I remain entirely committed to a two-state solution to the conflict in the region. It is the only way to see a safe and secure Israel coexistent alongside a viable, sovereign Palestinian state. A long term political settlement, one that ensures a safe future for all, is the only way to resolve the conflict so that the Israeli and Palestinian people can live in peace.
Coexistence Projects Between Israelis and Palestinians (and UK Aid)
The UK has supported a number of cross-border coexistence projects in the past and I am encouraged by the Government’s decision to provide up to £3 million over three years to fund a people-to-people programme. This will help Israelis and Palestinians work together to achieve improvements in their lives and build understanding between people on both sides of the conflict. The programme will facilitate interaction between youth leaders, religious communities, and strengthen cooperation in the health sector.
More generally, DFID’s programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) works to build Palestinian institutions and promote economic growth, so that any future state will be stable, prosperous, well run and an effective partner for peace with Israel. It is essential that the Government’s funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) delivers the best value for money and maximum impact for Palestinians. DFID’s direct financial assistance to the PA is used only to pay the salaries of education and health public sector workers on a vetted list, thereby delivering basic services, maintaining stability and reducing poverty. This is in the mutual interests of Israelis and Palestinians and is a pre-requisite to a two-state solution.
Violence in Gaza
Like you I am deeply distressed by the deaths and injuries in Gaza, the violence is shocking and tragic. There are a number of important facts which need to be established urgently, including why live fire was used. Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself, however the number of those killed and injured demonstrates that we desperately need Israel to show greater restraint. The Government is supportive of an independent and transparent investigation into the violence and is working at the UN to find the correct formula for this investigation.
I believe the Palestinian right to protest is important, however these protests must remain peaceful. I am extremely concerned that extremist elements may have used the protests to further their own violent and deplorable aims against the State of Israel. This is another reason why I believe there is an urgent need to establish the facts. Above all, it is important that this violence is not repeated and that all those involved commit to peaceful protest, restraint and observe international law.
There is a pressing need for all parties to reach a wider agreement that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Gaza and to take the necessary steps to ensure Gaza’s reconstruction and economic recovery. Any agreement should ensure that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket and other attacks against Israel, that the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective governance, and that Israel lifts its restrictions to ease the suffering of ordinary Palestinians.
Operation Defend Israel
I am deeply concerned by the recent activities of Hamas in Gaza, including attempts to rearm and rebuild tunnel infrastructure. These actions undermine efforts to improve the situation in Gaza and harm prospects for the Middle East peace process. Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements.
The Government’s policy towards Hamas is clear – it does not have contact with Hamas, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation. Hamas must make a credible movement towards the conditions set out above, which remain the benchmark against which their intentions are judged, before we consider a change in our stance.
Israel, like any state, has the right to ensure its own security, and its citizens also have the right to live without fear of attack. I can assure you that the UK will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself. The UK Government has called on Iran to end its financial support for Hamas as well as its supply of military equipment.
There is an urgent need for all parties to reach an agreement that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Gaza and to take the necessary steps to ensure Gaza’s reconstruction and economic recovery. Any agreement should ensure that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket and other attacks against Israel, that the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective governance, and that Israel lifts its restrictions to ease the suffering of ordinary Palestinians.
I can assure you that the UK remains focussed on securing progress towards a two-state solution, with a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. Only a negotiated settlement can achieve this.
Israel Arms Embargo
I do not believe that imposing a blanket arms embargo on Israel would promote the Middle East Peace Process. Defence and security exports support a country’s legitimate right to self-defence. Israel has this right as much as any other nation.
I know that the Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust licensing systems in the world. All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, taking into account all relevant factors.
A licence would not be issued for any country if there was a clear risk that any exports might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law. The Government continues to monitor the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and takes into account the latest circumstances when assessing licence applications.
Israel Apartheid Week
I would like to make it clear that I condemn all acts of antisemitism in the strongest possible terms. Any discrimination or hostility based on religion or race is deplorable and there is no place for it in our society. Acts of hatred in any form will not be tolerated, and I am assured that the Government is committed to addressing antisemitism wherever it occurs.
All institutions, including universities, have a responsibility to provide a safe and inclusive environment. All higher education institutions have a legal obligation for ensuring that students do not face discrimination, harassment, abuse or violence. Universities are expected to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address any hate crime and anti-Semitic incidents that are reported.
In 2015 Universities UK (UUK) was asked to set up a Harassment Taskforce to consider what more can be done to address harassment on campus, including on the basis of religion and belief. Last year, it published a directory of case studies detailing the innovative projects universities have developed to address the taskforce’s recommendations. Further to this, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has provided £1.8 million for projects to improve responses to hate crime and online harassment on campus. In addition, I welcome the new partnership between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education, which is providing nearly over £144,000 of joint funding for a new programme to support universities in tackling antisemitism on campus.
Our universities have a proud history of encouraging freedom of speech and freedom of religion. However, I share your view that there is no place in any education institution for hatred and no student should face discrimination, harassment or racism – including antisemitism.
Humanitarian Situation in Gaza
I share your concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan assessed that 1.1 million of Gaza’s population are acutely vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance in 2017; and report that a lack of funding for water, sanitation and hygiene interventions have left 1.45 million Gazans at risk of waterborne diseases.
I am encouraged that the UK is a long-term supporter of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, providing basic services to 1.3 million people in Gaza, including basic health care. The UK is also supporting approximately 1 million Gazans by addressing critical water, sanitation and hygiene needs through the United Nations Children’s Fund. Moreover, the Government’s direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority now focuses solely on vital health and education services, in order to meet the immediate needs of the Palestinian people and maximise value for money.
