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Volume 746: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with European partners regarding the right to security for Palestinian children living in the Gaza Strip.

My Lords, the EU Foreign Affairs Council discussed the situation in Gaza on 10 December 2012. In addition, officials from the UK representative to the EU and our consulate-general in Jerusalem regularly discuss the situation in Gaza with their European counterparts. Those discussions cover the security and human rights of Palestinians living in Gaza, including children. Our consul-general in Jerusalem visited Gaza with other EU heads of mission on 26 February.

I thank the Minister for that response. Is she aware that 1,519 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli action since September 2000, 109 of them during extrajudicial assassination attempts, and that last year alone 43 children were killed, 18 of them under nine years old? Is she also aware that over 10% of under-five year-olds in Gaza suffer from malnutrition and stunting, and that a child in occupied Palestine as a whole is five times more likely to die before the age of five than an Israeli child? I am anxious to know from the Minister whether the plight of these children and the illegal occupation of Palestine are now to be forgotten as the West concentrates on the tragedy unfolding in Syria.

The simple answer to my noble friend’s question is no. I am aware of the statistics that she quotes and, indeed, have responded to the many Written Questions that she has submitted on this issue. The UK is deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which is both a tragedy and unsustainable. It is for that reason that the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that the Middle East peace process is a priority for 2013. Noble Lords are aware that I have previously said from this Dispatch Box that this is an important—a decisive—year. That is why we continue to support Senator Kerry in his efforts—he has made five visits, I think, in the past two months—to move this forward.

My Lords, is it not the case that, any day that it wished, the Hamas regime in Gaza could lift the blockade and bring to an end the terrible purgatory under which the people of Gaza have been living for so long, simply by following the example of the Fatah Administration in the West Bank and accepting the quartet principles, including abjuring violence? Should we not be urging the Hamas regime to do just that?

I hear what the noble Lord says but I think that he would agree that nothing in the Middle East peace process can be resolved by one group alone or by addressing only one issue, and that nothing there is simple.

My Lords, have the Government taken note of the statement yesterday made by a Minister in Mr Netanyahu’s Government calling on Israel to annex as soon as possible all the territories not handed over to the Palestinian Authority in Oslo, and also describing the two-state solution as dead? How do Her Majesty’s Government propose to react to that?

Her Majesty’s Government’s position on this matter is very clear. We of course continue to support a negotiated settlement, leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees. That is HMG’s position.

Can the House look forward to a statement on the G8 that addresses the issue of Israel/Palestine, given that my noble friend says that the peace process is a priority for the Government in 2013? Can she tell the House what discussions the Government are having within the EU, as we heard in media reports of the EU wishing to support Palestinian statehood in UN agencies, should there be no progress in 2013?

My noble friend always comes at these matters with a huge amount of knowledge. I think that it would be inappropriate for me to pre-empt what may be in a G8 statement but I understand that discussions are ongoing. I think my noble friend would agree that, although of course the EU has a position on this matter, ultimately it will be the United States that is able to move this forward. With a President in a second term, the US is presented with just such an opportunity, and we are seeing positive signs from it.

My Lords, the situation in Gaza is tragic but, as always, there are two sides to every story. Is the noble Baroness aware, for example, of the very large number of Gazan children sitting in Israeli hospitals with their families and receiving treatment for their severe cardiac disease and cancers? Is she also aware that Hamas tends not to publicise this and, indeed, has tried to stop it in the past?

I agree with the noble Lord that there is a very human story. Nothing is as clear as the top headlines, and of course there are fantastic stories of the two communities working together in the way that the noble Lord describes.

My Lords, are the Government aware that abuse of human rights by one Government in the Middle East being disregarded and tacitly supported by the West makes other transgressions against human rights by other Middle Eastern countries the norm, and that therefore it is dangerous for the whole of the Middle East?

I agree with the noble Baroness. The commitment to human rights must be the same for every member state. That is why the Human Rights Council has the concept of the universal periodic review, under which every state presents itself to other nations and is tested against its human rights record. We are concerned that Israel has not engaged with the universal periodic review. We see some signs of movement but we urge Israel to come back, like the other member states, and to engage with the UPR.