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Gaza: Reconstruction

Volume 756: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contribution they are making to the reconstruction of infrastructure in Gaza.

My Lords, at the Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo, the United Kingdom committed £20 million to assist those affected by the recent conflict in Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands left homeless or without access to water. This funding will include support for the disposal of unexploded ordnance, rubble clearance programmes and reconstructive surgery for those injured in the conflict.

I thank my noble friend for her Answer but how does she intend to reassure taxpayers in this country, who are increasingly worried about expenditure on international aid, that the money for reconstruction in Gaza will not be squandered when Israel launches another attack in a couple of years’ time? Can she also say why so many of the contracts for building materials and the reconstruction of Gaza are going to Israeli companies, thus ensuring that Israel profits from the destruction that it caused?

No one benefits from destruction in Gaza. In terms of the rebuilding, we are looking very carefully at the implications of any damage to internationally funded structures. Meanwhile, our partners assure us that relief items are largely sourced in Gaza, the West Bank or internationally.

My Lords, it is clear that we need to get much building material into Gaza to help rebuild all those destroyed homes, but is the noble Baroness aware of the statement made by the Hamas spokesman last week? He said that the avowed intention of Hamas is to start rebuilding the tunnels into Israel immediately. Is there any way of preventing this?

We urge restraint, as we always do, on both sides. Peace is in the interest of both sides—of the Palestinians and the Israelis.

My Lords, last month Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the UN agreed to a tripartite mechanism to enable vital reconstruction materials to reach Gaza, while also ensuring they do not end up in the hands of the terror group Hamas. Does the Minister agree that this is welcome news and that we must encourage further such co-operation, which recognises the concerns of both parties?

My Lords, it is surely quite right that vast sums should be pledged by the international community for reconstruction. But what assurances were given by Hamas and its successor that the sums they receive are conditional on good conduct—in particular, on not provocatively raining ever more rockets on Israel?

It is worth bearing in mind that, as I said, we urge restraint on both sides. In that conflict, 71 Israelis lost their lives and 2,131 Palestinians were killed. It is extremely important that we move forward into a proper peace process.

My Lords, am I correct in understanding that Turkey has offered a ship with sufficient generating capacity to supply electricity to the whole of the Gaza Strip for six months? If that is correct, will the Government ensure that the offer is accepted and the thing is made use of?

I do not know the details of that but I will write to the noble Lord. I know that we are gravely concerned about Gaza’s fuel and energy situation.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the Egyptian Government are starting to clear eastern Sinai to create a buffer zone to close the Rafah crossing, which will further limit supplies going into Gaza. Given that very limited construction materials are already agreed, how does she see Gaza being rebuilt in these very constrained circumstances?

We were very clear at the Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo that movement, including access restrictions, needed to be improved to have the kind of meaningful reconstruction that my noble friend is talking about. We have welcomed the agreement on the UN mechanism for importing construction materials as an important first step. Egypt’s actions in this regard are less than helpful, but Israel has primary responsibility as the occupying power and we continue to urge it to ease restrictions and reach a durable ceasefire agreement.

My Lords, at the Cairo conference, the DfID Minister declared on his return that a key ingredient for stability is a long-term strategy for Palestinian economic growth. What action is the department taking to ensure that that comes into place?

This leads back to the previous question. What is extremely important here is lifting many of the Israeli restrictions. Lifting restrictions in Area C alone, as he probably knows, could increase Palestinian GDP by $3.4 billion.

My Lords, earlier the Minister quoted the relative numbers of people killed on both sides. Taking these into account as well as the extent of the destruction, including two declared UN safe-haven facilities, do Her Majesty’s Government share the White House’s view that Israel’s actions in this matter were disproportionate and indiscriminate?

We certainly condemn the actions of Hamas in terms of the rocket fire but we have also urged that Israel, which has a right to defend itself, should do so in a way that is indeed proportionate.

My Lords, it is a known fact that the Palestinians inside Gaza are not in control of their own destiny. Hamas dictates in Gaza. Unless Her Majesty’s Government, and DfID in particular, are very careful, they will discover that most of this reconstruction money goes towards the rebuilding of Hamas’s destroyed houses and, as one noble Lord said, the tunnels and hides for its armaments and munitions. There is a great danger that if this money and equipment get into the wrong hands, our country will be liable for supporting one of the nastiest and most vicious terrorist organisations in the world at present—one that is primed and supported by Iran. This will mean that we are supporting a terrorist organisation.

I assure the noble Viscount that no UK aid money goes to Hamas, but of course Hamas needs to be part of the ceasefire negotiations and it is extremely important that the peace process moves on. The region is a tinderbox, and the sooner that it moves on, the better for all concerned.