Skip to main content

Occupied Palestinian Territories: Development

Volume 769: debated on Thursday 17 March 2016

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government to what extent they will implement the recommendations of the House of Commons International Development Committee in their report of July 2014, The UK’s Development Work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

My Lords, I thank all the contributors to this debate. It may seem odd to discuss a Select Committee report of the other place one and a half years later. One reason is that a major war came between the report’s publication and the printing of the Government’s response. Also, the tunnels providing a lifeline to Gaza have been cut off. Another reason is that for many years British NGOs have worked very constructively in occupied Palestine. The report had 16 positive recommendations. I therefore ask to what extent violence in 2014 and since, with the collapse of the peace process, have made implementation difficult or impossible.

The UN organisations’ forecast that Gaza may become “uninhabitable” by 2020—just four years away—shows how things are getting worse. As for the West Bank, this was split into three by the Oslo accords of 1995. The Palestinian Authority is responsible only for Area A. It shares responsibility with Israel in Area B, while Israel totally controls Area C. I have personally seen a big sign saying, “Welcome to Israel” as one approaches the Dead Sea from Jerusalem. The temporary division into zones has become permanent. The Palestinian economy and revenue would be dramatically improved by good access to Area C.

The Department for International Development helps occupied Palestine in three main ways. First, it pays the salaries of many of the employees of the Palestinian Authority. This is understandable in view of the periodic withholding of Palestinian taxes by Israel. However, I would ask whether some of those employees in Gaza are now being paid to do nothing because of a failure to agree between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Secondly, DfID supports UNRWA in education, health and welfare for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. This reflects the absence since 1948 of a full peace agreement. DfID seems to expect UNRWA to make efficiency savings but how can this be done when the school population rises steadily and unemployment is sky high in both Gaza and the West Bank? Thirdly, DfID funds the health system, which has a chronic shortage of medical supplies. It tries to stimulate the Palestinian economy and assist selected NGOs. Will the Minister give us an update on these important sectors? Can he say something about land registration and title deeds?

I will mention some broad themes, trusting that later speakers will develop them. Water is a matter of life and death. Will Gaza have water safe to drink in four years’ time? A desalinator is urgently needed. In the West Bank, Israeli settlers use far more water per head than Palestinians. They also pay less per litre. In Area C, Palestinians are often refused permission for new wells.

Movement and access are critical. Some progress was being made by 2005. However, Gaza has never had the airport, seaport and secure link to the West Bank that it was supposed to have. It is blockaded and cut off from the outside world. Only minimum supplies are let in to sustain life without starvation. Access is equally important in the fragmented Areas A, B and C.

In illegally annexed east Jerusalem and the long-occupied West Bank, Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace, as is the position on the ground of the separation wall. This is made worse by demolishing Palestinian houses, buildings and solar panels, et cetera, even some built with EU funds. The number of checkpoints is also unhelpful.

Israel has justified much intransigence because of threats from Iran, but do these amount to more than a paper tiger? The Hamas charter is often quoted, though this was written long ago and was never approved by the people. Homemade, unguided rockets have been seen as existential threats, so Hamas has been demonised. Little attention, however, has been given to Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and al-Qaeda or Daesh splinter groups, over which Hamas has only partial control.

I come now to our Government’s attitude to consistent illegality and disregard of international law. Successive Governments have treated Israel as a western ally, only making mild protests which are usually disregarded. There are seldom or never political, military or economic consequences following our protests. The nearest we have got is over the labelling of products from illegal settlers. Can the noble Lord tell us the latest news on labelling? Can British consumers always know where goods labelled as Israeli or Palestinian actually come from? Has the well-being of the Palestinian people, whether in east Jerusalem, Gaza or the West Bank, improved or slipped back since 2014? Have our considerable investments of money and thought been effective or have they barely staved off disaster?

