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Israel and Palestine

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014

7. If he will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to participate in projects which bring them together and build a new generation of leaders committed to peace and dialogue. (905694)

10. What steps his Department is taking to support projects that foster co-operation and co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. (905697)

11. Whether he has discussed with his Israeli counterpart the content of the debate in the House on 13 October 2014 on Palestine and Israel; what recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on the future of the peace process; and if he will make a statement. (905698)

Despite the tragic events during the summer, we remain committed to supporting efforts for peace. Our embassy in Tel Aviv and the British consulate general in Jerusalem work closely with all sectors of society, including the ultra-Orthodox communities, Israeli Arabs and Palestinian communities affected by the occupation, to build constituencies for peace.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but on an International Development Committee visit to the middle east earlier this year, it was noted that the conflict fund had insufficient funding to support groups that were promoting peace from both sides. I urge the Minister to expand the conflict fund pool and look again at organisations such as Cherish, Parents Circle and Middle East Education Through Technology, which are trying to get peace in the region.

Certainly, the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence are keen to receive strong applications for the conflict, stability and security fund—as the conflict fund is now called—for joint projects that bring Palestinians and Israelis together to achieve peace. This is the first time I have heard that there are issues to do with the funding. I will certainly look at it and write to the hon. Gentleman.

It is important to step up the work that the Minister outlined, because the only way to resolve this conflict is through a stable, two-state solution with security and peace for both Israel and Palestine. There is no legalistic, unilateral or bureaucratic route to that objective; it will be achieved only by getting Israelis and Palestinians working together to build trust, to compromise and to negotiate and by means of economic development and trade in the west bank and by the reconstruction and demilitarisation of Gaza.

The whole House would agree with the hon. Gentleman. I, too, had the opportunity to visit Gaza, Jerusalem, Israel and the occupied territories over the last few weeks. I was astonished by the amount of energy there and by the people who absolutely want to work together. One example of that is the UK-Israel tech hub, which is driving economic and technological collaboration between the UK and Israel. The hub is working with Israeli and Arab experts, including Palestinian, to support work and build partnerships in the quick-growing Arab internet sector.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to comments made last week by the Israeli deputy Defence Minister, Moshe Yalom, a Likud party MP and close ally of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He said about President Abbas:

“He is a partner for discussion; a partner for managing the conflict. I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and maintain relations in a way that works for our interests.”

Has the Foreign Secretary discussed those comments with Israeli officials?

We take on board the comments made, and it is interesting to note that on Yalom’s visit to the United States, no senior representation was there to meet him. That is perhaps a reflection of how out of sync those comments were. As the Foreign Secretary has reiterated, it is important that we focus on humanitarian efforts, which were discussed at the Gaza donor conference in Cairo, which I attended. Then we should see an immediate return to negotiations.

16. Even strong supporters of the state of Israel are concerned that building on the west bank is likely to postpone the peaceful dialogue that we all want to see. What is the Government’s position on that? (905703)

The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I have condemned the building in the occupied territories. Such building certainly makes it more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it against accusations that it is not taking the process for peace seriously. We very much encourage all sides to come to the table. I visited the E1 area on my recent visit, and it was clear what difficulties this building would cause in the conurbation between Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem. We discourage the building of any further settlements there.

Illegal settlements are not just about how to defend the Israeli Government. Surely, the result of such settlements is to put the possibility of a two-state solution further and further into the future, to the extent that it could be argued that such a solution has now been completely undermined. Does my hon. Friend accept that no leader of the Palestinians could accept a solution that, for example, made it impossible for a Palestinian state to have East Jerusalem as its capital?

The issues raised by such settlements are very serious indeed, but we must not allow them to deflect from the bigger issue of reaching an actual settlement. It is possible for land swaps to take place and, as my right hon. and learned Friend implies, what is happening is illegal under article 46 of The Hague regulations. However, we do not want people to be distracted by the settlements; we want them to come to the table and restart the negotiations.

Does the Minister agree that the key point is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to get round the negotiating table to discuss a two-state solution without preconditions, reflecting Israel’s security interests and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians?

My hon. Friend’s question illustrates the complexity of the situation. We do require leadership on both sides. From Israel we require a commitment to dialogue and to avoiding all actions that undermine prospects for peace, including settlement activity, while the Palestinian Authority must show leadership in recommitting itself to the dialogue and establishing itself as the authoritative voice in Gaza.

The Arab peace initiative could prove vital in assisting a move towards the essential two-state solution for Israel and the long-suffering Palestinian people. Does the Minister agree that in the light of yesterday’s welcome Tunisian election results, which were good news not only for the Tunisian people but for the wider Arab world, it is right for such regional initiatives to be considered as a matter of urgency?

I think that those are wise words. I have congratulated Tunisia on the journey it has made, bearing in mind that it was responsible for the very start of the Arab spring. It is a small ray of hope in a very complex area, and I hope that other nations will take a lead from it.

Order. I am sorry not to have accommodated more colleagues on question 7, but both questions and answers have been extremely long.