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Volume 543: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2012

9. What representations he has made to the Government of Israel on the increase in demolition of Palestinian houses in the last year. (102859)

I raised the issue of demolitions in the west bank with the Israeli ambassador on 23 February, and again with the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Meridor, on 19 March.

I thank the Minister for that half an answer—it might have been useful to tell us what the Government said. There has been a 40% increase in demolitions in the last year, 26,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since the Oslo agreement was signed, and 14,000 people have been put out of East Jerusalem through the withdrawal of their right to live there. Is this not in fact ethnic cleansing, and are the Government of Israel not now heading for a racially based apartheid regime similar to South Africa?

I am happy to give the second part of the answer—now that that part of the question has been asked. The situation is as the hon. Gentleman indicated: the UN reported an increase in demolitions of some 40% last year. We have made representations to Israel on this issue, and we think the demolitions are very destructive of the peace process and the relationship that needs to be built. This has to be set in the overall context of the relationship between the Palestinian authorities and Israel, because settlements, demolitions and related issues must be part of an overall peace process, which is why we have pressed both parties to continue their engagement.

Is my hon. Friend aware that over the same period last year there were 627 rocket attacks into Israel, with an upsurge of 200 in the last month? Does my hon. Friend agree that it would help the peace process, which we all want to see furthered, if those acts of unprovoked aggression were brought to an end immediately?

We have indeed condemned the rocket attacks that have emanated from Gaza, as we have expressed concern about the increased violence in the area and attacks on civilians anywhere. My hon. Friend’s question is a measure of the difficulty of dealing with this when both sides have issues to raise about each other. That is why our pressure and our determination to see the middle east peace process develop and continue are so important. We have not lost sight of that despite all the other things going on in the region.

The increase in demolitions of Palestinian houses is one example of the approach to the west bank situation being taken by the Israeli Government. A septuagenarian from my constituency, Anthony Radcliffe, discovered another when he was detained over this weekend by the Israeli authorities in Tel Aviv, having attempted to gain peaceful access to the occupied territories in the west bank. Does the Minister agree that it is wrong that the security services of one country, Israel, can prevent a British citizen from visiting another, Palestine, and what will he do to ensure free passage for British citizens in future?

It is clear that UK citizens can visit the west bank and that they do so in ordinary circumstances, but the Israeli authorities have made it clear that they will not facilitate what they consider to be an organised protest. We have made that clear in our travel advice, and in the circumstances we have seen over the last weekend we have ensured that consular officials are available at the airport. It is within Israel’s legitimate immigration rights to do what they are doing, but clearly the situation is not comfortable. We believe that it provides further reasons why we should continue to press both parties to engage in the talks that will resolve the situation. We cannot separate the attempt being made at the weekend to mark Palestinian land day from the overall concerns of both sides.

I would like to make some progress down the Order Paper, so we need shorter answers. The word is “shorter”—[Interruption.] I have explained it; shorter answers are required. The Minister must practise giving them.

Does the Minister not accept that what he is proposing does not work? Will he support me and others at peaceful demonstrations at events involving Israeli Olympians to highlight the plight of the Palestinians and to bring to public awareness the apartheid regime in Israel?

I understand any colleague’s desire to take part in free and peaceful process in this country, but the hon. Gentleman raises an issue that he knows is deeply contested by Israeli authorities as regards how they conduct their affairs. It is a further measure of why it is important to work on both sides to get an agreement to this long-standing dispute.