A number of Conservative MPs urged the Government to review aid to the Palestinian Authority’s general budget and increase spending on coexistence projects in a Westminster Hall debate on foreign aid spending on Monday.
The debate followed concerns raised by numerous Conservative MPs and highly publicised reports in the Mail on Sunday about the Palestinian Authority’s misappropriation of foreign aid from its fungible general budget to fund the salaries of Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism.
CFI’s Parliamentary Chairman, Rt. Hon. Sir Eric Pickles MP, urged the Government to commit more funding to coexistence projects bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, underlining: “I want a two-state solution. I want young Palestinians and Israelis to work together. I do not want to change Government policy; I merely want to see the actuality on the ground reflect it”.
Sir Eric spoke about the NGOs Middle East Entrepreneurs for Tomorrow, which brings young Israelis and Palestinians together through entrepreneurship and technology, and Save A Child’s Heart, which has provided life-saving cardiac treatment to 4,000 children from developing countries around the world – half of whom are Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.
Sir Eric asserted: “Surely it is not unreasonable for us to ask the Minister and his officials to check what is going on on those pages. Surely it is not unreasonable to say that if people are to receive money from the British Government, they should unequivocally renounce violence in all its forms and work for a two-state solution”.
He said that he was proud of the UK’s 0.7% on international development “but it is not unreasonable, during times of stringency, to address the quality as well as the quantity of that aid”.
CFI Vice-Chairman, Andrew Percy MP, in his speech said: “while we might be able to say that British money is not directly funding individual terrorists in prison, it is perhaps displacing other funding in the Palestinian Authority general fund or elsewhere that is being used to fund terrorists. We should be concerned about that”.
He added: “I welcomed the article in the Jewish Chronicle last week saying that the Secretary of State and the Department are reviewing that”.
Speaking about coexistence NGOs, Mr Percy urged: “We should be supporting Save a Child’s Heart, which I am proud to serve as a UK patron of. It is a wonderful charity. I was very moved when we visited it last year, particularly when we were meeting and talking with the young Gazan children who receive treatment through it. That organisation supports heart surgery not just for Palestinian children—it is mainly Palestinian children, with Israeli doctors—but for Tanzanian children and Iraqi children. It trains doctors and nurses and is a project that has a reach beyond just Israel and the Palestinian territories. I hope that that is one of the projects we can look at funding in the future”.
The MP for Brigg and Goole gave examples of UK-funded Palestinian NGOs endorsing violence against Israel: “I also want to mention NGO funding, particularly the Ibda’a cultural centre, which will receive £5,602 from DfID this year. Last year, it hosted an exhibition to honour martyrs, including Mohanad Al Halabi, who killed one and injured 11. We must be careful about where our money is going and always be prepared to review”.
CFI Officer, Dr Matthew Offord MP called on the Government to increase spending on NGOs that promoted coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than organisations that support disunity.
The MP for Hendon said: “There is a need for greater support for individual projects actively promoting peaceful co-existence in the region, as Save a Child’s Heart does. That would support the UK Government’s own stated goal of securing a lasting and peaceful two-state solution, which, once again, is something that all of us in this room want”.
He continued: “Less than 13% of DfID’s £1.17 million funding of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs goes towards projects that bring the two peoples together. That represents around 0.2% of the £72 million that DfID spends in the Palestinian Territories”.
Raising concerns about some of NGOs operating in Israel and the Palestinian Territories and currently supported by DfID, the MP said: “A number of NGO projects currently sponsored by DfID in Israel and the Palestinian Territories carry out laudable activities, yet have a questionable outlook of endorsing violence. Some of those NGOs engage in activities that undermine peace efforts and increase tensions, and a number are heavily involved in “lawfare” and the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement”.
MP for Colchester, Will Quince, highlighted the achievements of Israeli charity Save a Child’s Heart, and called on the Government to support it: “I had the great pleasure last year of visiting Israel and Save a Child’s Heart, a wonderful charity that has helped about 4,000 children, half of whom are from the west bank and Gaza. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the kind of co-existence project that DfID funding should be supporting?”
Chloe Smith MP intervened in Dr Offord’s speech, calling on the Government to look into moving away from funding the PA’s general budget, and instead redirect the aid into specific projects. She said: “I agree with my hon. Friend on the thrust of his remarks on peaceful projects. Does he agree with me that this is an example of how we should be looking to move away from general budgetary support and to specific project support, which I believe has already been done in countries such as Rwanda and Malawi?”
Labour MPs including Joan Ryan and Ian Austin as well as Jim Shannon of the DUP were among others to call on DfID to review its spending in the Palestinian Territories.