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House of Lords Hansard
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Israel and Palestine
08 April 2014
Volume 753

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with Israel and Palestine about the consequences of the failure of the current negotiations to make substantial progress by the end of April.

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My Lords, we have made clear to both parties that the current negotiations represent a unique opportunity to achieve a just and lasting solution to the conflict. As the Prime Minister said during his recent visit to the region, we need to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the prize of peace: a secure Israel safe inside her borders and a state of Palestine living alongside, with all the benefits that that would bring.

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Is it not shameful that, 40 years after the last international war in the region and 20 years after the Oslo agreements, there is still no final status agreement? Will the Government insist that the Government of Israel make their own proposals for ending the blockade of Gaza and the military and colonial occupation of the West Bank, otherwise world opinion will insist on boycott, disinvestment and sanctions? Will Europe and the Middle East use their economic power to counterbalance the huge strength of Israel? Will Her Majesty’s Government discuss this urgently?

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I know the noble Lord has written to me on a number of occasions in relation to this matter. Like him and all Members of this House, I would like the Middle East peace process resolved. We would like to see a secure Israel living alongside a secure and viable Palestinian state. We continue to urge that negotiations are the best route to achieve a solution that ends the conflict once and for all. Secretary Kerry’s tireless efforts provide a real opportunity to achieve that goal. Therefore, we are urging both parties to show the leadership that is needed to seize this moment.

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Does my noble friend accept that the negotiations are doomed, and that Mr Netanyahu and his Cabinet know that they are doomed, so long as Israel goes on colonising the West Bank illegally and relentlessly? Is that not the reality, and what are we going to do about it?

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My Lords, the situation on the ground continues to change. That is why I have stood at this Dispatch Box on a number of occasions over the past 12 months and said that this provides a unique opportunity to try to make progress. We support the discussions that Secretary Kerry is leading, and we urge both sides, who have said that they are still prepared to talk, to get back to the table to try to achieve a resolution.

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What explanation have Her Majesty’s Government received from the Israeli Government about why they did not release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners last week?

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The noble Lord will be aware that this was the fourth tranche of the prisoner releases that were agreed last year. The first three have taken place; the fourth has been delayed. The noble Lord will be aware that there is a difference of opinion about how these matters are seen. Israel felt that these prisoner releases were directly linked to the peace talks. The Palestinians believed that they were directly linked to no further action at the UN. Clearly, the discussions that took place at that stage were vague. I take comfort from both parties having indicated that they are prepared to come back to the negotiating table because that is where progress will be made.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that unilateral Palestinian action at the UN and other international organisations has been very counterproductive? Does she agree that it is surprising that the EU has not used further efforts to bring Mr Abbas back to the table, given the €5.6 billion in aid that has gone to the Palestinian Authority in the past 10 years?

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It is not the Government’s decision to be taking sides in this matter. There have been counterproductive actions on both sides. There are things that both sides agreed to that have not been delivered. That is why we are stressing, once again, that they need to get back to the negotiating table because that is the only place where a long, true settlement will be made.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her written response to a question I asked in a recent debate about demolitions and settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Did the Prime Minister raise these questions with Mr Netanyahu when he visited Israel? If he did, what was Mr Netanyahu’s justification for continuing these illegal breaches of Palestinian human rights?

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The issue of human rights was raised by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on his visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories in mid-March. I do not know what the response was. If I get it, I will write to the noble Lord.

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My Lords, it is extremely unfortunate, if unsurprising, that the talks seem to be breaking down. Instead of the blame game that will undoubtedly follow, with the Palestinians blaming the Israelis for not releasing prisoners and continuing to build on the West Bank, and Israel accusing the Palestinians of going to the UN before they have agreed to go and not agreeing that the Jewish state exists, should we not be thinking of a plan B? Are the Government thinking of any advice they can give to both parties to bring them to some sort of agreement, at least in the interim?

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My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to President Abbas last week, and is hoping to speak to the Israelis later this week. There has been an unprecedented EU package, in which we have played a part, which is on the table—socially, economically, politically and developmentally—if this peace deal were to be reached. That is why we keep stressing to both parties that this is not about the blame game; I agree with the noble Lord. This is about continuing to support a process which, at this stage, is still on the table.

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Since the resumption of talks between the Palestinians and Israelis last year, how many times have the Government of Israel announced new settlements in the occupied areas? How is that helping the negotiations?

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There have been further settlement announcements since negotiations resumed last year: first, on 8 August last year, secondly on 30 October, thirdly on 3 November and then on 6 January this year. As I said, this is not an issue of playing the blame game. Both sides are doing things that were not agreed to, which is why we want them to get back to the negotiating table and do what was agreed.