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Middle East Peace Process

Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2013

4. If he will consider the introduction of a ban on importing products from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. (160000)

During my recent visit to Israel, I raised our serious concerns about settlement activity at the highest levels, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We are working to ensure that settlement produce is correctly labelled so that consumers can make an informed choice. However, I do not believe that imposing a ban on settlement goods will promote peace.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply; I do not doubt his good intentions, but the time for rhetoric is passed. The latest expansion of illegal settlements is making a two-state solution impossible on the ground. Will he consider further steps and accelerate the labelling proposals he mentioned so that consumers can make a choice as to whether they support the Israeli system of apartheid?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that settlement activity is steadily making a two-state solution impossible. That is why time is running out for a two-state solution, which was the case I made to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on my visit to Israel and the occupied territories. We are taking up with other European countries the commitment of the EU High Representative to prepare EU-wide guidelines on the labelling of settlement goods—that is the direction we are taking on that policy. Above all, the answer is to get Israelis and Palestinians back into negotiations so that we can settle all the issues, including the future of settlements and final status issues. That is what we are concentrating on now.

I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about trying to get both sides into negotiations, because that is the way of resolving issues such as settlements and the legitimate concerns of both sides. What progress has he made in persuading President Abbas and the Palestinians to drop their pre-conditions for talks, which are an obstacle to resolving the issues mentioned by the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris)?

We are encouraging both sides into negotiations. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), was also in Israel and the occupied territories a few days ago, and spoke to President Abbas, as I did. We encourage the Palestinians to enter negotiations without pre-conditions; we also encourage Israel to approach those negotiations in a way that will allow them to succeed. I pay tribute to Secretary Kerry for the energy he has put into the process in his four and a half months in office so far. He and I discussed the issue in detail in Washington last week.

The Foreign Secretary has been clear over the years that settlements are not only undesirable but illegal. If the UK decided to impose a ban on goods from settlements, would it be within the law to do so?

The question before us is not so much about what would be within the law as about what best promotes peace. We are at a critical stage—we are often at a critical stage in the middle east peace process, but this is one of those truly critical stages where the coming days or weeks will determine whether Israelis and Palestinians come back into negotiations on a two-state solution. That is the only way to truly resolve the settlement issue and create a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, and that is our objective.

Israel, by its policies, is a racist, apartheid state. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that all the products we are discussing are produced on land that is illegally occupied?

Yes, that is true. I absolutely agree, as other hon. Members have said, that settlements on occupied land are illegal. That is why the previous Government and my predecessor proposed and introduced the guidelines on settlement produce. This Government have continued support for them and, as I have said, we are discussing how to apply them across the EU. I believe we are taking the policy forward in the appropriate way.