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Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 16 February 2011

4. What development support his Department provides to the Palestinian Authority and to Israeli non-governmental organisations working in the west bank. (40974)

We provide financial and technical assistance to the Palestinian Authority. In this financial year, our support will total £31.1 million. DFID also co-funds the UK conflict pool, which supports five Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the west bank.

I recently took part in a delegation to Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories of the west bank, and I refer the House to my related entry in the register. During the visit, we met many Israeli human rights organisations and NGOs involved in the peace process, some of which receive financial support from the UK Government. All of them were concerned at moves by elements of the nationalist right to crack down on and embarrass organisations in receipt of overseas funding, no matter how legitimate—

My hon. Friend refers to a proposed panel of inquiry on the Israeli side, to look into the funding of its NGOs. Our ambassador to Tel Aviv discussed the issue with the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, shortly after the Knesset vote on the issue. Officials raised the matter with one of the two members of the Knesset who had pressed for such funding investigation. We do not want such investigations to impede the legitimate work of NGOs in the west bank and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories.

In light of the Minister’s reply, does he share the concern expressed by Norwegian Foreign Minister Støre about the Israeli Foreign Minister’s comments, which appear to delegitimise the work of brave NGOs such as B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights? It is important that the voices of those organisations, which are Israeli Jewish but express a different view from the Israeli Government, should continue to be heard.

I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. We are watching closely the treatment of the five NGOs concerned and we will do our utmost to ensure that they remain free to do their good work, even though some of their conclusions might disagree with the those of the Israeli Government.

Is the Minister aware that an increasing amount of aid to the Palestinian territories ends up in the hands of extremists and is used for extremist purposes? Will he take steps to stop that and ensure that aid gets to the Palestinians who need it most?

I do not share my hon. Friend’s conclusion. We are very careful how we spend our money in the occupied Palestinian territories and have done our utmost to support the legitimate government of Salam Fayyad with, I think, great success. We would abhor any money falling into the hands of extremists, and we do everything possible to ensure that such an accusation can never be verified or proved valid.

The Minister will know that many in the House and beyond continue to be deeply concerned about the desperate situation in Gaza. What efforts are the Government making to ensure that Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza, which leaves many dependent on UN aid? Given the situation in Egypt, will the Minister update us on the position at the Rafah crossing, and on what action will be taken to ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered to those who need it most?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and all Ministers make our views clear on this matter. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Tony Blair announced a package covering the west bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem on 4 February. Gaza measures included new reconstruction project approvals and a timetable for exports. We have welcomed that, but implementation in practice will be the key.

The Department’s work on conflict prevention and resolution is much appreciated. Can the Minister assure the House that this work in the middle east—Palestine, Israel and elsewhere—will be continued in the forthcoming years, and that the budget for it will be protected, and perhaps grown, even given the wider budget obligations?

I absolutely share the views of my right hon. Friend. This is a crucial part of DFID’s agenda, and essential to all the work we are doing in such a sensitive part of the world, so the answer is an unequivocal yes.