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Volume 762: debated on Monday 1 June 2015


Asked by

My Lords, Britain remains firmly committed to the two-state solution, but we reserve the right to recognise the Palestinian state at a moment of our choosing, when we think it can best help to bring about peace. Bilateral recognition in itself would not end the occupation. Only negotiations that lead to a final settlement between the parties will deliver a Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel.

I thank the Minister for her Answer and her patience. Does she agree that, despite Mr Netanyahu’s declared support for a sustainable two-state solution after his recent re-election, he has continued with the same policies of settlement-building and discrimination against Palestinians? Does she further agree that, in view of the current weakness of the American Administration and our historic obligation under the Balfour Declaration, we must follow the example set by the Vatican, Sweden and 130 other states which have already recognised Palestine and take the lead ourselves in going to the United Nations?

My Lords, we take a lead in giving every encouragement to negotiations that would achieve a two-state solution. Without that, and if there were no agreements, any recognition would mean that there would not be a true Palestinian state. It would be a matter of words, not of reality—and reality is what we need to achieve. The noble Baroness raises an important point about the attitude of Mr Netanyahu after his election. It is crucial that he understands clearly that he must prevent the extension of the illegal settlements. We have made that clear; the Prime Minister has done so. As long as Mr Netanyahu persists in extending those settlements, it makes it more difficult for his friends elsewhere to support him.

My Lords, in considering this Question, will the Government have regard to the report published last week by Amnesty International, which describes the policy of executions and torture by the Hamas Administration of their own people?

My Lords, I always take great care to look at Amnesty’s reports; I admire the work that it does. The position of this Government is clear: torture is wrong and any death penalty, however it occurs and by whomever it is carried out, is wrong. Priorities for the FCO are to ensure that torture is prevented and that the death penalty is abolished throughout the world. I shall continue on that work myself.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this Question is the same as the Motion to Take Note in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, from a couple of months ago and that, since that time, Hamas has taken no steps to enter into any negotiations and has kept to its principle of refusing to recognise the right of Israel to exist? Does she further agree that the biggest tragedy in the Middle East is that more than 100,000 people have been slaughtered there, 75,000 of them in Syria, and that this deserves our urgent attention?

My Lords, the Middle East process also requires our urgent attention and we shall not divert our eyes from that. It is of great regret that Hamas persists in its activity of attacking Israel, most recently in the past week or so by setting off rockets towards Israel. It is clear that there has to be leadership by the Palestinian Authority to return its Administration to Gaza and ensure that there can be steps towards negotiations for a two-state solution.

My Lords, we know that some arms sold by the UK to Israel have been used to commit human rights violations in Gaza. What efforts have the Government made to ensure that British-made weapons are not turned on civilians in Gaza?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, there is a stringent process by which arms exports are monitored. We are signed up entirely to the EU export controls on such and to international law, which governs these matters. We stated last summer that we would look at every award of arms exports on a case-by-case basis. That policy remains in place. Wherever we sell arms throughout the world, it is crucial that we keep a weather eye on how those arms are then used.

My Lords, it will probably not surprise your Lordships if I express strong support for the case for Her Majesty’s Government to recognise the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders, and without further delay. But have the Government taken into account the fact that early recognition will also be to Israel’s benefit? It will surely strengthen the hand of the majority inside Israel who, like most of us—and, indeed, like Her Majesty’s Government—still support the aim of a two-state solution. Does the Minister agree that the recognition of the state of Palestine on pre-1967 borders will also be a powerful encouragement for global recognition of the State of Israel on those same borders, including recognition of Israel in line with the Saudi Arab peace initiative of 2002, supported as it was by the 57 states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation?

My Lords, where I firmly agree with the noble Lord is that any peaceful negotiations that achieve a two-state recognition must be based on the 1967 borders, but that is only one aspect of the negotiations. Clearly, other aspects include the fact that Hamas must cease its attacks on Israel, so I remain with my original Answer. This is not, we judge, the moment most conducive to achieving peace for us to recognise unilaterally a Palestinian state. That is a matter that can take part only at the end of negotiations with all parties, so that it is a durable solution.

My Lords, I understand that the French Government are consulting with others about the new UN Security Council resolution on the Palestinian issue. Can the Government assure us that we are co-operating closely with the French, and is it to be expected that the British Government will support that French resolution when it comes to the UN Security Council?

The noble Lord raises an important point and an accurate one. We understand that France is working hard in the United Nations on this very matter. It is a case where it is important for us not only to be aware of what the French are doing but to see the particular details. We have had experience at the United Nations of one of our closest colleagues—the French—not always showing us a document on Palestinian Authority matters until it was almost too late for us to have eyesight of it, let alone to consider it, and we need to consider these matters.