I suggest that things are, in fact, getting worse. This explains the great frustration of the Palestinians who have recently expressed their anger by personal attacks on individual Israelis. Unless all sides quickly de-escalate and produce measures to build confidence, individual attacks may turn into collective ones. The demand for sanctions, boycott and disinvestment will grow throughout the rest of the world. What will HMG do to secure as great political priority for Israel and Palestine as they want to see for Syria and Iraq? Both are necessary if extremism, Islamism and terror are to be contained let alone ended. Israel, Palestine and the West all have equal interests in a just and sustainable peace.

My Lords, I congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for this debate and on the way he has moved it. The Commons Select Committee report is interesting, but also now depressing. Although the report is only 20 months or so old, the situation it describes has got considerably worse. Its recommendations are even more valid, as the noble Lord has said. I have been visiting Palestine for family reasons for well over 40 years. Throughout that time, short periods of optimism have always been dashed as the situation has got progressively worse for the Palestinians, with more of their land illegally built over by Israel and more of the restrictions that shocked this Select Committee. Grinding poverty, artificially imposed by occupation, hinders peace. It can also suppress cultural development.

For example, I believe that music opens hearts and builds bridges. For that reason I am a trustee of the UK Friends of the Palestine Music Conservatory. To bring a positive note to this debate, I am delighted to tell noble Lords that the Palestine Youth Orchestra will be touring the UK in July and August, playing in Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and London. The tour will, of course, be a very special experience for the young people involved, whose lives are normally so appallingly restricted, but more than that, I hope it will also open British hearts and minds to their cultural achievements. Occupation crushes hope and without hope the future is, indeed, bleak for the holy land.

My Lords, I give real appreciation, once more, to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I declare an interest: in my past I was a Minister of State in the Foreign Office, responsible for the Middle East, among other functions; and I was, for some years, director of Oxfam, which has a long history of involvement in Gaza, Israel itself and the West Bank.

Some 61% of the West Bank is under full Israeli military control, as any of us who have been there can underline, with all the restraints that this brings—on agriculture, free movement of people and economic activity in general. On a human level, if Palestinians build essential structures, such as shelters, toilets or schools, without permits from the Israeli military, these are at risk of demolition. More than 98% of Palestinian applications were rejected between 2010 and 2014 and less than 1% of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development by the Israeli authorities.

The rate of demolitions in the West Bank has spiralled since the beginning of 2016, with 316 homes demolished in the first two months of the year, compared with 447 for all of 2015. It is essential that we in Britain, and our Government, directly challenge Israel’s inadequate and discriminatory permit and planning regime by initiating development projects that we believe are necessary in Area C, whether or not master plans have been submitted in these localities. While, of course, informing the Israeli authorities of our humanitarian strategies, we must move ahead without necessarily seeking prior approval from those authorities. DfID simply must move faster and more effectively to bring more humanitarian aid to vulnerable Area C, especially in the E1 area and the Jordan valley.

On Gaza, I will just say this in the time available: DfID’s approach should focus on building resilience and challenging the separation policy between Gaza and the West Bank. Support for longer-term development and investment in Gaza is essential. Very many Palestinians in Gaza, however, will struggle to move from aid dependency until the political and structural causes of their situation are addressed and their full range of rights is achieved.

My Lords, may I interrupt? When 2 comes up on the clock, that is time. I am anxious to give as much of a reply as is possible within the time allocated to me.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on this debate. Of course we all hope for a peace agreement and a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in security, but sadly that is not happening yet. The government response said:

“Economic progress can never be a substitute for a political settlement, but it is vital that Palestinians see tangible improvements in their daily lives”,

and that,

“increased prosperity in the OPTs is firmly in Israel’s long-term interests”.

I agree with that. Will the Government tell us what more they are doing to fund people-to-people projects, which the report urged? We need more constructive dialogue, yet in DfID’s 2013 budget only £73,000—0.1% of the £70 million budget—was spent on coexistence. Will more such projects be funded in future?

I am pleased to congratulate the Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub on winning the Global Teacher Prize for the work she is doing to combat violence. However, I was sad to see in the report that Palestinians in the audience pumped their fists in the air and chanted, “With our souls, our blood, we sacrifice for you, Palestine”, which rather spoiled the event.

