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Illegal Settlements: West Bank

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

I deplore the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to expand the number of illegal settlements. The UK’s position on this is long standing: settlements are illegal—we neither support nor encourage trade, we make clear the risks to business, and we ensure all consumers can make their own choice through the labelling of goods.

In February, the Foreign Secretary said that the recent talks were the last chance for a two-state solution. Given the Netanyahu Government’s relentless expansion of the illegal settlements, which scuppered those talks, and the warning from Senator Kerry that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state, is now not the time for a recalibration of our policy towards Israel, beginning with the illegal settlements?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows and as I have just said, we are very clear about where we stand on settlements. But is the time right now for such a recalibration? I think the honest answer to that is no, because our efforts are geared towards a resumption of negotiations if it is at all possible. Secretary Kerry has said that there is a pause in the negotiations; we would like to see them revived. I think everything we do has to be consistent with supporting that, but we have made our views about recent settlements announcements abundantly clear.

What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of how we can change the situation whereby Palestinian Arabs living in the west bank continue to be tried under martial law in the Ofer military court, whereas Israelis living there are subject to civil law?

Of course, this is a further continuing difficulty and it reinforces the case for these issues to be fully resolved, and for a final status settlement of these issues that brings about a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Otherwise, there will constantly be the great variety of extremely troubling issues that are raised in this House.

Is not Britain’s role to get Israelis and Palestinians who believe in peace and a two-state solution working together and trading with each other, instead of campaigning for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, which just drive people further apart? The Palestinians working at SodaStream are paid three times more than the average Palestinian, so boycotting such companies would actually hurt the very people they claim to be trying to help.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we do not encourage boycotts in any way. The British Government do not support boycotts or a de-legitimisation of Israel, but we do support, as did the last Government, labelling of products from illegal settlements in the west bank, and I think that is the right thing to do. But the hon. Gentleman is quite right that our emphasis is on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, and this is a more important time than ever to try to do that.

It is certainly urgent. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the public can have confidence in the labelling of goods from illegal settlements, or can the supply chain be sufficiently complex to ensure that the public do not have the information they may seek?

The evidence I have seen is that the guidelines on this are well observed, and work is going on on EU-wide guidelines. But of course, where there are serious problems with them, if my hon. Friend or others would like to bring that to our attention, I will investigate.

25. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, to achieve a democratic solution, residents of East Jerusalem must be permitted to vote in the Palestinian elections—and that includes releasing Palestinian MPs who are held in administrative detention, and the free passage of movement? (904267)

It is very important that Palestinians are able to vote freely in the elections, which are envisaged within six months, for the new technocratic Government being created. Of course, we will make that point to the Israelis and to the Palestinians themselves.