Skip to main content

Middle East

Volume 559: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2013

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Israel on illegal settlements in the occupied west bank. (145882)

We take regular opportunities to talk to the Government of the state of Israel about settlement policy which, as the House heard earlier, we consider to be illegal and an obstacle to peace. My most recent opportunity was a meeting with the Israeli ambassador last Friday.

Against the worrying echoes of the southern states of the USA 50 years ago and of apartheid South Africa 25 years ago, the Government of Israel introduced segregated buses for Israeli settlers living illegally on the west bank and for the indigenous Palestinian population. Appeasing the racist regime in Israel must stop. Will the Minister, with his European Union colleagues, end our cosy relationship in view of such behaviour?

As always, recognising the context of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly in relation to some of the hopes expressed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary earlier, means acknowledging how difficult the circumstances are, but also points to the consequences of there not being a settlement and of actions being pursued that continue to place Israel in a difficult position with world opinion. The longer the status quo is believed to be realistic, the more dangerous things become. We must all lend our efforts to the determination expressed by a number of states that this year must be definitive if we wish to see Palestinians and Israelis live in the sort of peace and harmony that we would all expect to bring an effective settlement to that region.

Further to an earlier question, is not the crux of the matter that the Israeli Government, and previous Israeli Governments, do not believe that there will be any serious consequences as a result of what they do? Can one understand the sheer anger, resentment and frustration of the Palestinians who see no political progress at all? What would we do if we were in the same position as the Palestinians in the occupied territories?

The crux of the matter remains the extraordinary distrust and low levels of confidence between Israelis and Palestinians in relation to security matters and the long effects of the occupation, which has been so immensely damaging to both. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, we fear that unless there is effective action this year, the opportunity for a two-state solution is slipping away, the barrier between Israeli and Palestinian that we have all seen growing in our time in the House is getting more and more severe, and the opportunities, therefore, for people to live together in the future are getting more and more remote. The anger is understood. The fear of lack of security on the Israeli side is understood. That is why this year has to be definitive to make serious progress.

20. Is it not the case that in no other country would we allow large numbers of migrants to occupy its land, denying the land to local people? Why is so much energy put into the likes of Syria after two years, when nothing appears to be done about Palestine’s west bank, and in particular East Jerusalem, after 40 years? (145894)

I cannot accept the premise of the question that nothing is done in relation to this long-standing and deeply divisive issue. The United Kingdom has been a supporter of the Palestinian Authority and of its work towards statehood. We have condemned the possibility of settlements arising in new areas of East Jerusalem, we have condemned settlement building in East Jerusalem, and we continue to take the view that settlements are illegal and an obstruction to peace. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said during the course of these questions, this year must be definitive in making progress on both sides, so that the context of a secure Israel next to a viable Palestinian state becomes a reality before that window is lost and the situation becomes even more grave.

The Minister rightly condemns illegal settlements, administrative detention and the demolition of Palestinian homes, but it appears that he cannot do very much. What he can do something about is the import of illegal goods from those settlements, which are running at eight times the level of imports from all Palestinians, as a recent report called “Trading Away Peace”, with which I believe he is familiar, by 22 non-governmental organisations, said. Will he now take steps to prevent the import of goods from illegal settlements to the UK?

We continue to work with European partners on the possibility of extending voluntary labelling so that people can make their choices. We do not believe in a boycott of goods, but we believe in clear labelling so that people can see where goods have come from. We are certainly keen to ensure that no goods from settlement areas find their way into the European Union by being labelled as Israeli, and we are determined to ensure that that does not happen.