I welcome DfID’s launch of the Palestinian market development programme, but a report by the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity has highlighted the amount of corruption in the Palestinian territories. This coalition is funded by several European Governments and the EU. Will the Government also fund this excellent organisation?

Are the Government taking steps to pressure the Palestinian Authority into ending awards to prisoners’ families, which give a perverse incentive to violence? The amount awarded increases with the period of imprisonment, which seems unrelated to poverty or the welfare of the family. We need to persuade it to change that system.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I declare my interests as set out in the register. The report clearly appreciates Israel’s security concerns but at the same time notes that the measures taken in the name of security actually make it worse. It is therefore sobering that this report was published just as the Israeli military’s Operation Protective Edge was beginning in Gaza.

In the light of what we now know to be the impact of this military operation, irrespective of whether you feel it was justified, the claim in the committee’s conclusions that Israeli security measures can cause “very real suffering” is all the more true. Following the 2014 attacks, the UK Government generously reacted to the acute needs of the newly injured and disabled by providing access to limb reconstruction services in Gaza through a charity of which I am president—Medical Aid for Palestinians—in partnership with IDEALS. Teams of UK surgeons travelled to Gaza to undertake surgery on victims of the bombing and to train local surgeons in new techniques in this area. I am delighted to report that this work has now helped establish the first dedicated limb reconstruction unit in Gaza.

The UK has also been supporting projects in Area C of the West Bank. This vital work is helping sustain communities that face daily threats of eviction, demolitions and intimidation. In just the first few months of this year, more EU and internationally funded structures in Area C have been demolished than in the whole of 2015.

UK development work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a vital lifeline for Palestinians and for efforts towards peace. It is essential that the UK combines support for construction and service provision in the OPT with advocacy in our bilateral relations with our ally Israel to ensure that everyone is reminded that the UK supports the Palestinians’ right to statehood, just as we support Israel, and that if we are to achieve the peace that we all long for it is essential that the rights and livelihoods of Palestinians are protected.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for securing this debate. As someone who wants to see the flourishing of both Israel and Palestine, I welcome this report, although I am saddened by the situation that has developed since its publication. In their response to the report, the Government affirm their support of a two-state solution. If that is to remain a possibility, we surely need to do all we can to persuade Israel to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and the confiscation of Palestinian land throughout the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has drawn attention to the spiralling numbers of such demolitions. Abu Nwar is one of 46 Bedouin and herding communities that are targeted by the Government of Israel’s plan to relocate 7,000 Palestinians living in Area C, including in the contentious E1 area around Jerusalem, in order to allow for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the central West Bank. Diplomatic representatives visited Abu Nwar on several occasions, reaffirming that demolitions and settlement expansion in the E1 area were a clear red line for the European Union as they would effectively cut the West Bank in half, separate east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and render the objective of a viable two-state solution unachievable.

If a two-state solution is to be viable, there is also a pressing need for a genuinely transformative peace process that is underpinned by international law, holds all to account and, crucially, is supported by mechanisms that allow both parties to understand the narratives of the other, not least the territorial expressions of identity that both express and promote.

Finally, as has been suggested, development work in the Occupied Territories cannot be separated from what is happening in Gaza and there needs to be an increased effort to help bring an urgent end to the blockade of Gaza and the collective punishment of the Gazan population.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for initiating this important and timely debate. Securing a sustainable future for the Occupied Palestinian Territories is essential to establishing peace in the Middle East. The International Development Select Committee’s report on the UK’s development work in the region outlines how we are helping that process. I welcome the committee’s report and the Government’s response. However, while I support the reasons for funding development of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I have concerns regarding how the funding is used. Unsuitable use hampers the economic and political security of the region, making development a counterproductive objective in this case.

It is common knowledge that the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry for Prisoners’ Affairs provides salaries to all families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The Palestinian Government have been accused on a number of occasions of using UK aid to fund these salaries. The Palestinian Government have failed to provide evidence to the contrary and I am very uneasy with the idea that British aid could be used towards encouraging violent crimes. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that British funding is not used in this manner? We need to see this funding as an opportunity. Both the committee’s report and the Government’s response support a two-state solution in the region, leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a sustainable and sovereign Palestinian state.

