HC Deb 29 April 2004 vol 420 cc329-72WH

[Relevant documents: Second Report from the International Development Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 230, and the Government's response thereto, HC 487.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Derek Twigg.]

2.30 pm
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)

The Select Committee on International Development report entitled "Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories" was published in January, and the Government's response to that report was published on 11 March. Shortly afterwards. the Government published for consultation their draft "Country Assistance Plan for Palestinians: 2004–2006". There are effectively three relevant documents for this debate.

The International Development Committee report and our conclusions were unanimous. I know that several Select Committee members would have liked to be here but they are otherwise engaged on parliamentary business. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) is in Afghanistan, while the hon. Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) and for Putney (Mr. Colman) are on an overseas visit organised by the Quadripartite Committee.

I do not believe that any hon. Member does not fully support Israel's right to exist within secure and settled boundaries and the right of every citizen of Israel to the quiet enjoyment of their country. There is not a scintilla of a suggestion in our report, nor would I expect any hon. Member to utter any word, that impugns the integrity of the state of Israel.

I do not believe that any hon. Member would do anything other than unconditionally and unreservedly condemn suicide bombings as a crime under domestic and international law and an unforgivable crime against the law of God, whom we worship whether we are Christian, Jewish or Muslim. There is not a word in the Select Committee's report that could give an iota of succour to suicide bombers.

During our visit to the occupied territories, we took every opportunity to point out to Palestinians that such killings are not only morally abhorrent but, as our report states at paragraph 73, a catastrophic tactic that has done great harm to the Palestinian cause". As our report says at paragraph 7 on page 10, the result has been that the Government of Israel and many Israelis, now see every Palestinian as a potential 'suicide bomber'. Not many Palestinians have access to television and are able to watch CNN, but understandably and rightly, whenever there is a suicide bombing, it is a significant item on American and international television. Also understandably and rightly, those watching the breaking news items that are the consequence of suicide bombings are filled with overwhelming revulsion that anyone could perpetrate such acts of wickedness. That revulsion reflects itself on the whole Palestinian community and drowns out human concern for and media attention on the daily grind of life for Palestinians who have to subsist day by day. As our report notes in paragraph 6, page 10: Rates of malnutrition in Gaza and parts of the West Bank are as bad as anywhere one would find in sub-Saharan Africa. The Palestinian economy has all but collapsed. Unemployment rates are in the region of 60–70 per cent. and many of those who are employed are dependent upon NGOs or international relief organisations for employment. I suspect that it is difficult for television or the media adequately to portray the everyday desperateness of Palestinians in Gaza and the west bank. It is also difficult for us to understand the continuing loss and statelessness felt by Palestinians both within and outside the occupied territories. Such loss is well summarised by Marwan Barghouti in his book, "I saw Ramallah". In it, he says that occupation prevents you from managing your affairs in your own way. It interferes in every aspect of life and of death; it interferes with longing and anger and desire and walking the street. It interferes with going anywhere and coming back, with going to market, the emergency hospital, the beach, the bedroom or a distant capital". He also observes: The Occupation has created generations without a place whose colour, smells and sounds they can remember; a first place that belongs to them that they return to in their memories in their cobbled together exiles … the occupation has created generations … that have to adore an unknown beloved; distant, difficult, surrounded by guards, by walls, by nuclear missiles, by sheer terror. The long occupation has succeeded in changing us from children of Palestine to children of the idea of Palestine. I turn to the Committee's conclusions and recommendations. For there to be a peace process, there must be some Palestinian body with legitimacy with which Israel and the international community can negotiate. Moreover, if there is ever to be a viable Palestinian state, there must be an embryonic Administration capable, in due course, of properly administering that state.

The Palestinian Authority arose from the Oslo agreements. Paragraph 58 on page 30 of the report states that the PA is in itself a strange institution, created through negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, as part of an interim arrangement until the creation of proper national institutions in a Palestinian state. The PA's creation under the Oslo Accords never envisioned it as a sovereign state, but rather a restricted institution with a very short lifespan. It has always had limited capacity as a service provider and has been plagued by corruption and allegations of corruption, credibility problems, and great difficulties in providing the Palestinian people with sufficient representation. I did not meet Yasser Arafat when the Select Committee visited the occupied territories, but I met him more than a year ago on a previous visit to the occupied territories with Christian Aid—it was entered in the Register of Members' Interests. I found it instructive that, although he talked at me for nearly an hour, at no time did he mention the future. The whole of his discussion was about the past and, to a lesser extent, the present, and how the Palestinians had been made, and continued to be, victims—victims of history, of circumstance and of Israel.

When someone considers themselves to be simply a victim, they tend to seek to absolve themselves from any responsibility for present circumstances or future well-being. I certainly do not see Yasser Arafat as part of the solution. Ironically, however, the harder the Israeli defence forces bear down on the Palestinian community, the more Arafat seeks to, and seems to, become a figurehead as the father of the nation.

Disregarding Arafat, it is fair to observe that in June 2002 the Palestinian Authority launched a reform programme to improve its accountability and efficiency. The Department for International Development's consultation paper observes, on page 14: Significant achievements have been made by the PA in the fields of administrative, financial, and economic reform. The most important reform measure of 2003 was the decision to establish a post of Prime Minister, who is responsible for selecting ministers and directing the PA's overall work programme. This is now being complemented by steps to develop a system of Cabinet government and a longer-term programme to improve the performance and accountability of the civil service. Financial management and transparency have been much improved under Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. Reforms include: consolidation of all PA revenues in a Single Treasury Account under the Ministry of Finance; publication of the Palestinian Authority's budget on the internet, including monthly spending reports; steps towards the unification of the payroll and payment of salaries through the banking system; consolidation of all PA commercial activities into a properly audited Palestinian Investment Fund. That all seems to be intended, quite rightly, to marginalise Arafat and to try to provide some sensible, rational organisation with which Israel and the rest of the world can negotiate. The Economist recently observed that, if Prime Minister Sharon were unilaterally to withdraw from the settlements in Gaza, Israel would need someone on the Palestinian side with whom it could negotiate.

The Select Committee met Salam Fayyad, the Minister of Finance. We were generally impressed by him. He struck us as someone who was determined to ensure the transparency and accountability of the Palestinian budget, and particularly accountability of funds received from international donors. Conclusion 16 on page 73 of the Committee report states: It is in everyone's interest that every penny of international development aid to the PA, whether from DFID or charities, is fully and transparently accounted for. Some of the PA's critics would prefer to see donor funding stopped. But we believe this would do more harm than good. It would push more Palestinians below the poverty line and lead to total collapse of the PA. A collapse which would have a detrimental effect on the peace process. In the absence of the PA, people would be more likely to turn to extreme positions and measures and support terrorism. Of course, much more needs to be done. Conclusion 16 also says that there is still need for further reform in the Palestinian Authority, particularly in relation to the accountability of the presidential accounts and in terms of the legal, executive and judicial reforms outlined in the 100 day reform plan. Continuing to drive through planned reforms is the best way for the PA to deal with its critics. As the DFID consultation paper makes clear: Serious challenges remain … particularly in addressing internal resistance within the PA to reform. This is especially evident with regard to the security services". The paper says that a number of Key reform benchmarks … remain outstanding". In our collective judgment, nothing will be achieved by undermining the PA. Rather, we should simultaneously seek to build responsible capacity in the PA and to ensure that it delivers on further agreed reforms.

If there is to be a Palestinian state, it will work only if it is a viable state. I shall comment briefly on settlements and the barrier. We saw it with our own eyes. We comment at paragraph 23 on page 16 of the report: The network of settlements and their segregated access roads also contribute to the fragmentation of the OPT … Settlements and their associated infrastructure have a major impact on Palestinians. A network of 'by-pass' roads is arranged to provide access between settlements and links to Israel. Palestinians cannot use them. The by-pass roads add to the sense among Palestinian communities of being penned into enclaves, movement between which is at the discretion of the IDF. Land is confiscated without compensation on which to build settlements, their access roads and infrastructure. Palestinian infrastructure is often destroyed in the process and Palestinian agricultural lands are cut through. The settlements also enjoy privileged access to natural resources. Water consumption by settlers in … Gaza and the West Bank is four to five times that of Palestinian villagers. We received countless written submissions. We heard farmers whom we met in the occupied territories give their own testimonies of their difficulties. It is sometimes argued that Palestinian farmers do not have title deeds to their land, so it is not theirs. In fairness, I think that that is a somewhat disingenuous argument. As we all know, all this territory was, before the first world war, in the Ottoman empire. The Ottomans levied a land tax, but obviously the further away from Constantinople, or Istanbul, the land was, the more difficult it was for them to extract the tax. As a consequence of the tax, farmers in the Ottoman empire were, understandably, not desperately keen to demonstrate how much land they owned. However, much of the land that has been confiscated in the west bank has clearly been in and worked by Palestinian families for generations.

There is a broader point. If Israel continues to allow consolidation and expansion of existing settlements and the setting up of new settlements, just what does it see as the borders of a viable Palestinian state? Does Israel actually want there to be such a state? If all that Israel wants to offer is a number of Palestinian enclaves under some semi-autonomous Palestinian local government control, it is very difficult to see how everyone living in the west bank will not sooner or later, de facto and de jure, become citizens of Israel. It simply is not possible to have a large number of people who are in effect without statehood, citizenship rights or remedies indefinitely.

When the Select Committee was driving to Tel Aviv to meet Israeli Ministers, senior members of the Israeli defence forces and others, we had as our guide a young, very bright official from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. One member of the Committee asked why there were so few settlements between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I suspect that the official's response was somewhat tongue in cheek, but it still makes the point. He said, "This land is indisputably Israeli, so we don't have to make a point here." If the point of building the settlements in the west bank is to make the land Israeli. there comes a point when a two-state solution is no longer possible. The logical consequence of that must be the creation of a single state. Paragraph C5 on page 18 of the Government's consultation paper, "Country Assistance Plan for Palestinians: 2004–2006" points out: There is a second threat to a two-state solution: a majority of Palestinians may stop wanting it, preferring a single state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Palestinians would outnumber Jewish Israelis in such a state within 10–15 years. Such a state could thus not be democratic and preserve the Jewish character of Israel. That is, the paper observes, a reminder of the logical consequences of indefinite occupation. No one challenges Israel's right to build a barrier if it so wishes. We stated in the report, in conclusion 5 on page 71: We can understand why Israel, fearful of its security, wants to build a barrier. However, we go on to observe that any such security fence should be constructed on Israeli, not Palestinian, land. The construction process and path which the barrier takes support Palestinian fears about the motivation which lies behind it. The barrier destroys the viability of a future Palestinian state. According to the latest projections of the Israeli Government, approximately 210,000 acres—just under 15 per cent. of west bank land, excluding east Jerusalem—will lie between the separation barrier and the internationally recognised green line separating Israel from the Palestinian territory. That land is some of the most fertile on the west bank and is home to 274,000 people, many of whom do not have Israeli residency permits. More than 400,000 other Palestinians living to the east of the barrier will need to cross it to get to their farms, jobs and services. In total, approximately one third of Palestinians in the west bank will be directly affected by the barrier. Little of the barrier follows the green line; some 90 per cent. of it has been built on Palestinian land. Those statistics are from paragraph 8 of the Department for International Development consultation paper.

The Select Committee and the Government are as one on the concerns about the barrier. The Government's response to our conclusion on the barrier states that they support the Israeli government's right to take legitimate measures to protect its citizens. But unilateral measures, such as the barrier, will not provide lasting security. This can only be delivered by a negotiated settlement. Construction of the barrier on occupied territory is unlawful, inflames Palestinian public opinion and harms the prospects for pace. The confiscation of Palestinian land associated with the construction of the barrier is also unlawful and creates a physical obstacle to the two-state solution.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

I too recently visited Palestine with Christian Aid and put it in the Register of Members' Interests. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not just a case of illegality and taking land? The barrier separates farmers and families from the crops that they must grow, attend to and harvest. It separates school children from their schools. It separates sick people from the hospitals that they desperately need. That adds up to a real humanitarian crisis beyond notions of illegality.

Tony Baldry

The hon. Lady makes a good point. I hope that this afternoon we will all—collectively and individually—be able to add to the texture of the desperateness that many Palestinians experience in circumstances that are clearly beyond their control. My only concern is that, if I start to describe some of the scenes that I witnessed, I may lose the objectivity that, as a Chairman presenting a unanimous report on behalf of a Select Committee, I am trying to hold to.

