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Settlement Building (West Bank)

Volume 557: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2013

9. What recent representations his Department has made to persuade the Israeli Government to cease settlement expansion in the west bank. (138339)

I condemn recent Israeli decisions to expand settlements. I speak regularly to Israeli leaders, stressing our profound concern that Israel’s settlement policy is losing it the support of the international community and will make a two-state solution impossible. We will continue to press the next Israeli Government to cease settlement building.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the political process is critical if the peace process is to begin again. I know that the UK Government decided to abstain from the vote on whether to grant Palestine non-member observer status at the UN, but does he believe that the success of the vote was a positive or negative step on the road to a peaceful solution to the conflict?

Following that vote, there have of course been additional complications, including Israeli announcements on unfreezing settlement applications in the E1 area and the withholding of revenues for the Palestinian Authority, to which I referred a few minutes ago. That has meant Israel taking a step back, and that was one of the things we feared about going to the United Nations General Assembly in November. Nevertheless, it has happened. It is important for both sides to make progress. That will be our message to the next Israeli Government, and it continues to be our message to the Palestinians; both sides should be prepared to enter into negotiations without preconditions.

Clearly the election taking place today will have a significant effect on what happens to the next Israeli Government. What will my right hon. Friend do about the settlement activity to ensure that there is a just and peaceful solution to this long-standing problem?

This raises our whole approach to the middle east peace process. As other right hon. and hon. Members have quoted in the past half hour, I attach enormous importance to this in the year 2013, particularly as there will be a new or re-elected Israeli Government, and with the US Administration beginning their second term. If we do not make progress in the coming year, people will increasingly conclude that a two-state solution has become impossible.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week Israeli soldiers murdered four innocent Palestinians on the west bank, including a 17-year-old boy? Taking that into account, along with the fact that Netanyahu said this week that, if re-elected, he will not negotiate on the 1967 borders, what specific action will the Government take to get the Israelis to see that their future survival depends on a two-state solution?

We will of course continue to put that case very strongly. It is very much in the long-term strategic interests of Israel and peace in the whole region to embrace a two-state solution, because all the alternatives will be more problematic, particularly for the Israelis. I think that many people in Israel strongly hold that view—clearly, views in Israel are divided—and it is certainly our view and that of almost all other nations of the world. The role of the United States will be crucial, which is why that will be top of my agenda when I visit Washington next week.

I draw attention to my entry in the register. Last month I and hon. Members from both sides of the House saw for ourselves measures to segregate Israeli settlements around East Jerusalem and the E1 area, which is bigger still, from the rest of the west bank. What does the Foreign Secretary think would be the consequences for the prospects for peace talks were the Israeli Government to proceed with extending the security barrier around the E1 area?

Such extensions, and any prospect of building in the E1 area, would of course be extremely damaging to the prospect for a successful peace process. That is why it is so urgent. Now that the planning process for the E1 area has been unfrozen, a clock is ticking, with potentially disastrous consequences for the peace process.

The Israeli Government’s response to Britain’s abstention at the UN was, in the words of the Foreign Secretary, “taking a step back”. Therefore, will he please discuss urgently with our European partners the co-ordinated response to the present situation on the ground and use the wish for Israeli to develop stronger trading relations with the European Union as a means of achieving progress in the middle east?

To be clear, the Israeli response is to the passing of the Palestinian resolution, not to the UK abstention; the hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood the motivation behind Israel’s policy, which clearly relates to the passing of the resolution.

As to the implications for future relations with the EU, provided that there is a major initiative on the peace process, in particular from Washington, we will all have to work out the “incentives and disincentives” that we can create to support that. But of course that is work to be done over the coming weeks and months.