James Cleverly answers MPs’ questions to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in connection with his Middle East and North Africa Ministerial portfolio.
The UK is a strong supporter of Palestinian state building efforts. In 2019, we spent £81 million in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Part of that contribution is helping to build Palestinian state institutions; fostering private sector-led sustainable economic growth; and providing technical assistance to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s financial management. However, such progress can never be a substitute for a political settlement, which is why the Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in August actively to encourage Israel and the Palestinian leadership to renew co-operation and work together. I also discussed this matter with UN special co-ordinator Mladenov on 1 October.
That is not an answer. Six years ago today, this House voted by 274 votes to 12 to recognise the state of Palestine. Three years ago, the Prime Minister, then Foreign Secretary, said that
“you have to have a two-state solution or else you have some kind of apartheid system”.
How can there be a two-state solution without two states? The UK’s recognition of the state of Israel shows that we respect its non-negotiable rights. Why should our recognition of the state of Palestine be a matter for negotiation? Are Palestinians entitled to less respect and fewer rights than the Israelis?
As I have said, the UK Government have supported the Palestinian Authority in putting in place the building blocks for a future Palestinian state, which we recognise. We have been very vocal that our preferred option is a safe, stable two-state solution, with a prosperous and peaceful Palestinian state neighbouring a prosperous and peaceful Israeli state.
The middle east is changing before our eyes and the significance of Israel’s peace agreements with the UAE and Bahrain cannot be overstated. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this new development between Israel and her Arab neighbours changes the narrative, creates a new dynamic in the region, and gives rise to new hope for a peace deal?
The normalisation of relations represents a move towards peace in the region, and the UK strongly welcomes that. We encourage other states to choose the same path, but, ultimately, there is no substitute for direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel, which is the only way to reach a two-state solution and a lasting peace. We do hope that normalisation can encourage dialogue between the parties and the UK stands ready to support such efforts.
The attacks against BBC Persian employees and their families, and threats to an entirely legitimate media organisation, are unacceptable. We raise this harassment regularly with the Iranian Government, as well as at the Human Rights Council. We will continue to defend BBC Persian’s editorial independence. We most recently raised our concerns about media freedom in Iran in an E3 Foreign Ministers’ letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on 22 September.
I thank the Minister for that reply and for sharing the concerns about this serious issue. Will he give us some information on what responses the Foreign Office has received from the Iranian authorities to such representations? The BBC journalists themselves get very little feedback on this issue.
Sadly, the Iranian authorities have yet to provide any kind of justification for their actions that stand up to scrutiny. Their behaviour is indefensible, and we are confident that our Iranian contacts, including Foreign Minister Zarif, fully understand our concerns and our condemnation of such harassment.
We continue to hold Iran to account for its destabilising activity in the region. We currently have over 200 EU sanctions listings in place against Iran, including against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and FCDO officials take every opportunity to discuss Iran with our US counterparts. As part of this regular dialogue, the Foreign Secretary last spoke to Secretary Pompeo on 16 September.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner, and we recognise its right to defend itself against attack from parties within Yemen. The UK has a stringent arms control regime, and it is used whenever we work with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in terms of arms trade with them.