 25,000 kids to go to school, we help with about 125,000 medical cases every year and the Department for International Development gives, as she knows very well, substantial sums to support the Palestinian Authority with a view to strengthening those institutions.​

When it comes to recognising that state, we judge, in common with our French friends and the vast majority of our European friends and partners, that the moment is not yet right to play that card. That on its own will not end the occupation or bring peace. After all, it is not something we can do more than once: that card having been played, that will be it.

We judge that it is better to give every possible encouragement to both sides to seize the moment and, if I may say so, I think the right hon. Lady is quite hard, perhaps characteristically, on the current Administration in Washington, which is perhaps her job—

Emily Thornberry
It ought to be your job, too.

Boris Johnson
Indeed, and I am hard where it is necessary, but there is a job to be done. At the moment, as I think the right hon. Lady would accept, there is a conjuncture in the stars that is uncommonly propitious. I will not put it higher than that, but there is a chance that we could make progress on this very vexed dossier. We need the Americans to work with us to do that and we need them to be in the lead because, as she will understand, of the facts as they are in the Middle East.
We need the Palestinian Authority, with a clear mandate, to sit down and negotiate with the Israelis and do the deal that is there to be done, and which everybody understands. We all know the shape of the future map and we all know how it could be done. What is needed now is political will, and I can assure the right hon. Lady and the House that the UK will be absolutely determined to encourage both sides to do such a deal.

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)
Of course it is right to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration, but as we have already heard, we often concentrate too much on the first part of the declaration at the expense of the second. Does anyone really believe that the statement—the very clear statement—that
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”
has been adhered to?
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that a positive way in which to mark this important centenary would be for the UK finally to recognise a Palestinian state,

something many of us in this House believe would honour the vision of those who helped bring about the state of Israel in the first place?

Boris Johnson
I agree very much with my right hon. Friend that, as it were, the protasis of the Balfour declaration has been fulfilled, but the apodosis has not.

It should have spoken of the political rights of those peoples and, by the way, in my view it should have identified specifically the Palestinian people. That has not yet happened, and it is certainly our intention to make sure that Balfour does not remain unfinished business.

As I have said, we want to recognise a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution, but we judge that the moment to do that is not yet ripe.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
While the historical context is complex, we have stressed the need to learn some important and relevant lessons from the Balfour declaration. There is plenty of room for lessons to be learned, and for historic and moral responsibilities to be assumed for the betterment of all the peoples of the Middle East today. This must start with the recognition of the state of Palestine as a fundamental stepping stone towards a lasting two-state solution.​
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s words, at least in principle, on that solution. However, we deeply regret that the UK Government have not fulfilled their commission in the declaration that, as we have already heard,
“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
The consequence of this failure remains all too clear. We hope that the centenary of the Balfour declaration will serve as an opportunity for reflection and a reinvigorated peace process across the Middle East.
The Scottish National party supports the European Union position of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, and we firmly encourage Palestine and Israel to reach a sustainable, negotiated settlement under international law, based on mutual recognition and the determination to co-exist peacefully. The SNP has consistently condemned obstacles to progress in the peace process, such as the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel or the continued expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
Opposition Members have repeatedly called on the UK Government to use their influence to help to revitalise the peace process. I repeat those calls and ask the Foreign Secretary what efforts he is making to use his influence to bring about a renewed effort to break through the political deadlock and bring an end to this conflict.
The Scottish Government have been clear that they would welcome a Palestinian consulate in Edinburgh. Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to recognise formally a Palestinian state as a fundamental stepping stone to a two-state solution by enabling the opening of an embassy?

Boris Johnson
Of course we are doing everything in our power to push on with a two-state solution. I have spoken about the outlines of a deal that everyone can imagine—the land swaps for peace that can be arranged—but it is also vital that we remember that Israel has a legitimate security interest. If we are to get this done, I am afraid it is essential that not just Fatah and the PA, but Hamas as well, have to understand that they must renounce terror, their use of anti-Semitic propaganda and the glorification of so-called terrorist martyrs. They must commit to the Quartet principles, and then there is genuinely the opportunity to get both sides together.
The hon. Gentleman asks rightly about what this country is doing specifically to advance this, and we are engaged heavily in the diplomacy. Not only is the Israeli Prime Minister coming this week, as is proper, to mark Balfour, but Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, will come next year. We look forward to an intensification of contacts with them in the run-up to that visit.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best route to rediscover the unique moral authority associated with the Zionist project, delivering after two millennia a safe place for global Jewry in the remarkable state of Israel, is for the state of Israel itself, secured by the support of the world’s pre-eminent power of 2017, to take on responsibility for the delivery of the unfulfilled part of the Balfour declaration by the world’s pre-eminent power of 1917, which it plainly is not in a position now to deliver itself, and for Israel to share the security and justice it has achieved for global Jewry with their neighbours?