Overall, I welcome the report in providing a foundation for peace. However, we must remember that:

“Economic progress can never be a substitute for a political settlement”,

and we must ensure that the recommendations put forward are carefully monitored to ensure that they are indeed used for economic purposes and not hijacked for ulterior motives.

My Lords, one of the many important recommendations from the committee is to encourage the development of entrepreneurship and other economic activity in the Palestinian Territories. Of course, this was precisely the mandate given to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in 2007 when he became the unpaid envoy of the quartet. It is a little-acknowledged fact that he had considerable success in such development, at least in the West Bank—of course, Gaza presented special difficulties because of Hamas. The West Bank benefited from an excellent growth rate from 2008 to 2011 and projected growth for 2016 is 3.9%.

In my recent visits to Ramallah—the last just three weeks ago—I witnessed the boom in construction and housebuilding. I have also frequently visited Rawabi, the exciting and both inspirational and aspirational new town on the West Bank now awaiting its first inhabitants. DfID’s funding of the Palestinian market development programme is an encouraging first step in this right direction. Can the Minister give any information about developments on this?

However, I have seen for myself the very disturbing contents of some of the Palestinian children’s TV programmes and reading material, which incite violence and hatred against Israel and Jews—and I mean Jews, not Israelis—and this is a really horrible sight. I agree completely with the committee’s recommendation that DfID should check on the misuse of its funds. With great respect to the Minister, the Government’s response to that recommendation is far too complacent.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for initiating this debate and refer noble Lords to my non-financial interests. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and my noble friend Lord Popat have said, the Palestinian Authority spends around 6% of its overall budget on paying salaries to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons and to the families of suicide bombers. Will the Minister comment on whether the UK taxpayer is getting value for money?

The report also recommended the urgent address of the Gaza health sector, which it deemed in a situation of grave crisis. I have no doubt that nothing has changed and I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations to reinstate the health sector as a key priority for DfID’s Palestinian programme. As we all know, trying to sort out and improve any health sector is difficult, but I will share with noble Lords a practical initiative which could be supported and that makes a difference to individuals and families. Save a Child’s Heart is an international, non-political NGO founded in 1996 for the sole purpose of improving the quality of paediatric cardiac care for children from areas in the world where there are few or no facilities and, thus, little or no chance of the child surviving. This NGO brings children to Israel for urgent heart treatment and surgery and, in addition, brings over the physicians and nurses from other countries and provides them with in-depth training so they can go back and continue this vital work. This all takes place at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, which I have visited on five or six occasions, often with Members of the other place.

Over 50% of the 4,000 children who received this life-saving treatment are from Gaza and the West Bank. On a Tuesday morning, there is a clinic for children from Gaza. I have been there and chatted to the worried parents whose children are ill and receive the chance of life from Save a Child’s Heart in Israel. Does the Minister agree that the clearly positive interaction between Gazan parents and children with the volunteer doctors and nurses in Israel is not only commendable but a worthy exercise in itself? Will he agree to meet me and explore ways that DfID could support and enhance this work which would help fulfil recommendations 33 and 34?

My Lords, if we in Britain want to play a useful role in aiding the Palestinians, it is unhelpful to be laying the blame for their difficulties on one or other side. Just as we have heard the onus being placed on Israel for all the Palestinians’ problems, so one could point to the many Palestinian failures to take opportunities offered over the years, most recently when Mr Abbas turned down Joe Biden’s proposals for bilateral negotiations a week or so ago. However, I am not convinced that pointing the finger does any good.

The saddest thing I heard when I visited Ramallah in the West Bank a couple of weeks ago was from Khalil Shikaki, who has been conducting opinion polls among the Palestinian public for many years. He collaborates closely with his Israeli counterparts and he found that support for a two-state solution, in both publics, was at its lowest ebb for many years. More depressing was that the reason it was so low was that the Palestinians thought that the Israelis did not want a two-state solution and the Israelis thought that the Palestinians did not want it either. They themselves would go for it if only the other side wanted it, too. It was a complete misunderstanding of the opposition’s view.

