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West Bank

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2010

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Development on economic development in the west bank; and if he will make a statement. (30264)

The Foreign Office and the Department for International Development work very closely on this issue. I last had a conversation with the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan) just before his visit to the west bank in late October. We are encouraged by World Bank reports that the economy of the west bank grew by 7.2% in 2009, and we hope that it is benefiting from the stability under Prime Minister Fayyad and the easing of restrictions on movement and access by the Israeli Government.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that Israel’s decision to allow exports from Gaza is welcome and positive? Should not that serve to encourage all sides to look for further progress, and the people of Gaza to reject Hamas?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. The development of the economy of the west bank in recent years has been in sharp contrast to the development of the economy of Gaza—for a whole series of reasons. We would welcome the further expansion of the economy in Gaza, which has to come from an easing of the economic blockade. On that, we welcome the decision announced by Israel last week further to ease the opportunity for exports from Gaza. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in saying that it is economic prosperity in both the west bank and Gaza that will make decisions on the future of the whole area that much easier.

Would the growing economic prosperity in the west bank not spread to Gaza and be even more impressive if there were full acceptance of the Quartet principles by Hamas and all parties in the middle east?

It is certainly true that the rejection by Hamas of the Quartet principles and its failure to denounce violence and to accept the state of Israel is holding back any possible negotiations. Also, the illegal holding of Gilad Shalit for a further length of time is contrary to all our interests, and he should be released as soon as possible. It all goes to show that further negotiation and talk is the best way to produce an overall settlement in the middle east, which is what we are all looking for.

Given what the Minister has said about economic development in the west bank, does he share my concern that it is not in the interests of the economic development of that region to see the tightening rather than easing of movement restrictions in the Jordan valley and Palestinians and Bedouins being dispossessed in the Jordan valley?

The hon. Gentleman’s long interest in the economic development of the west bank and all other areas is well noted; we spoke in the Westminster Hall debate the other day. The easing of all restrictions is in the interests of all. That is why we welcome it when we find it and are concerned if there is any greater restriction on access. The economic development of the whole of west bank area and of Gaza is a crucial part of the development of the Palestinian state. The establishment of that valid state, side by side with a secure and recognised Israel, is of interest to us all.

The threat to the economic developments on the west bank and in the rest of the region is, of course, dependent on the military position. Is the Minister aware of the rockets, bombs and anti-aircraft capability that Hamas has built up and does that not further threaten the security of the region?

The Government have already expressed concern about the build-up of arms in the area by Hezbollah and Hamas, none of which is conducive to what we all want: a negotiated peaceful settlement of the middle east process that is a secure and sovereign Israel side by side a viable Palestine.

When the Minister visits the middle east in the new year, will he press Israel further to reduce its restrictions on freedom of movement both for Palestinian people and for Palestinian goods? Free movement is crucial; so, too, is providing global opportunities for the Palestinians to trade with the rest of the world. In the Foreign Office business plan, UK Trade & Investment is developing its strategy; will the Minister ensure that UK trade with the west bank is absolutely part of that UKTI strategy?

Yes, indeed; I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. There was a successful investment conference in the west bank just a few months ago, and it is in the interests of all that economic prosperity is encouraged on all sides. It is in the interests of Israel to make sure that there is as much access as possible—providing, of course, that its essential security interests are safeguarded. Wherever they have been threatened, as in Gaza, it remains necessary for the Israelis to control any materials that might detract from that. When it comes to economic development and movement, however, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct.