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Palestinian Territories

Volume 542: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2012

The UK has allocated funding for Palestinian development to help build a future Palestinian state that is stable, prosperous and an effective partner for peace.

I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that it is imperative that any funds provided by this country to the Palestinian Authority go towards securing the Quartet principles. Does he therefore share my concern that there are still Palestinian textbooks that contain anti-Christian, anti-western and anti-Israeli sentiments? Can he assure me that his Department is doing everything possible to ensure that no British taxpayer money is being used to fund textbooks of that sort?

I have looked very carefully into this issue, not least because I know of my hon. Friend’s interest in it, and I have found no evidence in Palestinian school textbooks of what he describes. I was in Gaza just before Christmas, and I raised the specific matter then. I am sure my hon. Friend will share my pleasure in the fact that the State Department in America has set up an inquiry to examine the quality of both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks and will be reporting later this year, probably in the autumn. He and I will, no doubt, look with great interest at what the report has to say.

I was in Gaza at the weekend, as it witnessed the biggest escalation in Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rockets for three years. Although we all hope that the current truce holds, does the Secretary of State agree that the ongoing and daily madness of Israel’s blockade is illustrated by the fact that it incentivises a few to make millions from a tunnel economy and benefits armed groups, while legitimate Palestinian businesses cannot export, the UN cannot get the materials it needs to rebuild shattered schools and hospitals, and the poor are forced to rely on food handouts?

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point about the effects of this action in terms of the Palestinian economy, but he will know that the Government’s position is clear: we urge both sides to desist from the actions he has described.

Given that many hundreds of missiles have been fired from Gaza into Israel—some armed with ball-bearings and causing enormous hardship to many—will my right hon. Friend use the levers of aid to put pressure on the Gaza authorities and Hamas to stop firing them?

I had an opportunity on a recent trip to Israel to visit Sderot and see for myself the effects of what my hon. Friend is describing. British development policy on Palestine is very clear: we concentrate on state building and strengthening financial management by public authorities; we support the private sector on growth, reducing unemployment and eliminating poverty; and we are working closely with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the World Food Programme on issues of humanitarian relief. I will, however, take on board the point he is making.

The last time I was in Gaza the thing I thought was most cruel was the denial to the Palestinians of their land—35% of their land—and of 85% of their fishing rights. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be so much better if people could produce food for themselves and for the local economy, and were not reliant on food aid?

The right hon. Lady is entirely right to say that it is much better to produce food in a sustainable way than to have to rely on food aid, and that is one of the policies we are pursing vigorously around the world. However, as she will know, the answer is for both parties in this long, protracted and bitter dispute to negotiate with each other in good faith. That is the way in which we will reach a two-state solution.