If we want to make a difference for the Palestinians, should we not try to shift opinion among the public towards peace? Should we not be encouraging a re-education towards an understanding of what the man in the street on the other side really thinks and wants? Can we shift the emphasis in the publicity campaigns being run, I fear, by the Palestinian leadership, away from extolling the virtues of terrorism and towards a greater understanding of the infinitely more valuable virtues of peace?

This is what at least some of our aid should be used for and there are innumerable examples of close collaboration at the grass-roots level that we should be fostering. I know of many good, below-the-radar examples in the medical and commercial fields. These are where we need to focus our support, instead of it being diverted to fanning the flames by the leadership as I fear too much of it is now. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I am glad that the Government have agreed to support the recommendations of the International Development Committee. Achieving lasting peace between Israel and Palestine must remain a significant priority for the international community.

In October last year in the other place, MPs voted by 274 to 12 on a Motion to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. We must all work to the establishment of a two-state solution, with a viable sovereign independent state of Palestine living peacefully alongside a secure Israel. I ask the Minister: what is our current attitude in regard to recognition of the state of Palestine?

I care about humanitarian issues and have been involved in facilitating four convoys of humanitarian aid being sent to Gaza following the Israeli invasion in 2009. I subsequently visited Gaza and saw for myself the devastation that has been done and tragically continues to this date. I have also visited Israel and the West Bank. I am very concerned about what is going on there with regard to stabbings and other killings which are being carried out by both sides. The cycle of violence appears to be unending.

There are commonalities between Islam and Judaism and it is therefore important that there is a dialogue between the two sides. I met with the acting ambassador of Israel last week and welcomed the positive statement he made about the passage of humanitarian aid to Gaza. We would, however, like to see a peaceful settlement and a lifting of the blockade. The UK and others must continue to support peace talks, keep hopes of the two-state solution alive and provide funding to support the Palestinian people and the development of a Palestinian state.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for securing this debate but ask the Minister when we are going to have a debate on this problem which is not so time limited. I declare an interest as chairman of the board of the Welfare Association UK, which disperses aid programmes in the West Bank, Lebanon and Gaza.

I agree with all the recommendations and comments in the report but will concentrate on only one of them. Recommendations 27 and 30 express concern about the lack of adequate audit of the money we give which, among many other things, is used to pay 85,000 civil servants’ salaries and compensates prisoners’ families. I agree with many of the comments that have been made but I particularly refer to a recent report by the Israeli economist Shir Hever, How Much International Aid to Palestinians Ends Up in the Israeli Economy. He calculates that 78% of total aid to the Palestinians ends up in Israel via transport charges, taxes and the monopoly that Israel has to supply any materials or produce needed. For example, how much does the cement to repair the buildings destroyed by Israel cost us? A bit rich, that. The World Bank, too, estimated that in 2013 the Palestinians lost $3.4 billion to Israel.

Can the Minister explain this and make sure that our aid goes directly to the Palestinians and not into the Israeli coffers? Would it not be more efficient and transparent if the bulk of our aid was disbursed via UNRWA, which has much experience and has made huge efficiencies recently? Despite this, it still has an $80 million deficit this year. Please help it. I have no time left now except to say that I have long been concerned that we help fund the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian land, which surely must make us accomplices in breaking international law.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us the opportunity to debate this report. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, spelled out clearly the importance of striving to find a constructive peace agreement rather than rewarding terrorists. I agree—be that anywhere in the world.

The first recommendation of the 2014 report calls for the resumption of peace talks and hails US Secretary of State John Kerry’s,

“leadership in bringing the parties to the table”.

Can the Minister tell the Committee why the Palestinian leadership rejected this peace proposal last week? We all understand that it will be difficult for any deal to satisfy the sensitive nature of the demands of both sides but to reject out of hand another good-faith deal offers little incentive to potential international investors.

Recommendation 27 of the report questions whether DfID is,

“taking adequate measures to prevent its funds from being misused”.

