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Israel and Palestine: Deportations

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 4 November 2010

Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Israel concerning the four Palestinian Members of Parliament being deported from East Jerusalem.

My Lords, in the absence of the noble Baroness, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, east Jerusalem is occupied territory and its Palestinian population has rights under the Geneva conventions. Forcibly transferring people out of the city on the basis of political affiliation is illegal. This comes against a backdrop of other developments that appear designed to consolidate the annexation of east Jerusalem. Such actions erode trust between the parties at a crucial time in negotiations. The EU has raised the matter with the Israeli Government, while Her Majesty’s ambassador to Tel Aviv has raised it with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I should mention that I was one of three Members of your Lordships’ House who visited three out of the four Palestinian elected Members when they had taken refuge with the International Committee of the Red Cross in east Jerusalem in July. The noble Lord referred to international law. If the expulsions take place, will the Government ensure that Israel suffers an appropriate penalty?

My Lords, the question of what an appropriate penalty is is a matter for delicate negotiations. We wish the current negotiations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to succeed and we wish to do nothing that will disrupt the chances of them succeeding, but it might be helpful to the House if I read a short part of Article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention, which states:

“Individual … transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory … are prohibited, regardless of their motive”.

It adds:

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Israeli Government are planning to demolish in Jerusalem the entire area of Silwan, a Palestinian area near the holy places? Is he also aware that anyone who opposes this illegal act is labelled extremist and anti-state? Does he agree that breaching Geneva conventions and international law includes throwing people out of their homes and expelling them from their cities? The Israelis cannot expect respect from the United Kingdom when they do not respect international law.

My Lords, the Government are extremely concerned about some of the developments in east Jerusalem at present.

My Lords, are the British Government concerned that—ironically, given that the Israeli Government are worried about the possible detention of Israeli military officers in the UK if they visit here—literally thousands of Palestinian detainees are still held in Israeli jails, including many from east Jerusalem, most of them without due, proper or thorough legal process? That detention is equivalent pro rata to twice our prison population. This scandal has gone on for many years. Most people do not bother to take an interest in it. Will the British Government now deal with this urgently with the Israeli Government and make the strongest representations about early releases?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises the question of universal jurisdiction, on which the Government will bring forward proposals early in the new year. This is not simply a matter that relates to Israel. Members will remember occasions when attempts were made to secure private arrest warrants against Henry Kissinger and the Chinese Trade Minister. On the number of people in Israeli jails, when we are attempting to build agreement for a two-state solution it does not help to have elected representatives of the Palestinian Authority in Israeli jails.

Does the noble Lord acknowledge that both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority have serious and legitimate security concerns over the presence of Hamas leaders in east Jerusalem?

My Lords, we recognise that both sides have a range of legitimate security concerns. We also recognise that Hamas is a problem. On the other hand—I know that the noble Lord has said on occasions that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East—these were elected representatives of the Palestinian Authority. If we wish to encourage the growth of two democratic states alongside each other, sometimes we may have to accept elected representatives who are not exactly the sort of people we would like.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the influence of the British Government over Israel has diminished to a very low point, in part because of the apparent hostility attaching to the fact that Israeli officials are unlikely to be able to visit this country without fear of arrest, as well as because there appears to be a lack of comprehension of the existential threat that Israel faces, of which, possibly, these four MPs may be a part, as members of Hamas, which is still dedicated to the destruction of Israel?

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are fully aware of the security needs of the Israelis and their neighbours, but we differ with some members of the current Israeli coalition on how best to develop a long-term secure Israeli state in a secure and peaceful Middle East.

My Lords, is the Minister of my mind in thinking that it is difficult to reconcile the existential threat, as the noble Baroness just called it, that Israel fears with a continued policy of rampant colonisation of the West Bank, which is not just illegal but is as provocative of extremism within Palestine and the Middle East as it conceivably could be?

Perhaps I might say that in previous Questions the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, has suggested that 62 per cent of the West Bank is now controlled by settlements. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has suggested that the figure is actually 5 per cent. The Government’s best estimate, based on local NGOs, is that some 42 per cent of the West Bank is currently controlled by Israeli settlements.

My Lords, we on these Benches recognise the security threats posed to the state of Israel, as the noble Lord has acknowledged on behalf of the Government, but, as he said in his Answer, the deportations of these four Members are illegal under international law. He said that representations have been made by the EU and by our ambassador. Was the Foreign Secretary able to raise this issue directly during his recent visit and has the Israeli ambassador been invited to the Foreign Office to discuss the matter?

My Lords, I have not heard from the Foreign Secretary exactly what he has been saying while he has been there, but before he left he assured us that human rights issues would be a major element in all his discussions in the region.