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Israel: Ambassador

Volume 778: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the apology by the Israeli Ambassador for remarks made by an embassy official concerning a Foreign Office Minister, whether they intend to conduct an inquiry.

My Lords, the Israeli ambassador has apologised and it is clear that these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or of the Government of Israel. The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.

I thank the Minister for that response, but will she please tell us what action would be taken if, for example, Chinese embassy staff were discovered to be interfering in our political process in this way? Will she agree that the very serious charge of anti-Semitism is devalued if it is used against anyone who criticises the actions of the Government of Israel?

My Lords, I shall not speculate on what might happen; I deal with what does happen. It is clear that in this case unacceptable activity was undertaken by one person who is no longer in this country, and appropriate action was taken by the Israeli embassy.

My Lords, a junior embassy official made a stupid remark at a gossipy lunch and was sacked, and our Government say that that is the end of the matter. Does the Minister share my puzzlement at any possible benefit that would result from raising the matter now? Is it seriously suggested, for example, that the Israeli embassy wants to bump off Sir Alan Duncan?

My Lords, I am delighted to say that my right honourable friend is alive and well and an excellent Minister at the Foreign Office.

The Government accepted the Israeli ambassador’s explanation but, on Sunday, the UK failed to send a Minister to the Paris meeting on the peace process and yesterday the UK vetoed the EU’s support for the conclusions of that meeting. Can the Minister assure us that on Israel/Palestine the Government are not distancing themselves from our European neighbours and seeking favour with a very unpredictable new US President?

My Lords, the UK position on the Middle East peace process has not changed. I appreciate that there has been some speculation over the recess—that happens during a recess period. But the noble Baroness rightly raises specific points, and I would like to address the two main points of those specific issues.

First, with regard to the Paris conference, we made it clear to the French, whom we congratulate on trying to take the process of peace forward, that decisions made at this stage without the presence of the only ones who can come to a settlement—the Palestinians and the Israelis—were not going anywhere and could simply harden opinions. It was nothing to do with the incoming President of the United States. However, we have to recognise that the US plays a crucial role in these negotiations, and has done so. With regard to Paris, while welcoming the French efforts, we made it clear that we would not attend the meeting at ministerial level, although we had a senior representative there—the head of our Near East department—and as such it was not appropriate for us to sign up to that communique.

I would like to put on record a clarification about the misunderstanding in the press to which the noble Baroness referred. We did not veto anything yesterday in Brussels. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for foreign affairs, confirmed yesterday that the UK,

“did not stop or prevent any decision of the European Union”.

From her mouth, I hope that the House will accept that we did not veto anything.

Can the Minister confirm nevertheless that the Government are still firmly in favour of a two-state solution to the Arab-Israel question? Can she add to her explanation why the British delegate to the meeting in Paris—and, indeed, the Foreign Secretary himself, at a meeting of his European Union colleagues—both failed to go along with a statement in support of the two-state process?

First, it was not an occasion for making a statement. Yesterday was a discussion over lunch—it was not a position from which one makes a statement. What we have made clear, and the Prime Minister has made it clear, is that we continue to be in favour of a two-state solution. The importance is to concentrate on the range of issues which both of those who will come to the settlement table need to sign up to. My grammar is getting a little awry there but, clearly, our policy has not changed. We want to see a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of those states and a fair, just, agreed settlement for refugees. We are constant in our policy.