The terrible events in East Jerusalem and Gaza, including the deaths of children as a result of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets, have shocked us all and a large number of constituents have been in touch with me in recent days to express their anger and concern. The United Nations Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland had described what we’ve been witnessing as “escalating towards a full scale war” so the news that a ceasefire has now been agreed is welcome, if belated.
The violence used against worshippers gathering during Ramadan at the al-Aqsa mosque was totally unacceptable. Holy sites must be respected and the Israeli authorities should urgently take steps to defuse the situation in the city and ensure that the right to worship for all in peace is protected. I support the Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy’s call on the UK Government to make the strongest representations to the Government of Israel and I have taken this up with the Foreign Secretary. I also condemn the rocket attacks by Hamas which have killed Israeli civilians which were followed by the IDF response that killed children and others in Gaza. The violence had to stop and both sides cease their attacks which were causing a growing number of civilian casualties. Let us hope the ceasefire holds.
I also condemn attempts by Israeli settlers to take control of Palestinian homes and the forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah must stop. East Jerusalem has been illegally annexed and Israel is the occupying power which creates obligations that the Israeli Government is failing to meet. It must comply with international law.
The decision by the Government of Israel to go ahead with the construction of settlement buildings in Givat HaMatos and the Har Homa E area of the occupied West Bank is also wrong and provocative. These settlements are a violation of international law, entrench divisions, and seriously undermine the prospects for a viable Palestinian state. I know, including from my visits to Gaza and to the West Bank during my time as the International Development Secretary, that more and more Palestinians feel utterly helpless as their hopes for a Palestinian state (which I support) are dashed by the continued occupation. This situation is simply not sustainable.
The UK Government should make urgent representations to the Israeli Government to halt all evictions in East Jerusalem, change planning laws which discriminate against Palestinians and suspend the construction of all other settlements in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank immediately.
I have also asked the Trade minister what assessment she has made of the use of UK arms exported to Israel and whether she plans to review the licensing of such exports. Israel does of course have the right to defend itself but any force used must be proportionate.
The Labour Party has also called on the government to undertake a full assessment of the use of all UK exported arms and equipment in this conflict. This should include a comprehensive report delivered to Parliament that sets our whether further licences issued for the export of arms and equipment to the Israeli security forces could be used to commit acts of internal repression, external aggression or violations of international humanitarian law.
On the call for sanctions, I am not persuaded that these would help to change Israeli government policy. Blocking all trade would be an indiscriminate measure that would hurt millions of ordinary Israelis and is a policy that has not been applied to any other country. I do not believe that this approach would enhance the prospects for peace and reconciliation, especially at the moment when there appears to be the prospect of a change of government in Israel.
All of these events, and those that have gone before them, are the terrible and inevitable consequence of the failure to achieve a peace settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The only way forward which can bring this deadly cycle of violence to an end is a negotiated agreement on two states which ensures a safe and secure Israel, alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. And for that to happen, we urgently need to see courageous political leadership by the Government of Israel and the Palestinians, or else we will continue to see this tragedy unfold before our eyes time and time again.
MP for Leeds Central