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Israel: Racial Discrimination

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 24 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to provide support to the Palestinian Authority in its complaint against Israel to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; and if so, how.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is not planning to provide support to this complaint. We continue to raise our strong concerns about the ongoing impact of the occupation with the Government of Israel and the UK remains a significant supporter of the Palestinian Authority and its state-building efforts. The occupation and the problems that come with it will be ended only through a negotiated peace settlement leading to a two-state solution, which the UK actively supports.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are 65 laws in Israel that discriminate unjustly against non-Jewish people of that country? Surely I do not have to list the discrimination and cruelty meted out against the people of the Occupied Territories and Gaza, most recently by the slaughter of 110 people and the injuring of thousands more. Does this not remind the Minister of the Sharpeville shootings in apartheid South Africa a generation ago? Does she agree that it is time to call time on the apartheid Government of Israel?

I think it is time to call time on the appalling and intractable situation between the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel. That is why, globally, and certainly within the United Kingdom, there is a determined, concerted and consistent effort to assist the Middle East peace process and encourage the parties to refrain from provocative action—on both sides. The noble Baroness is right to refer to the recent scenes in Gaza. We have never disputed that they were appalling and deeply upsetting, but the United Kingdom Government have made clear that while we recognise the right of the Palestinians to engage in peaceful process and protest, there is a profound concern that that process was hijacked by terrorists. Equally, we recognise the right of Israel, if it thinks its security is at risk, to act proportionately in self-defence.

Does the Minister agree that a complaint by the Palestinian Authority about race discrimination would have more credibility if its President were to refrain from crude anti-Semitism? Did the Minister see, earlier this month, the report on the BBC News website and elsewhere of the speech made by Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in which he said that the Holocaust was provoked by Jews, in particular by reason of their “usury and banking and such”?

We were aware of President Abbas’s comments at the Palestinian National Council. These comments were deeply concerning because any attempt to justify or explain away any element of the Holocaust is completely unacceptable. We understand that he has apologised and we welcome that apology. We understand that he has also shown a commitment to non-violence and to a two-state solution.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that accusations of racial discrimination by Israel fly in the face of the fact that 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs, that 17 members of the Knesset are Arabs elected by the population, and that many leaders of the medical profession, academe and the arts and music are Arabs? A Supreme Court judge who is an Arab sat in judgment on Ehud Olmert when he was put away recently. While the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli leadership are far from beyond criticism, it is hard to sustain an argument that Israel is an apartheid state.

In relation to the original Question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, the form of complaint made to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is significant, because I understand that this is the first interstate treaty complaint that has been brought. It means that Israel will be required to submit written evidence within three months and the committee will then investigate the claims made. That offers a forum for investigation of the grievance that the Palestinian Authority feels, but it is for the committee to look at the matter and prepare a report with recommendations.

My Lords, while argument goes on internationally about who was responsible for what happened in Gaza, is the Minister aware of the enormous suffering that continues there, particularly since the dreadful events of a little while ago? At the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, run by the Anglican Church in Gaza, for example, the situation is described as critical. Is the Minister aware of that? What humanitarian aid is being provided to the people of Gaza at present, particularly to those injured?

The United Kingdom has made it clear that it is not only aware of the humanitarian situation in Gaza but deeply concerned about it. We continue to ensure that our programmes can be responsive to what we would describe as spikes in need. We are closely monitoring that situation. As the right reverend Prelate will be aware, the UK works in close contact with relevant United Nations agencies, the ICRC and other donors to keep abreast of humanitarian needs and assess whether the UK should contribute funding to these partners.

The only way to achieve the lasting peace that we all want to see is for both Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without preconditions. With that in mind, how are the United Kingdom Government helping to facilitate the resumption of direct peace talks?

I thank my noble friend. The UK’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process is that we support a negotiated settlement. We want that to lead to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. We wish that based on the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states and, importantly, a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees. That is where the UK is in relation to this issue. We prosecute that case with all parties as robustly as we can. As my noble friend will be aware, we are part of and support the quartet process.