Boris Johnson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I recognise the great learning and expertise he brings to discussion of this issue and his passion for the cause of finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is something that I agree strongly is in the hands of this generation of Israeli politicians, and they are certainly aware of that. But it is also in the hands of the Palestinians, and as I said a moment ago, they must do certain things if we are to get this process moving. It is also vital, as my hon. Friend rightly observes, that the greatest patron, ally and supporter of Israel—the United States—should play its full role in moving this process forward.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)
The Balfour declaration recognised the rights of the Jewish people to national self-determination in their historic homelands, which go back more than 3,000 years. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that there are now new opportunities in the Middle East to start again to try to secure a negotiated solution to this intractable conflict, so that the Palestinian people as well as the Jewish people can have their own states in the region?

Boris Johnson
I do indeed recognise the opportunity the hon. Lady identifies. I believe there is an unusual alignment of the stars. Effectively, we have the chance to proceed now with a version of the Arab peace plan that has been on the table since 2002. Nobody ever got rich by betting on a successful conclusion of the Middle East peace process, but there is an opportunity and we must do whatever we can to persuade both sides that this is their moment for greatness. That is certainly the case we are making to both of them.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
As we celebrate 100 years of the Balfour declaration, does the Foreign Secretary agree that this event can be regarded as an act of great diplomatic skill on the part of his illustrious predecessor, Lord Balfour, in so far as it triggered a process leading to the creation of Israel, thus providing a strong, stable, democratic and non-sectarian ally for the UK in the heart of the notoriously unstable Middle East?

Boris Johnson
I agree totally with my hon. Friend. The Balfour declaration was an historic event that led to a giant political fact: the creation of the state of Israel, which I believe to be one of the most stunning political achievements of the 20th century. As I said, I do not think anybody in this House could seriously wish the undoing of that fact. Nobody looking at Israel—a democracy and a liberal, tolerant society in the Middle East—could seriously wish away that achievement. We should celebrate the existence of the state of Israel—we certainly celebrate our relationship with the state of Israel here in this country—but we must recognise and accept that for others the fact of the Balfour declaration carries very different overtones. They remember it in a very different spirit, so it is important we mark this anniversary with sensitivity and balance.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab)
The best legacy of the centenary of the Balfour declaration would be to make concrete progress towards the two-state solution we all want to see. Does the Foreign Secretary agree, in this centenary year, to support and properly invest in the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, ​which could help us to take that big step? I desperately want to see a Palestinian state and have campaigned for that all my life, but it is very important that Members understand there is no legalistic, unilateral or bureaucratic route to that objective. It will not be achieved by being imposed from the outside or by unilateral declarations here or anywhere else. It will only be achieved by getting Israelis and Palestinians to work together to build trust, to negotiate and to compromise, and for economic development and trade in the West Bank, and the reconstruction and demilitarisation of Gaza.

Boris Johnson
I completely agree with the aspiration the hon. Gentleman sets out. I believe that the future is economic interpenetration and mutual prosperity. That is why next year we are investing £3 million in co-existence projects of exactly the kind he describes.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
Is there anything we can do about illegal settlements beyond saying that we are very, very cross?

Boris Johnson
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who makes a valid point. Beyond our repeated statements of disapproval, Members may recollect that we led the way just before Christmas last year with UN resolution 2334, which specifically condemned new illegal settlements. The Prime Minister and I have been at pains to point out to Prime Minister Netanyahu, both here in London and in Jerusalem, our view that the settlements are illegal. That is a point on which we will continue to insist.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
It is certainly right that the House celebrates the creation of the state of Israel, but it cannot celebrate—in fact, it must condemn—the failure of successive UK Governments to help safeguard the rights of Palestinians. Given our historical role, will the Foreign Secretary set out what single, concrete international initiative he intends spearheading to help secure a viable Palestinian state, and will he set out what conditions would have to be met for the UK to recognise Palestine?

Boris Johnson
I have been pretty clear with the House already that we see the most fertile prospects now in the new push coming from America, and we intend to support that. As and when it becomes necessary to play the recognition card, we certainly will do it—we want to do it—but now is not yet the time.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
Notwithstanding the challenges of unfinished business to which my right hon. Friend rightly referred, does he agree that centenaries can be a powerful way to draw people together, thoughtfully and respectfully, even where, as here, the history is complex and nuanced?