It is fair to say that, in their response, the Government agree with the Committee's 53 conclusions and recommendations. However, there are two areas of disagreement, on which I shall briefly comment. It was clear to us that The reality is that at the present moment there is no 'peace process' in the Middle East … There are, within Israel and the OPT, two groups of people—the 'occupiers' and the 'occupied'. The fact is that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have no state, neither de jure, nor de facto; no citizenship; no rights; no remedies, and no one from the international community taking the responsibility to seek to ensure that an occupied people in these circumstances are treated as humanely as possible.

2.50 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

3.15 pm

On resuming

Mr. David Chidgey (in the Chair)

Before we continue, I should advise hon. Members that the debate will continue until 5.55 pm to make up for the two Divisions. A large number of hon. Members wish to speak, so I ask them to keep their contributions as short as possible. I intend to leave the last half an hour of the debate for the winding-up speeches from the spokespersons from the Opposition parties and the Government.

Tony Baldry

Before the Divisions, I was explaining that Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza have no rights or remedies, as the Select Committee report sets out at conclusion 41. It recommended in conclusion 43: In addition to strengthening the role of UNSCO and the Special Co-ordinator, it is time for the Secretary-General of the United Nations—with the authority of the Security Council—to appoint a further Humanitarian Envoy or Special Representative to undertake the specific task of ensuring that the occupation is as humane as possible and that there is a coherent and co-ordinated international scrutiny of what is taking place in the OPT. Such an appointment will need to be accompanied by provision of the necessary money, materials and resources. In his statement to the House on 19 April, the Prime Minister said that we should acknowledge what he described as the "realities on the ground". The reality on the ground is that, as the Government acknowledge in response to our conclusion 22: The Government of Israel could do a great deal more to ease the humanitarian and economic situation of the Palestinian people without threatening Israeli security. Improvements in the freedom of movement of people and goods would be the most significant step towards the recovery of the Palestinian economy. We have urged the Israeli government to take these steps. There needs to be someone of sufficient international authority to see that all that can be done is done by Israel to ease the humanitarian and economic situation of the Palestinian people without threatening Israeli security. It may be that the Government have made such a suggestion to Israel and the United States and have simply been rebuffed. On Saturday 27 March, The Times observed: President Bush has rejected Downing Street pleas for an American-led 'monitoring force' … to act as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinian Authority … the decision is understood to have dismayed Tony Blair who has gambled huge quantities of political diplomatic capital on his relationship with the President, not least in securing American backing to the Middle East Peace process. The other area of disagreement between the Select Committee and the Government is over the EU trade agreement. Conclusion 23 states: Movement restrictions have caused an unacceptable situation whereby EU trade agreement is obstructed by a party (Israel) which itself benefits from preferential EU trade terms. Conclusion 24 states: Trade agreements are usually based on the principle of reciprocity; market access, freedom of movement and tariff and duty regimes applied by one state or authority normally has to be applied even-handedly and in the same way by all participants in a regional trade agreement. Unfortunately Israel's restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, its destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, and its total control of the OPT's borders, are denying Palestinian exporters access to EU markets. We therefore urge the UK Government to propose to the EU Council of Trade Ministers that Israel's preferential terms of trade with the EU be suspended until it lifts the movement restrictions which it has placed on Palestinian trade. The fact is that, because of the closures, the Palestinian economy has collapsed. It is not possible for Palestinians to export strawberries from Gaza, or simple bars of olive oil soap from the west bank. The Government's response to these recommendations by the Select Committee is constructive engagement with Israel is the best approach to exert influence. What evidence is there that such constructive engagement by the UK Government is exerting influence? Our report and the Government's response were of course published before the recent meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon. Obviously, as a consequence, the Select Committee has not had the opportunity collectively to consider the effects of what I think is now known as the Washington accord, so for the moment I speak for myself and not for the Committee.

I entirely agree with the Prime Minister that the road map remains the best way to peace, and that the UK Government and the international community should, as he said in the House, help the Palestinian Authority take the necessary economic, political and security measures so that a viable Palestinian state becomes not just a concept but a real possibility."—[Official Report, 19 April 2004; Vol. 420. c. 22.] But I do not see how Israel disengaging from Gaza while continuing to occupy large parts of the west bank conceivably offers an opportunity to return to the road map.

Hon. Members will have seen the letter to the Prime Minister from 52 former ambassadors and heads of missions who held senior postings in the Foreign Office. It said: The decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a 'road map for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict' raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the west and the Islamic and Arab worlds. The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved. But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain. Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood. Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced. Sir Crispin Tickell, one of the contributors to that letter. who has been an adviser to several Prime Ministers and is now Chancellor of Kent university, said that he has never seen such a level of … despair amongst those who have been involved in the Diplomatic field". He observed that we have seen the road map for Palestine being torn up. Mr Bush appears to have given Ariel Sharon permission to do whatever he likes. If this continues, all we can look forward to is war. Hon. Members will have to judge whether engaging with Israel has resulted in the UK Government having any leverage.

The Select Committee is primarily concerned with development, getting people out of poverty and meeting the millennium development goals. It is used to poverty—individually and together, we visit some of the most desperate and dispiriting places in the world—but as we collectively conduded: What … makes the poverty in Palestine so unpalatable is the level of deprivation vis a vis Israel, and the awareness that it is not the result of a natural calamity but of deliberate actions on the part of the Government of Israel. We are conscious that the UK and the European Union contribute significant amounts of financial assistance to the occupied territories in a number of different ways. Indeed, by my calculations, taking into account the money that DFID has given bilaterally, donated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and support given through the European Community, during 2003, total assistance from the UK to the Palestinians amounted to some £73 million. To put that into context. DFID's programme in the occupied territories is our 15th fifteenth largest bilateral aid programme, but as we also observed in our report there has to be a sense of realism about what development assistance can achieve. The World Bank told us that removing the 'access control' imposed by the Israelis would have increased real GDP by 21 per cent., whereas even the doubling of developed assistance—without easing closure—would only reduce the number of people living in poverty by 7 per cent. by 2004. The situation in the OPT in other words is not one which donor assistance can resolve".

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

I compliment the hon. Gentleman on the report. In the Select Committee's studies, did it examine the amount of infrastructure funded by the EU, by Britain or by other organisations that was destroyed by Israeli bombardment? Is there any question of getting Israel to repay that money for wilfully destroying what, particularly in Gaza, were important and valuable projects?

Tony Baldry

Indeed, the report refers to that. In Jenin, among other places, we saw projects that had been destroyed. Work by the European Union included building new housing for refugees in Jenin—housing that was destroyed by the Israeli defence forces. It must be of real concern that it has not been possible for the UK, the EU and others to establish an accord with the Israeli defence forces on protecting development projects funded through international contributions. It must be of real concern to hon. Members that there is no guarantee that projects will be protected if further money is spent on development assistance.

What is happening in the middle east is an ongoing tragedy for all involved. A few weeks ago, I spoke to a meeting of the Conservative Friends of Israel about the report. A representative of the Israeli embassy in London—I do not think that I am misrepresenting his remarks—said that we had produced a comprehensive and balanced report, but that the choice was ultimately between Israeli security and Palestinian humanitarianism. I think that that is a false choice, and I am glad that the Government agree. Paragraph B25 on page 15 of their consultation paper states: Israel's stated top priority is security, and the prevention of terrorist acts against Israeli citizens. But poverty and injustice caused by occupation and disproportionate Israeli actions can fuel Palestinian rejectionism and undermine public support for peace and reform. These factors, combined with large numbers of young people out of school and unemployed, help perpetuate the violence. Lastly, it may interest hon. Members to know that the Select Committee's report has received a favourable response elsewhere. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency—Sweden's equivalent of DFID—wrote to me at the end of last week: SIDA is currently preparing a new Country Strategy Proposal to be submitted to the Swedish Government by the end of this year. In line with our policies not to produce new Reports when excellent material is already available SIDA has decided to base our analysis of the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories mainly on the Report prepared by your Committee. In our view, the Report highlights to the point the situation for the Palestinian people in the absence of a real peace process. This view is also shared by our colleagues in our Field Office in Jerusalem". I fully recognise that, on an issue as contentious and as sensitive as development assistance to the occupied Palestinian territories, one is unlikely ever to achieve universal agreement. I hope, however, that the Chamber recognises that the report is an honest attempt by members of a Select Committee of this House to bear witness to the facts as we see them and unanimously to make recommendations that we hope the Government will adopt and pursue.

3.28 pm
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

Thank you, Mr. Chidgey. I was just in the process of turning off my mobile phone, which takes a little time.

I am a member not only of the International Development Committee but of the Inter-Parliamentary Union human rights commission, which finished its conference in Mexico last week. I congratulate the Chairman on the forceful way in which he put the case as found by the Committee. On this occasion, I was unable to accompany other members of the Committee on their trip, but I was in Jenin two years ago and I saw some of the destruction to which he referred.

I want to speak about some of the report's conclusions. The report says that we agree with the UK Government that the Geneva Conventions apply to the Israeli occupation. The 4th Geneva Convention should remain the standard by which the GOI"— the Government of Israel—"should perform" in the occupied Palestinian territories. It continues: The UK Government has its own obligations to uphold the Convention, and monitor breaches of the rules of the Convention as regards to the civilian population. I cannot see much reference in "Country Assistance Plan for Palestinians" to the importance of international law, but I may have missed it. International law and Israel's adherence to it would greatly assist both the humanitarian situation and others in which the Palestinians find themselves. As one of the high contracting parties of the fourth Geneva convention, it is the British Government's responsibility to ensure that Israel meets its legal obligations as the occupying power to uphold the rights of the Palestinians.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK Government, with their European partners, should ensure that Israel is held to account under article 49 of the Geneva convention? That states: The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. That would go some way to addressing the concerns that she mentions.

Ann Clwyd

I thank my hon. Friend because that is precisely the point I was coming to. I want to raise the case of Mr. Marwan Barghouti, who is the most important Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union committee on the human rights of parliamentarians has been dealing with Mr. Barghouti's case for some time. As hon. Members will know, the IPU custom is that if it wishes to raise the case of a parliamentarian who is in jail or has problems in their country, it asks for a mission to be allowed to go to the country in question. The IPU asked that a delegation be allowed to meet Mr. Barghouti, taking up an invitation extended by the Speaker of the Israeli Parliament in a letter of 9 July 2003 to observe the trial proceedings. The IPU decided at its 173rd session to send an observer to see Mr. Barghouti's trial. That was not allowed, however, so the IPU committee on the human rights of parliamentarians decided instead to send a legal expert to Israel to gather on the spot as much detailed information as possible on Mr. Barghouti's trial.

Mr. Simon Foreman, a lawyer in a Paris firm, travelled to Israel at the beginning of December and was able to meet the case prosecutor, Mr. Barghouti's defence team and other parties. He provided the IPU committee with his report, which is annexed to the resolution that we passed last Friday at our convention in Mexico. It was decided to do that in advance of Israel's observations on the report being made, because the next opportunity to publish it would have been in September, which in our view would be too late.

Mr. Barghouti was arrested in April 2002. He is an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. which is the Parliament of the Palestinian Authority, established following the two Oslo accords. Since January 1996, he had represented the constituency of Ramallah. He was elected for Fatah, the political movement of which he is the general secretary in the west bank and to which the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, also belongs. Analysts regard him as a moderate on account of his support for the Oslo accords, an opinion that was expressed by the former head of the Israeli intelligence services in Ha'aretz in September 2003.

Mr. Barghouti was forced to go underground in 2001. On 4 August of that year, he narrowly escaped an Israeli army missile strike on two vehicles leaving Fatah headquarters. He was in one of them, but the Israeli Government stated that another person was the target, even though Mr. Barghouti, according to the Deputy Internal Security Minister, amply deserves to die … for he is very much to blame for the attacks against Israel. Our Chairman referred to the article by Mr. Barghouti published in the New York Times and in the International Herald Tribune, which attracted a lot of attention. It was entitled, "Want security, end occupation". After very violent suicide attacks during the Easter holidays in March 2002, the Israeli army called up the reserve and launched Operation Defensive Shield, under cover of which it penetrated deeply into the occupied territories of the west bank. In that context, the Israeli army resumed control of Ramallah, which it had evacuated six years earlier under the Oslo process. It succeeded in locating and capturing Marwan Barghouti.

When Mr. Barghouti was arrested on 15 April 2002, he was taken by military forces from Ramallah, in west bank territory, to Jerusalem, and jailed in the Russian compound prison. He remained in solitary confinement for a month, except for two visits by his lawyer—one on 18 April, when they were able to communicate freely, and the other on 7 May, under the supervision of the security services.

