A number of Conservative Lords this week voiced support for Israel and raised concerns about the Palestinian Authority’s misuse of international aid, during a debate in the House of Lords on DfID’s 2014 report on development in the Palestinian Territories.
Among the Conservative Lords to contribute included CFI’s Honorary President Lord Polak CBE, Lord Popat, Baroness Rawlings, Lord Gold, and Lord Robathan.
Lord Polak CBE highlighted the work of Israeli humanitarian organisation Save A Child’s Heart in providing treatment to thousands of children around the world with heart problems, and called on the Government to support their efforts.
Lord Polak said: “Over 50% of the 4,000 children who received this life-saving treatment are from Gaza and the West Bank. On a Tuesday morning, there is a clinic for children from Gaza. I have been there and chatted to the worried parents whose children are ill and receive the chance of life from Save a Child’s Heart in Israel”.
He asked the Minister: “Does the Minister agree that the clearly positive interaction between Gazan parents and children with the volunteer doctors and nurses in Israel is not only commendable but a worthy exercise in itself? Will he agree to meet me and explore ways that DfID could support and enhance this work which would help fulfil recommendations 33 and 34?”
Lord Polak also asked the Minister about the misuse of international aid by the Palestinian leadership: “The Palestinian Authority spends around 6% of its overall budget on paying salaries to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons and to the families of suicide bombers. Will the Minister comment on whether the UK taxpayer is getting value for money?”
Lord Popat also emphasised concerns regarding how the funding for development projects in the Palestinian Territories is used, stating: “It is common knowledge that the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry for Prisoners’ Affairs provides salaries to all families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The Palestinian Government have been accused on a number of occasions of using UK aid to fund these salaries. The Palestinian Government have failed to provide evidence to the contrary and I am very uneasy with the idea that British aid could be used towards encouraging violent crimes”.
He asked the Minister: “What steps have the Government taken to ensure that British funding is not used in this manner?”
Baroness Rawlings in her speech highlighted the Palestinian Authority’s recent intransigence towards the peace process, stating: “The first recommendation of the 2014 report calls for the resumption of peace talks and hails US Secretary of State John Kerry’s, ‘leadership in bringing the parties to the table’. Can the Minister tell the Committee why the Palestinian leadership rejected this peace proposal last week? We all understand that it will be difficult for any deal to satisfy the sensitive nature of the demands of both sides but to reject out of hand another good faith deal offers little incentive to potential international investors”.
She also spoke about the development of planned Palestinian cities like Rawabi, as well as coexistence projects. Baroness Rawlings said: “There is talk of building planned communities in Palestine as a viable option for developing the economy. The Israeli Government indicated support for the building of more planned Palestinian cities such as Rawabi, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and projects such as the Ersal Commercial Centre in Ramallah and the Al Jinan neighbourhood in the north of the West Bank. These are tangible initiatives which provide new business premises, jobs and homes for Palestinians facing youth unemployment that is hovering at 40%”.
She asked the Minister: “Surely it is through substantive projects such as these that the UK and the international community should be supportive. Has the Minister considered supporting planned communities as an option? Finally, can he confirm that the Palestinian Authority is giving its full backing to planned cities being built for Palestinians?”
Lord Gold said that he was pleased the International Development Select Committee “recognised that Hamas’s charter continues to call for the destruction of Israel and condemned the continuous rocket attacks perpetrated from Gaza”.
He continued: “As I have said before, in my view the starting point has to be a recognition by Hamas that Israel has the right to exist. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, the majority of Palestinians do not accept the charter, let them come forward and say that. No two-state solution can get off the ground without that”.
Lord Gold underlined his concern about the wave of terror attacks against Israeli civilians: “Secondly, there has to be a stop to the continuing rocket attacks on Israel, which terrorise the civilian population. Unfortunately, since the publication of the committee’s report, the safety position in Israel has worsened, with a new threat of knife attacks, mostly on civilians going about their daily lives. Since September 2015 there have been at least 323 stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. Fortunately, not all have resulted in fatalities but that does not reduce the seriousness of these terrible crimes. No wonder the Israelis fear that peace talks will get nowhere. The stabbings have to stop as well”.
Lord Robathan spoke about the corruption and lack of leadership in the Palestinian Territories as a hindrance to development: “Having visited the Palestinian Authority only a month ago, I was shocked by the governance—or lack of it—that we saw and heard about. We all know how corrupt the Palestinian Authority has been; the report shows some of that”.
On Hamas, Lord Robathan said: “I am afraid that Hamas is beyond the pale in its actions. We have to consider that the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas must get together as well. We cannot, as many people do, blame Israel alone. Both sides must sit down. We may assist— the Americans above all must assist—but it is foolish for some people in this country to bring out anti-Semitic comments, about which we heard. Indeed, I really regret the way that the Palestinian Authority sponsors and applauds anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic actions on the media”.
Click here to read the full debate.