Boris Johnson
I strongly agree. It has been salutary for people to look back over the last 100 years at the many missed opportunities and at the reasons Balfour thought it necessary to make his declaration. It was not, as is frequently said, simply that Britain wanted to solicit American support in the first world war; it was genuinely because of a need, an imperative, to deal with the pogroms and the anti-Semitism that had plagued Russia and so many parts of eastern Europe for so long. ​It was vital to find a homeland for the Jewish people, and history can be grateful that Balfour made the decision he did, though we have to understand at the same time the injustice and suffering occasioned by that decision.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op)
In the same week we celebrate the centenary of the Balfour declaration, will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to condemn the actions in Abu Dhabi in recent days, when five Israelis who won medals at the judo grand slam were denied the chance afforded to other athletes of celebrating with their country’s flag and anthem during the awards ceremonies and when one athlete refused to shake the hand of an Israeli athlete? There can be no place for this type of discrimination. If we are to see peace, we have to acknowledge and support both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.

Boris Johnson
I completely agree. We condemn anti-Semitism and displays of such prejudice wherever they occur. The example the hon. Lady gives shows the paramount need to sort out this problem and end this running sore.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only is Israel a beacon of hope and democracy in the Middle East but that our strategic partnerships in the fields of security and defence are vital to the safety of both our nations and should be enhanced and developed?

Boris Johnson
My hon. Friend is completely right. We have an intensifying commercial partnership with Israel. It is a country at the cutting edge of high technology of all kinds. We co-operate in financial services, aviation and all kinds of fields, as well as, very importantly, security and intelligence, as he rightly identifies.

Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s measured tone in recognising the rights of Palestinians and the obligations that the Balfour declaration places on the UK Government. When he has dinner with the Prime Minister of Israel, may I suggest that he says that sustainable peace in the Middle East can be built only on the basis of equal rights, equal dignity and respect for all, Israelis and Palestinians alike? On the UK Government’s role, will he point out that we will uphold the Geneva convention, which Britain co-wrote and ratified after the second world war, in that we will not trade with settlements that he himself has said are illegal? Finally, may I point out that the House considered the issue of recognition at length and, following considered debate, voted by 274 votes to 12 that the UK Government should recognise the state of Israel alongside the state of Palestine as part of our moral obligation to the Palestinian people, as set out in the declaration?

Boris Johnson
I certainly agree with the majority view of Members of the House that we must, in time, recognise the Palestinian state. I have to be honest, however: I do not happen to think that now is the most effective moment to do that. In that, we are at one with our partners around the EU.

The hon. Gentleman makes a point about boycotts. I do not think that that is the right way forward. I do not think that boycotting Israeli products makes sense. The biggest losers would ​be the workers from Palestinian and Arab communities who benefit immensely from the economic activity generated by those Israeli companies.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con)
As my right hon. Friend rightly says, we have a long way to go to achieve an end to violence and a two-state solution, but does he agree with me and many of my constituents that this anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate modern Israel, its vibrant economy, its liberty and diversity, its democracy and, above all, the fact that at a time of rising anti-Semitism, it still provides a safe home for the Jewish people?

Boris Johnson
I congratulate my hon. Friend on speaking up for his constituents. He is right to want to celebrate the existence of the state of Israel, though he must recognise that in celebrating the Balfour declaration we must also accept that the declaration itself, on 2 November 1917, today has different echoes for different people around the world, and it is important that we be balanced and sensitive in our approach.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
For a change, will the Foreign Secretary tell me what the Israeli Government have to do to get a peace settlement? A lot of emphasis is put on the Palestinians. How does he think that Donald Trump can resolve the problem, when he has failed to put pressure on the Israeli Government to stop the settlements?

Boris Johnson
I think the hon. Gentleman answered his own question as he sat down. The Israeli Government need to stop the illegal settlements. They are not yet making it impossible to deliver the new map, but every time they build new units—as he knows, there are new units going up in Hebron in east Jerusalem—they make that eventual land swap more difficult and move us further from a two-state solution. That is the point we make to our Israeli friends—and, by the way, that is the point made by many allies around the world.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
It is clearly true that residents of the occupied Palestinian territories do not enjoy the full civil rights promised to them in the Balfour declaration, but is it not also true that neither do the more than 800,000 Jews expelled from countries in the Middle East and north Africa? We must remember that 21% of the population of the current state of Israel are Arab Palestinians, whereas there has been wholescale ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab and north African countries, starting in 1948.