There is talk of building planned communities in Palestine as a viable option for developing the economy. The Israeli Government indicated support for the building of more planned Palestinian cities such as Rawabi, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and projects such as the Ersal Commercial Center in Ramallah and the Al Jinan neighbourhood in the north of the West Bank. These are tangible initiatives which provide new business premises, jobs and homes for Palestinians facing youth unemployment that is hovering at 40%. My noble friend Lord Cope mentioned music. He is absolutely right, and I commend the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Surely it is through substantive projects such as these that the UK and the international community should be supportive. Has the Minister considered supporting planned communities as an option? Finally, can he confirm that the Palestinian Authority is giving its full backing to planned cities being built for Palestinians?

The International Development Select Committee has proposed a number of positive recommendations concerning the UK’s development work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, not least the resumption of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. I am pleased that the committee recognised that Hamas’s charter continues to call for the destruction of Israel and condemned the continuous rocket attacks perpetrated from Gaza.

I, too, recommend and welcome the resumption of peace talks but for such an initiative to be successful some trust must be built up between the parties. As I have said before, in my view the starting point has to be a recognition by Hamas that Israel has the right to exist. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, the majority of Palestinians do not accept the charter, let them come forward and say that. No two-state solution can get off the ground without that.

Secondly, there has to be a stop to the continuing rocket attacks on Israel, which terrorise the civilian population. Unfortunately, since the publication of the committee’s report, the safety position in Israel has worsened, with a new threat of knife attacks, mostly on civilians going about their daily lives. Since September 2015 there have been at least 323 stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Fortunately, not all have resulted in fatalities but that does not reduce the seriousness of these terrible crimes. No wonder the Israelis fear that peace talks will get nowhere. The stabbings have to stop as well. If the terrorist activity ended, including the building of a new network of tunnels in Gaza, I believe that Israel would be more receptive to easing the travel restrictions and the movement of goods.

I recognise that the peace process has to be a two-way affair. In my view, if both sides genuinely want to achieve peace, Israel for its part must also move its position. The best way of doing that is that, simultaneously with the ending of terrorist acts, Israel should stop the building and expansion of settlements.

My Lords, I have visited the Middle East—Gaza once; Israel and the West Bank on many occasions—and I have seen for myself what the situation is. The most recent time I visited was last month with various other noble Lords and I understand that we were paid for by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I consider myself a friend of Israel, but a critical friend. In that, I should say that my wife has been stoned by settlers outside Hebron and I have been subjected to appallingly aggressive and intimidating action by border guards. I believe Israel can be both disproportionate in its military reaction and vindictive and punitive to Palestinians. If they treated me badly as a visiting Member of Parliament, I can only imagine how border guards might treat Palestinians.

But it takes two to tango. Having visited the Palestinian Authority only a month ago, I was shocked by the governance—or lack of it—that we saw and heard about. We all know how corrupt the Palestinian Authority has been; the report shows some of that. I am afraid that Hamas is beyond the pale in its actions. We have to consider that the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas must get together as well. We cannot, as many people do, blame Israel alone. Both sides must sit down. We may assist—the Americans above all must assist—but it is foolish for some people in this country to bring out anti-Semitic comments, about which we heard. Indeed, I really regret the way that the Palestinian Authority sponsors and applauds anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic actions in the media.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for initiating the debate. The Opposition remain firmly committed to a two-state solution that recognises the importance of security and stability of any final settlement. As the Government recognise, it is essential that the UK continues to support the talks, to keep the hopes of peace and the two-state solution alive, and to provide funding to support the Palestinians, especially in building the foundations of a sustainable economy.

Because we have so little time, I will focus on recommendations 35 and 36 on support for organisations that can bring together people of all faiths—in part because I am also due to participate in the next debate on religious freedom. In their response to the report, the Government indicated that there had been mixed experience of joint Israeli-Palestinian people-to-people projects in the past, particularly in terms of weak results and scalability. However, one joint project with the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund that Desmond Swayne referred to in an answer to my right honourable friend Joan Ryan was the “Youth Creating Peace On/Line” project, which encourages educational co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis. As we have heard, getting peoples together is not about talks at the top, but about building community relationships, as I learned for many years working in Northern Ireland in the trade union movement. Will the Minister update the Committee on this project and tell us, in line with the response to the committee, whether DfID is considering any other joint projects that meet the operational planning objectives and value for money?

