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Occupied Palestinian Territories

Volume 794: debated on Monday 17 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what guidance they provide to United Kingdom companies who wish to trade with companies based in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

My Lords, a company’s decision to trade with businesses based in Israeli settlements is primarily commercial. When considering activities in the region, the Government urge British businesses to consider the illegal nature of Israeli settlements under international law. We also encourage British businesses to take account of our Overseas Business Risk online guidance, which provides comprehensive information on the security and political risks of trading in the region.

I thank the Minister for that reply and for talking about international law. Is she aware that I table Questions every week concerning the actions of the Israeli Government in Palestine, putting on record the relentless expansion of those settlements and the appalling behaviour of the settlers, including the demolition of Palestinian property, the destruction of their farmland, the denial of their fishing rights and the theft of their water? Does she realise that I have asked Questions about the imprisonment of Palestinian children and the maiming and killing of others? This is not to forget the blockade of Gaza, which the United Nations has said will be uninhabitable by 2020. Does she agree that these are all examples of Israel breaking international law, human rights law and the Fourth Geneva Convention? The Government have admitted this in the Answers that I receive, which I have here. When will our Government stop talking and writing Answers to Questions and take action to stop Israel’s illegal activities, as they do when other countries misbehave? Do we have to wait another 70 years?

My Lords, I am aware of the noble Baroness’s interest in this area and of the many Written Questions that she has laid down. To restate what has been outlined on numerous occasions, the UK’s position on the settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace and threaten the physical viability of the two-state solution. That is why we supported UN Security Council Resolution 2334, regularly raise our grave concerns on this issue with the Government of Israel and urge them to reverse their policy on settlement expansion.

My Lords, while consumers undoubtedly have the right to know the origin of the goods they buy, does the Minister agree that it sets a dangerous precedent to encourage consumers to determine their purchases on the ethnicity or nationality of the producer?

I thank my noble friend for that question. We understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We also welcome the European Commission’s decision in November 2015 to issue indication of origin guidelines for products produced in the Israeli settlements. It is up to British retailers who stock settlement produce to voluntarily adopt the labelling policy recommended by Defra.

Is the Minister aware that some 50,000 Palestinians work for Israeli companies in the West Bank and that Israeli trade unions ensure that the Palestinians are paid at exactly the same rate as the Israelis for the same jobs and receive the same benefits? I can do no better than quote Nabil Basherat, a Palestinian who said:

“The BDS movement has threatened my job security and livelihood … and damaged the livelihoods of hundreds … of factory workers”.

Does the Minister agree that the BDS movement damages Palestinians much more than it does Israel?

My Lords, I agree that boycotts of any kind are damaging for both Palestinians and Israelis. The UK strongly opposes boycotts of Israel, which divide people and reduce understanding, but, as I said, that is why the UK, along with many businesses and institutions, operates a policy of differentiation in relation to Israeli borders. It is quite right that we take the stance that there are no boycotts in these areas because they damage the economy for both sides.

Does the Minister agree that British companies must ensure that none of their products is used in the demolition of Palestinian homes and properties in the Occupied Territories? In her response, will she address in particular the use of JCB bulldozers in the flattening of Palestinian homes and schools?

I have already made known our stance on the boycotting of goods. The UK Government have had discussions with JCB on a range of subjects. Where a company decides to trade is ultimately a decision for each company to reach, taking account of the legal and regulatory environment as well as international human rights law. The British Government will continue to encourage and foster respect for human rights among UK businesses.

My Lords, surely the point made by the noble Lord opposite is pursuant: unemployment and poverty further extremism. Surely it makes sense to spread prosperity given that 10% of the working population in the West Bank is employed within these settlements. Given that the Oslo accords envisage land swaps, surely it makes sense for peace to spread prosperity and give people a chance to get out of the hands of the men of blood.

My Lords, the opportunity is there. If you had listened to the radio this morning, you would have heard young Palestinians and Israelis desiring the same thing: the opportunity to prosper and use their skills. What are the Government doing to ensure we have two communities working together and that we end up with a two-state solution, in which both communities can prosper?

As the noble Lord is aware, the UK Government support a two-state solution. As I have said, the UK is a close friend of Israel and we enjoy excellent bilateral relationships. The British Government helped to establish the UK Israel Tech Hub, a non-profit organisation based in Tel Aviv and London, to help British companies looking for cutting-edge innovation and Israeli start-ups seeking to go through the UK. This kind of innovation is important to help individuals living in both Israel and Palestine, and to ensure we have good economic prosperity in the region.