Boris Johnson
My hon. Friend has an excellent point and alludes to the third leg of the Balfour declaration. Balfour spoke of the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities and then of course of the rights of Jewish communities elsewhere around the world. As my hon. Friend rightly says, hundreds of thousands of them were expelled from their homes, too. They will also benefit from a lasting peace between the Arabs and Israelis. That is what we want to achieve and what we are pushing for.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is impossible to reject the Balfour declaration in its entirety, as some may seek to do, and support a two-state solution? ​Will he therefore join me in celebrating Balfour and commit to redoubling our efforts to achieve a two-state solution and peace in the region?

Boris Johnson
I certainly share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for and passionate belief in the vital importance of the state of Israel, which, as I told the House earlier, I believe to be one of the great achievements of humanity in the 20th century, given all the suffering the Jewish people had been through. It is a great immovable fact—I hope—of geopolitics. We also have to recognise, however, that in the course of creating that wonderful experiment, huge numbers of people suffered and lost their homes. Their wishes and feelings must also be respected. It is in that spirit that we mark Balfour today.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)
Is it not the case that the rights of non-Jews in the state of Israel are 100% protected as per the Balfour declaration? Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that it would be wholly inappropriate and wrong for anyone to seek to use this centenary to perpetuate the myth and falsehood that the failure to establish a Palestinian state is wholly the responsibility of Israel, because to do so would be to deny the role of neighbouring Arab countries in 1948 in attacking Israel and preventing the existence of an Arab state, and also the failure of the Arab leadership to grasp peace plans as they have been offered?

Boris Johnson
My hon. Friend is completely right. That is why I speak in the terms that I do about the state of Israel. It is a pluralist society, a society that protects the rights of those who live within it. It is a democracy. It is, in my view, a country to be saluted and celebrated. My hon. Friend is, of course, also right in pointing to the many failures of diplomacy and politics that I am afraid have been perpetuated by the Palestinian leadership for generations. We have to hope now that the current generation of leaders in the Palestinian Authority will have the mandate and the momentum to deliver a different result.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
Some Members will be aware that I spent nearly a year and a half in Gaza working as a surgeon in 1991 and 1992. I was there when the Madrid peace process started, and by half-past 4 in the afternoon, young men were climbing on to armoured cars with olive branches. When I came back four weeks ago, my feeling was that we were further from peace than we had been a quarter of a century earlier.
When I spent time on the West Bank recently, I saw settlements expanding at an incredible rate. We blame America, and we expect America to come up with a solution, but people in Israel look to Europe, because they see themselves as part of Europe. I think the United Kingdom and Europe need to use their power to secure a new peace process, and part of that is to do with recognition. How can we talk about a two-state solution if we do not recognise both states?

Boris Johnson
Obviously, I have great respect for the work that the hon. Lady has done in Gaza, and I appreciate the suffering that she has seen there. There is no doubt that the situation in Gaza is terrible. As the hon. Lady knows, the UK Government do a lot to try to remedy affairs by supporting, for instance, sanitation projects ​and education, but in the end a trade-off must be achieved. The Israelis must open up Gaza for trade and greater economic activity to give the people hope and opportunity, but before that happens, Hamas must stop firing rockets at Israel. Hamas must recognise the right of the Israeli state to exist, and it must stop spewing out anti-Semitic propaganda.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)
Last year I had the privilege of visiting Israel and the West Bank with members of Conservative Friends of Israel. I am bound to say that I was disappointed by the lack of impetus, or of willingness, on the part of both sides to engage and get round the table. Does not the centenary commemoration present an opportunity both for the resumption of direct peace talks, and for the United Kingdom to continue to engage and encourage the fulfilment of that two-state solution?

Boris Johnson
I absolutely agree. I hope that both sides of the equation, the Palestinians and the Israelis, will study my statement with care, because I believe that it offers a way forward that would be massively to the advantage not just of their countries, but of the whole of the Middle East and, indeed, the world.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab)
I welcome much of what the Foreign Secretary has said this afternoon, and the sensitivity with which he has said it, although I think he is making the wrong decision about recognition.
During his visit, will the Foreign Secretary raise with Prime Minister Netanyahu the issue of legislation relating to the annexation of settlement blocs in Jerusalem, which would displace 120,000 Palestinian people? That is clearly an impediment to the achievement of the viable two-state solution that is wanted by Members on all sides of the argument.

Boris Johnson
I can answer the hon. Lady’s question very briefly. I will certainly raise that issue, as I have raised the issue of illegal settlements in the past, directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Colin Clark (Gordon) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition will not attend a dinner to mark the centenary of the Balfour declaration?