My Lords, I join your Lordships in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for securing the debate, and, indeed, all noble Lords for their contributions. I hope noble Lords will understand that my noble friend Lady Verma is in New York speaking at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I am conscious that I come to this hugely important matter without the experience that she would bring to the debate.

The International Development Committee report on the Occupied Palestinian Territories was published in July 2014. The report was followed soon thereafter by a seven-week conflict in Gaza that sadly claimed 2,000 lives. Since then there has been an upsurge in continuing violence across Israel and the OPTs, to which my noble friends Lord Sheikh and Lord Gold referred.

The IDC’s report was, on the whole, supportive of DfID’s support in the OPTs, praising in particular its work in private sector development. DfID officials responded in writing to the IDC’s recommendations and provided a further update in December 2015. The report’s recommendations focused on five key areas: Palestinian-Israeli tensions; Gaza; Israeli accordance with international law; Area C; and DfID’s programmes in the OPTs. I will update your Lordships on these key areas before addressing some of the specific questions raised today.

Since the report was published, we have seen a significant increase in Palestinian-Israeli tensions. We are deeply concerned by the recent violence and terrorist attacks across the OPTs and Israel, as I mentioned. We continue to speak regularly to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government, urging them to use their influence to de-escalate tensions. We condemn all acts of violence and incitement to commit acts of violence, and urge both sides to work together to promote peace.

I was particularly struck by what my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley said about the promotion of culture and music specifically, which my noble friend Lady Rawlings also mentioned. I shall certainly speak to my noble friend Lady Verma about the health initiative, about which my noble friend Lord Polak spoke so powerfully. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, also referred to the importance of community, understanding and working together. Again, these matters can be dealt with at certain levels but it surely must be right that the communities try to work together more closely.

The situation in Gaza, which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised in particular, remains severe following the devastating conflict and continued movement and access restrictions. Indeed, following that conflict in the summer of 2014, the United Kingdom provided more than £17 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to those affected. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to employees of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. The UK’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority helps to strengthen the moderate Palestinian leadership. Many of its staff continue to deliver much-needed services to Palestinians living in Gaza. A limited number of employees are unable to work under the de facto authority but we believe it is important that the UK continues to support the work of the Palestinian Authority, which remains a vital element of efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

Through our assistance, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was able to support 12,375 families to repair their homes and to help 1,733 families who were unable to return to their homes find alternative accommodation. DfID’s support also included an additional £3 million to the World Food Programme, enabling it to reach almost 300,000 people. In October 2014, at the Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo, the UK pledged a further £20 million in early recovery assistance, including cash assistance to Palestinian refugees, mine removal and medical treatment. My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton referred to medical treatment, which has obviously been so important. As part of this pledge, the UK provided £700,000 to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which is facilitating the import of construction materials into Gaza. We are pleased that more than 130,000 people are participating in the GRM and 70,000 have completed repairs. The UK disbursed our Cairo pledge in its entirety and has since provided more than £25 million of additional support to Gaza, including for basic service delivery and support to the private sector.

The UK consistently calls on Israel to improve movement and access into and out of Gaza, which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised. We need to see a sustainable political solution for Gaza that will address Israel’s legitimate security concerns while opening up movement and access, and supporting the return of the Palestinian Authority.

On DfID’s funding of health systems, medical supplies and support for some NGOs—the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, also raised this matter—the UK remains the third largest donor to UNRWA’s core programme budget. This provides basic healthcare to Palestinian refugees across the region, including 70% of the Gazan population who are Palestinian refugees. The UK provides support for the Palestinian Authority to provide basic healthcare services. During the 2014 Gaza crisis, DfID provided an additional £2 million to support health-related activities through a number of NGOs, including Medical Aid for Palestinians.