The Government also continues to lobby the Israeli authorities on the issue of improving movement and access into Gaza, and encourages Egypt to show maximum flexibility on opening the Rafah crossing. By stressing the damage the restrictions are doing to the living standards of ordinary Gazans, the UK is working to highlight that supporting legal trade for Gazans is firmly in the region’s long-term interests.
As you highlight, we must continue to encourage prioritising progress towards reaching a durable solution for Gaza, taking the necessary practical steps to ensure Gaza’s reconstruction and economic recovery.
I fully agree that further restrictions placed upon Gaza will have a detrimental impact on ordinary citizens. I am told that UK officials from our Embassy in Tel Aviv raised these concerns regarding additional restrictions with the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories on 18 July. There already exists a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and the Government is clear that Israel should reverse its decision to impose further restrictions.
I also agree that it is vital that efforts are made to alleviate pressures on the Palestinian economy. That is why I am pleased my colleagues in the Department for International Development have committed to more than double its support for economic development in Gaza and the West Bank, which will create hundreds of jobs, install vital new infrastructure and boost exports to Israel. I hope that a thriving Palestinian economy will create the necessary conditions for a peaceful two-state solution with Israel that will allow Palestinians to truly prosper.
Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt the activities of terrorist groups and those who provide support to them. Under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if they believe it is concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise discretion to proscribe the organisation, taking into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise that discretion. These include the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Peaceful protest is a vital part of our democratic society. It is a long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views, however uncomfortable or repugnant those can be to the majority of us. However they must do so within the law. Protesters’ rights need to be balanced with the rights of others to go about their business without fear of intimidation or serious disruption to the community. Rights to peaceful protest do not extend to violent or threatening behaviour, and the police have the necessary powers to deal with such acts.
I agree that Hezbollah’s beliefs are outrageous, disgusting, and should be condemned at every opportunity. The UK Government has long held the view that elements of Hezbollah have been involved in conducting and supporting terrorism and, as a result, proscribed Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation in 2001, and in 2008 proscription was extended to include the whole of Hezbollah’s military apparatus, namely the Jihad Council and all the units reporting to it. Hezbollah’s military wing is also designated in the UK under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010. Funds or economic resources owned, held or controlled by Hezbollah’s military wing in the UK therefore can, and will, be frozen.
A decision to proscribe an organisation is done on the recommendations submitted by law enforcement agencies, security services here and intelligence services overseas. However it is crucial that we constantly monitor these groups and individuals involved in them, and review the use of proscription as a means to take action where we see fit.
Israel – Human Rights Defenders and Organisations
I welcome the fact that the Government continues to support a range of projects and organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel which work on promoting human rights, dialogue and coexistence.
I am clear that the UK Government is deeply committed to promoting our trade and business ties with Israel and accordingly is strongly opposed to the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
I do not believe that imposing sanctions on Israel would be a constructive step. The UK enjoys a productive relationship with Israel which enables us to express our views at senior levels very frankly. The Government also believes that the best way to combat the BDS movement is through discussion rather than proscription.
I am aware that British Government officials raised the recent publication of a list of organisations that may be subject to Israeli proscription with the Israeli Ambassador on 8 January 2018 and made clear the UK’s position. Officials from the British Embassy in Tel Aviv have also raised the matter with the Israeli authorities.
Palestinian Human Rights – Demolitions and Children in Prisons
Demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes cause unnecessary suffering; call into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution; and, in all but exceptional cases, are contrary to International Humanitarian Law.
I know that the Government shares our concerns on this issue. The British Embassy in Tel Aviv, along with European partners, most recently raised the UK’s grave concerns about demolitions with the Israeli authorities in a joint demarche on 2 November 2017. Israel can be in no doubt of our concerns about demolitions and the damage that they do for the prospects of a peaceful settlement.
I would like to assure you that my colleagues in Government raised strong concerns with the Israeli authorities over the demolitions at Khan al-Ahmar and repeatedly called on the Israeli Government to halt these demolitions. I understand that a British official from the UK Consulate General in Jerusalem visited Khan al-Ahmar to show British support for the community.
I know my colleagues in Government remain particularly concerned about the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons. In 2012, the Foreign Office funded and facilitated the independent report on Children in Military Custody by leading British lawyers. Since its publication, Ministers and our Ambassador to Israel have strongly urged the recommendations of the report to be implemented. Minister of State, Alistair Burt, raised the issue of children in detention with Israeli authorities when he visited the region.
It is long standing UK Government policy that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and make a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, harder to achieve and that is why the UK supported resolution 2234 at the UN.
I am encouraged that Government Ministers consistently urge the Israeli authorities to cease all settlement building and to remove illegal outposts, and I know the Israeli authorities are well aware of the UK’s long standing position.
It is my understanding that the British Embassy in Tel Aviv continues to monitor the situation, having raised this issue with the Ministry of Justice and the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. The Government remains deeply concerned by Israeli relocation proposals, which the UN has said could have a devastating impact on the communities concerned and endanger the potential for a two-state solution.
The Government’s view is clear: demolitions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, running contrary to international law and threatening peace in the region. I am assured that the Government will continues to encourage the Israeli authorities and Bedouin communities to engage in a dialogue, respecting the equality of all of Israel’s citizens in a way which avoids forced relocations, and is consistent with Israel’s commitments under international law.