Boris Johnson
I believe that it is disappointing. The vast majority of Members on both sides of the House have said this afternoon that this occasion is of huge importance to the world, because it marks an event in which our country played an enormous part—and, indeed, we still have a large part to play. One would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition would at least be interested in trying to achieve a solution to a problem that has bedevilled the world for so long, and would not, by his absence, be so blatantly appearing to side with one party and not the other. I must say that I find that unfortunate.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
The Foreign Secretary’s refusal to treat Palestinians and Israelis equally, as shown by his refusal to recognise Palestine as a state alongside Israel, is exactly the reason the Israelis are building in Hebron and, last week, annexed further settlements in the Jerusalem municipality. What will the Government actually do to honour Balfour’s assurance ​to non-Jewish communities? So far, apart from warm words, all I have heard is that the Foreign Secretary seems to support trade with illegal settlements, that he is setting new conditions for the Palestinians, and that he is blaming the Palestinian leaders for their own occupation.

Boris Johnson
It is wholly untrue to say that we have offered the Palestinians nothing but warm words. The hon. Gentleman should consider the huge sums that the UK gives to the Palestinian authorities, the massive efforts that we make to help them with their security concerns, and the intimate co-operation that takes place between the UK and the Palestinian Authority. We are doing everything in our power to ready the Palestinians for statehood, but we do not consider that they are ready for recognition yet. This is obviously not the moment, given the problems that Mahmoud Abbas is experiencing. We think that a much more productive approach would be getting both sides together and beginning the process of negotiation on the basis of the programme that I have outlined today, leading to a two-state solution. That is what we need.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s measured statement, and his optimism about the prospects for a two-state solution with Israel, rightly, living in security. Does he agree, however, that the accelerated settlement-building is not just to be gently deprecated, but is truly egregious, illegal, and a growing obstacle to peace?

Boris Johnson
I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and that is the language that we have been using. It is what my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East has said time and again during his trips to the region. Indeed, whenever representatives of either party have come to this country we have strongly condemned the building of illegal settlement units, and we have denounced the recent acceleration in the building of those units. We think that that is making it more difficult to achieve a two-state solution, but it is not yet impossible, which is why we want to seize this opportunity.

Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
I am proud to sit on these Benches as the first ever British Palestinian Member of Parliament. My family are from Jerusalem. They were there at the time of the Balfour declaration, but, like many others, they had to leave as part of the diaspora.
When it comes to recognition, the Foreign Secretary speaks of playing a card, but this is not a game. He speaks of a prize to be given for recognition, but it is not something to be bestowed; it is something that the Palestinians should just have. Can he not see how Britain leads the world on foreign policy? If we are to have a true peace process, we must ensure that both sides are equal as they step up to the negotiating table.

Boris Johnson
I strongly agree with the hon. Lady’s last point. I am full of respect for the suffering of her family in the face of what took place following the creation of the state of Israel, and I know that the experience of many Palestinian families was—and indeed still is—tragic, but our ambition in holding out the prospect of recognition, working with our friends and partners, and trying to drive forward the peace process ​leading to a two-state solution is to give Palestinian families such as her own exactly the rights and the future that they deserve, in a viable, contiguous, independent, sovereign Palestinian state. That is what we want to achieve.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
I know the Foreign Secretary will agree with me that a prosperous democracy where people can freely practise their religion in Israel is part of what we want to see ultimately in the Palestinian state as well. Can he confirm that he will use every opportunity of this centenary of the Balfour declaration to push forward that long-term goal?

Boris Johnson
Absolutely: that is the ambition and the goal, and clearly we hope that the state of which I just spoke will be a democratic, liberal state, just as Israel is.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
As a friend of Israel, I look forward to the day when the Palestinian people can enjoy the security of a sovereign state on the successful conclusion of a negotiated two-state solution. One of the biggest obstacles to achieving that is the Palestinian Authority’s counterproductive unilateral steps to gain statehood recognition through international bodies, so will the Foreign Secretary join me in calling for the PA to stop those harmful measures and instead to express support for the renewal of direct peace talks, because that really is the only way forward?

Boris Johnson
By far the better way for the PA to achieve what it wants is not to go through international bodies, but to get around the table with the Israelis and begin those crucial negotiations.

Netanyahu Vows to Never Remove Israeli Settlements From West Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judy Maltz and Reuters contributed background to this report

read more:

May ditches William Hague’s promise to recognise Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This led to a number of exchanges in the Commons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returned minister threatens Israel with…‘continued conversations’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If he persuades MPs on the committee to ditch the inquiry, the evidence from 42 organisations will remain on the House of Commons website at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Minister drops recognition pledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balfour centenary to be marked ‘sensitively’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Settlements and occupation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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