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East Jerusalem

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 16 June 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take following the publication in March by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of its report on key concerns affecting civilians in east Jerusalem.

My Lords, we remain concerned about a number of Israel’s continuing policies in east Jerusalem, which the UK considers occupied under international law. These include ongoing settlements expansion, the demolition of houses and the eviction of Palestinian residents, the route of the barrier wall and restrictions on residency rights. In his public statement of 5 April, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary condemned plans to build 500 new Israeli settlements in occupied east Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. He listed many of the points of deep concern. Does he agree that these harm the welfare and even the citizenship of Palestinians living in east Jerusalem? What is more, they prejudice, do they not, final status negotiations in a very damaging way.

Very many people would agree with the noble Lord’s sentiments. Of course, this area has been occupied since 1967 when—to get history right—Israel was attacked, broke through the Mandelbaum Gate and occupied east Jerusalem and many other areas as well. Ever since then, the handling of the occupation by the Israeli authorities has given rise to criticism. It is the clear view of Her Majesty's Government that the more heavy-handed and inappropriate the operations in the administration of east Jerusalem, with the kind of things that I described, the more we postpone the goal that we all want to achieve of proper peace negotiations to bring the two-state solution that will bring peace and harmony to the area.

I welcome what the Minister said about the Government's policy. Do not all the criticisms that he made, which I believe are valid, add up to the fact that it will be extremely difficult for east Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state?

Everyone recognises the whole Jerusalem issue, and the east Jerusalem issue is an enormously complex part of any future negotiations. We are talking about the goal of both Palestine and Israel recognising east Jerusalem as a joint capital. It is the capital of both countries and of many religions throughout the world. A degree of understanding is needed and is still missing between the Israeli authorities—although not among many highly enlightened and intelligent members of the Israeli community—the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Government, who are led in a very positive way at the moment, so that the very difficult concept of Jerusalem as the capital of both countries can be worked out and they can live together.

My Lords, may I, through my noble friend, congratulate our ambassador in Israel, Mr Matthew Gould, on the excellent practical work he is doing on the ground in east Jerusalem? Will my noble friend tell us whether the Foreign Office and DfID are jointly minded to implement some of the recommendations of the OCHA report, including prioritising zoning for Palestinians and building schools so that half the Palestinian children living in east Jerusalem who currently do not get free schooling are able at least to get an education so that they can move away from radicalisation? Will they please impress on the Israelis not to try to disfranchise the Palestinian population in this manner, or peace will never come?

I certainly agree with the last comment. As for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ report, which is a very long document—I think it is 118 pages—there are very positive ideas in it, which we are studying very closely with our colleagues in DfID. Where we can make a contribution and see these ideas carried forward, we will certainly do so.

What is the Government’s support for President Obama’s initiative? How do they see the issue of Jerusalem fitting into any follow-up process? How is that process being organised now, given the very negative reaction of the Israeli Prime Minister?

The answer to the question is in the noble Lord’s last comments. The reaction has been very negative indeed. The process we want to see remains the key to the future. There are elements in the jigsaw. One is whether, in joining with Fatah, Hamas can come forward with and deliver a responsible negotiating Government who renounce violence, accept the quartet principles and can go forward in good talks with Israel. Another is that the Israeli authorities recognise that there is no alternative to going forward in a positive away. Another is that they recognise that it is now when they should move, whereas the attitude in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv appears to be to wait and do nothing. We do not agree with that. We think this is a golden opportunity. All these matters must be fed into the process that President Obama tried to set in motion the other day but, so far, with not much success.

My Lords, the Minister will know the story of the three MPs, legitimately elected to represent areas of east Jerusalem, who were imprisoned by the Israelis because they had been elected. On release from prison nearly a year ago, they were told they were to be deported from east Jerusalem and would have to leave their homes and families behind. They have now been in an upper room in the Red Cross building in east Jerusalem for nearly one year. What are our Government going to do about it?

We are doing as much as we can, which is constantly to raise this matter with the Israelis. We do not at all approve of what has happened. We believe this is a wrong pattern. My noble friend has traced this evolution and development very closely indeed, probably as closely as anyone else in this House. Our pressure will continue. We are not the sovereign power, but we can explain our views and put them forward very strongly on a matter that is totally unsatisfactory.