The IDC report rightly raised concerns over Israeli accordance with international law. We repeatedly call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and have regular dialogue with Israel on legal issues relating to the occupation, settlements, demolitions and the treatment of Palestinian children in military custody. The UK Government’s policy on settlements remains clear: they are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and take us further away from a two-state solution. We strongly urge the Government of Israel to reverse their policy on illegal settlements.

Recent reports of a large increase in demolitions of Palestinian structures since the start of 2016 are extremely concerning. This was raised particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. Demolitions cause unnecessary suffering to Palestinians, are harmful to the peace process and, in all but the most limited circumstances, are contrary to international humanitarian law. Our embassy in Tel Aviv raised our concerns about demolitions with Israeli authorities and will continue to raise this at the political level.

The IDC report contained several recommendations for DfID to scale up its work in Area C of the West Bank. The UK is fully aware of the critical importance of supporting Palestinian presence and development in Area C in preserving the viability of the two-state solution. We want to see sustainable development in Area C and better co-operation between the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel. DfID supports access to water for agriculture, the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure in Area C and legal assistance to Palestinian communities at risk of forced eviction, demolition and displacement. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, mentioned this but through our Palestinian market development programme we support Palestinian businesses in Area C to improve their products and enter markets. That will clearly be important as we ensure that the economy and people working in business are able to prosper.

We continue to urge the Government of Israel to develop improved mechanisms for zoning, planning and permitting in Area C for the benefit of the Palestinian population. In 2015-16, we provided £500,000 to UN-Habitat to support the development of Palestinian outline plans in Area C to meet the requirements of the Israeli planning system. We are joining the EU’s programme in Area C to support construction of small-scale infrastructure. DfID provided more than £349 million in support for Palestinian development between 2011 and 2015, and will provide a further £72 million in the financial year 2015-16.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a UK priority. The UK Government have officials here in London, the British consulate-general Jerusalem and the British embassy in Tel Aviv working extremely hard towards this objective in an increasingly fragile context. As part of its bilateral aid review, DfID is in the process of agreeing future multi-year support for Palestinian development and will continue to consider carefully the IDC’s recommendations, in addition to consultations already under way with other donors, partners, civil society and the Palestinian Authority.

A number of questions were raised about misuse of funds. I will endeavour to answer as many questions as I can in the time but assure your Lordships that if anything is not followed up I will ensure that my noble friend Lady Verma does so. On the misuse of funds—which is very important and was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, and my noble friend Lady Rawlings—the UK closely monitors its spending in the OPT. Safeguards ensure compliance with UK and EU legislation, particularly on terror financing.

On prisoner payments, to which my noble friend Lord Popat and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, also referred, DfID’s direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority is used to pay the salaries of that authority’s civil servants only and the process is subject to independent auditing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, mentioned people-to-people projects, which again are all important. Through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund the UK supports an NGO, Kids Creating Peace, to bring young Israelis and Palestinians together through workshops with the objective of transforming their perceptions. I very much hope that, across the piece, there will be scope for many more of these sorts of project with other donors as well as with us.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned land registration. DfID continues to be part of the collective donor effort to support Palestinian authorities on this matter. On support for planning, and in reply to my noble friend Lady Rawlings, I already said that we provided £500,000 to support the development of outlined Palestinian plans so that these can meet the requirements of the planning system. On the matter of labelling, the UK Government welcome the EU-wide interpretation notice on the indication of the origin of products from the Israeli settlements.

I am conscious of time, though I am not quite at 5 pm. To end, UK aid seeks to make a positive difference to the lives of Palestinians—an aim in which we all share. A negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict and achieve a sustainable peace so that Israelis and Palestinians can live without fear of violence. We call on all sides to work urgently to improve the situation on the ground and pave the way for a resumption of peace talks. We can seek to do all that we can but in the final analysis the quest for a sustainable peace can be realised only with Israelis and Palestinians working together. As I said, I will make sure that my noble friend Lady Verma has a full record of this debate and I am most grateful to your Lordships for this opportunity.

Sitting suspended.