During that month of isolation, Mr. Barghouti was interrogated by the security services. On 21 and 22 May, he had long working sessions with his lawyers, and described to them his conditions of interrogation: physical pressures in the form of sleep deprivation and uninterrupted interrogations and recourse to what is known as the shabeh method, which consists of attaching the person interrogated to a chair and forcing him to sit for several hours in a painful position—in this case, protruding nails in the back of the chair aggravated the discomfort by preventing him from leaning back. Mr. Barghouti also said that the interrogators made death threats against him and his son.

The defence has argued throughout that the Tel Aviv district court could not try Mr. Barghouti for a great many reasons, deriving essentially from international law. They included the facts that, first, the Oslo accords transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction the authority to try Palestinians, including with respect to attacks carried out against Israelis, and the accords have been embodied in Israeli law; secondly, Mr. Barghouti should enjoy prisoner of war status, pursuant to the third Geneva convention; thirdly, the arrest of Mr. Barghouti was unlawful, because he was abducted from his home in Ramallah, a Palestinian area, by the Israeli armed forces; and, fourthly, the transfer of Mr. Barghouti from Ramallah, a territory under Palestinian sovereignty and occupied by the Israeli army, to Israeli territory to be tried in Tel Aviv was in breach of the fourth Geneva convention. Lastly, the defence argued, the arrest and trial of Mr. Barghouti violated his parliamentary immunity deriving from his status as a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

I have mentioned the third and the fourth Geneva conventions, and the responsibility of the UK Government, as an upholder of those conventions, to ensure that they are upheld. There is still no news about the verdict of the Tel Aviv district court, which has reserved judgment since 29 December last year. According to the case papers, from Mr. Barghouti's arrest on 15 April 2002 to the trial, the Israeli authorities and the prosecution have tried to turn the situation into a media event and a symbol, putting on trial one of the men who epitomised the intifada and presenting him as a terrorist. Of all the Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis, Mr. Barghouti is the most senior member of the Palestinian Authority and he is said to be close to Mr. Arafat.

The observer made one or two comments to the IPU concerning the statement by the Israeli Deputy Homeland Security Minister that Mr. Barghouti "thoroughly deserves death", the statement from the Attorney-General calling him a terrorist, the way in which Mr. Barghouti's lawyers have been prevented from meeting him, the long interrogations to which his French lawyer was subjected on her arrival at the airport in Tel Aviv and Israel's refusal to allow in an observer from the International Federation for Human Rights.

Such incidents have been facilitated by the climate that has made this trial increasingly a political rather than a judicial matter, but also by a breakdown of Israeli law, which has been placed in breach of international law by authorising prisoner transfers. As I spelled out earlier, that is clearly prohibited by the fourth Geneva convention. It also tolerates interrogation methods that should be prohibited, in addition to the laws that make it possible to keep a prisoner incommunicado for excessively long periods.

Nobody would dispute that the Israeli authorities are right to point out that their country is up against blind terrorism, which posts serious security problems that they have to address. However, our report, which the IPU governing council has distributed to 150 countries that are members of the IPU, illustrates the fact that the methods chosen to deal with terrorism have been inconsistent with the rule of law and that sight has been lost of such equally essential principles as the absolute priority that should be given. under all circumstances, to respect for the physical integrity of prisoners.

The Barghouti case has clearly demonstrated that, far from bringing security, the breaches of international law have, above all, undermined the authority of Israeli justice by casting discredit on its conduct of investigations and the procedures used. The United Kingdom Government have a responsibility to ensure that the conventions are upheld.

3.43 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)

Let me start with a disclaimer, because I was not on the Committee when it went to Palestine and to Israel. Since I did not take part in the evidence taking—I did not see or hear the evidence—although I joined the Committee a few days before the final session in which the draft was debated, I deliberately and explicitly excluded myself from making any substantive contribution to the report. It seems wrong, if one has not heard or seen the evidence, to be a party to reaching a verdict.

Never in my life have I been in the occupied territories and Palestine; I have only ever once been to Israel, and that was a very long time ago when I was in my early 20s. I think that Israel has changed quite a bit since the 1970s, when I was there. Unfortunately, the problems that then seemed intractable—refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the status of settlements and so on—remain with us. There has been absolutely no political progress at all. One could pick up a newspaper and imagine that one was back 30 years ago and that nothing had changed.

I want to start where the Committee ended—to start from the conclusion. The clear conclusion of the report and of anything else well informed that I have read on the issue is really quite simple: there will not be a cat in hell's chance of any development in Palestine until there is peace—until there is an end to the violence, to the restrictions that have been imposed on movement and other activity as a result of the violence, and to the total demoralisation of Palestinian society that has resulted from the tragic events of the past few years.

The two key questions that we should be considering in Parliament are, first, why has there been no progress—not since the Oslo 2 agreement, not since the road map, not since as far back as the 1970s, the 1960s or the 1950s, indeed no progress at all with this problem—and, secondly, what are we to do now?

The generally fashionable line to take on this debate, and the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) took, although I congratulate him on his lucid speech, is that the fault has been largely with the Israeli Government. I find that entirely unconvincing. I am not afraid to criticise the Israeli Government; I have never taken a partisan view in these matters. It is clearly the fault of the Israelis that the Palestinian refugee problem was created in the first place, and that Palestinian civilians were forced in 1948 to leave what has become Israel.

There is clear evidence that the appalling massacre of Deir Yassin was carried out deliberately with a view to intimidating the Palestinian population and driving them out. Those are serious charges and I am not afraid to make them. There have been some legitimate complaints on the part of the Arabs left in Israel since then. A very black day in the history of Israel—a country that is on the whole a fine democracy, and proud of that tradition—is represented by the treatment of Palestinians trying to get their land back who won cases in the 1950s in the Israeli courts. Those judgments were overruled retrospectively by Israeli legislation. That is an appalling record.

I am not afraid to criticise Israel when it needs criticising, but I do not think it sensible or rational—I do not think that it conforms to the facts—to criticise Israel for the current situation. Why do I say that? Because if there has been no progress since Oslo that is because of acts taken by the Palestinian leadership, or through their lack of leadership. I wonder which phrase is more appropriate.

A very hopeful moment occurred at the end of 2000, with the Camp David meeting. You will recall, Mr. Chidgey, that the then Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Ehud Barak, arrived with an offer that was presented in many quarters as extremely generous. I shall not make any value judgment on it. It was certainly very significant. It amounted to handing over more than 90 per cent. of the territories and the Haram al-Sharif, and that was just for starters.

I do not say that I expected Arafat and the Palestinian delegation to say, "Yes, that's fine, Mr. Barak. Thank you very much. We shall sign on the dotted line," and that that would be the end of the story. However, one might have expected, if they had been remotely responsible or rational, that they would have started to talk about it, saying, "This is our response to the offer." Not at all. To the absolute consternation of President Clinton, who was presiding over the meeting, Arafat refused to negotiate at all.

An awful lot of criticism has already been made in the Chamber—no doubt more will be made before the end of the debate—about all the things that are going wrong in Palestine now, and the restrictions placed on Palestinians. Of course that is appalling. I am sure that the economic situation is as desperate as that described in the document before us, but none of that need have happened.

What is more, it seems extraordinary to say that that is the fault of the Israeli Government and Sharon, because it is clear that the person who created that Israeli Government is Mr. Arafat. When Arafat refused to deal with Barak—Barak having made that substantial offer at Camp David—there was only one conclusion to be drawn. It was the one that the Israeli electorate of course drew, when they had to go to the polls a few weeks later. They concluded that there was not a deal to be done on land for peace.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

Not at the moment, because we are under time pressure.

There was no deal to be done because the Israelis might give away the land but would not get the peace. There was no negotiation to be conducted. The intention of the Palestinian Authority was not to negotiate at all but simply to use violence. In retrospect, it is fairly clear that the second intifada was being planned at the very time of the Camp David meeting.

I do not see how the Israeli electorate could possibly have been expected to support Barak, or how any Israeli Government could have been expected to make more offers of that kind, given the response to their offer in December 2000. I say it again: any problems with the conduct of the current Israeli Government, such as the regrettable construction of the barrier and the restrictions, have been brought about by the recklessly irresponsible behaviour of Arafat at Camp David. We must recognise that.

Joan Ruddock

The points that the hon. Gentleman makes are debatable. Considering the response of the Israeli Government, does he justify the building of the barrier on Palestinian land?

Mr. Davies

The answer to that is yes. [Interruption.] I did say yes; there seemed to be a reaction to my use of that monosyllabic word. The hon. Lady asked a question and I said yes. If people came to Lincolnshire and started killing my constituents with suicide bombs, I would be the first to say that we should build a barrier between Lincolnshire and wherever the problem was coming from. That should be the inevitable response of any Government, because their first responsibility is to defend the lives of their citizens. The tragedy is that the second intifada was ever launched. That was a fundamental and despicable mistake, involving the deliberate shedding of innocent civilian blood for no coherent political purpose. Pragmatically, it was counter-productive; I condemn it morally above all, but also pragmatically.

There was a second element to the hon. Lady's question, which I am not running away from either: if a barrier is put up, should it be only in Israeli territory or beyond the 1967 international frontier? Again, I have sympathy with what the Israelis have done. There must be negotiation about which, if any, settlements remain in the occupied territories as part of a long-term settlement. However, the Israeli Government cannot possibly allow their citizens living in those settlements to be massacred in cold blood—of course they must be defended. It was necessary to respond in that way to defend those settlements because of the second intifada, because of Arafat's refusal to negotiate and because there was no prospect for continuing with a land-for-peace strategy as a result of the reckless and irresponsible decisions of Mr. Arafat.

I have answered the hon. Lady's question, possibly not as she wanted or expected, but coherently with the argument that I have been advancing.

Richard Burden

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman has been persistent, but this will be the last time that I give way.

Richard Burden

I hope that the debate will focus on the present and future rather than on the past. However, when the hon. Gentleman referred to Camp David he made no mention of the Taba talks, which I think took place in February following Camp David. Those talks did not lead to the Palestinians or Israelis rejecting anything: they broke down when Sharon won the election. Why did he not mention the Taba negotiations?

Mr. Davies

If we had the whole afternoon and I was pressed to do so, I would refer back to the Balfour declaration and talk about an awful lot of things. The reason that I did not mention the Taba talks is that I think that Arafat, or some of his advisers, may have panicked and thought that they made an awful mistake at Camp David. They may have decided to try to regain some of the lost ground at Taba, but it was too late. That emphasises my point that they made a colossal mistake.

The hon. Gentleman started his intervention by saying, "I hope that the hon. Gentleman gets on soon to talking about the future and doesn't worry too much about the past." He has more or less conceded that he agrees that my analysis of the past is pretty near the mark and pretty near the truth. That must be the case since neither he nor the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) contested the good sense of what I have been saying.

It makes no sense, in the circumstances, to criticise the Israeli Government. What has happened has been a product of the behaviour of the Palestinians, tragic and regrettable though that is. There is no question but that there have been many sufferers in Israel; many innocent people have lost their lives or been maimed and mutilated for life, which is appalling. Of a secondary order, in those terms, is the economic damage that has also been done to Israel. The Palestinians have suffered much greater human and economic damage, however, but it has been delivered to them by the actions of their own purported leader. In those circumstances, it makes no sense to criticise the Israeli Government for building the barrier.

I criticise the British Government strongly, and the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in particular, for their criticism, which makes no sense, of the Israelis for taking action to deal with the leaders in this violence—those who have been planning and sending suicide bombers into Israel. I cannot think of a more horrific or perverted evil in this life than suicide bombing—we have seen recently that they have even sent children to deliver suicide bombs. The Israeli Government have Seen taking the action that any Government should take, including trying to take out the leadership of the movement that is organising that violence.

Tony Baldry

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies

I explained earlier that I do not want to give way again, but as my hon. Friend is the Chairman of our Committee naturally I shall do so.

Tony Baldry

My hon. Friend was, for a while, the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This country endured terrible atrocities from the IRA and others—many in the House suffered. Is he really arguing that it would have been acceptable for the British Government, at any time, to have ordered or organised targeted assassinations of those whom they thought to be responsible for those acts of terrorism?

Mr. Davies

At present, our forces are engaged in Afghanistan, with our American allies. Among other things, they are trying to find Mr. Bin Laden, Mr. Zawahiri and the other leaders of al-Qaeda. If we learned that, instead of those people being captured, they had been killed, most of us would rejoice and think that a desirable and thoroughly just died response to the problem. It is therefore hypocritical, if we are trying to take out the leaders of al-Qaeda to protest against another Government seeking to defend themselves by taking out the leaders of a terrorist organisation that is directing violence at them.

