Skip to main content

Palestine: Poverty

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 6 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What proposals they have to alleviate poverty and hardship in Gaza and the West Bank.

My Lords, the Department for International Development will contribute up to £12 million to a new temporary international mechanism which will help to meet Palestinian basic needs. In April, the UK gave £15 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides housing, education and health services to Palestinian refugees. Most of the terrible suffering is caused by the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, so we take every opportunity to call on both sides to end the violence.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response, but does she not agree with me that there will have to be a serious international effort to stop the violence if a humanitarian crisis is to be avoided? Does she agree that real pressure has to be brought to bear on the Palestinians by the international community to release the captured young Israeli soldier and to stop the Qasem rocket attacks on Israel, and that, at the same time, serious international pressure has to be brought to bear on the Israelis to restore the power supply to the Palestinians, which has been cut, and to facilitate vital international aid reaching Palestinian women and children to avoid real and continuing hardship?

My Lords, the Government would entirely agree with that position. This is an absolutely ghastly but intensely political situation which is having dire consequences for women and children in Gaza. They have little electricity, diminishing food supplies and a reduced supply of water. They are in need of humanitarian aid, but the aid cannot get through. The international community must strongly encourage both sides, as my noble friend suggests, to find a political and diplomatic solution. The EU and G8 have urged both sides to act with restraint, but we also urge our American friends to put pressure on the Israeli Government and our Arab friends to put pressure on the Palestinians to end the current violence.

My Lords, all three conditions set for contact with the democratically elected Hamas Government have now been breached by the Israelis—namely, a recognition of one’s neighbour, renunciation of violence and acceptance of existing agreements—most particularly by the recent deliberate attack on Gaza’s power supply. Will the Minister urgently consider changing our attitude towards Hamas Ministers, or at least those Hamas Ministers who have not so far been arrested by the Israelis, so that we can discuss with them ways in which the British Government can help to alleviate the misery and suffering of the Palestinian people?

My Lords, the Government will not negotiate or have discussions with Hamas Ministers until Hamas recognises the state of Israel, renounces violence and recognises the agreements that have already been made. Although the attacks being made by Israel are unutterably ghastly and we condemn them, we should not forget that Hamas wants to obliterate the state of Israel and has openly welcomed the attack by a suicide bomber. Both sides are to blame, and we have to bring both sides together.

My Lords, I am very glad to hear what the Minister has just said. Does she not agree that the attack on 25 May which resulted in the capture of Corporal Shalit was a premeditated project that had been going on for some three months and was directed by the Hamas people, who are not actually in Gaza? Therefore, they are trying to cut off their noses to spite their faces, because it happened right by a crucial crossing near the kibbutz. The lifelines that will help the Palestinians in Gaza in alleviating deprivation and hardship are going to be disrupted because of their own actions. The media here do not seem to understand that. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, in respect of the capture of Corporal Shalit, I merely say that we have pressed the Palestinian president to do all that he can to achieve his release and we have called on those who are holding him to release him. However he was captured, in whatever circumstances, he should not be held hostage now. We want to ensure his secure release as soon as possible.

My Lords, no one could be unmoved by the plight of the Palestinians and their desperate need for humanitarian aid, but they are being treated like pawns in a game by Hamas terrorist groups, whose leadership lies not in Gaza but in Damascus, well away from the action, which makes it very difficult for the humanitarian aid to come in. What action are the Government taking to bring pressure to bear on the Syrian Government to expel that terrorist organisation?

My Lords, I am sure that the Government both bilaterally and through the EU and G8 are doing what they can to ensure that proper pressure is exerted on the Syrian Government to do exactly that.

My Lords, I was in Gaza last year and have been to the West Bank this year. Everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, says, is absolutely true. The circumstances there cannot be described adequately. I put it to the Government that of course Hamas and the Palestinians are their own worst enemy and of course their violent attacks on civilian Israelis particularly are unacceptable. None the less, the underlying reality is that the continued settlement of the Occupied Territories—involving not just a few people but hundreds of thousands of Israelis—is a huge provocation to the Palestinians. It throws power into the hands of the extremist factions in Palestine and gives no hope whatever for the moderates such as President Abbas to have the sway they should. Using the words that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, used earlier, what concrete steps will the Government take to bring real pressure to bear on the Israeli Government to realise what they are doing not only to the Palestinians but to their own chances of a long and peaceful preservation as an independent state?

My Lords, the Government’s view on the settlements is well known. We are doing everything possible to ensure that there is a contiguous Palestinian state. We are also working continually with our allies to press for a proper solution to this problem. However, the immediate problem is the current violence, and we have to work with our international partners to end it now.

My Lords, is this not really a humanitarian and not a political question? The noble Baroness mentioned UNRWA and what we are doing in the way of relief and short-term measures, but what about employment? Surely it is the most urgent priority that we create jobs and the training to back them up.

Yes, my Lords, employment is important, but at the moment I suggest that the security situation in the West Bank and Gaza is such that creating employment is extremely difficult. DfID and the Treasury are continuing work that began before the elections on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s initiative to try to get the private sector to invest in Gaza, but in the current situation that is very difficult.