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Israel and Palestine

Volume 567: debated on Tuesday 3 September 2013

5. What support his Department has provided to projects fostering co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. (900079)

We are committed to encouraging peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. Strengthening those who are committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict is a key objective of our £4 million conflict pool, which is available in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and supports such projects with that aim.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The conflict pool funds operate in silos. Will he consider refocusing some of those funds to support joint working to encourage co-existence and co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians?

I am very keen to do so. I visited a football project between Israelis, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs this year. There is a very good project where Palestinian doctors are trained in Israeli hospitals and return to Palestinian territories, and there is increased co-operation between them. At the moment, we are not getting enough applications from such projects. I am very keen to see more and to see the conflict pool used more to encourage co-existence.

What is the potential impact on revived trade arrangements between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the Gaza border as a result of Egyptian action against the smuggling tunnels controlled by Hamas?

Getting a grip on the smuggling is a really important part of the future of Gaza, because its economy cannot deliver more unless this issue is dealt with. Essentially, however, the future economic prospects of Gaza are also closely bound up with a greater relaxation by the Israelis of the restrictions currently placed on Gaza and, of course, an overall settlement in the area, which will boost the Gazan economy and that of the west bank in due course.

Organisations such as Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund show the importance of co-existence. Does the Minister condemn those who campaign against co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis? Indeed, does he recognise that their actions might be one of the reasons for the dearth of applications to the projects that he has mentioned?

Absolutely. The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The atmosphere has been so poisoned over the years that two peoples whose individuals have an awful lot in common and whose work together will mean so much when there is a resolution to the issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians have been prevented from doing so. Peer pressure and other pressure that works against such projects is a tragedy. Separation over the years has done a great deal of damage. We must all get behind Secretary Kerry’s efforts because if, as part of that, there can be improved personal prospects and economic prospects for an independent Palestine, it will benefit both the Palestinians and Israel.

As the Foreign Secretary was silent about the ethnic cleansing of the Bedouin Arabs and the illegal building of yet more settlements on the occupied west bank, will the Minister confirm that those actions do nothing to foster co-existence between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

We are never silent in relation to issues affecting the growth of settlements. We make statements about that and the Israelis are well aware of our situation. With respect to the internal situation affecting the Bedouin, I have been in contact over a period of time with Ministers responsible. It is a difficult internal issue in Israel and much attention is being paid to it on both the Bedouin side and the Israeli side.

At a time of such darkness in the middle east, will the Minister join me in commending the work carried out by the West-Eastern Divan orchestra led by Daniel Barenboim, which creates a space for dialogue through music, in the words of Mr Barenboim? Will the Minister continue to support such projects to foster co-existence at a very difficult time?

Yes. As the hon. Gentleman says, it is a ray of light that, despite all the difficulties, people’s interest in coming together and realising what they have in common can sometimes overcome the most difficult things. History is full of situations where those who have been the bitterest enemies have, over time, developed into friends. It will take time in relation to some in Israel and in what we hope will be a new Palestinian state, but the efforts of those who have made opportunities for co-existence in the years of difficulty will be seen as even more important in the years to come.