The Northern Irish problem, to which my hon. Friend refers, is in a different category, because there is a negotiation in place. There is the Belfast agreement and, although there have been some difficulties with it and some backsliding, which I have referred to in other contexts, on the whole Sinn Fein-IRA have followed through the process that began in Belfast.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership did not follow through the process started in Oslo 2 and did not respond at all at Camp David. Hamas and the other terrorist organisations have not ceased their violence and there has been no attempt, as far as one can see, by the Palestinian Authority to stop that violence. One of the conditions—a prerequisite—for the road map was that violence would stop and that the Palestinian Authority would take measures to arrest those responsible for violence and bring it to an end, but they have not done so. I hope that that deals with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury.

I am glad, by the way, to have shocked a few people in the Chamber by saying some of the things that I have said. It is extremely important that we are prepared to confront reality here and to apply the same standards to the middle east as we apply elsewhere in the world.

I want, however, to focus on what should happen from now on. We need to get back to the road map—to the negotiating process. If comments such as the ones that I have made today make those who have the cause of the Arab—and particularly the Palestinian—peoples close to their hearts think again about the quality of the leadership that the Palestinians have had and the decisions that have been taken on their behalf over the past few years, and if that provokes a change of course and of attitude, I shall be more than relieved, as should we all.

The first step, if a negotiation is to take place, must be a ceasefire. If I may remind my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury of the analogy that he raised, there was a ceasefire in Northern Ireland. Violence stopped before negotiations began. We rightly insisted on that prerequisite. There has been a ceasefire, more or less, in Northern Ireland for the past seven years or so. We need to end violence; there needs to be a negotiation.

I am making my points without fear or favour, because I hold no brief for either side. I regret President Bush's statement the other day, and the Prime Minister's endorsement of it, on the frontiers and settlements, because it seemed to prejudge the negotiation that should take place between the parties. I do not want to say now whether I think that the frontier should be the same as or different from what it was in 1967 or whether some settlements should remain in the territories. There have been some Jewish settlements there, I think in Hebron, going back over the 2,000 years since the Jews were expelled from that area—we should not call it Palestine—by the Romans in AD 70. I recognise that there is a big issue as to whether there should be any settlements, and if so which ones and where, and which frontiers should be adopted. That must be a matter for the parties to negotiate. It is not helpful for outsiders, even outsiders as powerful as the United States, to make public comments that prejudice the negotiation that should take place.

Those negotiations clearly must cover refugees. That is a very important issue. It seems to me that the refugees who left in 1948 are entitled, in principle, to return, but they are not young and if there is a suitable alternative financial offer they will probably not do so. One can easily foresee a pragmatic solution to that issue, while recognising the right of return for those who left. I do not know that a right of return can be inherited by future generations. If it can, one has to ask for how long it can be inherited. Is it three generations or five? On that basis, perhaps the Jews can claim the right to return, because they were expelled by the Romans in AD 70. It might be more sensible to say that those who were physically expelled from, or previously lived in, a place have a rather more special status than others who may call themselves refugees or be called refugees by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or other bodies.

There is the basis for a negotiation, albeit a complicated one that has eluded the parties for decades. Nevertheless, it is as urgent as ever that that negotiation should take place. We do no service to anyone in the middle east if we suggest in the House that there is any other solution, or if we spend our time here criticising one party while being apparently oblivious to the failings of another.

I have criticised both sides in the process. I sincerely hope that they can find a way to ensure that future generations of Palestinians and of Israelis do not have to grow up and live their lives against the background of the terror and violence of which we have had far too much, particularly over the past few months and years.

4.3 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)

One did not need to hear the disclaimer at the beginning of the speech by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that he was not a party to the report and was not a member of the Select Committee when it compiled its report, because his stupefying ignorance of the situation, as emerged from his speech, demonstrates that entirely. His response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about the relationship with the IRA bombing campaign in this country showed that he did not even understand that. Perhaps his leader was right to remove him as Northern Ireland spokesman.

My city, Manchester, had the whole of its centre destroyed by an IRA bomb. What did we do? We held an Irish festival. We hold an Irish festival every year. It is about reconciliation, not revenge or vindictiveness. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford says that the Israeli Government have the right or the duty to defend the lives of their citizens. If that is their right or duty, they are singularly, indeed spectacularly, unsuccessful, because more Israeli civilians have been murdered by terrorists in the period in which Ariel Sharon has been Prime Minister of the state of Israel than in any other period during the 56 years of the existence of that state.

Last year, an article by Avraham Burg, who, until last year, was the Speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, was published in the Israeli press. Last month, that article was republished in The Sunday Telegraph. What did he say? Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill 1,000 ringleaders a day"— that is a reference to targeted assassinations— and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come from below—from the wells of hatred and anger, from the 'infrastructures' of injustice and moral corruption. The phrase "moral corruption" is as accurate a way of describing the Israeli Government as it is possible to find. Ehud Barak, a very fine man, whom I met when I was in Israel not long ago, made an offer. I agree that it was an error by the Palestinians to reject that offer in the way they did. However, Ariel Sharon's whole life has been based on killing people, first as a soldier and then as somebody who connived in the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila and who was condemned by the Israeli Kahane commission for his role in that.

Ariel Sharon is the person who, when I was in Israel, went on to the Temple Mount when opposition leader as an act of deliberate provocation. It is perfectly true that the Camp David negotiations and the Taba negotiations did not end in agreement. However, it is an interesting fact that, in the period between Camp David and Taba, efforts at negotiations were continuing and that, up to the moment when Sharon went to the Temple Mount, the situation was relatively peaceful.

At the weekend on which Ariel Sharon went to the Temple Mount, I was visiting friends in northern Israel. We had a meal at an Arab restaurant just outside Haifa. We were received with cordiality and that wonderful welcome that Arabs offer their guests. That was on the Friday evening. By the end of the weekend, there were riots at that restaurant. Those riots were provoked by Ariel Sharon.

If there is one individual in the entire world who can be regarded as primarily responsible for the deaths of more than 600 Israelis at the hands of vicious, foul terrorists, it is Ariel Sharon. Every Israeli who dies may primarily be murdered by Palestinian terrorists, but they are victims of Ariel Sharon and his policies as well. It is as well that that should be placed on the record.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He had his turn.

I congratulate the Select Committee on its report, which is absolutely first rate, and the hon. Member for Banbury on the way he presented it. I was interested in the notion that it is the duty of the Chairman of a Select Committee to be impartial. I shall have to think about that concept in my own role.

It so happened that I was in the Palestinian territories at roughly the same time as the Select Committee—either the Committee followed my path or I followed its path, but our visits coincided. I was there as an individual on a visit that was arranged—but not, I must make clear, financed—through the Foreign Office. My visit was greatly facilitated by our marvellous consul general in Jerusalem. I went around the occupied territories.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford talks about the right to defend the settlements, but every settlement is illegal. They are against international law. All those settlements should not be there. They are not simply illegal; they are aggressive. I was in Hebron with the Temporary International Presence in Hebron. I could not have travelled as I did in the Palestinian territories unless I was driven by the consul general, the United Nations or TIPH. I would have been held like all the Palestinians for hours at the checkpoints described in the Select Committee report.

It is not simply that the whole regime of the Israeli army is to protect the settlers in Hebron. Those settlers have completely destroyed the ancient souk in Hebron. It no longer exists. I always went there on my visits. I had food there. I used to shop there. I used to buy the wonderful Hebron glass there. Now it is dead—gone. The settlers rampaged through Hebron. They deliberately attack Palestinians. There is a road on the perimeter of the new city of Hebron, which Palestinians are forbidden to use but settlers who travel on that road go to the Palestinians for their car repairs. The sheer irony, the through-the-looking-glass situation that we witness there, is one of my most appalling experiences.

I am attacked on this the whole time, so I might as well get attacked on it again. As a Jew, it disgusts me that a Government of a country that was established as a Jewish state should be managing the most oppressive regime in the entire developed world. When I say the developed world, I find it particularly repulsive that, when one is in Israel or in an illegal Jewish settlement on the west bank, one need travel only a matter of minutes to go from the first world to the third world. One travels from a country that, even with the terrible depredations of the incompetent.economic policy of Netanyahu and Sharon, is still rich in terms of the world as a whole, into areas where people are living in abject poverty.

The most appalling part of that poverty, as is demonstrated in the Select Committee report, is that it is man made. I do not say human made, because it is not women who have done it—it is the Israeli Government and Israeli soldiers They have created a situation in which huge numbers of human beings are living in misery, in what even President Bush when he spoke at Banqueting house, called "daily humiliation." That is done deliberately. The poverty is created. Palestine is an affluent place. It is a fruitful place. The horticulture and agriculture should be prosperous.

I went to Jericho with the consul general. Jericho is rich, fruitful and has several crops a year of fruit and food that it could export, yet there is misery and poverty there because restrictions on movement prevent the farmers and horticulturalists from selling their produce. The appalling thing about what is going on in the occupied territories is that none of it needs to be happening.

Of course, there are two sides to any negotiations, the Israelis have the right to defend themselves and the families of people who have been killed and maimed are understandably vengeful—although not all of them by any means. However, it is for us to try to assist in the reaching of a settlement. To do that, we must first understand the situation as described so vividly and factually by the Select Committee. We must also understand who is responsible, and let us be clear that the worst development in Palestine is not the election of Sharon, appalling though he is, but the endorsement of whatever Sharon does by Bush.

The only way to achieve a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians is with the impetus of the United States Administration. Jimmy Carter made great efforts and had considerable success. Bill Clinton also made great efforts and could have had greater success if he had had the co-operation from both sides that he deserved. I pay tribute to Ehud Barak and say that, in my view, Arafat made serious errors in how he reacted to what happened at Camp David.

We now have a President of the United States who not only does not understand the situation—one would think that the hon. Member tor Grantham and Stamford was one of his advisers— but has a time scale of only seven months, until election day on 2 November. As Jews are located in strategic states with big electoral college votes, he is grubbing for their votes. I have greater respect for the Jewish community in the United States than George W. Bush has, because there is no doubt that, if their votes had been counted in Florida, he would not be President today. Al Gore would be President, and we would not be in this situation.

We need negotiation and an alleviation of the deliberate man-made poverty, the terrible humiliation of human beings and the degradation in which people live. The Select Committee report included a map that showed the noose around Qalqilya. I visited Qalqilya with United Nations representatives. As the report points out, there is only one exit from it—a gate that is open only if Israeli troops are there to open it. On my visit, they were not there, so the gate was not open. I saw people going to the gate in the hope that it would be open, but it was not. People are prisoners in their own town.

The Select Committee report accurately describes the situation. Let us be clear that we are watching a deliberate exercise in ethnic cleansing. The Israelis are making life impossible for the Palestinians, building a wall that encloses large numbers of hem, separating the farmers from their land, the workers from their jobs, the sick from the hospitals and the students and pupils from their place of education. Like the Select Committee, I have seen that. What is being said is: "Do what was done to the souk in Hebron and get out " Eventually, if the Israelis were to spread, the Palestinians would have to get out beyond the other side of the Jordan.

We are talking about a Jewish state. I was brought up as a child with a yearning for a Jewish state. We had a collection box on our mantelpiece, and whenever my father had any spare money, in the coins would go. The day the Jewish state was founded was a great day for Jews all over the world, including my family in Leeds, but if they go on as they are, there will not be a Jewish state any more. If they go on as they are, there will be a state in which, because of the fact that there are not two states beside each other, the Arabs will eventually become a majority. The Israelis are taking part in what Meron Benvenisti, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, referred to a few days ago in an article in The Guardian as the creation of Bantustans.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)

It was one of the proudest experiences of my life, as a young boy just before my bar mitzvah, to be taken by my father for the first time to Israel, the Jewish homeland and a democratic state. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the saddest phenomena that I observed on my most recent visit to the occupied territories was the confiscation of land, the destruction of crops and the seizure of property without any compensation? That is a wholly undemocratic principle, in violation of the founding principles of that Israeli state.

Mr. Kaufman

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I would go a tiny bit further, and say that if what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians were being done by some external power to Jews the entire international Jewish community would rightly be up in arms demanding an end to such an oppressive regime. The hon. Gentleman had his bar mitzvah, so he will know the Hebrew word ts'dakah. It is an obligation of ts'dakah to do right. That is what Jews are supposed to do. That is why Sharon is the worst representative of a Jewish state that there could be.

I do not want to take up much more time, because I know so many hon. Members want to speak, but I want to say this. Given my experience as a Chairman of a Select Committee, reading the Government's response to the report, with all those paragraphs beginning "We agree", made me green with envy. I wish that that could be taught to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

There are just one or two things, as the hon. Member for Banbury pointed out, about which the Government are over-cautious. Their stance on the issue is fine. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that the reputation in the Palestinian territories of our Department for International Development stands very high. The reputation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development stands particularly high, as I found when I discussed the matter with Palestinians in Ramallah. However, the Government are overcautious in not wishing to use the authority and power of the European Union to exert pressure in this matter.

