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Israel and Palestine

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 2 May 2023

2. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of recent violence in Israel and Palestine. (904712)

4. Whether he has had recent discussions with his Israeli counterpart on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (904714)

Our strong bilateral relationship with Israel means that we can speak frankly with the Israelis, and whenever I do so I encourage them to ensure that security operations are carried out proportionately and in accordance with international law. I call on all parties to find opportunities to de-escalate tension. On 7 April, I condemned the indiscriminate rocket attacks directed at Israel, and I also condemned the horrific murder of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee by a terrorist. My deepest condolences go to Rabbi Leo Dee and his family. The UK remains committed to a two-state solution, and we consistently engage with Israel and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to support that goal.

I share the sentiments of the Foreign Secretary, but last year was the deadliest year for violence in the west bank since 2005 and the cycle of violence continues. There are some trailblazing organisations working in the region using cutting-edge science and artificial intelligence technology to encourage peace and an end to the bloodshed. What recent conversations have Ministers or the Secretary of State had with their colleagues in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology about the value of those collaborative projects and their impact on a two-state solution?

I thank the hon. Lady for the points she has put forward. I will endeavour to speak with the Secretary of State or Ministers in that Department. We will constantly explore opportunities to enhance peace and strive towards a sustainable two-state solution, whether through the most traditional people-to-people approach or through the use of AI. Whatever it takes, we are willing to consider it.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned the two-state solution. Now that it is the policy of the Israeli Government not to pursue a two-state solution, can he explain how the discussions on trade with Israel will be used to pursue that policy objective and to uphold human rights and international law in the occupied territories?

The UK enjoys a trade relationship with Israel; indeed, we have a trade agreement with the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well. We will always put human rights and the pursuit of peace at the heart of our foreign policy when it comes to Israel and the OPTs. We will continue to hold our position on the desirability of a two-state solution and we will continue, in our interactions with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, to pursue that aim.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the Abraham accords are a huge breakthrough in diplomatic dialogue in the region, that they are a force for good and that they are creating conversations between people who previously did not speak and join together around the same table? Is it not the case that the Palestinian leadership should recognise that the region is changing and that they need to get on board and work with their friends, allies and partners in the region to try to understand the differences of opinion across the region?

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about the changing dynamic in the region. I am very pleased that the Abraham accords were signed. More than being just a single point in time, the accords have unlocked a series of dialogues between countries in the Arab world and Israel. They have also formalised relationships that perhaps would have been informal up until this point, and they are a fantastic stepping-stone towards wider regional security and that peaceful, sustainable two-state solution.

Aside from the violent incidents that my right hon. Friend has referred to, does he agree that the fact that more than 1 million worshippers were able to visit the Temple Mount during Ramadan and that the month of April saw the great festivals of Easter, Passover and Ramadan being celebrated so freely throughout Israel marks Israel out as a remarkable example of religious freedom and tolerance in the middle east?

On my visit to Israel, I saw people of all religions living their lives freely there, and that is to be commended. Through this rare period when the three great religions celebrate these significant events at the same time of the year—I think these festivals converge once every 33 years—I had extensive conversations with the Israeli leadership, the Palestinian leadership and leadership in the region. I am pleased that opportunities were taken to de-escalate and to support religious freedom. That will always be something that we champion in our relationships.

Last week, the British Consulate General in Jerusalem, joined by other European missions, visited Jubbet ahd-Dhib school near Bethlehem, which along with 58 other schools in the west bank and Jerusalem is at risk of demolition, and implored the Israeli Government to

“reverse the demolition order and protect the right to education for all.”

Considering the possibility of violence occurring as a result of such demolitions and the impact of demolishing schools on children in the west bank and East Jerusalem, will the Secretary of State join the calls to demand that Israel reverse these demolition orders? Can he also tell me what steps he is taking to protect the viability of a two-state solution?

As I said in answer to an earlier question, one of the advantages of the strong bilateral relationship that we have with Israel is that we are able to speak regularly about such sensitive issues. Israel knows the UK’s long-standing position on settlements, evictions and demolitions, which is clear: they are illegal under international law and they limit the chances of success of a two-state solution. We raise that directly with Israel, and Israel listens when we do.