Progress in the middle east peace process is needed urgently. We have urged both sides to focus on dialogue, to avoid steps that could undermine the prospects for peace and to work towards the resumption of direct negotiations. We are in regular contact with the Israeli authorities on legal issues relating to the conflict, and we urge Israel to comply with its legal obligations, including those arising under international humanitarian law.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to this area, which is particularly important in the light of the problems that are affecting the region, to which he referred in his statement yesterday. Does he, however, understand the concern being expressed by many people that, on 24 July, the EU-Israel Association Council agreed to extend into a further 60 areas of trade co-operation while, at the same time, the increase in the number of demolitions and settlements and the blockade of Gaza are continuing apace. Will he tell us what his Department’s role was in that agreement, and whether he is going to hold Israel to account?
We have repeatedly made clear to the Israeli authorities our serious concern at the 40% increase in demolitions last year, as recorded by the United Nations. We view such demolitions and evictions as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, as harmful to the peace process and, in many circumstances, as contrary to international humanitarian law. I can reassure the hon. Lady about the EU-Israel Association Council, which discussed some practical co-operation in line with the existing EU-Israel action plan. The EU has been very clear that no progress can be made on upgrading the wider EU-Israel relationship until there is substantial progress towards a two-state solution.
The Israelis are considering closing the Ras Khamis checkpoints in Jerusalem; they are also building new housing in illegal settlements such as Har Homa. Just two days ago, a rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel. What route map does the Foreign Secretary believe can move the conflict from where it is now towards an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians by the end of this year, as recommended by the Quartet?
It is a difficult route map. My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the depressing aspects of what is happening now. We have been working hard this year, as have many others in the region, to achieve the resumption of direct negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, but that has not worked so far. My right hon. Friend referred to what might happen later this year, and it will be vital that, whatever Administration emerge following the American elections, they put their full weight behind this issue from the very beginning of that Administration in January.
21. The Palestinians claim that they will return to negotiations if settlement building stops, but they did not do so when settlement building did stop. They have now introduced two new conditions, including the release of all prisoners. Why does the Foreign Secretary think they are doing that? (118518)
There has been fault on both sides when it comes to making a success of negotiations. We have advocated the need for Israel to make a more decisive offer than has been the case in the recent past, but we have also pressed the Palestinians to enter negotiations and not to set new conditions for doing so. I have said in the House in the past that Israel had been too intransigent in this process, but the Palestinians have been too erratic about the basis on which they are willing to enter negotiations. Both those things need to be put right in order for negotiations to get going and succeed.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports that, on Sunday, 280 Israeli settlers were removed from the settlement in Migron under Israeli legal process, as a result of action initiated by Peace Now and Palestinian landowners? Does he not agree that it would be even better if those in some quarters dropped their blanket hostility towards Israel, if the Palestinians were to remove their preconditions to talks, and if there were direct and comprehensive negotiations during which the question of the settlements could be fully addressed?
I absolutely agree that it is important to drop blanket opposition to Israel. We should stoutly defend the security and the legitimacy of Israel, but we must also be absolutely clear that Israel needs to make its contribution and recognise that settlements on occupied land are illegal, that settlement building activity must cease and that outposts on occupied land are illegal. We should be clear about that and maintain the pressure on Israel, as well as on Palestinians, to enter into direct negotiations and give them some chance to succeed.
According to the House of Commons Library, multilateral and bilateral aid to the occupied territories and Gaza cost European taxpayers £670 million last year. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that, given that Israeli policy on settlements is making a two-state solution less likely, any deepening of trade relations with Israel would not be justified when the cost to European taxpayers is so high?
We do give that support. The right hon. Gentleman is right about the extent of our support, which is, of course, very important for the Palestinian Authority to be able to function, particularly on the west bank. The position on trade relations is the one that I explained to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), and the European Union is very clear that an upgrade of the wider EU-Israel relationship depends on making substantial progress towards a two-state solution. That is a position that the United Kingdom firmly supports.
We have made representations about this case. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has done so, and he visited the family on his recent visit to the region. Of course, we want all such investigations to be carried out thoroughly and to meet international standards. That will be part of our continuing representations.