20 April 2021
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Questions

James Cleverly, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa responds to questions on Israel and the Palestinians and UK Aid.

Israel and the Palestinians: Supporting Peace

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)

What diplomatic steps he is taking to support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. (914438)

Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) (Con)

What diplomatic steps he is taking to support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. (914446)

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)

What steps his Department is taking to support the creation of the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace. (914459)

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)

What diplomatic steps he is taking to support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. [R] (914462)

The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (James Cleverly)

The UK is actively encouraging the parties back to dialogue. We support the decision of the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel to resume co-operation. We are now pushing for deeper co-operation on health and economic issues, including the re-establishment of the joint economic committee, to rebuild trust and move towards a lasting solution. We support the objectives of the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace and will continue to engage with the Alliance for Middle East Peace and President Biden’s Administration to identify further opportunities for collaboration. We are working with regional partners and the United States Administration to seize on the positive momentum of normalisation, alongside improving Israeli-Palestinian co-operation, to advance the prospects of a two-state solution.

Andrew Selous [V] 

I am pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend says. Does he agree, though, that a just and lasting peace must be built on the rule of law, with severe consequences for systematic breaches whoever commits them, and that all Palestinians, including those in East Jerusalem, must have the right to vote on 22 May?

James Cleverly 

We regularly call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law, and we have regular conversations on this issue. We also encourage the Palestinian leadership to work towards democratic institutions based on the rule of law, and we welcome President Abbas’s announcement of dates for elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and will work closely with the Palestinian Authority to support that. We have called for elections in East Jerusalem; my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has done so, and I did so with the Israeli ambassador in a meeting that we had just yesterday.

Nicola Richards 

Despite assurances that, after countless delays, the EU review of Palestinian textbooks would be published in March, there is still no sign of the report. UK taxpayers’ money pays the salaries of Palestinian teachers who use material inciting violence against Israel and Jews, making peace harder to achieve. What more will my right hon. Friend do to ensure that UK aid does not prolong the conflict?

James Cleverly 

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I remind the House that the UK does not fund the textbooks used in Palestinian schools. We understand that the EU review is in its final stages. We are not able to comment on the content of that report until it is released. We regularly engage with the EU at senior level to push for timely publication, and we regularly liaise with the Palestinian Authority to try to bring about the improvements that my hon. Friend has highlighted.

Rosie Cooper [V] 

It is now five months since the US Congress passed a $250 million Act to create the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the largest ever investment in peace building. In November, our Ministers promised to examine the feasibility of the UK taking up one of the international seats on the fund’s board. Will the Minister tell us the results of that assessment and confirm that the UK will use the G7 summit to step up and help to lead this exciting new project with the United States?

James Cleverly 

We always engage positively with any steps that push towards greater peace and reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we have engaged with this process. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we are currently going through a programme of work assessing what we will do with our overseas development aid, but we will continue to engage with the Biden Administration, the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to pursue what has been the long-standing UK goal: a peaceful, prosperous, meaningful two-state solution.

Mrs Sheryll Murray [V] 

I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, because I have been to Israel with the Conservative Friends of Israel.

With the G7 coming to Cornwall, we should underline our commitment to international institutions and multilateral co-operation. We welcomed the US middle east partnership for peace Act in December, but does the Minister agree that it is now time for the UK to take a board seat on the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

James Cleverly 

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, which I partially answered in my prior response to the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper). We have no current plans, but we always take a keen interest in any initiatives that encourage peace and co-operation between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, and indeed, the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. We will continue to work along- side Governments in the region and the US Administration in pursuit of that objective.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab) [V]

The International Criminal Court has decided to conduct an investigation into alleged war crimes by Palestinian armed groups and Israeli forces in the occupied territories. The FCDO has stated that the UK respects the independence of the ICC. However, the Prime Minister said that the investigation is a “prejudicial attack”, so does the Minister believe that the court is independent or not?

James Cleverly 

We absolutely respect the independence of the International Criminal Court. We do expect it to comply with its own mandate. The UK will remain a strong supporter of the ICC.



UK Aid: Effect of Reductions

Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)

What assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the UK aid budget on the UK’s humanitarian work overseas. (914442)

The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (James Cleverly)

Since 2015, the UK has provided £11 billion in humanitarian funding. As the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), has just stated, despite this unprecedented economic contraction, we are still proud of our contribution. We remain, in both absolute terms and percentage terms, one of the most generous ODA-donating countries in the world.

Steven Bonnar 

I thank the Minister for that answer. While every other G7 member state has responded to the pandemic by increasing aid, the UK Government are out there alone in choosing to cut it by approximately £4 billion this year, after a cut of £2.9 billion last year. The pandemic should have been a rallying cry to this Government, encouraging more robust and urgent investment and prioritisation action to meet sustainable development goals. Instead, this Government chose a path of staggering and shocking betrayal, turning their back on the world’s poorest. Have any impact assessments been carried out on how these cuts will affect those in conflict zones? If not, how long will we have to wait for this Government to show a shred of compassion?

James Cleverly 

I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that the UK remains one of the largest donating countries in the G7 and indeed the world. Our commitment to that is undiminished, which is why I am very pleased that we have been able to strengthen our commitments to our headquarters in East Kilbride, in Abercrombie House. We are proud that, despite the fact that we have this economic contraction, we are still donating £10 billion in ODA.