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Jerusalem and Gaza

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 17 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem; and what representations they have made to the government of Israel about the ongoing loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza.

My Lords, the United Kingdom believes that the decision to move the US embassy is unhelpful for prospects of peace. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, this is playing the wrong card at the wrong time. The UK has no plans to move the British embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv. The Foreign Secretary and Ministers for the Middle East and for human rights have raised concerns with the Israeli authorities about Gaza, urging restraint and a reduction in the use of live fire.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Noble Lords will recall that four years ago I said that the Government’s policy on Israel and Palestine was morally indefensible, unfair, unbalanced and inconsistent in its treatment of the Israelis and the Palestinians. I hope that my noble friend will prove that I was wrong by simply answering “yes” to the following two scenarios. Does she agree that we condemn those who do not recognise the state of Israel, deny its existence and threaten its security? Does she also agree that we should equally condemn those who do not recognise Palestine, deny its existence and threaten its viability with illegal settlement building?

I will respond to my noble friend by taking her second question first. This issue frequently arises in this Chamber. The United Kingdom’s position has been very clear. We will recognise a Palestinian state only when we judge that that recognition can best bring about peace. Recent events very tragically confirm the chaos of hostility. It is very clear that bilateral recognition in itself will not end the occupation or the problems that come with it without a negotiated settlement. Two parties can achieve that negotiated settlement: one is Israel, the other the Palestinian Authority. Without that negotiated settlement, sadly and tragically, these problems will continue.

My Lords, one of the things the Government acknowledged on Tuesday in response to the Urgent Question was the need for a full and independent investigation through the UN into the terrible tragedy in Gaza, which involved the shooting of unarmed innocent people. That needs investigation. At the time, the noble Lord the Minister undertook to give us a timetable for when we might see the fruits of all this hard work at the United Nations. Is the noble Baroness in a position to tell us now that we will go to the United Nations and demand a full and independent investigation into what I would call horrendous crimes?

I reaffirm that the UK is appalled by the deaths and injuries suffered in Gaza. There is an urgent need to establish the facts of what happened. Our UN ambassador said at the UN Security Council emergency meeting on Tuesday that we want to reiterate our support for independent and transparent investigations into the events that took place in Gaza. We have to find out what happened, what took place and what events induced the conflict, and get to the heart of the facts. Only when we do that—and we can do it only with international co-operation—can we then determine how best to proceed.

Would the noble Baroness agree that there is no point calling for an international investigation and at the same time describing the events as a crime before that investigation has taken place? Would she also tell the House whether the Government have urged restraint not just on Israel but on Hamas?

I can reassure the noble Lord that yesterday my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. He encouraged them to call for calm and to work to de-escalate the situation. On the earlier point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, an investigation is needed to establish the facts. Before we establish the facts, we do not know what has actually happened or what the appropriate consequences should be.

Can the Minister confirm that it remains the position of the British Government that the eastern part of Jerusalem taken by Israel in 1967 remains classified as occupied and that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies there? Does she agree that it is vital to be in lockstep with our EU partners in relation to the Middle East, given an unpredictable President who has pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran and set up the US embassy in Jerusalem?

In responding to the Question from my noble friend Lady Warsi, I indicated the Government’s position in relation to the US embassy. The UK regards east Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation in the UK. The foundation has distributed more than $1 billion for the benefit of all citizens of Jerusalem irrespective of their religion, including even the Via Dolorosa. I know Jerusalem well. There is some hypocrisy in criticising the move of the American embassy. The UK Government already have their consulate-general in east Jerusalem. Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that the UK Government have placed every other embassy in the world in the host country’s city of choice? The Jerusalem municipality led by Mayor Barkat has ensured that there has been only peaceful coexistence for many years in Jerusalem. Does my noble friend agree that Monday’s appalling loss of life in Gaza was in no small part due to Hamas enticing innocent civilians from peaceful protest to violence?

My noble friend’s illustration of the possibility for constructive and peaceful harmony in Jerusalem is encouraging. I applaud him and his foundation for what they are seeking to do. On the wider front of how we take matters forward, I go back to the point that there has to be a negotiated settlement. Where embassies are located has of course to be a decision for individual sovereign states—I have made clear the UK’s position in relation to that. Let me make it clear that we recognise the right of the Palestinians to engage in peaceful protest. There is deep anxiety that that may have been hijacked by extremist elements, which is profoundly to be regretted. Equally, we recognise the right of Israel to act in self-defence if its security is threatened.