HL Deb 16 March 2004 vol 659 cc130-3

2.50 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose any action to assist Palestinian communities now being cut off from health services by the new security wall and settlement enclaves.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the Department for International Development funds the emergency programme of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC), which includes the provision of mobile clinics. UPMRC is delivering vital healthcare to many of the increasing number of people now isolated from essential services by the building of the security barrier.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer, but does she agree that the new security wall and the settlement enclaves, which now affect more than half a million Palestinians, put together, are tantamount to a death sentence to Palestinians who suffer from life-threatening illnesses and are attempting to cross the checkpoints? Further, does she recognise that international aid workers are now regularly being held up at those checkpoints and can the Government do something to complain to the Israeli defence forces?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, will be aware that we consider the route of the separation barrier to be unlawful. We have said that of course Israel has the right to defend itself, but that the barrier will breed further Palestinian resentment. The noble Earl is quite right when he refers to some issues facing Palestinians. About 60 per cent of Palestinians are now living on less than two dollars a day up from 21 per cent in 2000. The quality of service delivery is one of the issues that has contributed to that.

My noble friend Lady Symons is here, has heard the noble Earl's point about international aid workers and, I am sure, will take it on board in her conversations with Israeli Ministers.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development, when it states: The appalling situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is not the result of a natural disaster; it is man-made and as such it requires a political solution"? Does she agree that, although humanitarian assistance must continue, and while recognising the anxieties of Israel, economic leverage must now be used to persuade Israel to negotiate in good faith a two-state solution?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that we have been working extremely hard to achieve a two-state solution. That is why we are trying to deliver the road map. There are responsibilities on the Palestinians and on the Israelis in that road map. Both sides have failed to deliver. We will continue our efforts. That is vital because development will not happen until peace is secured.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that after the completion of the northern part of the fence, only five suicide bombers emanated from that area in 2003, compared with 17 between February and December 2002? Is it therefore any wonder that in a democracy 84 per cent of the Israeli population is in favour of the wall? Is it not also true that only credible attempts by the Palestinian community to contain suicide bombers will lead to an end to the necessity for the wall?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that we need to work extremely hard on the security agenda. Israel needs to fulfil its road map responsibilities by freezing all settlement activity, removing settlement outposts and improving the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories. In parallel, the Palestinians must make efforts to stop violence and to degrade terrorist capability. My noble friend is right: where there is violence and terrorism, that will breed resentment on both sides.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, in the light of reports that the great Middle East initiative, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, replied to a Question last week, has been withdrawn, can the Minister confirm what action the United States Government are taking to implement President Bush's undertaking in Belfast to put as much energy into the road map as the Prime Minister had put into Northern Ireland?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the initiative has not been withdrawn. We continue, with the United States, with our efforts to secure a two-state solution and a peaceful resolution to the issue.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, does my noble friend agree—I am sure that the whole House would—that the time when the fence comes down will be one of rejoicing? In the mean time, does she agree that the importance of the anti-terrorist fence was adequately demonstrated on 3 December, when two suicide bombers were apprehended at the fence on their way to the Yok'ne'am High School with 10 kilograms of high explosive to blow it up? If they had not been apprehended, many of the children at that school today would probably be dead.

Does my noble friend further agree that, as a previous questioner said, the existence of the fence has brought about a reduction in the number of suicide bombers? In 2003, compared with 2004, there has been a 30 per cent reduction in the number of terrorist attacks. The number of victims killed in those attacks has fallen by 50 per cent during the past year. I am sure that she will agree with the Prime Minister, who said recently that terrorism is the enemy of the Palestinian people.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I said in reply to an earlier question that the Government are absolutely clear that Israel has the right to defend itself. However, 89 per cent of the length of the security fence has been built on Palestinian land. Very little of the separation barrier follows the Green Line. As I said earlier, there is the issue of the increasing poverty of Palestinians. So we need both sides—the Palestinians and the Israelis—to fulfil their obligations under the road map. We cannot get away from that.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the degradation and hopelessness of those in the occupied territories—and, indeed, in the camps—is now so utter and complete that it is inimical to hopes for a reduction in violence? The circumstances represent a breeding ground for violence, which no fence will ultimately prevent.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. Yes, as I said earlier, 60 per cent of Palestinians are now living in extreme poverty, but we all know that the issues that lead to a proportion of people taking the terrorist route are complex and complicated. It would be wrong to make the kind of direct relationship that many people wish to make between conditions of extreme poverty and an immediate move to terrorism. Millions of people living in poverty around the world do not turn to terrorism. It would be wrong for us to make that link.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, would the noble Baroness remind us which sections of the barrier or fence have been cancelled or actually torn down—I believe that some have? At the same time, could she bring us up to date on where the unilateral plans of Israel for withdrawing from all settlements in Gaza have reached? Are they going ahead despite the lack of any negotiating channel?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, construction has been suspended in some areas and a review process is going on at the moment. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord about the detail of that once I have checked the latest up-to-date position.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend is still able to take DfID-related questions. Is she aware of a detailed report entitled Health and Segregation, which describes the disastrous effect of the wall on the health services of the community that it divides and skirts around? It was produced by the Health Development Information and Policy Institute, funded by DfID, along with the UPMRC—they closely collaborate—which she mentioned earlier. Can she reassure me that funding for that excellent non-governmental organisation will not be withdrawn, as rumoured, and given to the Palestinian Authority which, although completely broke, may not be able to spend it quite so effectively?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are aware of the report, although we have not studied it in detail. DfID does not fund HDIP, although we know its director well through our funding of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees. Of course, we recognise the valuable role that civil society organisations play in Palestinian development.