Page 65 of the report, at paragraph 151, quotes one of the most degrading statements that I have read from the European Union for a long time. Last night, I was with other right hon. and hon. Members in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, listening to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister make a wonderful speech about the new Europe that will emerge on 1 May. However, hon. Members should hear this passage from what the European Commission told the Select Committee when it asked the European Union to use its power on preferences to put pressure on the Israelis to behave in a reasonable manner: The trade balance with Israel is very, very heavily in our favour. So when you say, 'What is the benefit or impact on Israel of these arrangements', at the moment the European Union is doing quite well out of them both in terms of industrial trade and agricultural trade … So I am not sure what would be the result of disrupting these or interrupting these. It may actually harm the European Union more than it harms Israel". I am one of the Members of Parliament for Manchester. During the American civil war, the cotton workers of Lancashire were willing to give up their livelihoods in the battle to end slavery in the United States. They were poor workers in a poor area of England. The European Union is enormously prosperous. It has economic power. It has been suggested to me that it ought at least to set up a monitoring team to consider the human rights aspect of the preferential agreement. I believe that that is essential.

One may be asked what can be done. George Bush senior imposed economic sanctions on Yitzhak Shamir, and that is why the Madrid procedure began. The US held $10 billion of loan sanctions in order to push the Israelis to negotiate at Madrid. My hon. Friends talk about what the Israeli Government could do, and speak of a constructive engagement with Israel, but one cannot have a constructive engagement with a lout. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of decent, fine Israeli people want a free Palestine alongside a secure Israel. The Government of Israel should be pushed into negotiations. I believe that economic sanctions are the way to achieve that.

I thank the Select Committee for its report. It is not the end of the story. We are not going to rest until there is a free Palestine alongside a secure Israel.

4.27 pm
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on a thoughtful and considerate speech. It was obviously based on experience and a great deal of knowledge.

This Select Committee report is different from the other reports on the subject that have been produced in my time. Unlike most of them, this report makes it clear that the problems addressed are obviously man made. Unfortunately, I was unable to join the Committee on its recent visit. However, many right hon. and hon. Members have visited the middle east with all-party groups or other organisations; indeed, my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) have just returned. A significant number of Members have first—hand experience of the region—experience that brings real expertise and wisdom to our debates. We heard a good example of that earlier this afternoon.

One of the best aspects of being a member of the Select Committee is being able to meet different people, see different parts of the world and, sometimes, listen to quite moving evidence. For instance, the Committee heard evidence about the demolition of houses, but I shall not go into detail about it.

One of the disadvantages of membership of the Committee is that its inquiries can sometimes be overtaken by events, and in ways that some other Select Committees' cannot. However, despite all that has happened since its publication at the beginning of the year, this report remains as valid as when it was published, although the scale of the problem has increased because of the recent actions of the Israeli Government.

Those members of the Committee who have spoken to me since their visit to the occupied territories told me of the shock of the humanitarian situation there. What makes a bad situation worse is the fact that, as I said, those humanitarian needs are virtually all man made. That makes the situation all the more frustrating. We have enough trouble helping those countries ravaged by natural disasters or events that are outwith our control without adding to them. Of course, I understand the need for Israel to protect its people and to minimise the potential for horrific suicide bombings like those that we have seen. However, the Israeli Government fail to realise that their actions serve only to give greater cause to organisations such as Hamas, which seek to recruit Palestinians in their campaign of terror. Rather than preventing suicide bombings, the Government of Israel are fuelling the fire that leads to such acts of terrorism.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there cannot be peace unless there is justice? I have just received a report from the village of Jayyous, which has been cut in two by the barrier. It has 15,000 olive trees, 120 greenhouses, 50,000 citrus trees and six out of seven of its groundwater wells on the wrong side of the fence. There is a gate, but it is never open when it should be, so the people are denied access to tend their crops. Can there be justice in that sort of situation?

John Barrett

I take my hon. Friend's point. There can be no excuse for the wall or fence—however people refer to it—having been built where it has been built, separating pupils from schools, farmers from fields, and villagers from their hospitals. It is an outrage. As long as that barrier exists it adds to the problem; it does not take away from it.

There is no excuse for suicide bombings, and at the same time there is no excuse for targeted assassinations. Both are illegal under international law and the Palestinian Authority have to take a greater hand in trying to prevent the suicide bombings. As the Committee found. the authority should, as a first step, condemn the bombings much more strongly. At the same time, investment in arid development of the Palestinian Authority security forces needs to be made a priority. Israel has to recognise that that will serve its interests, while donors such as the UK should see it as a key part of technical assistance. Israel has no excuse for building the wall or Palestinian land, breaking up and closing in Palestinian communities, and there is no excuse for the US Administration to be anything other than critical of that move.

It is important that the Department for International Development should respond not just to short-term humanitarian needs but help countries to develop in the long term by solving their long-term problems—that normally means helping countries to help themselves. In places such as Ethiopia, aid is about the provision of food in the short term, while making the country less vulnerable to freak climates in the long term. In Malawi, it is about treating those suffering from HIV in the short term while preventing the spread of disease in the long term. In Palestine, we need to avert the humanitarian disaster that threatens while pursuing as a long-term solution an end to the violence that has plagued the region for so long.

As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, for Palestine it is not, as in some other countries, just about aid. The Committee found that merely increasing aid spending would decrease poverty by about 7 per cent., but tackling the cause of poverty—ending movement restrictions—would result in a reduction of 15 per cent. This is not a problem that needs to have money thrown at it. Although there is, of course, a need for continued spending. it needs much more. As others have said, the wall and the movement restrictions are causing immense problems. Palestine is not a country with food shortages, yet the Committee found rates of malnutrition as bad as those in sub-Saharan Africa. Between the movement restrictions and the confiscation of land, farmers are unable to provide the food that their people need. Surely the movement of food cannot be described as a security threat. The Committee found that, provided no weapons are being transported, there is no need for the additional restrictions on the movement of food.

There are still water access requirements and, if my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) catches your eye, Mr. Chidgey, she will go into the detail of that. The Committee found that DFID and non-governmental organisations were undertaking excellent work in helping to improve water access. However, the violence in the region often results in the demolition of infrastructure. One example cited in the report was the destruction by the Israeli army of US-built wells. There is no point in the UK, the EU and other donors investing in infrastructure improvements if they are to be undermined by authorised acts of violence.

The other issue that struck me during the inquiry was the importance of education. As has been said, half the population of the occupied Palestinian territories are under 18. That makes it even more important to provide good educational facilities, but in this case too the restrictions imposed by the Israelis are causing considerable, potentially permanent damage. The Palestinian Ministry of Education reports that almost 1,300 schools have been closed because of curfews, seizures and the fact that some of them have been converted into detention centres. A further 280 schools have been damaged by military action. Of those that remain, restrictions on movement and fear of retribution mean that teachers art unable to teach and that they and pupils are unable to reach their classrooms. Charities such as Save the Children report an increased use of violence in the playground as a means of settling disputes. If we are ever to find a long-term solution to the mistrust between the two sides, we must ensure that the next generation of leaders are not burdened by ignorance. Allowing children in Palestine to go through their entire childhood without proper education is contrary to that.

The only long-term solution to Palestine's development needs is peace. It is safe to say that despite the result of the Commons vote on 18 March 2003, the majority of Members were sceptical about military action in Iraq. One reason that some went through the Aye Lobby was the commitment that the Israel—Palestine conflict would be given priority and that the road map would be implemented. President Bush's endorsement of Sharon's disengagement plan and his partisan comments since run contrary not only to that commitment, but to international law and UN resolutions.

The interjection of 52 former British diplomats on Monday was a timely reminder of the work that still has to be done. Even those who disagree with the content of the letter must accept that those who signed it were some of the most expert people in Britain on the middle east. Their comments should not be dismissed out of hand but should be considered carefully and thoughtfully, just like the Committee's report.

4.37 pm
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab)

I am not a practising Jew. I am about as secular as they come but I say to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that I know only too clearly from my family history why Jews around the world would no longer entrust their human rights and security to other states after the holocaust, and wanted to create their own state. Nevertheless, I support the report's recommendations in their entirety, because I believe that the injustice done to Palestinian people by the occupation of their territories undermines the security of Israelis. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said so eloquently, Jewish people around the world should be deeply concerned about that.

Perhaps it is not surprising that people talk about the political process and foreign affairs when we debate the middle east, but it is worth making the point—particularly as the report has been criticised for being too pro-Palestinian and one-sided—that the report was prepared by the Select Committee on International Development, not the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. As the Department for International Development has a programme of development assistance in the Palestinian territories, not in the state of Israel, we necessarily focused on the economy and development possibilities in those territories and the needs of the Palestinian people.

However, I will say a few words about the political context. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made an important intervention on the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford in which he asked about British policy in Northern Ireland. If, during the troubles, we had decided to build a barrier between Northern Ireland and the Republic to stop the import into Northern Ireland of materials used by terrorists to make bombs and to pursue their campaign of terror, we certainly would not have built that fence on the territory of the Republic of Ireland.

I can understand why the Israeli Government wished to build a barrier to try to protect their people, but to build a barrier on other people's land makes the problem worse and puts the security of Israelis in the state of Israel at risk. When we were engaged in the troubles, we identified leaders of the IRA, but we did not set out to assassinate them. Heaven forbid that we should have tried, but had we done so, we would not have dropped 1 tonne bombs from the sky to kill them, with the collateral damage that other people round about would be killed.

I have been to the occupied Palestinian territories only twice: once 18 months ago, which was paid for by the United Nations Association International Service, a non-governmental organisation based in my constituency; and, six months ago with the Select Committee. On my visit 18 months ago, I was taken to a site in Gaza city where a bomb was dropped by aeroplane and killed a Hamas leader, a terrorist, but with the collateral damage of killing 12 people in neighbouring homes, injuring 42 people and destroying the property of many more. That cannot be a way to work towards a peace process that will guarantee the security of the Israeli people.

Israel exists. It is recognised by the United Nations. We, as decent people and democrats should defend its right to exist and recognise that it has a right to defend itself and its people against terrorism, but the Palestinian people have the right to a state too, which must imply a two-state solution, which so nearly came about under the Barak plan. It was rejected by Arafat, but it was also rejected by the Israeli people in a general election when they voted Barak's Labour Government out of office.

Since the failure of the Barak plan, there are people on both sides of the argument who no longer talk about a two-state solution; they talk about a one-state solution. That simply cannot be an answer, because it means either the destruction of the state of Israel, or the ethnic cleansing by the state of Israel of all the Palestinians from the occupied territories, neither of which can possibly bring peace to the region.

A two-state solution must be the answer. To achieve that, there must be clear political leadership and unequivocal policy shifts by political leaders on both sides. There cannot possibly be a two-state solution if the Palestinians insist on the right to return to the state of Israel, because if that right of return were taken up, the demographics of the state of Israel would make it no longer a Jewish state and the Israeli Government would not accept that ever, under any circumstances. Similarly, there cannot be a two-state solution as long as there are Israeli settlements, roads and a military presence in the occupied territories.

My depressing conclusion from my two visits was that there is an absence of leadership on both sides, and a minority on both sides who use violence to drive people away from the negotiating table and the peace process. However, most depressing of all was a remarkable change in the mood in the 12 months between my two visits. Eighteen months ago, I felt that the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people rejected the men of violence and saw that it was necessary to compromise, because it was the only way in which they could gain security in a Palestine state. The mood 12 months later was very different.

When we talked to people who lived in communities near the fence or the barrier and who were directly affected by it, we found that there was anger. Intellectually, they understood that terrorism could never achieve their aims; no amount of suicide bombing, however horrific, will defeat a military as powerful as the Israeli defence force. We put it to people at a community meeting that such a strategy was doomed to fail, but we were shouted down by the vast majority of people in the room, albeit in the politest possible way. They said, "We don't care whether it works. What else we can do?" Well, there are other things that they can do. Indeed, other things must be done, otherwise there cannot be a political solution. Both sides need to do things, and one of the things that the Israeli side needs to do is to remove the fence from Palestinian territory. I agree with the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford: let the Israelis build a fence by all means—it is part of their protection against the extremists and terrorists who go to Israel to kill and maim. However, they should build it on Israeli territory.

