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Gaza Blockade

Volume 518: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2010

I discussed Gaza with the Israeli Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister during my visit there last week. I stressed that economic revitalisation will best safeguard Israel’s security. Gaza’s dependence on aid will continue until there is progress on exports and a better framework is developed for enabling imports of reconstruction materials for UN-led projects.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the blockade not only represents an act of inhumanity, but is against the long-term security of Israel and is therefore against its national interest?

Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend. I have said before in the House that I think the blockade of Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable. The tunnel economy that has arisen in Gaza often serves the interests of Hamas, rather than the interests of anyone else, so it is important for Israel to continue to allow an improvement in the flow of goods into Gaza and, as I said, to begin to allow reconstruction materials in so that there can be a real improvement in conditions on the ground in Gaza. That will help the security of the whole region.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a briefing provided for me last week in Jerusalem by John Ging, the admirable head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, Mr Ging said that the situation in Gaza now is worse than it was before the flotilla incident, that huge numbers of children are hungry and undernourished, and that the schools are not being built? Will the right hon. Gentleman take every action available to him to impress on the Israelis that persecuting the people of Gaza will not bring peace?

As I mentioned earlier, I raised the issue with all the leaders of the Israeli Government on my own visit to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv last week. The right hon. Gentleman is right that the school construction that we wanted to take place is not yet taking place. The British Government have announced additional help for the work of Mr Ging and UNRWA—£23 million of new support for the Palestinian Authority, £8 million of that for UNRWA and £2 million to help 300 businesses in Gaza. Britain is doing a lot to help the situation there and we must continue to do so.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an outstanding visit to the state of Israel last week, but Israel has clearly honoured obligations of humanitarian areas and aid for Gaza. Did the discussion that took place last week concentrate on the effect that Hamas has had in terms of its rocket capability and launching rockets and bombs into the state of Israel?

It is important to bear in mind that dimension as well. The behaviour of Hamas obviously makes all those issues much more difficult to deal with. Indeed, I visited the family of Gilad Shalit, who is still imprisoned—held hostage—in Gaza, and I believe that he should be released immediately and unconditionally. So my hon. Friend is right that it is important to bear in mind that dimension to what is happening in Gaza, but I think that we are united in this House in making the case to Israel, as I did last week, that the best way to improve its security is to permit and encourage an improvement in the conditions in Gaza. That in itself will, over time, weaken Hamas and help to ensure that a new generation of Palestinians is not turned against Israel and against peace.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recognition of the importance of lifting the blockade of Gaza. He will know the importance for the people of Gaza not just of lifting the blockade, but of being part of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel in a two-state solution. Therefore, what discussions did he have during his recent visit on the role of Gaza in the future peace process?

Gaza plays, ultimately, a very important role in the peace process, because there cannot be a successful peace in the long term without its involvement and inclusion. The immediate priority is to get the peace process going again and the direct talks going, and of course I put the argument very strongly to Israeli leaders and on Israeli media that that requires a new freeze on Israeli settlement building on the west bank. That is the immediate issue, and in that regard the announcements that we have heard in the past 24 hours are extremely disappointing. The immediate priority is to get the direct talks going. A real settlement would have to involve Gaza as well.