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Middle East

Volume 538: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2012

8. If he will make representations to the Government of Israel on the increase in demolition of Palestinian homes in the west bank in 2011. (89812)

I do make representations on the demolition of homes, and I will continue to do so. I was in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories last week, and it gave me an opportunity to see some of those who are subject to demolition orders, including the Bedouin community outside Jerusalem, and to visit such people in the Negev as well. I had the opportunity also to raise those issues directly with Israeli Ministers.

Is the Minister aware that the number of Palestinian homes demolished by the Israelis last year rose by 38%, and that the number of displaced Palestinians doubled? Does he agree that that is hardly the sign of a Government intent on peace settlements on the basis of the 1967 borders, and that it would send a signal to the Israelis if the UK Government supported the Palestinian bid to join the United Nations?

On the first part of the hon. Lady’s remarks, I am very conscious of the numbers, as indeed are many Members because of the representations that have been made to us. It is a very serious issue, which we take up regularly with the Israeli authorities. The movement and settlement of people is a hugely divisive political issue, and it is one reason why we have pressed both sides to move towards a settlement, because that is the only thing that will ultimately ensure that all those who live in Israel and in the Palestinian territory can live in peace and security.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the demolition of Palestinian homes and the continued construction of settlements on the west bank, not to mention the construction of new houses in East Jerusalem, will make it increasingly difficult to establish a viable Palestinian state and, in turn, make it impossible to reach a two-state solution?

I share the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s concerns, and that is why we have repeatedly made clear to all our view that we regard illegal settlement building as contrary to the interests of peace building. It is a matter that must be addressed. It is vital to the division of land in the area, and that is why we constantly raise it.

How many Israeli settlements does the Minister think need to be built on Palestinian land before the chance for peace is destroyed?

The numbers are not a matter for the United Kingdom. What we do say, and say very clearly, is that building on occupied Palestinian land is illegal in international law and has been held to be so in some cases by Israeli law. That is why we regard the issue as an obstacle to peace, unless it is dealt with. It is vital that it is part of the negotiations, and that is why we wish very well the current efforts being made in Amman.

Following the recent leaked internal EU report expressing concerns about the west bank, will my hon. Friend make it clear to the Israeli Government—and I understand that there is fault on both sides—that the construction of housing units in and around Jerusalem is counter-productive to the peace process?

The issue of East Jerusalem is particularly difficult. For there to be a viable two-state solution and a shared capital, it is essential that East Jerusalem retains its Arab character. That is why we are so concerned about the settlement building there. The Government of Israel are well aware of our concerns, which we make very clear. I repeat to the House that, as we all know, this matter must be included in the overall settlement, the basics of which we hope are being discussed by the parties with great intent in Amman at the moment.

Last week, Israeli forces cut off access to the village of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community just outside Jerusalem where a school was built using international donations. Is that an example of something that must be unacceptable? Given the international character of Khan al-Ahmar, what representations can the UK Government make to get the Israeli Government to change their mind on the matter?

By happenstance, I was at the village and saw the obstruction of access take place. It was an unannounced visit as far as the authorities were concerned. Effectively, an Armco barrier was built across the access road that leads to a major highway. It was not immediately clear where the alternative access could be, except via a hill with an extremely steep gradient behind the village. That very lunchtime, I was able to make representations to the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, about the circumstances. This is precisely the sort of thing that raises concerns among the international community and makes it difficult for the Bedouin in that area to feel secure.