House of Commons debates Israel and Palestinian talks

Posted by CAABU on 11 Jul 2017

On 5 July the House of Commons debated peace negotiations in Palestine/Israel. The debate can be seen here. This was the first general debate on the question for 10 years; despite this, the foreign secretary was not present at the debate. During the debate, some general principles were reiterated by most speakers, not least the British commitment to a two-state solution. Many MPs who had been on Caabu delegations raised humanitarian and legal issues in the conflict, including the situation in Gaza and the detention of minors by Israeli military courts. 

Stephen Kinnock raised the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, pointing out: “According to the UN, we are seeing a process of “de-development” in Gaza, so that by 2020 the strip may well be technically uninhabitable.” He further emphasised the crisis in health that is gripping Gaza as a consequence of the power cuts imposed on the enclave. Stephen Kinnock was a delegate on a Caabu trip to the West Bank in 2014.

Shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry urged the house to respect Palestinian sovereignty and recognise the State of Palestine, in line with the non-binding decision made in 2014. Patrick Grady of the SNP recalled his party’s support for the recognition of Palestine in 2014 as well.

Richard Burden also urged the government to recognise Palestine, saying «We have never said—no one has ever said—that recognition of Israel should be a matter of negotiation. Israel is recognised as a matter of right, and quite rightly so, but if we believe in even-handedness between Israel and Palestinians, that same right must apply to Palestinians. It is time, on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, to fulfil what the House voted for on 13 October 2014 and recognise the state of Palestine

Nusrat Ghani criticised Israel’s policy of expanding and building new illegal settlements in the West Bank.She described the situation using the example of Bethlehem “Let us take the case of Bethlehem, which has a population of 220,000. Surrounding the town are 100,000 illegal Israeli settlers, complete with vast security zones to protect them. These security zones have cut off Bethlehem from its historical connection with its twin city, Jerusalem”.

Her concerns were echoed by Andy Slaughter, who argued that “The 1,800 units in east Jerusalem, including around Sheikh Jarrah in the heart of east Jerusalem, that have been announced in the last couple of days are a fundamental game-changer, as are E1 and the new settlements between Bethlehem and east Jerusalem. All of those will make a viable Palestinian state impossible. There has been a 70% increase in settlement building on the west bank in the last year. These are continuing breaches of international humanitarian law and the fourth Geneva convention.”

The centenary of the Balfour declaration was discussed in the house, and Crispin Blunt pointed out that “This is a touchstone issue for millions of Arabs and Muslims, and I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that their eyes will be on us. The centenary must be handled with the utmost care and consideration”. He proceeded to encourage the government to neither celebrate nor apologise for the declaration due to the sensitivities on both sides.

Joanna Cherry, who was on a Caabu delegation last year, expressed concern at Israel’s implementation of military law in the OPT. She described her own visit to a military court “Many Palestinians see a lawyer very shortly before their first appearance in what can only be described as a farcical process. We saw one young Palestinian man on trial for allegedly throwing stones at a settler car. It was said by his interrogator that he had been interrogated in Arabic, but that the audio recording had been lost.” Joanna Cherry joined Caabu for a delegation to the West Bank in 2016.

Raising the issues of settlements and injustice in the Israeli occupation's legal system, Wes Streeting spoke of his visit to the Occupied Territories, saying "I have seen at first hand the impact of Israeli Government policy towards Palestinians living in the west bank. The ongoing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements cannot be justified, nor can the demolition of Palestinian homes, nor can the use of byzantine laws to seize land from its rightful owners, nor can the military court system, which violates the very principles of natural justice, and nor can the regular intimidation of Palestinian civilians and international aid workers, who too often are victims of settler violence. As many Members have said, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is simply intolerable and more must be done to bring an end to that terrible travesty.​" Wes Streeting was a delegate on a Caabu delegation in 2016.

Caabu has been involved in bringing these and others who spoke in the debate, to Palestine/Israel to see the situation on the ground for themselves. Of those who took part in the debate, twelve speakers have accompanied Caabu to the OPT and Israel.