The report is primarily about the UK's development assistance programme to the Palestinian Authority and, through NGOs and others, to the Palestinian people. One conclusion that I drew from the Committee's visit is that development whey planners need to address the assumption, which has been made for the past 50 or 60 years, that the Palestinians' need for development assistance is a temporary phenomenon, that the peace process is ongoing and that a solution will shortly be reached. I hope that life will be breathed back into the peace process and that agreement on a two-state solution will be reached sooner rather than later, but, to be pragmatic, I do not see that happening in the short term. Those who provide development assistance therefore need to be cognisant of the fact that they are providing support for the Palestinian people not just for a few months, as a temporary stop-gap, but, quite possibly, for years to come.

The various UN agencies need to co-ordinate what they do. In Jenin, we saw the nonsense of the UN Relief and Works Agency delivering food aid to Palestinian refugees—people who were driven out of their homes in 1948, as well as children and grandchildren—while, on the other side of the road, an entirely separate World Food Programme operation was delivering food aid to Palestinians who had always lived in Jenin and who were not refugees. There were two sets of trucks, two sets of delivery rotas, two sets of warehouses and two sets of buying agents—it was nonsense. The Palestinian people need food aid because the occupation has destroyed the Palestinian economy, but the UN agencies could save money by running a single relief operation. Perhaps UNRWA could distribute food aid in Gaza, while the World Food Programme did so in Jenin.

I am not saying that the separate identities of the two organisations need to be destroyed. Indeed, the Palestinians feel strongly that the refugees' separate identity needs to be maintained until there is a final solution. Administratively, however, more aid could be provided if what the UN agencies did were rationalised.

We saw the same with the schools. UNRWA provided a school to which only refugee children were admitted, while, 200 or 300 yards away, the Palestinian Authority had provided a school for children who were not from refugee families, which was funded by other donors. Apart from anything else, that divides the community. It is not right and should change.

There is also a need for more policy coherence from the relief agencies. UNRWA does an essential job in distributing food aid. Its spending is probably the biggest slab of public expenditure in the Palestinian territories—it is a huge part of the gross national income of those territories. One of the rations that it distributes is cooking oil, yet virtually none of that is bought from Palestinians; it is bought from outside Palestine because it is cheaper to buy from other sources. We were told by the World Food Programme that this year it has introduced a new scheme and bought 272 metric tonnes of olive oil from Palestinian farmers. That is 272 tonnes out of 25,000 tonnes which were unsold.

Mr. David Chidgey (in the Chair)

Order. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that seven more hon. Members want to contribute to the debate before the winding-up speeches and 35 minutes remain.

Hugh Bayley

I shall seek to make progress. I am one of only two members of the Select Committee who visited the Palestinian territories and I wish to explain some of the things that we learned during that visit.

It is incoherent for UNRWA to spend money on micro-credit schemes, seeking to provide business opportunities for Palestinians, while spending hundreds of millions of dollars on buying food from non-Palestinians.

Finally, I shall pick up on the comments made by the hon. Member for Banbury about Jude. That is the one substantive part of the Select Committee's recommendations with which the Government did not agree. The European Union has similar trade agreements with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The latter agreement has the potential to help to reconstruct the Palestinian economy, which, to all intents and purposes, has collapsed since the second intifada. Gross national income has fallen by between a third and a half, there has been a huge increase in unemployment, and investment his fallen by about 90 per cent. Without trade, the economic prospects of the Palestinians will not significantly change. The World Bank estimated that a doubling of aid would reduce the proportion of Palestinians living in poverty—on less than $2.1 a day—by only 7 per cent. The removal of access controls in the occupied territories by the Israeli Government would reduce the number by about twice as much.

The trade agreement with the Palestinian Authority does not work. The Palestinian port and airport in Gaza have been destroyed by the state of Israel and access to Israeli ports and airports is limited by the access restrictions. Our Government say that now is not the time to use the leverage of our trade agreement with the state of Israel to enable Palestinian businesses to trade. If the Government believe that constructive engagement with Israel is the best way to exert influence, they should set a timetable over which it will seek to negotiate with the state of Israel and exercise that constructive influence. If it does not work, they must take action because the fundamental basis of every trade agreement is reciprocity. One needs to treat all parties equally, and at the moment the trade agreement is delivering for the European Union and Israel but it is not delivering for the European Union and the Palestinians.

4.55 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con)

I welcome the work of the Committee in drawing attention to the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people. I may not go down the same road as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) in all the conclusions that he has reached, but I respect the work that he has done and I recognise that a great deal of careful and hard work has produced this report.

Whatever one's views on the politics of the middle east—we clearly have different views here today—there is clearly a significant level of humanitarian need among the Palestinians, including high levels of unemployment, poverty and even malnutrition. There is clearly a need for better health care and, importantly, for better education. Whatever one's views on the middle east, we should all look for a way of alleviating the suffering as much as we possibly can. However long we have to wait for a political solution, we should seek to address those humanitarian needs in the interim. Whatever I say in the debate, I will not demur from that proposition and neither will I try to use aid to the Palestinians as a way of putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority.

I think that it is right that first and foremost we should seek to address humanitarian needs, provided—this is a very important provision—that the aid is properly applied for the intended purpose. That is a material consideration in the debate and an important reservation. I welcome the approach taken by the Committee in paragraph 68 of its report, where it states: It is in everyone's interest that every penny of international development aid to the Palestinian Authority, whether from DFID or charities, is fully and transparently accounted for. I would adopt and echo that conclusion.

While the report sets out to establish what aid is possible in the present situation, it implies—as today's debate has implied—that the undoubted plight of the Palestinian people cannot be separated from the political context in which they find themselves. Wherever one's sympathies have been engaged during the long period of this dispute, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a great deal of the suffering could and would have been alleviated if there had been a negotiated political settlement that addressed the aspirations of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples, and that the suffering and deterioration that has undoubtedly taken place since September 2000 could have been avoided if agreement had been reached at Camp David and if the peace process initiated at Oslo had been kept on track. I do not want to go over ground that we have already covered, but it will take a great deal to persuade me that it was not the leadership of the Palestinian Authority—it is still the same leadership today—that manifestly failed to take advantage of what was, I believe, a good offer in prospect for it at the Camp David negotiations in the summer of the year 2000. I have to say that. Of course the Palestinian leadership was not forced to take that offer: it was freely negotiating. However, it was a realistic offer given the domestic constraints on Israel. It sought to address all the old historic issues, including a sovereign state for the Palestinians on the west bank, and the status of Jerusalem. There was even a formula for the return of refugees, to enable some refugees at least, from the 1948 struggle, to return to Israel. All those matters were on the table and open for negotiation, and the plain fact is that it was the Palestinian leadership who walked away from that offer.

We will hear what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) has to say if he is called, but it will take a lot to persuade me that the then leader of Israel, Ehud Barak, did not have every possible interest in bringing those negotiations to fruition, staking his political future on them, trying to bring peace to the people of Israel and facing an imminent election. It will also take a lot to convince me that President Clinton did not have a sincere and long-term interest in bringing about a peaceful solution in the middle east as the final achievement of his presidency, which was also running out. It will take a lot to persuade me that that decision did not belong to the Palestinian Authority. That decision was taken by the present leadership of the Palestinian Authority and it had the right to take it. However, it will take a lot to persuade me—in the face of what all the evidence suggests—that, having taken that decision, the then leadership of the Palestinian Authority did not decide to leave those peace negotiations and to embark on an intifada as an alternative to seeking a peaceful solution.

I heard the analysis of the situation by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). No doubt it did not help at all that Mr. Sharon decided to take his walk on the Temple Mount when he did. However, it will take a lot to persuade me that the decision on the whole intifada—the campaign that we have seen since and the intensification of the suicide bombings that were already taking place—was brought about by a single walk on a religious site. However grave the offence that that may have caused, it will take a lot to persuade me that that decision was not taken by the Palestinian leadership elsewhere, for whatever reasons, as an alternative to peaceful negotiation.

Mr. Quentin Davies

I share my hon. Friend's analysis. Does he agree that there is, sadly, all too great a suspicion and all too great a likelihood that the second intifada was actually under preparation at the time of Camp David and that that was one of the reasons why Arafat was not prepared to negotiate?

Mr. Clappison

It may well be that in due course historians will look with great interest at exactly when the intifada was prepared.

As far as the Palestinian leadership—Yasser Arafat—is concerned, I hear what the Committee has said and I agree with the tone of the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury made about Mr. Arafat's backward-lookingness and with the analogy that my hon. Friend drew with the situation in Northern Ireland. Of course we should be prepared to welcome people who have used terror in the past to the ways of peace, and it is possible for terrorists to become leaders and statesmen. However, if, once they have set out along that path, they forsake statesmanship and return to terrorism and violence, there is a danger that they will lose credibility altogether. We would not, as a nation, negotiate with a leader who had behaved in that way; I very much doubt that we would. We would not be prepared to negotiate.

Jeremy Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison

In a minute, if the hon. Gentleman will hear me out. We would not negotiate with such a leader. Even now, one would hope that there could be negotiations. However, the difficult problem that the Palestinians face, and which we as a country face in trying to help, is that Yasser Arafat has lost credibility with the Israeli people. Whatever one wants to say about the present leadership of Israel, I doubt very much that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, who gave us his point of view on the subject, would be able to find today many of the people of Israel, whom he rightly said are thirsting for peace and want to see an honourable solution, who would regard Yasser Arafat as a credible figure who could deliver peace.

I give way briefly to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) but this will be the last time that I give way.

Jeremy Corbyn

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to advance as far as the present, if not into the future? Will he explain to the House what possible benefit it is to any kind of peace process to have the wall constructed, the continuing illegal occupation and assassination policy, helicopter gunships over Palestinian towns, children being killed and no prospect whatever of anything other than the ritual humiliation of Palestinian people for a long time to come? Where does he think that brings anything?

Mr. Clappison

I may surprise the hon. Gentleman by saying that I share his reaction to much of what he describes. However, I think that he is falling into a trap, into which many others fall, of seeing the security response of the Israeli Government to the intifada and the violence that has been visited upon them as the cause of the problem, rather than a response to the real cause of the problem. The real cause was the decision of the Palestinian leadership to embark on an intifada. It may have got out of hand, but that decision is, as a matter of history, the initial cause.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD)

What about the occupation?

Mr. Clappison

I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that the occupation can be solved by peaceful negotiation, not by suicide bombs; I agree with the comments on that in the Select Committee report. That is the long-term future. I hear some of the criticisms that have been made, and I share some of them, but under international law Israel does have a right to self-defence; and when looking at self-defence, one has to judge the severity of the threat that Israel has faced.

Israel has faced an extremely severe threat in the form of suicide bombers coming from the occupied territories and elsewhere into Israel, causing substantial loss of life. Any Government would want to use their right to self-defence, and their people would expect them to do so, in the face of such a severe threat. That is the background against which we should judge this. I look forward to the day when there can be a return to peaceful negotiations, but there has to be a change in the Palestinian leadership.

I have two points to make in conclusion. First, it would be wrong to put the pressure on Israel alone. The pressure has to be put on both sides. Pressure must also be applied to the Palestinian side, through inducements and as much diplomatic pressure as possible, to come back to the negotiating table and to give up the suicide bombings. I do not believe that the Palestinian Authority have done all they could to restrain and prevent suicide bombings. There seems to be a suggestion that the al-Aqsa brigades organisation, which has directed suicide bombings itself, is linked to the Fatah organisation which is part of Mr Arafat's own political organisation. There has to be a much more robust approach on this. I look forward to hearing the Minister tell us what the Palestinian Authority have done to improve the security situation over which they have responsibility.

Secondly, I have asked the Government questions in the past about the aid that this country has given to the Palestinians to enable them to negotiate. That was commenced in 1998 when it was reasonable to give such aid to the Palestinians because a negotiation was taking place and there was still a good prospect of a peaceful solution. But we have continued to give them that aid since the year 2000. There have not been negotiations on the part of the Palestinians or what I would regard as a sufficient willingness to take part in such negotiations. Yet they are still receiving a substantial amount of aid—£9.2 million up to 2006—to support negotiations.

I would draw a distinction between money that is going to support negotiations and the technical and legal side of negotiations and funding that is going to support propaganda as a result of a general political case. I ask the Minister to look carefully at that funding. I have no problem with humanitarian aid to the Palestinians provided that it is strictly monitored and controlled. Why not switch sonic of that funding towards alleviating the real problems that the Palestinians face? We need a long-term political solution to this. There needs to be an even-handed approach that brings about the peaceful negotiations that we all seek.

5.8 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan) (Lab)

I fail to understand the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) that as there was no agreement between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon has the licence to kill innocent Palestinians, destroy their homes and build an apartheid wall that causes hardship, deprivation, poverty and economic ruin in the Palestinian territories. I cannot understand that argument.

