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Middle East

Volume 552: debated on Wednesday 31 October 2012

4. What estimate she has made of the number of people in (a) Israel, (b) Gaza and (c) the remainder of the Occupied Palestinian Territories who are in employment; and what assessment she has made of the factors preventing equalisation of employment levels in the region. (125604)

In the second quarter of this year, unemployment was 7% in Israel, 28% in Gaza and 17% in the west bank. We support the International Monetary Fund’s recent assessment that Israeli controls on external trade and access to Area C of the west bank are a serious constraint on Palestinian employment levels.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that more needs to be done to persuade Israel to remove the barriers that prevent Palestinians from crossing the border in order to find work, and, indeed, to seize more opportunities to create work in Gaza and the rest of Palestine?

Yes, we want people and goods to be able to cross borders freely with the minimum constraints necessary to ensure Israel’s security, and we want the Palestinian Authority to be able to exploit its own resources, such as the gas fields off the coast of Gaza, so that the PA can pay its own way and eventually require less support from the international community.

The crazy economic and employment situation in Gaza is exemplified by the position of its fishing industry. Fishermen are prevented by an Israeli blockade from fishing more than 3 km offshore while, at the same time, fish can be imported through illegal tunnels, yet the indigenous people of Gaza cannot, by and large, afford to buy those fish. Would it not be better to lift the blockade, open the crossings and close the tunnels?

We are deeply concerned that the situation in Gaza remains dire, with 38% of Gazans living in poverty and 66% depending on food aid. Their ability to fish and exploit their own resources properly within international law is something that we would of course encourage.

My right hon. Friend and the previous Secretary of State achieved an enviable record of support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and Britain’s reputation in addressing some of the economic issues. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that that support is going to continue?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the assurances he seeks. We work very closely with UNRWA, and I regularly meet Filippo Grande who runs it. I have visited the area with him on many occasions, and look forward to doing so again, while also expressing our support in terms of hard cash for the future.

The Minister will be aware that water security has huge implications for economic and social development in the region. What specific actions are the UK Government taking to ensure that water is no longer used as a weapon against some of the most vulnerable people in the region?

We are well aware of the access restrictions to safe drinking water in the west bank and Gaza. The UK Government regularly discuss these issues with Israel, and we continue to call for the full implementation of the relaxation of access restrictions for Gaza that Israel announced in June 2010.