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West Bank and Gaza

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 29 May 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had within the European Union concerning aid from the European Union to the Occupied Territories of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza.

My Lords, we hold regular discussions in the European Union on aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Most recently we worked to develop and support the conclusions of the May European Union Foreign Affairs Council, which set out EU priorities for assistance to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to maintain the viability of the two-state solution.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she realise that when David Cameron became Prime Minister, he pledged not to cut the overseas aid budget but to ensure that it was well spent? Does she also realise that in the past 10 years, $76 million-worth of damage has been done to European Union and UK-funded infrastructure projects in the West Bank and Gaza? Does she not think that by giving this aid we are financing the illegal occupation of another country? Will the Government press the European Union to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement until the Israelis have either compensated the Palestinians for the damage or refunded the money to the European Union?

My Lords, the Government have not only maintained aid but increased it. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be pleased to know that. On aid to the Occupied Territories, the EU has sustained its level of aid, as has the United Kingdom. We make it extremely clear that demolitions do not help take things forward. It is extremely important for the future of Israel and of the Palestinians that they seek a negotiated settlement. Anything that stands in the way of that, including demolitions, is a mark against it and does not help the process.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the many UK charities that support Palestinians? I will give three examples. Olive Tree supports young Palestinian and Israeli students to come to City University for three years. The Building Bridges programme brings doctors from Palestine and Israel to the UK to train at the Royal Free Hospital. On a personal note, the Daniel Turnberg fellowship that my wife and I run provides research fellowships for Palestinians to come to the UK. There are many more; is the noble Baroness aware of them?

I am indeed aware of them—not least the one set up in memory of the noble Lord’s son. I commend him and others who put their efforts into these organisations. They are extremely important and we encourage them to develop further.

My Lords, since trade is the best form of aid, and since Her Majesty’s Government have repeatedly declared the illegality of settlements in the West Bank, are they prepared to explore the question of whether there should be a differential between trading and doing business with deprived parts of the West Bank under Palestinian authority and trading with the illegal settlements about which they have often spoken, almost in despair?

In 2009, the previous Government put in place a voluntary agreement on labelling produce from the settlements. It is notable that the major supermarkets in the United Kingdom have taken that forward, so that labelling is there. No preferential treatment is given to produce that comes from the settlements.

Is the Minister aware that the aid per capita to Palestinians is the highest in the world, the greatest share of British aid goes to the Palestinians rather than any other country in that area and that the living standards of Palestinians is actually higher than some of their neighbours, including Egypt and tragically Syria and Morocco? Will she assure the House that the money is being properly spent—not on corruption, terrorism and teaching hate in Palestinian schools?

The noble Baroness can be assured that the aid given by the United Kingdom is very closely monitored. It goes through the World Bank trust fund and we are encouraged by reports about how that expenditure is carried forward. I would point out that movement restrictions were estimated to cost the Palestinian economy 85% of GDP in 2010. Obviously, the more that we can do to free up the economy so that the Palestinians do not need that kind of support the better.

My Lords, can the Minister give the House some illustrative facts about the experience for children in Palestine? How does their access to education and health compare with their neighbours in Israel?

The noble Earl is well aware of the situation of children in the Occupied Territories. They have access to education through what the international community provides and we and the EU are very supportive of that. I am aware that the number of textbooks and the range of resources available to children there is not the same as for their Israeli counterparts. However, there is a huge commitment to education among the Palestinians and that is very encouraging.