Mr. Quentin Davies


Mr. Sarwar

But I can say to the hon. Gentleman that this debate will make very interesting reading for President Bush, and I will be surprised if the hon. Gentleman does not get the job of special adviser on foreign relations.

I welcome the hard work done by the International Development Committee to produce this comprehensive report. While all Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza strip are adversely affected by the Israeli occupation and its accompanying violence, I would like to focus the attention of the House on the particularly desperate plight of Palestinian women. As the United Nations Development Programme says: It has been established that development assistance does not necessarily reach the whole population. Development literature has amply illustrated that women are often treated as though they are invisible vis-à-vis development assistance, largely because of the false assumption that the benefits accrued by men as the head of the family unit are shared by the family. This unisex vision of development neglects the fact that there are certain gender-specific factors that determine how men and women perceive and articulate their development needs, participate in contemporary development activities and determine the course of their lives. Save the Children notes: Frequently absent from recent reports about violence in the Middle East are the everyday dangers facing women and children whose access to education and health care is limited or blocked, and whose nutritional and psychological needs are not being met. Palestinian women have always been active participants in their society and the struggle to liberate their people from Israeli occupation. Since the 1920s, they have worked through social, humanitarian and political organisations. During the first intifada, women took a leading role in the boycott campaign against Israeli products in the west bank and Gaza strip. They led a campaign to reopen schools closed by the Israeli army. Palestinian mothers established underground schools that their children could attend. Women frequently confronted the occupation forces to protect children and young men. Between the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 and the outbreak of the second intifada, women's organisations worked hard to enhance female participation in the anticipated Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, the situation since September 2000 has made life harder for women. Palestinian women are suffering on several levels. There is the terrorisation of everyday life. The Israeli army invades their towns, villages, camps and even homes at any time of the day or night. That produces constant feelings of fear and apprehension. There are more than 120 Israeli checkpoints on the west bank, which means that every town and village has become a sort of prison. It is difficult to move from place to place, and violence at checkpoints is common. People are killed, injured or subjected to demeaning treatment. Long delays, even for ambulances, are normal.

Since the beginning of the current intifada, 1,162 homes have been destroyed. A total of 40,415 Palestinians have been made homeless. Such events are traumatic for all families, but especially for women. Women are worried about their children's safety, which increasingly results in a decision not to send them to school. Children have been deeply traumatised by the daily Israeli aggression. The risks of bombardment or shooting are constant throughout the occupied territories, and the fear and insecurity felt by everyone contribute towards psychological problems.

Israeli forces have shelled and raided hospitals and clinics. That, together with Israeli attacks on Palestinian infrastructure and industry, has severely affected the health sector. In more than a dozen cases, women have been forced to give birth at checkpoints, resulting in at least five stillbirths. Unemployment in the occupied territories is more than 50 per cent., 60 per cent. of the population live below the poverty threshold, and 1.2 million Palestinians depend on food aid.

Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, 134 women have been killed by Israeli forces. Clearly, the vast majority were accidental victims, killed on the streets of their towns or even in their homes. That has increased feelings of victimisation: women feel that they can do nothing to protect themselves and their families. During the same period, 558 children have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers. Palestinian mothers suffer the anguish of losing their children or seeing them injured. They are also forced to endure the insult of international condemnation and of being called unnatural mothers for "allowing" their children to roam the streets and confront the occupation forces. In fact, Palestinian mothers are the first to point out that no mother wants to see her child killed or harmed. The atmosphere of fear and danger permeates every aspect of daily life in the west bank and Gaza strip. Women feel powerless to protect their children; even young children are aware that their parents are unable to protect them from the Israelis.

Palestinians see their schools and hospitals attacked, men, women and children treated with violence and contempt by the Israelis, and the utter indifference of the international community. I ask the British Government to consider increasing the development assistance specifically targeted at Palestinian women.

5.16 pm
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD)

I welcome the report and congratulate the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and the other members of the Committee on its publication. It is comprehensive and brave, and it says all the right things, although whether that will lead to our Government doing the right things is a different matter.

I expect that hon. Members all know how passionately I feel about this problem. Some share my view that strong action against Israel, as well as insistence that it complies with UN resolutions and the fourth Geneva convention, are essential to achieve peace between the two countries and in the wider middle east.

I appreciate that it is necessary to understand the history but, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, we are dealing not with the history but with the present and the future. Whatever the history, it cannot be denied that the current behaviour of Israel as an occupying force is outrageous.

As we are short of time, I want to concentrate on the issue of water. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in a magnificent speech, mentioned ethnic cleansing. What better method of ethnic cleansing is there than depriving a population of clean, drinkable water? My geologist son keeps reminding me that water is the oil of the 21st century and that we politicians pay only lip service to the problem.

After Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979, he said: The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water. All the Arab states are anxious about future water supplies; all see this as a flashpoint for war. Israel is well aware of that, and with characteristic brilliance and foresight has made water supplies one of its main concerns in its plans for Israel and Palestine.

During my recent visit to Palestine, I met Jeff Halper, an admirable American Jew, who works for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions—members of the Select Committee may also have met him. He was clear about Israeli plans to create three Bantustans in the west bank, cut off from the River Jordan, along with the Gaza strip near the sea. Sadly, seawater is not what people need to live. Water supplies to Israel have been incorporated into that plan; that has been considered carefully. Israel squanders water: it has the highest per capita water consumption in the middle east. As the Chairman of the Committee said, Israelis use six times—I have heard it is 10 times—the amount of water used per capita by the Palestinians.

When I was in Bethlehem, in February this year, people were getting clean water through their pipes once a week. Up the road, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton said, people were squandering water—filling their swimming pools and putting sprinklers on their lawns—which could easily be seen by the Palestinians. Israelis consume far more water than they produce, and the report notes that it is estimated that 80 to 90 per cent of the water that Israel uses comes from the occupied territories.

All water in Israel and the occupied territories is controlled by the Israeli water authority. It appears that that started during the Oslo peace process, when Israel was given control of water supplies. Farmers in the occupied territories are monitored by meters on pumps, which allow them far less water than their Israeli counterparts. Wells have been dug along the borders of the Gaza strip on the Israeli side to collect the water that comes down from the hills. That is good advance planning for the planned withdrawal from Gaza by the Israelis. The people there are already desperate for water; they dig wells in their back yards, which become contaminated with sea water because they are so near the sea. The people then get blamed and fined by Israel for mismanagement of resources.

The Select Committee received submissions on deliberate pollution of water supplies. In the west bank I saw sewage from a Jewish settlement going into the stream that supplied a couple of Palestinian villages with water. Other wells have been filled with concrete or destroyed by bulldozers. That is unnecessary. Lack of water and contamination of what water there is severely affect the health of Palestinian children and cause kidney disease in adults.

Why do Palestinians pay $1,20 for 1 cu m of water when settlers in the same area pay only 40 cents? Why are permits to dig wells, which are issued by the Israeli defence forces, in such short supply for Palestinians? Has anyone listed the wells and underground aquifers in the occupied territories that just happen to lie on the Israeli side of the security wall? The course of that wall has been deliberately altered to enclose not only settlements and land, but crucial aquifers and water supplies.

Is anyone other than the Israelis recording the water level in the Sea of Galilee, which provides 25 per cent. of Israel's water? There is a red line below which the water level should not fall, but Israel keeps lowering the line to keep up with the falling water level—it has dropped 2.5 m over the past two decades. What international body is monitoring that? For that matter, why are there no international monitors in Israel and the occupied territories watching what is happening?

What plans does the Department for International Development have to encourage the Israelis to build the desalination plants that I heard about? Israel is suggesting that they be built in Gaza, presumably with international money. Why can they not be built on Israeli territory? It has a far bigger Mediterranean coast and Israeli money could be used to build them.

The report is good, but it devotes only one and a half pages to the subject of water, which the Committee rightly describes as a core human right and a Millennium Development Goal. I wonder whether anyone is taking Israel's theft of water from the occupied territories seriously enough. Water must be a shared resource and must be shared fairly. What assessments are being made of Israeli misappropriation and misuse of water? Are negotiations going on to ensure the right to water for a future state for Palestinians or will they for ever depend on the few drops that the Israelis allow them" Plans must be made to ensure that if and when there are two secure, peaceful states in the region—please God, let there be—war will not break out again over water.

5.23 pm
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in such an important debate and I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

No one can doubt the suffering of the many Palestinians who find themselves forgotten or the pawns in a gigantic political chess game that always leaves them in misery. Some political players always seek to polarise the conflict and demonise one side or the other. However, when I was in Israel last year, I met relatives of victims of terror. Not all of them wanted to continue and deepen the divisions between the two peoples. One young woman, whose niece and mother had been killed in a suicide bombing, was able to see beyond her grief and recognise the importance of both sides reaching a solution. The majority of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations want the same thing: peace and safety, a chance to make something of themselves and provide for their families, and hope for future.

The report details the situation that faces the Palestinians, their economic conditions and the various pressures on them. As a supporter of the right for Israel to exist within safe and secure borders, and of the establishment of a viable and peaceful Palestinian state, I believe that substantial development assistance for Palestinians is crucial in laying the foundation for lasting peace. I am concerned about the relationship between increased aid, and incitement and misuse of funds. United Kingdom aid to the Palestinians must increase substantially, but that must be based on the condition of vital reforms being made in the Palestinian Authority.

The PA have still not made sufficient efforts to prevent the transfer to terrorist groups of funds intended to support the development of Palestinian society. Despite European Union declarations that the PA are not directing funds to terrorist organisations, Israel has continued to express concerns about that.

Last year I, too, met Salam Fayyad, the PA Minister of Finance, and found him impressive and determined in his role. Although I greatly support his work, there is more to be done to make the finances of the PA transparent. An International Monetary Fund assessment last year found that Yasser Arafat remains in personal control of 8 per cent. of PA funds—some $135 million—and the Department for International Development must redouble its efforts to tackle the lack of financial transparency as a key conflict prevention activity.

The same is true for the issue of incitement in the Palestinian education system, where there is still anxiety about images that are put before young Palestinian people. Other things remain worrying, such as running summer camps named after Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian woman suicide bomber, and the film that is regularly shown portraying a suicide bomber.

If EU and UK aid were conditional on vital reforms in the PA, it could help to stem the corruption and tackle incitement, while also allowing for a long overdue unity of command in the security apparatus, the development of functional institutions and the emergence of a responsible leadership and responsive public services.

One problem in developing the Palestinian economy is the erection of the security barrier, sometimes called a wall, by the Israeli Government. Given the Israelis' experience of terrorism it is understandable that the security of their population is paramount. However, building parts of the barrier on occupied territory will not lead to lasting security. Many Palestinians view the building of the barrier as a land grab, and that makes them less able to consider suicide bombers the horror that they are.

My final point is about the role of DFID. The recently published "Country Assistance Plan for Palestinians: 2004–2006" states that the Department's purpose is to work with partners to help end conflict and create a viable Palestinian state that will reduce poverty. Is there not a danger that that is to broaden its mandate beyond its stated aim of sustainably reducing poverty in the Palestinian areas? There is a difference between working in ways that support the Government's aims and recognising that certain roles are more appropriately handled by the Foreign Office.

I want to ask the Minister about DFID's support for the Palestinian negotiation support unit, an issue that was raised by Opposition Members. There is no active peace process at present, although we dearly hope that it will resume. Funding of support for the role of the negotiation support unit should be addressed. To present the conflict as something driven by and contingent on one side's actions alone, or even principally, is clearly unfair. Israel and the PA need to work to ensure that terrorism is defeated, or it will remain an obstacle to peace.

5.29 pm
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)

There have been many well informed speeches in the debate, and at least one very distinctive contribution. The speech made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was the most passionate contribution, but I suggest that he should not be put in charge of negotiations, as his diplomatic skills need honing.

The Select Committee report is excellent; the recommendations are sound and I wish there were more time to dwell on them. In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) referred to three reports under consideration: the Select Committee report, the Government's response and the country assistance plan. Although he mentioned it subsequently, he could also have mentioned the letter from the 52 ex-diplomats, because it has informed this debate almost as much as the other three documents.

Although concerns have been expressed about whether all the 52 diplomats are as unbiased as one would hope them to be, hon. Members should consider the different posts that they held, which include high commissioner to Australia and ambassador to Hungary, Norway and Israel. No one could argue that all the letter's signatories served their full term in Arab states and have therefore been unduly influenced by their contacts.

