Lord Dubs, recently back from a visit to the West Bank, tabled a question on the Middle East. He focused his supplementary question on the Israeli Government's threat to withhold $105 million-worth of tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority as a retaliation for their reconciliation agreement with Hamas.
The Foreign Office Minister in the Lords, Lord Howell, not only welcomed the reconciliation agreement but added that “we think that the Israeli withholding of revenues is the wrong approach”. Within three days it was announced that Israel had unblocked the transfer of $100 m of Palestinian funds “after intense pressure from western governments”.
This week the Conservative peer Lord Sheikh, back from the same visit to the West Bank, pressed the Government on how it would vote on the recognition of Palestinian statement at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Although the Government stuck to its line that it would all depend on whether Hamas agreed to recognise Israel, Lib Dem Baroness Falkner welcomed a ‘slight change of tone’ on whether the recognition had to come before or during negotiations.
Four amendments have now been tabled to the universal jurisdiction clause of the Police Reform Bill. Labour’s Dale Campbell-Savours would dilute the power that the Bill gives the DPP over arrest warrants on war crimes suspects from a veto to ‘advice’.
Baroness D’Souza would give the DPP the right to be notified and to give advice, as in Canada. Lord Alex Carlile would insist on an annual war crimes report setting out the number of war crimes suspects that have been prosecuted.
An amendment from former DPP Ken Macdonald suggests a more flexible evidence threshold for arrest warrants where evidence may not yet have reached prosecution level but “there are reasonable grounds for believing that a continuing investigation will provide further evidence”.
None of these amendments would achieve what human rights organisations have been campaigning for, which is to remove Clause 154 completely and leave the law as it is, but all of them would be steps in the right direction.
However, the amendments are unlikely to come up on Tuesday 24 May and will wait until after the recess.
House of Commons & Lords Round up
A full day’s debate on the Middle East shed very little new light on the Israel-Palestine situation, but showed the divisions on the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the proposed Palestinian declaration of statehood.
Conservative MP Stewart Jackson asked the Foreign Secretary whether he agreed “that unilateral declarations of statehood are not the best way forward and that (round-table discussions without conditions) are?”
William Hague responded: “Negotiations on statehood are certainly the best way forward, but it is when those negotiations get nowhere that discussions about unilateral recognition get going in the world.”
Labour’s Sir Gerald Kaufman spoke eloquently of the Nakba Day shootings: “This past weekend, Israeli soldiers slaughtered 14 more Palestinian protesters. Their brutal treatment of peaceful protestors with rubber bullets, tear gas, the spraying of sewage and the manhandling of women and children would be the object of condemnation if inflicted by any other country.
“The way in which Israeli soldiers maltreat Palestinians is appalling. A Palestinian contact of mine e-mailed me at the weekend with this description of what happened on Friday:
‘In Nabi Saleh where I was, the soldiers attacked the men and women with extreme cruelty, although our demonstration was extremely peaceful. We had at least 24 injuries, without counting injuries with pepper spray. They were shooting the gas canisters right at us, aiming at our bodies.’
“This latest episode confirms—to me, at any rate—that Obama is simply a sanctimonious version of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Nowhere has Obama’s failure been more damaging than in his handling of—or inability to handle—the Israel-Palestine stand-off.
“We are told that the President is going to say something more, quite soon. He will be praised for his oratory, but will it have any practical, useful or helpful consequences?
“I cannot fault the way in which our Government have reacted to this situation. In the end, however, only the United States can exert the necessary pressure to make Israel see sense. The Palestinians are an oppressed people, and the Israelis will never know peace and security until there is a two-state solution. How long, O Lord, how long?”
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn followed the same theme: “Yesterday on the anniversary of Nakba, the day on which the Palestinian people were driven out of what is now the state of Israel to become that vast diaspora, was the occasion for demonstrations outside the Kalandia crossing. Thirteen Palestinians were shot dead.
“There seems almost to be an approval of Israel and its perceptions of its own security needs to the exclusion of all understanding of just how brutal the regime has been towards Palestinians. If someone tries to travel through the west bank and sees the settlements, the settler-only roads, the check points and the abuse that Palestinians receive every day from Israeli border guards, they will understand why people feel so angry.”
Labour’s David Winnick in his contribution said: “It is not a question of Israel fighting for its very existence, but of the absolute refusal of Israel to come to any genuine agreement for a viable and independent Palestinian state. Obviously, what Hamas stands for … is totally alien to everything I believe in, but in negotiations one deals with one’s enemy. We know that the IRA argued for years that there could be absolutely no solution in Northern Ireland until Britain decided to leave, yet a very different situation emerged.”
Speaking from Labour’s front bench Rushanara Ali summed up: “I wish to reiterate Labour members’ grave concern about the killing of protestors by Israeli soldiers on the Syrian-Israeli border and about the injuries of civilians in the Palestinian territories. We join the Foreign Secretary in reaffirming calls for restraint on both sides.”
To read the full debate please click here.
House of Lords round up
In the Lords the Conservative Lord Sheikh tabled a question “to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the proposed Palestinian statehood declaration, which is planned to be placed before the United Nations General Assembly in September”.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell): We see negotiations towards a two-state solution as the only way
Lord Sheikh: Does he think that the agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas is a step in the right direction for the attainment of statehood?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Of course this step is not yet fully consummated, but we want to see the formation of a Government who reject violence. If Hamas is to be part of that Government, it must reject violence; that is our position.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: Does the Minister agree that a premature declaration of a Palestinian state might destabilise the region rather than contribute to the emergence of a stable two-state solution?
Lord Howell of Guildford: It might do so. Our position is that statehood must be built through the pattern of a negotiation that must be resumed.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: While I welcome the slight change of tone I think I detect in my noble friend's remarks about Hamas, will he confirm to the House that Britain now does not require Hamas to recognise Israel as a precondition of negotiations, but that it naturally expects that to come before the end of negotiations?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We want it to be part of the negotiations and part of the recognition of the quartet principles.