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Volume 798: debated on Wednesday 5 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to discuss with the governments of (1) Israel, and (2) Egypt, how to end the causes of recurrent violence in Gaza.

My Lords, we regularly discuss the situation in Gaza with the Israeli and Egyptian Governments. This includes the Minister of State for the Middle East raising our concerns with the Israeli authorities during his visit to Israel in May, as well as discussions with the Egyptian ambassador on 16 May. We are gravely concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Gaza. We welcome the Egyptian and United Nations brokered ceasefire and urge all parties to make progress towards a long-term agreement.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, but is it not intolerable that violence has continued for 12 years, providing an excuse for worldwide terrorism? The blockade also continues, although it has not prevented violence from both sides. Will Her Majesty’s Government call for an end to the blockade and for the normalisation of all relationships? Would an independently facilitated analysis of the causes of strife be helpful in this?

I reassure the noble Lord that we are deeply concerned about the recurring violence in Gaza and the surrounding region, and we regularly lobby the Israelis about the damage that their restrictions are doing to the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Palestinians. We have also raised concerns with the Egyptian authorities, but there is no excuse or justification for terrorism. We utterly condemn the violent acts of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza. The firing of rockets towards civilian areas is unacceptable and must stop. I agree with the noble Lord that all parties should work together to agree a long-term sustainable plan to improve the situation with help from the international community, and we welcome efforts by those who are working to develop solutions that will ultimately lead to peace.

My Lords, Israel is like one of those dangerous animals which, when attacked, defends itself. It would surely be more sensible to talk to Hamas and suggest that it stops rockets being launched into Israel and tunnels to Israel being built. The Israelis must know where the rockets are located and where the tunnels begin because of the quality of their intelligence operations. That would surely be the better practice.

The noble Lord will be aware of the Government’s long-standing position: Hamas’s military wing has been proscribed in the UK since 2001 and the UK has a policy of no contact with Hamas, including the political as well as the military wing. Our position is that it must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements.

My Lords, we are expecting a grand American plan for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation from Mr Kushner and others. I gather that it has now been put off because of the failure of Netanyahu to form a new Government. Can the Minister assure us that the British have been fully briefed on what it will contain, that we have had a chance to provide our own input into what sounds like an immensely overoptimistic set of proposals for the Palestinians to accept, and that we are continuing to be engaged in discussions on this matter?

We continue to encourage the US Administration to bring forward detailed proposals for a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that addresses the legitimate concerns of both parties. Insofar as further detail is concerned, since the state visit by President Trump is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment on the nature of the conversations that are taking place. We discuss a wide range of topics with the US Administration, including the Middle East peace process, and we look forward to learning more about the US plans. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary met with Mr Jared Kushner who, as your Lordships will be aware, is President Trump’s son-in-law and has been placed in charge of the peace plan. They discussed a range of important topics, including the Middle East.

Noble Lords will be aware of the terrible state of the healthcare system in Gaza. This is partly because in Hamas-controlled Gaza much of the reconstruction material has been misused for tunnels and the like. One thing Her Majesty’s Government could do—perhaps my noble friend the Minister could state whether they are minded so to do—is to keep an eye on the misappropriation of international aid and ensure that it is used for the purpose for which it is sent.

I thank my noble friend for that question. As he will be aware, the UK is one of the principal donors to the Palestinian Authority in respect of Gaza; at least, we direct help through agencies there to try to alleviate the conditions. We would take very seriously any suggestion or evidence that this funding was being misdirected or misused. If any evidence were available, the United Kingdom Government would want to know about that.

Will the Minister confirm that the American cuts in funding to UNRWA were potentially very damaging and that the day was saved only by the British and other Governments making up the shortfall? Will the Minister confirm that, if the UNRWA money were to stop, affecting the valuable services that it provides in Gaza in both education and health, that would have a very damaging effect on the situation there and further prejudice the tensions in the region?

All noble Lords will agree that it is important that everything possible is done to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The noble Lord is correct that the role of UNRWA—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—is extremely important. I cannot speak for the United States of America, but I can confirm that the UK is a long supporter of that agency and that we intend over the next few years to provide up to £80 million to support it. The noble Lord will be aware that this is in addition to the significant funds that we are already making available, including, as announced on 29 May by the Minister of State for the Middle East, new UK money of £1.6 million being given to the World Health Organization. This will address urgent gaps in trauma and emergency care in Gaza, including by establishing a new limb reconstruction unit which will help to provide lifesaving treatment to more than 380,000 people in Gaza.