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Middle East

Volume 571: debated on Tuesday 3 December 2013

13. What assessment he has made of the effect of recent announcements of settlement building on the middle east peace negotiations. (901380)

Recent settlement announcements have had a detrimental impact on trust between the two parties. During my recent visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I made clear our serious concerns about the announcements and our strong opposition to settlements.

Last week, the United Nations Secretary-General described Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a cause of great concern, saying that it risked the continuation of negotiations and must cease. I am glad that our Minister shares those concerns. Will he use his influence to shape European trade policies in a manner that is consistent with our Government’s view on the illegal settlements?

Yes, we will. As I suspect the hon. Gentleman knows, we welcome the EU guidelines on the eligibility of Israel entities for EU funding and the agreement reached last week that, on the other side, allows Israel to participate in Horizon 2020. We will absolutely make those representations.

Announcements of new settlement building must be unhelpful, but does the Minister recognise Israel’s good will in continuing its programme of releasing more than 100 convicted prisoners, many of them terrorists who carried out horrendous crimes, at the same time as the Palestinian national broadcasting authority perpetuates calls for violence against Israelis and Jews?

Yes. If the Palestinian broadcasting authority is perpetuating calls for violence, that is totally unacceptable, and I would have no hesitation in condemning it. It is fair to say that it was made clear to me a couple of weeks ago that the Palestinians believe that the original agreement was that there would be no push towards representation in international bodies in exchange for prisoner release and that the settlements issue should be renegotiated at a later stage.

As the middle east peace negotiations continue, are the Palestinians speaking with one voice? What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of the relationship between Fatah and Hamas?

It is absolutely clear that those Palestinian entities involved in the peace process are indeed speaking with one voice. It is clear, however—I suspect that this is what lies behind my hon. Friend’s question—that there is a very considerable difference between the Palestinian authorities engaged in those processes and the authorities in Gaza. I would call on those authorities in Gaza to make it clear that they deplore terrorist activities of all sorts.

When hon. Members raise the issue of, say, trade with illegal settlements, the Government say that they do not want to upset the peace talks, but 4,000 settlements have been announced—800 last week—and those are destabilising the peace talks. What are the Government going to do about that in order to support the peace talks?

I am not sure that I understand the distinction that the hon. Gentleman makes, because the Government have repeatedly condemned Israel’s announcements about expanded settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They are illegal under international law and, as I have said, they undermine the possibility of a two-state solution. We are quite clear about that.