The security situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories remains fragile. Last week I spoke with my Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, and urged both sides to take steps to de-escalate and avoid a cycle of violence. We welcome the United States’ Middle East Partnership for Peace Act and the proposals for increased international funding for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Let me begin by condemning the recent spike in violence and bloodshed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and on behalf of us all I pay respect to all Palestinian and Israeli victims of conflict. The Secretary of State’s Department has acknowledged that there is a culture of impunity when it comes to crimes committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, and the SNP wholeheartedly agrees. What are the Government doing to encourage Israel to end the widespread and systematic discrimination against Palestinian populations? Will he outline any of the concrete steps that have been taken to deter land seizures, home demolitions, and the forced evictions of Palestinian people and their communities?
The UK enjoys a strong bilateral relationship with Israel, which allows us to raise issues where we disagree. We have disagreed with settlement expansion, which we have raised directly, and we also disagree with the demolition of Palestinian homes. Our position on that is long standing and consistent. In my most recent conversations with the Israeli Foreign Minister, I raised our concerns about the speculation of settlement building on the E1 territories in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I am pleased that there has now been a moratorium on such expansions, because to do so would be damaging to the prospects of a sustainable two-state solution.
In February I visited Masafer Yatta in the south Hebron hills, where the Israeli Government are planning to evict more than 1,000 Palestinians from their homes. That sits alongside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election pledge to annex west bank settlements, amounting to 30% of the territory, while Finance Minister Smotrich recently said that the village of Huwara should be “wiped out”. Has the Foreign Secretary raised those matters with his Israeli counterpart, and how does he intend to ensure that the new Israeli Government abide by their obligations under international law?
We raise issues of settlement expansion with the Government of Israel, and I have raised with my Israeli counterpart the need for a careful use of language. I have raised with both my Palestinian and Israeli counterparts the need for all of us to try to find ways of de-escalating the tensions. At this stage, that must rightly be the priority for us all, while we continue to work with the Israeli Government on ensuring that we keep a sustainable two-state solution alive.
Five years ago, the British Government became the first in the world to endorse a concept of an international fund for Israeli and Palestinian peace. Since then, warm words have followed, but very little action. Given the desperate need for that fund right now, with the deterioration of the situation in Israel and Palestine, will the UK Government commit again to leading on that fund? Will the Foreign Secretary use the opportunity of the G7 summit in May to get other international partners lined up as well?
People-to-people links between Israelis and Palestinians are incredibly important, and we fund projects to build co-operation, whether at Government-to-Government level, or people to people. We remain in close contact with our US counterparts about the international fund for peace. We want to ensure that it is the most effective use of funding allocated towards people-to-people links, and we will always look favourably at projects to build greater peace and co-operation. We want to ensure that anything we subscribe to, or any funding we commit, is allocated to the most effective way of bringing about that reconciliation.
In the west bank town of Huwara, over 400 settlers, backed by Israeli soldiers, torched Palestinian homes, businesses and vehicles, and killed 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash, in what senior Israel Defense Forces commanders have called a pogrom. Israel’s Finance Minister Smotrich, who describes himself as a fascist homophobe, openly said Huwara should be wiped out. Such extremism is given licence by a lack of international accountability, so will the Foreign Secretary, if he agrees with the rule of international law, commit to banning all goods sourced from Israeli settlements illegally built on occupied Palestinian land?
As I have said in answer to other questions, we have made it clear that the language used with regard to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories needs to be de-escalatory. It needs to be carefully thought through. Inflammatory language, as we have seen, is unacceptable. The behaviour of those settlers is unacceptable. That has been recognised by the Israeli authorities and we want to make sure that those people are held to account for the actions they have taken. We will always seek to reinforce the viability of a future Palestinian state as part of a sustainable two-state solution. The decision with regard to settlement goods is long standing and we do not speculate about any changes to those positions.
I welcomed the recent joint commitment by the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to reduce the surge in violence, and the Israeli Government’s pledge to halt new settlement constructions, but on the very day that commitment was signed, Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted:
“Contrary to tweets, construction and regulation in Judea and Samaria”—
the west bank—
“will continue according to the original planning and construction schedule, without any changes. There is and will not be any freeze.”
