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West Bank

Volume 613: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2016

1. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of demolitions by Israel of Palestinian homes and other structures in the west bank in 2016. (905808)

Before answering this question, may I take this opportunity to say that, two weeks ago, I had the difficult task of responding to the written Foreign Office question submitted by our former colleague, Jo Cox? Given her active role in foreign affairs, I completed this task because I believe it is what she would have wanted. Given the frequency and the passion with which she spoke and indeed influenced policy in this very forum at Foreign Office questions, I thought it appropriate to begin by paying tribute to her.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for what he said, which is warmly welcomed in the House. More than anyone in this House, the hon. Gentleman knows of what he speaks, and I thank him.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

We are deeply concerned by the continued demolition of Palestinian property by Israeli authorities, and the worrying spike in the rate of demolitions this year. In all but the most exceptional circumstances, demolitions are contrary to international humanitarian law. We regularly raise our concerns about demolitions with the Israeli Government. We make it clear that such actions do not encourage the confidence-building measures needed for talks to recommence.

I associate myself with the Minister’s words about our former colleague and friend, Jo Cox. She was an exceptional Member of Parliament and an exceptional person as well. Perhaps the greatest tribute any of us can give to Jo is to continue her work to support human rights throughout the world.

One of the things Jo was passionate about was justice for the Palestinians. According to the UN, Israel has demolished 649 Palestinian structures this year, and 1,000 people—over 400 of them children—have been displaced. The situation is getting worse, not better. I know that the Minister condemns these things, but if Israel feels it can continue with a culture of impunity, why should it stop? What can the international community do to show Israel that it does not have impunity, and what specific actions would the UK Government support?

Thank you very much for those initial comments. We agree and we are hugely concerned about the rate of demolitions. We need to place additional pressure on Israel and, indeed, the Palestinians to come to the table. I am pleased that we held a summit in Paris to discuss the overarching challenges that we face and the role that the international community can play. The extent of the demolitions was highlighted in the Quartet report, produced by Russia, the US, the EU and the UN, which underlines the very concerns that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

I, too, would like to associate myself with the Minister’s moving words about our late colleague, Jo Cox. As for the general point, my hon. Friend is quite right when he says that this will not help in moving towards a position in which people come together to talk. There is, however, the other side of the coin, with 36 Israelis, along with four foreign nationals, murdered this year. Instead of condemning the murders, the Palestinian Authority glorified them. Surely, when just this weekend the Israeli Prime Minister said that he would meet without conditions, we should urge the Palestinian authorities to do precisely that and have direct talks.

My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We regularly raise and discuss these matters at Foreign Office questions. Now that we have had the Paris summit and seen a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry, we can see this issue coming back on to the agenda. My concern—I raised it at the Paris summit—is that with all the other distractions and concerns in the middle east, we have lost sight of something that needs to be resolved. My right hon. Friend makes the important point that the actions of the Palestinians do not go unnoticed, and we require the leadership of President Abbas to make it clear that those actions must be condemned.

As well as demolishing Palestinian homes on the West Bank, Israel continues to arrest and detain Palestinian children in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. G4S, which has provided services for Israeli military checkpoints and prisons, has been found by the UK national contact point for the OECD guidelines to be in breach of its fundamental human rights obligations. Will the Minister join me in calling for G4S to withdraw fully from its relevant contracts with the Israeli state agencies?

I will certainly look into the case that the hon. Lady raises. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is concerned about the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons and has raised it with the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, and I raised it during my recent visit to Israel. We have done some work—and, indeed, have invested some funds—to ensure that the children are looked after in the best possible way.

The demolition of Arab houses, and of Jewish houses, was started by us, the British, between the wars, during the operation of the terms of the British mandate for Palestine. Today, the Israeli Government specifically cites British mandate law as a justification for the current demolitions. Has the Minister had conversations with his Israeli counterpart about the legitimacy of using that law today?

Given our legacy and the breadth of our influence over the last couple of hundred years, I think it wrong for any Government in the world to point to British policy and say that, historically, it is the cause. All laws can be updated, and both sides have a responsibility to come together and resolve this matter for the long term.