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Israel: Gaza

Volume 760: debated on Monday 23 March 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Israel about lifting the blockade of Gaza.

My Lords, we have frequent discussions with the Government of Israel about the need to ease restrictions on Gaza. We welcome Israel’s recent decisions to double water supply to Gaza and to begin some imports of food for the first time since 2007. We call on the Israeli Government to ease restrictions further and for Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt to work together to ensure a durable solution for Gaza.

I thank the Minister for that reply and the efforts that our Government are making, but is she aware of the bleak and dangerous conditions in Gaza at the moment, which are spreading to the West Bank and east Jerusalem? Now that Mr Netanyahu has shown his true colours and—to quote his own words—we no longer have a “partner for peace” to do business with, should we not fulfil our responsibilities to the Palestinians, stated in the Balfour Declaration, and call for divestment and sanctions against Israel until an agreement is reached on a two-state solution based on the Israeli peace initiative, of which I know she is aware?

My Lords, there were several strands in there. Clearly, it is still a priority for this Government to achieve a two-state solution to the issue of Israel. With regard to the words used by Mr Netanyahu, who is at this moment seeking to form a Government, on Thursday 19 March he said:

“I do not want a one-state solution, I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution but for that circumstances have to change”.

We have to agree. Partners from the region would be welcome if they became involved in constructive peace negotiations, but of course Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements and Israel, for example, must stop its settlements expansion policy.

My Lords, is it not the case that the Hamas regime in Gaza could get the blockade lifted any day they wanted by the simple action of renouncing violence, recognising the state of Israel and accepting existing agreements, including the Oslo accords? Would it not be very much in the interest of everybody, but particularly the long-suffering people of Gaza, if they did just that?

My Lords, is it not clear that the Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu, has now received a mandate for his statements that there would be no two-state solution agreed on his watch? If Her Majesty’s Government insist on their approach of finding a two-state solution, that will require the recognition of a Palestinian state, including Gaza and the West Bank, without the agreement of the incoming Israeli Government.

My Lords, as I mentioned earlier, Mr Netanyahu is in the process of forming a Government. He has made it clear that he wants a sustainable, peaceful, two-state solution, and there will be great pressure on him to achieve exactly that, including from this Government.

My Lords, did not Mr Netanyahu say, quite specifically, that there would be no two-state solution on his watch? Then there is this change of view, where apparently he says that he does, but he does not. Is it not time that the Government spoke very firmly to that Prime Minister and say that he must make it absolutely clear that nothing less than a two-state solution will do?

My Lords, I agree entirely with that second sentiment. We make it clear to Israel that only a two-state solution will do, and one which can be achieved by an agreement between both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That is, I agree, the right way forward.

My Lords, what is the Government’s position on the legality or illegality of settlements? In light of that position, once the new Government have been formed, what will be their position on engaging with those politicians who are themselves settlers?

My Lords, we have made it clear, and our position is clear, that they are illegal under international law. They present an obstacle to peace, and that remains the same today, as it was before the elections. They take us further away from a two-state solution, and we strongly urge the Government of Israel to reverse their policy on illegal settlements. That is essential for a peace process to go ahead.

My Lords, aid agencies have estimated that at current rates it will take 100 years to import enough construction materials to rebuild Gaza. Can the Minister comment on whether she thinks an independent monitoring regime will help to assuage Israeli concerns and ensure that imported building materials go only on rebuilding civilian homes, not on the building of military tunnels by Hamas?

The noble Baroness raises an extremely important issue—that the reconstruction of Gaza must be for the benefit of civilians, not as a way to provide Hamas with materiel further to launch assaults on Israel, which would undermine any move towards peace. At present the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is a step in the right direction to import materials that are urgently needed, and at present there is no evidence that any materials are diverted for military means. Some are used for civilian rebuilding means, but certainly oversight is crucial, as she said.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Eaton has tried to get in several times. I am sure we still have time to go to the Cross-Benchers on this Question.

My Lords, since last summer, Israel has permitted 88,000 tonnes of construction material to enter Gaza, enabling 57,000 Gaza residents to rebuild their homes. While much more needs to be done, will my noble friend join me in acknowledging the important role Israel has played in this humanitarian effort thus far?

My Lords, yes, but of course it is even more important that those who have committed to providing material to that area for rebuilding pay up the money. We have already paid a quarter of the £20 million that we committed to last October; my right honourable friend Desmond Swayne in another place made clear that the rest, we hope, will be transmitted very soon in the new financial year. However, it is up to others to come up to the mark, too, to get the aid in.

My Lords, now that Israel is losing support not just across Europe but in the United States of America, will the Government refer the new circumstances in Israel and Palestine to the European Union?

My Lords, we discuss matters with regard to the Middle East process across a range of other interlocutors, including the European Union. This is a peace effort in which all can play a constructive part; the important thing is to remain patient but utterly determined.

Would my noble friend agree that it is essential for the United States to stop endless vetoes obliging Israel to disobey international law? There have been 35 since 1968.

My Lords, nobody should disobey international law. Our position on that is clear, particularly with regard to cases before the International Criminal Court. Of course, recently we have had discussions about Ukraine’s and Russia’s breaking of international law. It should not be done.