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Volume 755: debated on Wednesday 16 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the formation of a Palestinian Government of unity with the prospect of elections in 2014.

My Lords, we welcome the formation of a new interim technocratic Government for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We have made it clear that our continued support for the new Government will depend on their commitment to the principles of non-violence and an acceptance of all previous agreements and obligations, including Israel’s legitimate right to exist. However, we believe that the current crisis in Gaza decreases the prospects for elections in the near future.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. She will appreciate that my Question was tabled a month ago. Will Her Majesty’s Government work towards a common European vision that would enable ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to demand effective ceasefires, together with an agreed ending to occupation and blockade? Are there not major incentives and penalties that Europe could apply?

My Lords, the view of the United Kingdom, and indeed of the European Union and the wider world, is that there should be a ceasefire and it should come as soon as possible. The noble Lord will also be aware that the unprecedented package that the European Union put forward in the event of an agreement when the Kerry talks began is clearly the kind of incentive to which the noble Lord refers. The prize for peace is a much better life, both for Palestinians and Israelis.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, however welcome the formation of a unity Government, we are still some way from the development of a negotiating partner for Israel which can deliver; and that, given the failure of the unity Governments in the past and the deep divisions within the partners of Fatah and Hamas, perhaps the most appropriate response is considerable caution?

My Lords, we welcome the formation of a new interim technocratic Government for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We feel that reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under a Government committed to peace is a necessary condition for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have to be positive at all times; when we find a partner that agrees to the quartet principles, we should see it as a genuine partner for peace.

My Lords, I very much welcome my noble friend’s announcement of the British Government’s approach, which appears to chime with the approach of the Obama Administration. However, part of the agreement is that there should be subsequent elections in the Palestinian Territories. Is my noble friend further prepared to recognise that the outcome of those democratic elections, if they are held in a free and fair manner, should also be respected, and that whatever Government or Governments emerge from that should continue to be part of any negotiating process?

My noble friend makes an important point. However, sadly, the original timetable of six months from June—which was when it was anticipated that elections would take place once the technocratic Government had been formed—looks much more vulnerable because of the current situation. At this stage, all minds are focused on a ceasefire but, of course, we hope that elections will follow thereafter.

My Lords, leaving aside the failure of Hamas to accept the ceasefire that Israel accepted yesterday, does the noble Baroness agree that it is extremely difficult for Israel to continue to exchange security intelligence with a Government who get their main support, or part of it, from an organisation that is committed to Israel’s destruction, let alone to engage in meaningful negotiations with them?

The noble Lord will be aware that no members of Hamas have formed the technocratic Government, which of course we welcome. However, it is important that we do not leave aside positions as regards the ceasefire. We welcomed Egypt’s attempt to secure a ceasefire, the Palestinian Authority’s endorsement of it and President Abbas’s commitment in calling on the different Palestinian factions to accept it. The Israelis’ acceptance in principle of the proposed ceasefire and the support for it from the Arab League are positive things, which I hope will soon form the basis of a ceasefire.

Can my noble friend say whether media reports that Hamas was not even consulted on the so-called peace deal that Egypt announced are true, and that members of the Knesset themselves learnt about it from the media?

It is important that any ceasefire and agreement have the agreement of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples through their elected representatives. There has been some reporting about the basis of that ceasefire. Although my noble friend raises an important issue, if the possibility of a ceasefire is on the table, it is important that we do all we can to support that process.

My Lords, I take this opportunity to condemn the merciless attacks on innocent women and children in Gaza. While I accept the premise of this Question and its importance, does the Minister accept that the real issue of concern for the international community should be the illegal occupation and the continuation of illegal settlements?

My Lords, there is no doubt that unless the underlying causes are resolved, this dispute will continue and we will see eruptions of the violence that we saw in 2008 and 2012, and which we see again in 2014. That is why we were supportive of the Kerry talks and that is why it is important that we have a ceasefire and that both parties can get back to the discussion table to try to resolve those underlying issues.

My Lords, I am not sure. Certainly, we hope that these elections will happen in due course, but I am sure these are matters that will be discussed at the time.

Does the Minister agree that any Palestinian Government should take better account of the needs of the youth of the territory, bearing in mind that 55% of the Palestinian population are under the age of 25, one-third of the youth are unemployed and 48% of Gaza youth have suggested that they would support an uprising against Hamas and believe that the new generation of leaders would do a better job? What can Her Majesty’s Government do to support the needs of Palestinian youth to help them get their voice heard in the future of their territory?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. This boils down to people and their futures. The Palestinian people and the Palestinian youth have a right to a strong, stable future where they can have the ambitions that we so take for granted. However, the tragedy of the current situation is that, unfortunately, if you look at what is happening on the ground, because of this current crisis Hamas is becoming more popular. That is not in the interests of the Palestinian people, it is certainly not in the interests of Israel and it is not in the interests of world peace.