I hope that the Minister responds to the question whether he believes that the road map is still alive. We received some assurances yesterday from the Israeli ambassador that the road map, although clearly not active, is not dead and could be resurrected. Regrettably, a report from Agence France-Presse on Wednesday quoted Ariel Sharon as saying: I would have preferred to negotiate an agreement"— with the Palestinians— but several months ago I realised that it is not possible to move the roadmap forward because the Palestinians do not respect their commitments". He went on to say that he would expect Israel's responses to violence to be much harsher after the withdrawal. Will the Minister say what prospects he sees for future developments if the road map is dead, as Ariel Sharon seems to be saying? What does he think a harsher military response from Israel would constitute, and what would be the British Government's response?

In the time available, it would be difficult to go through the individual Government responses to the Select Committee report. However, I want to draw attention to a couple. At several points, the Government agree with the Committee, such as in answer 8 on a maximum waiting time of 30 minutes for ambulances at checkpoints. In answer 10, the Government agree that, in theory, pharmaceuticals should be classified as humanitarian, but: In practice it is not uniformly implemented. It would be useful to hear from the Minister what follow-up there has been on those Government answers. Has there been any monitoring of whether progress has been made in ambulances getting through checkpoints and in ensuring that drugs are available as they should be from a humanitarian point of view?

I had a meeting earlier today with someone representing the Palestinian delegation, and I thought that it would be worth passing on the concerns that they wanted to be represented, specifically the issue of EU trade sanctions. Although the report suggests that, in the balance of trade, not much leverage could be exerted on the Israelis, the impact beyond the specific measure—in particular, on confidence in the Israeli economy—would be much more profound. The Palestinian representative is concerned that the focus is not lost on the issue of international development, because they clearly anticipate that the peace process will not be resolved for many decades. Therefore, to lose sight of the international development needs would be extremely regrettable.

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister about the Government's red lines on the Gaza withdrawal. The Palestinian representative's view, my view and, I think, the Select Committee's view is that it has the potential to be a positive development, but only if it is part of a package of measures, including Palestinian access to the sea and the airspace. Are the Government therefore arguing that there should be some red lines?

Regrettably, I do not have time to comment on the visit that my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) and I made, although I should mention that it was paid for by Friends of Israel and has been registered.

Yesterday, I sent a letter to the Prime Minister noting that there is clearly lots of good will towards the UK on both sides. Given that the UK provides bilateral aid, as well as multilateral aid through the EU, it can use its leverage to encourage the Palestinians to tackle security issues and the Israelis to address the expansion of settlements and human rights issues. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the Government will use that leverage; if they do not. they will, in the words of the 52 ex-diplomats, be backing a policy that is "doomed to failure".

5.36 pm
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)

I congratulate the Select Committee on International Development on its report and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on his admirable presentation of it.

At the outset, I want to make three statements as the background to my contribution First, I support Israel, but that in no way reduces or removes my responsibility to observe the facts as I see them. Secondly, I rather agree with those who say that Yasser Arafat made a grave error, as fat as the Palestinian cause was concerned, in so abruptly rejecting the Barak offer. However, we have to deal with the present and the future and not dwell on or inhabit the past.

Thirdly, I mentioned observing the facts, and I recently had the opportunity to do so. I went to the west bank and Gaza courtesy of Christian Aid, and the visit has been duly registered. I was accompanied by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) and Baroness Williams of Crosby. It was an extremely valuable visit. I learned something from it and the focus of my thinking on the subject has moved on as a consequence.

The Palestinian economy has been all but destroyed. Unemployment rates have been highlighted, and they are acute. Huge numbers of people in the territories are now dependent on NGOs and international relief organisations for employment. As the Select Committee observed, farmers in the territories—my colleagues and I met many of them and took their testimonies—cannot readily fill the gaps in food production, because of the dislocation brought about by closure and, in particular, the impact that movement restrictions and land confiscations have had on agriculture.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) worthily and justifiably referred to water. Israeli control over water and restrictions on the development of Palestinian infrastructure manifestly affect the development of the west bank and Gaza. That observation is not evidence of bias but simply a demonstration of the fact that one noticed that was before one's eyes.

The psychological impact on children of school closures and exposure to violence is manifestly damaging. It will hinder future generations of Palestinians and likely serve only to perpetuate the cycle of violence and hatred.

Reference has been made to this wall. My personal view is that a nation state has the right to defend itself and to erect a wall if it judges it necessary so to do, although whether that actually advances the cause of peace is another matter. However, doing so outwith one's own territory is obviously provocative. In this case, it is calculated, it has had a damaging effect and it is something that I greatly regret.

The report refers to the important issue of removing the access controls imposed by the Israelis. Doing so would increase the size of the Palestinian economy by more than a fifth and reduce poverty by approximately 15 per cent., whereas doubling development assistance would bring a reduction in the rate of poverty of only about 7 per cent. It logically follows, therefore, that the situation that we are obliged to address—that of humanitarian aid and the provision of development assistance—cannot be tackled adequately only by donor assistance. There is more to it than that. Restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, Israel's destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and its effective control of the occupied Palestinian territories' borders are denying Palestinian exporters access to EU markets. In practice, that means that the trade agreement does not work as its signatories intended it to. To state that is not to be guilty of bias, but to draw the logical conclusions from the facts as one observes them.

Reference was made in the report to a sense on the part of some representatives of the Israeli defence force that there should be a misery index whereby the morale of the Palestinian people would be diminished or destroyed. I very much hope that that is not an objective, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it forms at least part of the thinking. Baroness Williams of Crosby, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford and I were all rather shocked at the entry point to Gaza by the inordinate and inexplicable delay that we and others experienced going into the territory, and the comparable delay that was experienced by those seeking to come out of it. Those delays appeared to be driven not by considerations of security, which are legitimate considerations in determining operational practice, but by a desire to obstruct, cause irritation and sap morale. Such arbitrary and capricious use of state power is a sad and unacceptable state of affairs.

Notwithstanding the important trade issues involved, DFID could provide greater technical assistance and could conceivably support the Palestinian Authority in developing poverty alleviation policies. If it is to move towards budget support, it should investigate the possibility of a unified monitoring system with other donors, as the Select Committee recommends. Failure to do that would almost certainly result in the Palestinian Authority being faced with managing a range of different, and often incompatible, donor conditions and monitoring requirements. If development assistance is to be maximally efficient and effective, aid should surely be delivered without putting an unnecessary strain on an institution that, as it stands, has relatively weak capacity.

I think that it will be evident from the Minister's reply that DFID can have an influential role in increasing donor harmonisation through its support for Palestinian-led development. DFID's work in building the Palestinian Authority's capacity has had some effect and met some of its objectives of supporting the process of developing the potential for a viable Palestinian state. DFID should also be considering its involvement with advocacy as part of long-term poverty reduction.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park made an interesting point about Israeli pollution of the water system. I have not heard that point before, and I do not sniff at it but respect it. I am prepared to look into it. However, I would like to put the counter-point, which we ourselves observed, and which I know she would not want to dismiss without consideration. The Palestinian Authority themselves are often guilty of poor management of the sewerage system. We cannot blame everything on the historical injustice. The Palestinian Authority have made worthwhile reform. I greatly admire the Minister of Finance, whom I met—he is either a Friedmanite or a Hayekian, although I do not want to make too partisan an observation. He is a first-class person working under difficult conditions and trying to achieve progress. However, a great deal more needs to be done.

In a debate that is principally about the humanitarian issues and the provision of development assistance, what should unite people of good will is a recognition that, from whichever side of this argument we come, historically or ideologically, we will not achieve a military solution. There will be peace in the middle east—peace for Israel and for the Palestinian people—only if both peoples have the right to their own independent, autonomous and secure states. Such recognition is a crucial prerequisite of achieving the peace that I believe everyone in the Chamber wishes to see.

5.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas)

I am grateful to the Select Committee for its comprehensive report. I agree with much of its analysis and many of its recommendations but, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) knows, not all of them.

The Palestine-Israel conflict is often in the headlines because of the ongoing level of violence and debates on the political process but rarely as a result of the humanitarian consequences that face the Palestinians. Rarely do the media throw a spotlight on the work of international development organisations in the Palestinian territories. The debate is therefore welcome and timely. It is through that prism that I intend to answer. By way of apology, I suspect that it will be difficult in the time available for me to do justice to all that has been said, but I will try.

One or two hon. Members alluded to the fact that, in parallel with the International Development Committee inquiry, the Department for International Development has been developing a country assistance plan to support the Palestinian territories. Our extensive consultation is drawing to a close, but I shall draw the many contributions made in this debate to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before he comes to his conclusions on the plan.

Richard Burden

I have two brief questions for my hon. Friend on the country assistance plan. First, will he continue to recognise the crucial importance of advocacy work, particularly that undertaken by the Palestinian negotiations support unit, which is partly funded by his Department? Will he reject the calls from the Chamber today that it will help the cause of peace to deny the Palestinians support for a negotiating voice? I can understand why the Israeli embassy is lobbying for that, but we should not be involved.

Secondly, although the country assistance plan, the Select Committee report and the Government's response rightly stress the importance of political action in order to achieve development goals, we should not lose sight of the importance of development action. Concern has been expressed by aid agencies about—

Mr. David Chidgey (in the Chair)

Order. That intervention is long enough.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I get the gist of it. We think that the negotiations support unit is an entirely sensible investment in the peace process. Helping the Palestinians to prepare their position for the peace negotiations that we all want to see is an entirely good use of money. DFID's contribution will amount to about 3.5 per cent. of the overall assistance that we give the occupied Palestinian territories. I believe that it is a good use of our resources, and we intend to continue supporting that.

As the Select Committee drew attention to it, it is worth restating that, since the start of the second intifada, there have been more than 900 Israeli deaths and more than 3,000 Palestinian deaths. Quite apart from the appalling individual tragedies and their impact on families that are represented by those figures, the fear, the deeper insecurity, the lives that continue to be wasted and the knowledge that opportunities have been lost have undoubtedly been profound for both peoples. The conflict has had huge economic and humanitarian consequences, which have weighed particularly heavily on the Palestinians. Over the past three years, Palestinian poverty levels have tripled. About 60 per cent. of Palestinians are living in poverty, on less than $2 a day. Malnutrition is on the increase and far too many families depend on food aid. The despair among the Palestinians is increasing as the coping mechanisms for a society facing poverty are increasingly overstretched.

As the Select Committee's report made clear, the Israeli Government have imposed tight restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinian goods and of the Palestinian people. Closures and checkpoints together with the expansion of settlements and the construction of the barrier on Palestinian land have led to many Palestinians losing access to their livelihoods and to basic services such as health and education.

Jeremy Corbyn

I welcome what the Minister has said so far, considering the catalogue of disasters facing the Palestinian people, with house demolitions, assassinations and all the rest of it, as well as the attacks on internationals, some of whom have lost their lives trying to protect innocent Palestinians. However, what pressure have the Government put on the Israeli Government to mend their ways and to change their policies? Are we ending arms sales? Are we ending financial credits? Are we putting equivalent pressure on the United States? My belief is that, until we do, nothing is going to change.

Mr. Thomas

I shall come to some of the specifics of what we have said to the Israeli Government in a few seconds. The Government have made representations on a series of the issues that have come up in the debate and we will undoubtedly have to continue to do so.

In the absence of progress towards the sort of peace that we all want to see, we need to recognise that there is a limit to what development assistance can achieve. What is most needed is a relaxation of Israeli closures and eventual withdrawal, so that the Palestinian economy can take off and drive the lifting of the Palestinian people out of poverty, which everybody wants and to which the Select Committee's report rightly alludes.

Of the recommendations in the report that are specifically for DFID, the vast majority are already part of our approach, a point to which the hon. Member for Banbury alluded. A number of our projects specifically seek to enhance the prospects for peace, such as our support to the negotiations support unit and our support to the Palestinian civil police. Without progress on Palestinian security, Israel is unlikely to meet its road map commitments and the road map will probably fail.

It is not just Israel that will benefit from improvements in the quality of Palestinian civil policing. Better civilian policing is very much in ordinary Palestinians' interests and could help to demonstrate that road map implementation can bring visible improvements to their daily lives.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) asked specifically what we are doing about security. Only recently, we posted a senior policeman from Northern Ireland to the west bank and Gaza to help the Palestinian Authority to plan civil policing and law and order better.

It is absolutely right to continue to provide support direct to the Palestinian Authority. Sustainable poverty reduction is not possible without a political solution. The Palestinian Authority are the key vehicle to help to deliver the negotiated settlement back to the Palestinian side.

As I said at the outset, the Department is developing its own country assistance plan. I have not had time to respond to every hon. Member's specific points, but I will draw the attention of the Secretary of State to this debate and to many of the concerns raised by hon. Members. I hope that those interested in the issue will recognise that their concerns have been taken on board when the country assistance plan is published in due course. I thank the Select Committee again for its comprehensive report and welcome the opportunity to have had this debate.

It being five minutes to Six o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.

Back to