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West Bank: Illegal Settlements

Volume 619: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2017

5. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on illegal settlements in the west bank. (908034)

I spoke to the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu—he is also the Israeli Foreign Minister—on 23 December and raised the subject of illegal settlements. I probably spoke for a large majority of Members when I said that I am a strong and passionate supporter of the state of Israel, but I also believe that the continued expansion of illegal settlements in the west bank is by no means conducive to peace.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Will he further advise us on what assessment his Government have made of the Israeli Government’s intent to comply with UN Security Council resolution 2334 on illegal Israeli settlements?

That is clearly a matter for the Israeli Government, but I repeat our position that we believe—this is a long-standing view of the UK Government—that settlements in the west bank are illegal, and that the 20% expansion we have seen in those settlements since 2009 is a threat to the peace process. That was why we resolved as we did. Of course, there has been a certain amount of argument about that and a certain amount of push back from the Israeli Government, but the hon. Lady will find that there is a wide measure of international support for that view, which in no way diminishes this Government’s strong support for a Jewish homeland in Israel.

Is there anything in the substantial analysis presented by Secretary Kerry on 28 December, following the adoption of Security Council resolution 2334, with which the Foreign Secretary does not agree?

Let me repeat my point: John Kerry was completely right to draw attention to the illegal settlements and to the substance of resolution 2334. I remind the House that the UK was closely involved in its drafting, although of course it was an Egyptian-generated resolution. We supported it only because it contained new language pointing out the infamy of terrorism that Israel suffers every day, not least on Sunday, when there was an attack in Jerusalem. I was glad that the resolution identified that aspect of the crisis in the middle east, and John Kerry was absolutely right to point out the rounded nature of the resolution. May I pay tribute to John Kerry, who is shortly to step down as Secretary of State, for his tireless work for peace not just in Israel-Palestine, but across the wider middle east?

I welcome the Government’s vote in favour of UN Security Council resolution 2334, not least because it stated that

“the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution”.

Following the Foreign Secretary’s discussions in the past couple of days with members of the incoming Administration in the United States, does he think that that view is shared by President-elect Trump?

I think it is a widespread view in Washington, and across the UN Security Council, that settlements are illegal, which was why the resolution went through as it did, without any opposition. To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question directly, I think it is too early to say exactly what the Administration will decide on this matter, but he can rest assured that the British Government will continue to make the points that we have, not because we are hostile to Israel—on the contrary—but because we wish to support the state of Israel.

Let me try to get this right: the British ambassador is summoned formally in Israel because of the way the UK voted at the UN Security Council; meanwhile, in the UK, an employee of the Israeli embassy is caught on film conspiring with a British civil servant to take down a senior Minister in the Foreign Secretary’s Department, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and other Members of this House; and the Israeli ambassador makes a couple of phone calls and all is forgiven and forgotten. Can the Foreign Secretary enlighten us on the thinking behind all this?

I certainly can enlighten the House, in the sense that, as my right hon. Friend points out, the Israeli ambassador made a very full apology for what had taken place and the diplomat in question no longer seems to be a functionary of the embassy in London. Whatever that person might exactly have been doing here, his cover can be said to have been well and truly blown, and I think we should consider the matter closed.

Order. I am sorry, because these are very important matters, but I must say that progress is lamentably slow, so long questions will be cut off from now on, because there are people lower down the Order Paper who must be reached.

But if a UK embassy official had been caught on film in Tel Aviv talking about “taking down” an Israeli Government Minister, they would have been booted out of the country without any further ceremony, so why did that not happen to Mr Masot? If the Foreign Secretary showed even a teensy-weensy bit of resolve in such matters, perhaps Israeli diplomats would not talk about him in such disparaging terms.

The right hon. Gentleman seems, alas, to have been failing to pay attention to the salient point, which is that the Israeli diplomat in question is no longer doing his job in London—whatever his job is, he is no longer doing it in this city. The Israeli ambassador has made a full apology for the matter and I am happy to consider it closed.

Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and colleagues to discuss our grave concerns about resolution 2334, which my constituents believe will make peace in the middle east harder to achieve by imposing a complex set of preconditions that the Palestinians will use to avoid serious engagement in negotiation?

I am very grateful for that question, and I am happy to offer exactly such a consultation with colleagues. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), has already undertaken to do just that.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the horrific attack on Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem on Sunday. We will never achieve a lasting peace in the middle east until the state of Israel, its soldiers and civilians are free from the threat of terror. Nor will we achieve that lasting peace until all sides accept a two-state solution and a viable Palestinian state can be built, free from illegal settlements. In his allegedly frank discussions with the incoming Trump Administration on Sunday, was the Foreign Secretary frank about those points, too? If so, what response did he receive?

I call Virendra Sharma. Not here. Where is the feller? I am becoming accustomed to having to say this every day; it is very unsatisfactory.