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Peace Process: Israel and Palestine

Volume 646: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2018

15. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the peace process in Israel and Palestine. (906722)

20. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the peace process in Israel and Palestine. (906727)

There is an urgent need to restart the peace process, and we regularly press Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct negotiations towards a two-state solution. We are in close consultation with international partners on how to encourage the parties to the middle east peace process to reverse the negative trends on the ground. Rocket fire and other violence makes achieving peace more difficult.

I am grateful for that answer. The World Health Organisation reports that 10 Palestinian people, including a pregnant woman and her two children, were killed and more than 400 were injured by Israeli forces in one week in August. Instead of deploying even more chatter, why will the international community not actually act and protect some of the most vulnerable people on earth?

The experiences in Gaza and the crisis we have seen over the summer have different roots and causes. It is essential that all those who are contributing in any way to the violence in relation to the process desist and find a way through to the peace opportunities that are there. We deeply regret the loss of life, and it is essential that all sides respond to that. Also, the violence that comes from Gaza towards Israel is making negotiations very difficult.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that recent rocket attacks by Hamas demonstrate, once again, that they are the biggest roadblock to peace in the middle east, frustrating the sincere efforts made by Israel to try to secure a peaceful future for the region?

Both the rocket fire and the incendiary devices that have come from Gaza have certainly made this difficult for Israeli politics, because a great deal of damage has been done in the area, which encourages people to demand that their Government protect them and keep them safe. As we know well, there are difficulties on all sides. Our concern has been that the problems in Gaza have made it more difficult for the negotiations, which we all anticipate following the US envoy’s reports, to get started. That is why we urge a restraint on violence and that the talking going on all through the region bears some fruit.

In response to the cruel decision taken by the Trump Administration to cut US funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the German Government have pledged to increase their financial support for the agency. Will the Minister commit his Government to do the same, so that Palestinian refugees do not suffer as a result of the President’s decision?

I am pleased to announce to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that today we have taken the decision to increase funding to UNRWA by a further £7 million. I spoke just a couple of hours ago to Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl to express our support for UNRWA. We understand the concerns of the United States, but we do not believe that the way it has gone about this is correct. We will continue to support the most vulnerable people, because that also forms a vital part of a just solution to the issues between the Palestinians and Israel.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the single most important thing for both unlocking the peace process and bringing relief to the desperate lives of Palestinians in Gaza is for Hamas to renounce violence and terror, and turn its back on those ways?

Yes. Hamas’s resistance to meeting the Quartet principles and to renouncing violence, by contrast to the Palestinian Authority, who have done that for many years, is indeed a stumbling block. Talks, brokered by Egypt, are taking place in the region, as we are well aware. Who knows what will come out of those talks, but if there is to be any progress in the future, Hamas’s position on Israel has to change.

To follow up on that point, there needs to be the renunciation of not only violence, but of the idea of the annihilation of Israel as a state. If we are to have proper negotiations, is it not critical that they are based on a mutual recognition of people’s rights and not on the basis of Hamas and others wanting to see the destruction of Israel?

Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is right; Israel cannot be expected to find an accommodation with terrorist groups that seek an annihilation and the extinction of the country. However, there are opportunities to make progress on that. Hamas’s position is in contrast with that of the Palestinian Authority, who have accepted the existence of Israel and worked with it on security matters in the past 20 years. A resolution has to be just to all sides in the situation, but Hamas’s position cannot hold.

I welcome what the Minister has just said about new funding for UNRWA. Labour has been saying for months that proposed cuts from Donald Trump would damage Palestinian schooling and education and harm the peace process. Will the Foreign Office also now take the lead in organising an international emergency conference, so that others may also pledge more support?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s support, and it is a common view in the House. We have increased funding more than once during this year, and more than £40 million extra has been brought forward to support UNRWA. I spoke to the commissioner-general about education in particular. He has the funds to open the schools at present and keep them going, but this will depend on further funding decisions in the future. I hope that we will be able to take part in mutual discussions at the UN General Assembly with other states that are affected. This is not just about the west bank and Gaza; it is also about Jordan and Lebanon. It is about places where children are getting an education. We are talking about an education that is gender neutral in a way in which other parts of the education system in the region are not. The question is: if UNRWA does not provide the education, who might? That is why it is so important to keep this going.