That is an indication of further violations of international law. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that whatever his diplomatic approach is at the moment, it simply is not working?
The United Kingdom has a like-minded position alongside a number of our international friends and allies. We seek to protect the viability of a sustainable two-state solution. We raised with the Israeli Government our concerns about activities that might put that future at risk. That is not something the UK does alone; it is something we do in close co-ordination with a number of our international friends and allies. That will continue to be our diplomatic stance.
Last Thursday, a Hamas terrorist shot three Israelis in the heart of Tel Aviv, just a few streets away from the British embassy. Shooting and bombing attacks have rocked Israel for over a year now and this wave appears to be intensifying. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those attacks? What meaningful steps can he take to counter the resurgence in terrorist activity?
The UK Government condemn terrorism in all its forms. Whatever criticism Palestinians may have of the Israeli Government, there is no justification for terrorist action. We always encourage dialogue, we always encourage co-operation and we always encourage actions that de-escalate. That will continue to be our posture with regard to Israel and the OPTs.
The only way to permanently end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to deliver Palestinian self-determination and preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity through a peaceful two-state solution. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department remains committed to achieving that solution based on 1967 borders and the recognition of Palestine as a state?
Our position on a sustainable two-state solution is long standing. We will always encourage Israel to take actions that support that and we have the same conversations with representatives of the Palestinian Authority. We encourage dialogue, we encourage negotiation, we encourage co-operation and we encourage de-escalation.
The emergence of Lions’ Den, a new terrorist group to go alongside Hamas, Hezbollah and many other Islamic terrorist groups, is clearly a threat to Israel’s security, and indeed that of the Palestinians. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of Lions’ Den and what co-operation is he pursuing with the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government to combat this new form of terrorism?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We will address terrorism in close co-operation with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, neither of whom have an incentive or desire to allow terrorism to flourish. We will continue our close co-operation with the security services in Israel to try to ensure that Palestinians, Israelis and Brits in the region are all kept safe.
When I raised these issues, the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and chief negotiator simply stormed out of the meeting. Does there come a time when simply raising issues is not enough?
It is better than not raising them, I would suggest.
I call the shadow Minister.
As we have already heard, on 26 February, following the appalling murder of two Israelis, a violent mob of 400 settlers attacked the Palestinian town of Huwara, killing one, injuring hundreds, and burning buildings and cars. As my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) said, a far-right Minister in the Israeli Government called for Huwara to be wiped out. That shocking incident is part of the deteriorating situation in the occupied west bank and the wider problem of settler violence, for which too often no one is held to account. Again, will the Government press the Israeli authorities to condemn and crack down on these shocking incidents of settler violence?
There has been condemnation of those actions within the Israeli system. We are always clear that where there is lawbreaking, authorities should take action. Within the Israeli system there has been recognition of the action being illegal and provocative, and therefore we will continue to work with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to find ways of de-escalating the situation and striving for peace, and for what ultimately is in the best interests of Palestinians, Israelis and the region: a peaceful and sustainable two-state solution.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
In February we welcomed the moratorium on new construction in settlement areas, as the Foreign Secretary has described. As we heard, that was followed by an immediate and blatant breach of trust by the Israeli Prime Minister. The Foreign Secretary says that it is better to raise issues than not, but how does he measure success in raising them, because we see absolutely no evidence of success?
I do not think it is news to anyone in the House that the situation in Israel and the OPTs is complicated and long standing. We are not the only country in the world that raises these important issues, and we can continue to do so because we have a strong working relationship with both the Government of Israel and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority—as I said, I had conversations with both very recently. We will continue to work at what we think is in everyone’s interests: a sustainable two-state solution. We will not be fatalistic about it. We will not give up just because it is difficult. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we should walk away just because it is a long-standing challenge, that is up to him. We will not abandon the Israelis or the Palestinian people. We will continue working for a sustainable two-state solution.