Palestinian Human Rights

Thank you to all of you who have contacted me recently about Palestinian human rights.

I share your concern at the lack of progress on the Middle East peace process and, therefore, on Palestinian human rights. Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal, unjustifiable and immoral and their continued expansion remains a major obstacle to resolving the conflict.

On the recognition of Palestine, we recently had a debate in the House of Commons and I voted in favour of recognition of Palestinian statehood. The motion was overwhelmingly carried. Palestinian statehood is not a gift to be given by someone else but a right to be recognised and that is why, in both 2011 and in 2012, Labour urged the UK Government to support the Palestinian bid for recognition at the UN as a bridge for restarting talks.

We all want to see two states living side by side in peace, and recognised by all of their neighbours, but after decades of diplomatic failure there are those who question whether a two state solution is any longer possible. What is clear is that only a negotiated peace deal will bring this about.

The citizens of Gaza, the West Bank and Israel want to live in peace and security, but there can be no military solution. Past military action has failed to bring a durable peace as shown by the appalling events of last summer. The ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli troops was wrong and only led to even more suffering. 1,800 people were killed and 450,000 people were forced to leave their homes. The citizens of Gaza did not know where it was safe to go, and the shelling of the UN-run schools, where people were sheltering, was an outrage. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called these attacks reprehensible, unjustifiable and criminal. I agree.

The UN Security Council rightly demanded an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, with a complete cessation of violence so as to bring an end to the unacceptable killing of large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including children, and to the rocket attacks into Israel which have targeted and killed civilians.

On UK arms exports to Israel, I raised this with the Foreign Secretary at the time of the invasion of Gaza. It is clear that no new licences should be granted where there is any doubt about the end use of military equipment. We must be sure that the UK rules on arms exports, which prevent the export of military and dual use equipment which could be used for internal repression, the abuse of human rights or to provoke or prolong armed conflicts, are being applied fully.

On the issue of goods from Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, when I was the Secretary of State for the Environment in the last government I drew up new labelling regulations so that individual consumers can make a decision for themselves on whether to buy such products or not. Labour will maintain domestic action on labelling transparency, and will seek a Europe-wide approach to settlements.

Turning to the longer term, the immediate problems are the blockade of Gaza, the continued building of illegal settlements by Israel on occupied land, and no progress at all on the peace process. I have seen for myself how the restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza affect the lives of the people there. All sides must avoid taking action that would avoid making peace harder to achieve, and that is why we need an end to the blockade of Gaza and an end to rocket attacks.

Over the last 40 years in the Middle East, the immediate has become enduring. Short term conflict has become long-term division, but security and justice for the Palestinian state – which I strongly support – depends on a political settlement that defends is existence and cherishes its rights. The same is true for Israel. Only two democratic sates, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, with secure and recognised borders, can achieve this. The parties to the conflict - Israel and all the Palestinians (Hamas and Fatah) – must now show the courage needed and the willingness necessary to compromise for peace. Only in this way will we see a stop to the suffering and a peaceful future.

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