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Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014

On 12 October, at the reconstruction conference in Cairo, the UK pledged £20 million to help kick-start Gaza’s recovery. It is essential that both sides take the necessary practical steps to allow reconstruction. Reconstruction of Gaza is necessary and urgent to get the economy back to business, but progress to a political settlement must follow quickly on its heels.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Many in the House were concerned about the impact on ordinary Palestinians during the 50-day conflict. Of particular concern was the bombing of the hospital in Gaza. Will he advise us what the Government are doing to help rebuild vital medical facilities in Gaza?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is deeply engaged in that question. As I have said, we have pledged £20 million and we will continue to work with the UN and other agencies, but we urgently require an unsticking of the process that allows construction materials into Gaza so that physical reconstruction can commence. When that process is under way, I am sure there will be significant further pledges of assistance on top of the billions of dollars already available to reconstruct Gaza as a result of the Cairo conference.

Have any arrangements been agreed to ensure that much-needed building materials for hospitals, schools and homes will not be diverted to rebuilding the terror tunnels, which Hamas claims it has started to do?

This is the essential challenge: ensuring that construction materials in the quantities needed can enter Gaza under a monitoring regime that is satisfactory to the Israelis as well as the Palestinians and that they are applied to the rebuilding of homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, and not diverted for military purposes. Such a mechanism is in place. There was a temporary glitch—hopefully—earlier this week in its operation, but officials are working flat out to try to resolve it. I hope we see major progress over the next few days.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while Hamas continues to rule Gaza with such brutality and to amass missiles—as we have heard, many of them are from Iran—the prospect of a viable and democratic Palestinian state looks ever more unlikely?

The challenge to the authority of the Palestinian Authority from what is happening in Gaza is an impediment to progress on a broader middle east peace settlement, but I am of the view that we must first bring humanitarian relief to Gaza, which means getting started urgently on reconstruction. We then need a sustained ceasefire and settlement around Gaza as a step to proceeding to a resumption of the wider middle east peace process. I hope for significant American leadership to revitalise that process over the coming weeks and months.

I agree with the Secretary of State that the urgent and pressing matter is the humanitarian and reconstruction needs currently faced by the people of Gaza. Is it a forlorn hope—can he give us some hope—for a political solution in the medium to long term that allows the security needs of the Israelis and the Israeli nation to be met at the same time as the lifting of the economic constrictions and the strangulation of Gaza? That has to be the way forward.

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. All hon. Members would agree that the Gazan economy needs to be reactivated so that people can get back to something like life as normal. The stranglehold imposed by the access regime needs to be relaxed, but it can be relaxed only in the context of Israel feeling safe and secure.