Many constituents have contacted me about recent events at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
I was shocked to see the escalation of violence in 2021, 2022 and again recently. The force used against worshippers gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is unacceptable. It is essential that the sacred sites of all faiths are treated with the utmost respect. The Hamas rocket attacks and gun attacks on Israeli civilians that followed this violence have resulted in terrible loss of life.
At the height of the previous unrest, I supported calls for the Government to report to Parliament with an assessment of the use of exported arms and equipment and for this to examine the risks involved in any future arms sales to the Israeli authorities, but the causes of the conflict are much more fundamental than the supply of weapons.
Forced evictions of Palestinians must stop and I condemn attempts by Israeli settlers to take control of Palestinian homes. East Jerusalem has been illegally annexed. Israel is the occupying power, which creates obligations that the Israeli Government is not meeting. Israel must comply with international law, and it is essential that holy sites are respected. The UK Government should continue to make representations to the Israeli Government to halt all evictions, change planning laws that discriminate against Palestinians and suspend the construction of all other settlements in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank immediately.
The blunt truth however, as set out so clearly in this article by the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen – Israel and Palestinians: Gulf between hope and reality of peace – BBC News – is that there has been no progress on peace talks in the last decade, and the violence we have just seen will happen again and again until there is political will to bring peace about.
We have just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which brought an end to a long running and very violent conflict in Northern Ireland. What made it happen was the courage of the leaders of the conflict to lay down their weapons and to compromise in the interests of finding a way forward. We will never see peace between Israel and the Palestinians until the same political courage is shown in the Middle East, but it is a sad fact that this is currently lacking on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side.
An end to violence is the essential first step to negotiating a solution, although quite how a two-state arrangement – which I have long supported – is going to work given current circumstances is a very difficult question to answer. However, this should include recognising Palestine as a state, as nearly 140 countries have done, and as I have voted for in Parliament as your MP.
Hilary Benn – MP for Leeds Central