On Monday 26th March 2012, Alex Cunningham MP led a debate in the House of Commons addressing humanitarian issues in Jerusalem. A summary of key points are presented below. The full debate can be read on Hansard by clicking here.
Alex Cunningham MP opened the debate by quoting a joint report issued by European Representation Offices last year that concluded that “if current trends of settlement growth and home demolitions are not stopped as a matter of urgency, the prospect of East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state becomes increasingly unlikely and unworkable.”
He emphasised the clear and long-standing position of the European Union “that all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, and that East Jerusalem is part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and that the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel is illegal and not recognised by either the UK or the EU”.
He went on to raise the following points:
He called on the Government to:
Take measures that would go a good deal further to end Israel’s intransigence in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories and specifically:
He concluded by stating that ‘it is time to demonstrate that we are not prepared to support or even tolerate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and that as a nation we in Britain will work to do something about it.’
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mr Jeremy Browne responded for the Coalition Government. He reiterated that the humanitarian situation in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories was an issue that remained a high priority for both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. He said the Government shared many of the concerns about Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Simon Danczuk MP intervened and asked the Minister if he agreed that Israel is doing everything it can to prevent the Palestinian people from developing economically?
The Minister said the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Alistair Burt MP, had raised the issue of demolitions with the Israeli ambassador on 23 February, and again with the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Dan Meridor, on 19 March. He said they received a welcome assurance from the Jerusalem municipality that it has no plans to conduct wide-scale demolitions in Silwan in the immediate future.
He went on to state the ineffective positions the Government has towards Israel and mentioned that together with our European Union partners, we continue to press Israel to address these serious concerns about the planning regime in Area C. All of which has produced no action in the interests of peace and justice in the Middle East.
He again said ‘a significant concern for the British Government, this House and the international community is the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem. Settlement activity has no justification and should cease immediately. We have repeatedly given that message to Israel, including at the most senior levels. Again it was the same old result less approach adopted by the Government.
He did make clear that the Government ‘does not support sanctions on Israel or any attempts to delegitimize Israel, but we do want Israel to honour the undertakings that I think people across the world expect it to honour with regard to settlements.
Alex Cunningham MP intervened to state that ‘if nobody is going to place any sanctions on Israel for what it is doing, what can be done to bring a solution? Talk is getting us nowhere.
Mr Browne responded that ‘we have lobbied the Israelis hard on the issue of movement and access, and there have been some improvements on the west bank, but there is still a long way to go. We continue to believe that the way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including in relation to Jerusalem, is through negotiations.
Mr Slaughter MP intervened to ask about the Government’s failure to support and, therefore, effectively sabotaged in the United Nations Security Council the Palestinian bid for statehood. He asked if the bid goes back to the UN General Assembly in April; will the Government support non-member status?
The Minister responded that ‘we continue to urge both sides to demonstrate the political will and leadership necessary to break the current dangerous impasse and to achieve a sustainable solution to the problems highlighted in this evening’s debate’.