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Occupied Palestinian Territories

Volume 634: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2018

4. What steps she is taking to improve access for humanitarian organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (903328)

9. What steps she is taking to improve access for humanitarian organisations in the occupied Palestinian territories. [R] (903333)

I will answer briefly, Mr Speaker.

The UK Government consistently call on the Israeli Government to ease movement and access restrictions in the OPTs. Since 2011, we have been funding the United Nations Access Coordination Unit to work with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians in the occupied territories face significant barriers to access to healthcare. Some have even died as a result of delays at checkpoints. Will the Minister urge the UK Government to recommend to the working group of the United Nations’ universal periodic review of Israel’s human rights record that Israel lift restrictions on the movement of Palestinian patients and healthcare workers and Palestinian-registered ambulances?

The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to a serious aspect of the difficulties of restrictions. It is much in the UK’s mind, and we will continue to raise it.

I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The overnight announcement from the United States of the largest cut in aid for Palestinian refugees for 70 years follows the Israeli Government’s ban on 20 international organisations entering Israel, including three from the UK. Does that concern the Government, and what do they intend to do about it?

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has a unique role in protecting and providing essential services for 5 million Palestinian refugees. We are deeply concerned about the impact of potential cuts in US funding on stability in the region, and about the continuity of UNRWA’s vital services. We will go on supporting them.

What action is the Minister taking to ensure that no taxpayers’ money from DFID ever ends up in the pockets of convicted terrorists?

What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the funds given to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli non-governmental organisations are used to promote peace in the area, so that we can see a peaceful co-existence between Israel and the state of Palestine?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have just this year allocated £3 million to co-existence projects so that those from the Palestinian community and Israelis can work more effectively together. One of the problems in recent years has been a growing divide between communities. We want to find projects that will break down barriers rather than erect them.

Will the Government oppose President Trump’s latest threat to withdraw funding from UNRWA, and will the Government attend a conference of donor countries, convened by the Norwegian Government and the EU, to discuss the imminent crisis that would result?

The answer to the second question is yes, and I am hoping to attend that conference myself. On the first question, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), that is a decision for the United States; we are concerned about the impact but our support for UNRWA will continue.

The US President’s threat this week to withdraw tens of millions of dollars from UNRWA for Palestinian refugees is an act of cruelty towards some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world. It attacks the long-established principle that development and aid cannot await a peace deal. What is the Minister doing to strengthen the resolve of the United Nations and our European counterparts to maintain vital humanitarian work in the region?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position; we look forward to hearing much more from him. I met the head of UNRWA recently in London. Our commitment for next year to its programme budget is £38 million. It assists in the provision of basic education for some half a million children. As I have explained, we are concerned about the loss of funding to UNRWA and our support for it remains clear, but this is another example of how something will not be properly fixed until we get the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that we are all searching for, and we hope 2018 will be a landmark in that.