The UK is providing effective support for the Palestinian Authority in very challenging circumstances. The Palestinian Authority has developed institutions to the point where the international community has recognised it as technically ready for statehood, and it has made impressive progress in delivering improved outcomes in health and education.
Having just returned from a Select Committee visit to the Palestinian occupied territories and seen the excellent work being done there by the Department, may I ask whether the Minister agrees that its work to support the private sector would be much more effective if Israel lifted many of its restrictions, which can have nothing to do with its essential security, on the freedom of Palestinian business people to develop their economy in areas such as the banking sector, water supply, and even 3G telephone networks?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his appreciation of DFID’s work in the occupied Palestinian territories and glad that he and the Committee had such a useful visit. Israeli restrictions do tremendous damage to the economy and to the living standards of ordinary Palestinians. The simple truth is that they are not allowed to develop their banking or information and communications technology sectors, or to build even their basic infrastructure. Were these restrictions to be lifted, not only would DFID’s work to support the private sector be much more effective, but within a relatively short space of time the Palestinians would probably not need our aid at all.
Is the Minister aware that the World Bank has said that area C of the west bank, particularly the Jordan valley, is vital to the future economic viability of a Palestinian state? Presumably that is why the Department is looking to fund infrastructure projects there. What is his view of the fact that illegal Israeli planning restrictions are stopping those infrastructure projects being built, and for how long will the Government allow Israel to have a veto over economic development in the west bank?
I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman says. I think the Select Committee saw a direct example of the destruction of olive groves when it was there. It is essential that area C is able, through planning arrangements, to develop its economy; otherwise there can be no sensible or useful economic future in the Palestinian territories.
May I confirm what the Minister says—that without access to area C there is no future for a two-state solution or for an economically viable Palestine? The Palestinian Authority pleaded with us to put all possible pressure on Israel to allow access. We met someone from a company who is saying that the cost of land in areas A and B is prohibitive and that without access to area C he cannot develop his business.
What recent representations have the Government made to the Israeli authorities about the continued forcible removal of populations, and property demolition, in the occupied territories? Yesterday the Foreign Secretary met the Israeli Minister for International Relations: was this issue raised with him?
I was also at that meeting, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we raise such matters regularly. It is essential that some kind of normal activity can be permitted in the occupied Palestinian territories; otherwise, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) said, there will not be a two-state solution and there is a danger of permanent conflict and tension.