James Cleverly, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa responds to questions on Iran, Kurdistan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Iran’s Regional Activities: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
What recent assessment he has made of the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran’s regional activities; and if he will make a statement. (912749)
We have long condemned Iran’s regional destabilising activity, including its political, financial and military support to militant and proscribed groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is, in its entirety, subject to the UK’s autonomous sanctions. On 18 February, the Foreign Secretary, alongside his E3 and US counterparts, committed in a statement to working with regional parties to address their security concerns. We continue to support the security of our partners working to end the conflict in Yemen, and strengthen institutions in Iraq and Lebanon.
As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, it is not just activity in the middle east that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is responsible for; it is not just with Hezbollah. There have been incidents in France and other parts of Europe, and it has caused the United States to ban the Revolutionary Guard and make it a terror organisation. When will the United Kingdom do the same and designate it as a terrorist organisation?
We keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. As my hon. Friend knows, we do not routinely comment on whether organisations or individuals are under consideration for proscription. As I say, the IRGC is, in its entirety, subject to our autonomous sanctions regime. The UK, along with our European partners, wholeheartedly condemned the bomb plots in 2018 and 2019, including the one in Paris to which my hon. Friend referred.
What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in the Kurdistan region. (912754)
I visited Iraq and the Kurdistan region of Iraq in December last year, meeting Iraq’s Prime Minister al-Kadhimi and the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Prime Minister Barzani. Recent attacks on coalition forces and civilians in Irbil are unacceptable. The UK stands fully behind Iraq and the Kurdistan region of Iraq. We welcome the Iraqi investigation to hold the perpetrators to account, and the UK encourages co-operation between Baghdad and Irbil to agree a sustainable budget, something I discussed with both the Iraqi Finance Minister and Prime Minister Barzani on that visit in December.
East Jerusalem: Forced Evictions and Dispossessions
What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli counterpart on forced evictions and dispossessions in East Jerusalem. (912757)
The United Kingdom provides legal aid to vulnerable Palestinian communities at threat of demolition. In 96% of cases, those receiving UK-funded legal support have remained in their homes. The UK ambassador joined ambassadors of European states to urge the Government of Israel to cease demolitions. He attended a meeting with Israeli authorities on 25 February. At the United Nations Security Council on 26 February, the UK permanent representative called on Israel to end demolitions of Palestinian homes and allow the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid.
I, like many colleagues, have heard repeated stories from Palestinians who are facing forced eviction, dispossession and demolition of their homes in areas such as Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem. I and many other people see that as a deliberate attempt to re-engineer the demographic make-up of occupied East Jerusalem. What more can the Government do, rather than just urge the Israeli Government to stop it? What more can the British Government do to bring an end to this unacceptable situation?
The United Kingdom has a close and productive working relationship with Israel. When we speak, the Israelis absolutely do listen. The hon. Lady dismisses our urgings, but I remind her that the UK’s voice has had an influence on decisions made by the Government of Israel. We will continue to engage, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did very recently with his counterpart Foreign Minister Ashkenazi and the Israeli ambassador to the Court of St James’s only last month.
Israel and the Palestinians: Support for Peace
What diplomatic steps he is taking to support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. (912758)
What diplomatic steps he is taking to support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. (912769)
The UK is actively encouraging both parties back to dialogue. As I just mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met his opposite number on 10 February. I spoke to the Palestinian head of mission here in the UK on 2 February. The UK has been working with both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, alongside the United States and international key partners, to progress specific areas of co-operation, including water and gas provision, energy infrastructure and trade facilitation. We are also seeking to re-establish formal Israeli-Palestinian mechanisms, such as the joint economic committee and its relevant sub-committees.
The International Criminal Court’s controversial determination on jurisdiction relating to Israel and the Palestinians not only undermines the middle east peace process but heightens the exposure of our armed forces to vexatious claims by setting a precedent that non-state actors can initiate proceedings. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of reforms of the ICC?
The UK respects the ICC’s independence, but we are working with other countries to bring about positive change within the court. The UK was instrumental in the establishment of the independent expert review, which reported in September, together with other state parties. Additionally, the UK is driving forward reforms to governance, prosecutorial excellence, and a more rigorous approach to budget control and value for money.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do hope Madam Deputy Speaker will be pleased that I have a jacket accompanying my jumper today.
It has been almost a year since my right hon. Friend expressed his hopes that the European Union would produce a balanced and independent report into the Palestinian Authority’s school curriculum, which contains shocking material inciting violence against Israel and Jews. What steps will the Government take if the long-awaited report, due for publication this month, falls short of the required standard?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point and for the consistent approach that he has taken to this issue. We remain concerned about the allegations in Palestinian Authority textbooks and have lobbied European partners to bring forward their report in a timely manner. I have also discussed the issue directly with the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, and we have regular discussions with the EU to encourage it to get this report into the public domain. In the interim, the UK will continue to raise our concerns bilaterally with the Palestinian Authority at the very highest levels.
Occupied Palestinian Territories: Humanitarian Situation
What recent assessment the Government have made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (912761)
If he will maintain the level of the UK’s funding contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. (912765)
What recent assessment the Government have made of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (912777)
The UK remains concerned about the fragile humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Gaza. The UK is providing £4.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the OPTs, including £1 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s emergency appeal and £2.5 million to the World Food Programme for cash assistance. The UK supports UNRWA as a vital humanitarian force in the region and the FCDO is running a prioritisation exercise across all its programmes to ensure that every pound goes as far as possible.
The Minister rightly highlights forced evictions and demolitions breaking international law, but none the less, Israel continues with its evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and Batan al-Hawa. The proposed construction of 1,200 houses at Givat HaMatos is out to tender at the moment. Action is needed, not just words, so when will the UK Government implement trade bans on goods from illegal settlements?
The UK’s position on this issue is long standing and clear. We oppose the points that the hon. Gentleman has put forward. We raise the issue of demolitions regularly with our Israeli counterparts, and we will continue to do so at every opportunity.
[Inaudible.]—aid budget implies the loss of a third in UNRWA funding, and there are rumours that the Government could be planning to cut twice that. UNRWA is responsible for almost 6 million Palestinian refugees, including the education of 500,000 children, the healthcare of 3 million and emergency food aid for over 1 million. Because of the occupation, Palestinians in Gaza, the west bank and surrounding countries rely on UNRWA for basic public services, so will the Minister give a clear and courageous answer and guarantee at least the current level of funding?
The UK Government regard UNWRA as an important partner in support of the people in the OPTs and surrounding areas. We are going through a prioritisation exercise at the moment, the outcome of which will be published in due course.
As schools around the world deal with the challenges of the covid pandemic, Palestinian schoolchildren face a further threat. According to the United Nations, 53 Palestinian schools in the occupied west bank are subject to Israeli Government demolition orders. Does the Minister agree that demolishing any school is wrong and that any such action should have consequences?
The UK regularly raises the issue of demolitions and our position on this is clear. We will continue to do so, and we will continue to highlight the importance of education, which remains one of the Government’s priorities.
The Israeli covid-19 vaccination programme is the best in the world. However, the Minister has indicated that Israel has a legal responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of Palestinians on the west bank. Will he therefore join me in urging the Israeli Government to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Palestinians are vaccinated, as well as Israelis?
The UK is justifiably proud of the work it is doing on the international stage with regard to vaccinations, including through Gavi and the COVAX scheme. We are pleased to see the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority co-ordinating their work with regard to vaccinations, and we look forward to that vaccination programme rolling out not just across Israel but to the people who are living in the OPTs.