We receive regular reports from our posts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on settlement activity on the west bank. We were concerned to hear on 22 February of moves to legalise existing housing in Shvut Rachel and Shilo, both of which are deep within the west bank, but we acknowledge that those were the first such announcements this year.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware of the campaign, supported by many of my constituents, to prevent the illegal demolitions in Silwan neighbourhood and the village of al-Aqaba? Will he pledge to continue to raise this important issue with his Israeli counterparts?
Yes, I spoke to the Israeli ambassador on 23 February about our concerns about the demolitions. We will continue to raise that issue. There have been a number of more positive moves over the past few months. I understand that some of the demolitions suggested in the Bedouin area of E1 have now been suspended, which we believe is good progress, as is the decision not to demolish the school at Khan al-Ahmar that I visited a short time ago.
Continued settlement activity on the west bank cannot be helpful in securing peace, but does the Minister believe that this is the only barrier to peace when the total withdrawal of all settlers in Gaza resulted in rule by Hamas and a continuing focus on attacks on Israeli settlements?
The hon. Lady rightly gives expression to the complexity of the situation in Israel and the difficulty surrounding the settlement issue, where one side sees it as an obstruction to progress but the other remembers what happened in relation to Gaza. The United Kingdom is firmly of the view that continued settlement expansion is an obstacle to peace, but that the confidence and security needed to create an overall settlement is essential between the two sides, which is why we welcome the continuing conversations in Oman between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli leaders.