My Lords, the Government have followed closely the mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. In the past week we have raised our long-standing concerns over Israel's extensive use of administrative detention and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners with the Israeli Vice-Prime Minister, the Israeli Foreign Minister and the Israeli national security adviser. We welcome the Egyptian-brokered agreement, which has brought an end to the hunger strike.
I thank the Minister for that reply and the Government for their efforts on the prisoners’ behalf, but this is Nakba Day—the “day of catastrophe” for the Palestinians, when the state of Israel was created—and I think that we should congratulate most of all those Palestinians who have reminded us of the power of peaceful resistance. The Minister will remember, however, that Israel reneged on its promise to ease the inhumane regime in its prisons after the release of Gilad Shalit. In fact, conditions got worse. Will the Minister therefore ensure that the seriously ill hunger strikers are given proper medical treatment immediately outside prison, and will he try to press for the new prison regime, which is still keeping administrative detention, to be monitored by an independent body such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel?
As my noble friend knows very well from her expertise, these are very early days. We have only just heard about the deal being reached. Although it is true that it does not cover the ending of administrative detention for all but only for a limited number, it seems—together with the new arrangements for family visits from Gaza and the ending in most cases of solitary confinement—a very constructive move. We will be watching closely, as no doubt will the entire international community—and certainly the Palestinian authorities—to see that the deal goes forward. I shall look into the particular points that my noble friend raised. It is early days, and we do not quite know exactly how the arrangements that have been announced will affect the kind of categories that she described.
My Lords, will the Government congratulate the Government of Israel on their apparent intention to improve prison conditions? At the same time, will they urge the Israelis to end administrative detention, especially as far as it concerns democratically elected representatives?
Congratulations are certainly due to all parties concerned, and indeed to the Egyptian authorities that brokered the deal. As long as it can hold—and those who have all the details will know exactly what is implied—it sounds good news, and congratulation is in place. As to extending the proposal to the ending of all detention, that may be a phase that we could see in future. It is the sort of thing that we will certainly continue to raise, but first let us see the details of this new deal and hope that this is a foundation and open path for better things, including possibly even the reopening of negotiations.
That would be very good. The noble Lord is right—Mr Netanyahu wrote to Mr Mahmoud Abbas, and there is an exchange. Let us hope that the deal that we are talking about and other developments—as well as developments in the internal pattern of Israeli politics, which are not for me to comment on but are very interesting—together begin to provide the basis for a return to the negotiating table for both sides.
The Government’s view is that we are watching closely to see whether there are going to be any changes. It is the comment of an analyst rather than an outside Government that the change in the party structure inside Israel obviously appears to reduce the powers of some wings of its political spectrum and to increase the influence of others, but so far, although we are watching carefully, there is not much sign of change. However, we will continue looking at the matter very closely indeed.
The Government are to be commended for the moves that they have made this week in helping to bring about a resolution of the current dispute. Does the Minister agree with me that it is comparatively easy to imprison a few thousand people but that it is not easy to imprison a whole nation or a whole people? Does he agree that if the Israeli Government decided to stop building more illegal settlements, the Palestinians would come to the table?
I do not know enough about precise cause and effect but I certainly agree with the noble Lord that the settlements issue is a really sore point—a really poisonous one, if you like. We regard the extension of the settlements as illegal and settlement activities that press into Palestine as unhelpful and illegal. I agree with the noble Lord that if that were to stop, it would certainly open some of the doors to a negotiation.
My Lords, we have gone beyond 30 minutes.