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House of Lords Hansard
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24 April 2018
Volume 790

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for processes by which Israel might be held accountable for its treatment of the inhabitants of Gaza.

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The United Kingdom is deeply concerned about the recent violence in Gaza. Israel has the right to protect its borders, and Palestinians have the right to protest. There is a need to establish the facts, including why such a volume of live fire has been used and what role Hamas has played. All sides must now commit to restraint and peaceful protest. The UK remains committed to a two-state solution which ends the conflict.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, which deals more with the present situation. I am concerned with the background. Do the Government agree with United States Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, and who said last week:

“Hamas’s … violence … cannot excuse trapping … two million people inside Gaza”?

He added that the United States,

“must play a … role in ending the Gaza blockade”.

If Israel will not change its policy, how can it be held accountable for breaches of international law—for example, collective punishments? Will the Government consult the United Nations General Assembly about a possible tribunal?

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As I said, the Government remain gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and continue to monitor it closely, including the effect that electricity shortages are having on the health sector. We are supportive of the Palestinian Authority resuming government functions in Gaza, helping to improve the dire humanitarian and economic situation. We continue to call on the Israeli Government to ease restrictions, and for Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt to work together to ensure a durable solution for Gaza. We share the commitment of the United States to improving the situation in Gaza and bringing forward a viable peace plan. We remain committed to a two-state solution which ends the conflict and alleviates the suffering of the Gazan people.

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My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister has had the opportunity to read the leader in yesterday’s Guardian, which summed up the situation extremely well. For the two-state solution to be viable, we have to articulate very strongly why it is important. If people in Israel think that by destroying and harming the Arab cause in the way that they are doing now will help with peace and the long-term security of Israel, they are mistaken. We need to make the case for a two-state solution strongly, and we need to argue it very strongly with the current Government in Israel. If they continue with their current policy, they will undermine the cause of peace but also ensure that the Arabs will stand up and fight back strongly.

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The noble Lord paints a true picture of the situation and of the angst and frustration at the fact that we seem unable to bring about a two-state solution; the angst of that is palpable. I have not read the leader in the Guardian, but I will make sure the officials get me a copy and I will make sure that I read it. People are continually trying to make the case that the actual motivation and desire to achieve peace in a two-state solution must come from the individuals involved, in Israel and Palestine, and we will do everything we can to help that happen.

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Does the noble Baroness think it acceptable that Israel is not allowing out for treatment those who have been wounded in the recent protests to which she referred? Have the Government made any assessment of whether the sniper rifles and components given export licences and sold to Israel by UK firms have been used on protestors?

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Of course, such behaviour is unacceptable. The information I have is that we take our responsibilities for the export of defence arms extremely seriously. We approve only equipment that is for Israel’s legitimate self-defence, and all applications for export licences are assessed on a case-by-case basis against strict criteria. We will not issue a licence if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression.

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My Lords, in her answer, the Minister referred to the Government welcoming the United States’ support for the people of Gaza. Can she tell us what that consisted of? I seem to have missed it. Perhaps she can say what support the United States is now giving to the people of Gaza. Once again, can she explain why the Government rejected the view of the International Relations Committee of this House that the best way we could show our support for a two-state solution is by recognising the state of Palestine?

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On the support that the United States is giving to Gaza, I will need to write to the noble Lord about the detail of that. On the two-state solution, given the lack of experience on my part in Foreign Office matters, all I will say is that everything I have learnt about this confirms that it is indeed a two-state solution that we look to. It is complicated and difficult, but I remind noble Lords of the debate we had on Syria where the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, spoke. Of course, one likes to think that the situation in Syria can be resolved, but it looks hopeless. Quoting Nelson Mandela, the noble Lord said—I paraphrase—that everything looks impossible until it happens. We must hope that we can get the peace that we need in these two states.

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My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government support the UN Secretary-General’s call for an independent investigation into the recent bloodshed in Gaza?

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I can confirm that there is an urgent need to establish the facts. The UK is supportive of accountability and transparency, and we welcome Israel’s commitment to investigate the conduct of operations. We urge for those findings to be made public and, where wrongdoing is found, for those responsible to be held to account.