James Cleverly responds on behalf of the Government to questions from MPs to the Foreign Office in relation to his portfolio on the Middle East and North Africa.
The UK’s position is clear: we oppose any unilateral annexation. It would be a breach of international law and risk undermining peace efforts. The Prime Minister has conveyed our position to Prime Minister Netanyahu on multiple occasions, including in a phone call in February and a letter last month. The UK’s position remains the same: we support a negotiated two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as a shared capital and a pragmatic, agreed settlement for refugees.
Current sanctions are clearly not working as a deterrent for Israel’s plan to annex the west bank illegally. Strong words at this point are a betrayal of the Palestinian people—they need actions. Can the Minister outline what action the Government will take against annexation?
The Government have maintained a dialogue with Israel. We are attempting to dissuade it from taking this course of action, which we believe to be not in its national interest and not compliant with international law.
In 1980, the UN Security Council condemned Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and, in ’81, its illegal annexation of the Golan Heights. What lesson does the Minister think the Israeli Government took from the failure to see those Security Council resolutions adhered to? Are the UK Government abandoning the Palestinian people, as suggested in a recent open letter by UK charities?
The UK Government remain a friend of Israel and also a friend of the Palestinian people. We have continued to have dialogue both with the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and with the Government of Israel, and we encourage them to work together to come towards an agreed settlement that will see a safe, secure state of Israel alongside a safe, secure and viable Palestinian state. There is still the opportunity for that negotiated settlement to be the outcome, and we will continue working with both the Israelis and the Palestinians to facilitate that.
World leaders are warning of consequences should annexation go ahead, but the silence from this Government has been deafening, so much so that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that France is now the world’s “last, best hope” to stop annexation. This really is shameful. I raised my concerns with the US ambassador—has the Minister? Will he commit to a ban on settlement imports and recognise Palestine, as this House voted to do? Forgive me, I may have missed it. If he will not do those things, can he tell us what exactly he is proposing to do?
The UK remains a friend and ally to the state of Israel and a good friend to the Palestinian people. It is tempting—and I am sure it will placate certain voices on the left of the political spectrum—to stamp our feet and bang the table, but we will continue to dissuade a friend and ally in the state of Israel from taking a course of action that we believe will be against its own interests, and we will do so through the most effective means available.
I listened carefully to the previous exchange, and I have much respect for the Minister, but I am not asking him to stamp his feet or bang the table—I am asking him to match the sensible position that he has outlined today on the illegal annexation of the already illegally claimed settlements with some actual action. No amount of warm words and sympathy are going to cut it in this discussion. My party, likewise, is a friend of the two-state solution. We are a friend of the Israeli state, and we are a friend of the Palestinians as well. We want to see a viable solution, but there is a lively debate that we can influence right now within Israel, and we need to put action on the table, not warm words and sympathy. Settlement goods should at the very least be labelled as illegal, and targeted sanctions need to be put on the table to focus the minds of the coalition. I urge him to act, not just talk.
I hope, on his second question, the hon. Gentleman will be briefer.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken with his opposite number and other members of the Israeli Government, as have I and indeed our Prime Minister. We are working to dissuade Israel from taking this course of action. There will always be voices in British politics that would jump at any opportunity to bring in sanctions and disinvestment. We do not agree with those voices, and we will continue to work towards a negotiated two-state solution, using the diplomatic means we have at our disposal.
I appreciate that answer, and I would urge more. When Russia illegally occupied Crimea, the UK Government, with our support, implemented sanctions with the international community. We need that sort of action now, and I would urge the Minister to greater efforts than we have heard today.
I reiterated the UK’s position at the UN Security Council on 24 June. I made it clear that annexation would not go unanswered. However, I will not stand at this Dispatch Box in order, as I say, to placate some of the traditional voices in criticism of Israel when the best way forward is to negotiate and speak with a friend and ally, in the Government of Israel, to dissuade them from taking a course of action that we believe is not in their own best interests.
The UK is deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis and conflict in Yemen. We fully support the UN peace process and urge all parties to engage constructively with it. The UK has shown extensive leadership in this response, committing nearly £1 billion in support to Yemen since the conflict began. I recently conducted a virtual visit to Yemen, meeting special envoy Martin Griffiths, Yemeni First Minister al-Hadrami and Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam, and I urged all parties to engage with the UN peace process.
I have been contacted by constituents in Clwyd South about the vital importance of the UK’s humanitarian aid to Yemen. Does the Minister agree that the UK Government’s role in Yemen is a prime example of the joined-up foreign policy and development work that will be needed in the new merged Department?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is impossible to separate our development work from our wider diplomatic work. The greatest step forward that we could have for the people of Yemen is for the conflict to cease, so that we can concentrate solely on humanitarian support. Conflict resolution is a classic function of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Indeed, when I speak to the development partners in country, they prioritise conflict resolution, and the work of DFID and the work of the FCO therefore go hand in hand with supporting the people of Yemen.
There is an urgent and desperate need to continue to work to prevent hunger and suffering in Yemen. Please will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the prioritisation of covid, which is absolutely essential, will not come at the expense of some of the world’s most vulnerable people?
I completely agree that the UK’s response to coronavirus is important, but we have not allowed it to distract us from the important international work. I recently announced considerable funding support for the humanitarian work in Yemen. As I say, I have had extensive conversations with parties right across the board, and indeed with regional countries, to support the Saudi ceasefire and encourage the Houthis also to engage with that ceasefire. We will maintain our responsibility —we will match our responsibility to the people of Yemen, and I can absolutely guarantee that that will continue under this Government.
Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster. According to UNICEF, there are 1.7 million internally displaced children and 2 million children who are acutely malnourished, so what conversations has the Minister had with other Government Departments to ensure that the UK can play its part in addressing this catastrophe?
The hon. Lady highlights the important work of properly connected government when it comes to UK foreign policy. That is absolutely what under- pins the Prime Minister’s integrated review and his announcement of the merger of DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She is absolutely right to suggest that, in order to protect the people of Yemen most properly, whether young or old, the UK Government must work with a co-ordinated approach. I regularly speak with ministerial colleagues in other Government Departments about Yemen, as well as with our international partners. I thank her for so clearly highlighting why it is important that Government Departments work closely on this, as on other issues.
The UK Government’s commitment to Yemen is unwavering. We welcome the ceasefire announcement from Saudi Arabia, and we encourage the Houthis to engage with that peace initiative and to cease their attacks into Saudi. As I say, we support the work of the United Nations special envoy and will continue not only to discharge our humanitarian duties to the people of Yemen but to work at a diplomatic level to bring about a permanent end to the conflict.
The UK’s position on imported goods from Israel remains unchanged. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has highlighted, we oppose annexation. We have made it clear to the Government of Israel that we regard it as contrary to international law, and also not in their own interests. That position will remain unchanged.