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Palestinian Territories: Israeli Settlements

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023

8. Whether it remains the Government’s policy that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories are illegal. (903371)

If the Israeli Government settlements are illegal, why did the UK Government vote against referring them to the International Court of Justice at the United Nations? What sanctions are being applied to Israel for supplying arms and trading with illegally produced settlement products? If those settlements are completely illegal, as the Government say, why are we having anything to do with them at all? Why did we change our stance at the United Nations?

The United Kingdom opposes unilateral resolutions that damage efforts to advance dialogue and therefore damage the prospects of a two-state solution. The UK’s position on settlements has been clear, consistent and unambiguous. We continue to work towards a negotiated two-state solution. We strongly believe that that is in the best interests of Israelis and Palestinians. That will remain our policy.

Having recently had the opportunity to visit the west bank with the International Development Committee, I was able to understand just how much worse conditions have become in the past 10 years or so for Palestinian families wishing to see one another within the west bank. What steps have the Government taken to impress upon the Israeli Government how poorly we regard moves to balkanise the west bank itself? What further can be done?

We enjoy a close and professional working relationship with the Government of Israel, which allows us to raise areas of co-ordination and co-operation but also issues where we disagree. Our position on the west bank and settlements is clear, and we have highlighted the importance for not just the Palestinian people but for Israel and Israelis of maintaining a credible route to a viable Palestinian state. We strongly believe that is in Israel’s best interests, and therefore we do speak out—we have done in the past, and we will do again—if decisions are made that we believe jeopardise the credible option of a viable two-state solution.

We are deeply concerned by the escalating violence in Israel and the west bank, and Labour joins the international community in condemning the recent attacks and deploring the deaths of civilians. In response to my letter about forced evictions and demolitions in Masafer Yatta, the Minister for the Middle East said that the Government were

“clear that in all but the most exceptional of circumstances, demolitions and forced evictions are contrary to International Humanitarian Law… and harmful to efforts to promote peace.”

Can the Secretary of State tell us what steps are being taken to ensure that Israel stops the eviction of Palestinians from their homes and what efforts are being made to support negotiations to keep alive the prospect of a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestine?

I had a telephone conversation with the recently appointed Israeli Foreign Minister, in which I congratulated him on his appointment and also made it clear that the UK’s long-standing position on peace in the region remains as passionate now as it ever was. We always encourage calm responses by the Israeli Government and restraint and professionalism while they pursue their own legitimate attempts at self-defence. We look at the deaths that are happening in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which of course are deeply distressing. We will continue working directly with the Israeli Government, partners in the region and other interested countries around the world to pursue peace and de-escalation and to try to make real our collective desire for a peaceful, sustainable two-state solution.