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Volume 679: debated on Tuesday 8 September 2020

Whether he made representations to his Israeli counterpart on the full withdrawal of proposals to annex parts of the west bank during his visit to Israel in August 2020. (905644)

Whether he made representations to his Israeli counterpart on the full withdrawal of proposals to annex parts of the west bank during his visit to Israel in August 2020. (905646)

Whether he made representations to his Israeli counterpart on the full withdrawal of proposals to annex parts of the west bank during his visit to Israel in August 2020. (905651)

What assessment he has made of the effect of normalisation of relations between the State of Israel and the United Arab Emirates on regional stability and security; and if he will make a statement. (905654)

As I made clear in my statement on 13 August, we welcome both the suspension of plans to annex parts of the west bank and the normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel. The deal was a historic step forward between two great friends of the United Kingdom.

A week before the election in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated he would move forward with the expansion of the illegal settlement at Efrat—an additional 3,500 homes. That plan had been previously frozen for years. It would cut off the north and the south of the west bank and is particularly problematic. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the suspension of annexation plans should be made permanent and should not be replaced by the massive settlement expansion such as the 5,000 homes that are planned in E1 zone, which represent—in my view and that of my constituents—annexation in all but name?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that settlements are both contrary to international law and counterproductive to peace. It is hugely welcome that Israel has taken the plans off the table for the foreseeable future, coupled with the UAE deal, which is a substantial step forward in the wider process of reconciliation and peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

I welcome the Israel-UAE deal, which stops the prospect of any damaging annexation and should bring about normalisation between the two countries. What steps are the Government taking to encourage more Arab states to follow the UAE’s lead and to use it as a catalyst to secure lasting negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

I thank the hon. Lady. She is right, and there can hopefully be a virtuous cycle of these normalisation agreements. I have been in touch with US authorities, including Jared Kushner when he visited London, and Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, and I visited Israel on 25 August, where I not only saw Prime Minister Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Gantz and Foreign Minister Ashkenazi, but visited the west bank and spoke to President Abbas and Prime Minister Shtayyeh—all with a view to encouraging normalisation with the countries of the region and, now that annexation is at least off the table for the foreseeable future, encouraging greater dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israeli Government.

Will the Secretary of State talk to European colleagues, particularly the Irish, with a view to taking joint action on settlement trade and on recognition to ensure that the Israeli Government do not go ahead with their annexation threat in future?

I thank the hon. Lady. We do talk regularly to our E3 and wider European colleagues—we consider all the different permutations—but I think the positive here is that, through engagement and indeed through this wider process of normalisation, Israel has pulled back from those plans for annexation. That does create a window of opportunity not just with the countries of the region, but with the Palestinians themselves. My focus and the Prime Minister’s focus is on trying to use that to catalyse dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which is the only route to a two-state solution, which is the only route to enduring peace.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the United States Administration and indeed the US State Department on helping to broker this deal? I suspect he will not agree with me when I say that I think it is their pragmatic approach to say that a two-state deal is not going to happen as long as we have Hamas and Hezbollah taking the line they do, but what I would ask my right hon. Friend is: what role does he see for the United Kingdom in brokering further such peace deals between the United Kingdom and Arab states?

I thank my hon. Friend. I think he is right about the positivity of this step. We need some good news in the peace process and in the middle east, and I think the UAE deal with Israel is very positive. We are looking to and will certainly be encouraging—indeed, we have already started to encourage—others to follow suit, but also to make sure that we can engage with the Palestinians, at the level of the Palestinian Authority, to try to galvanise some dialogue between the two principal protagonists in the dispute.

My right hon. Friend knows very well that one of the reasons for the proximity between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is the pressure put on both by the Iranian regime, and the work that his Department has done in holding the Iranian regime to account at the UN has been hugely impressive. Applying the rule of law and applying the principles of non-violable international treaty to international negotiation has been so important. Could my right hon. Friend please tell me that the UK will read the letter of the treaty of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231, and recognise that any of the named states has the opportunity to snap back on sanctions on the violating state of Iran? Will he recognise as well that those international treaties are not for interpretation, but are actually pretty clearly laid out in black and white?

I thank my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee. Lawyers will always have different views on the precise permutations, but I think the position on snapback in relation to the joint comprehensive plan of action is tolerably clear. He is absolutely right also to point to the role that Iran plays not just with its own activities—those it engages in directly—but working through Hamas and Hezbollah and other proxies throughout the middle east as a source of tension and instability. We are working with all our allies to try to make sure we limit and hold to account Iran for those activities.

The social and health situation in Gaza is extremely serious, especially with regard to covid-19, and recently there was a clash between Israel and Hamas. Fortunately, a ceasefire was agreed, but a concern is that it is only a matter of time before another outbreak of violence occurs. How does the Secretary of State believe further conflict between Gaza and Israel can be avoided?

First, we need to see an end to the targeting of civilians and the firing of improvised explosive devices by Hamas into Israel. That is unlawful and totally unacceptable. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns on the broader humanitarian situation. When I visited the west bank on 20 August, I announced £2.7 million-worth of further humanitarian assistance. Now that Israel has taken annexation off the table, it would make sense, even irrespective of the broader peace talks, for the Palestinian Authority to engage with the Israelis on finance and security co-operation in the west bank and Gaza, including in relation to being able to receive tax revenues to pay Palestinian public servants. As a confidence-building measure, given the UAE deal, that is something the Palestinians could do on their side as well.