In a House of Commons General Debate on Israeli and Palestinian Talks, 14 MPs called for a return to direct peace talks, condemned Hamas’s violence and criticised the Palestinian Authority’s “counterproductive” unilateral actions and glorification of terror.
Numerous Conservative MPs also reiterated calls for the Government to proscribe the terror organisation Hezbollah in its entirety, following last month’s Al-Quds Day rally in London where the group’s flags were openly displayed.
Minister for the Middle East, Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt MP, responded to the debate. Among Conservative MPs to speak in support of Israel included: Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, John Howell OBE MP, Zac Goldsmith MP, Andrew Percy MP, Bob Blackman MP, Nadhim Zahawi MP, Matthew Offord MP, Paul Masterton MP, Ross Thomson MP, Chris Davies MP, Oliver Dowden MP, Mary Robinson MP, Will Quince MP, and James Morris MP.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary, Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, condemned Palestinian incitement, stating that “as many as 25 Palestinian schools are named after terrorists” and an “estimated £84 million is paid annually to convicted terrorists, with higher salaries given to those who have killed more people”. She deplored recent reports that “President Abbas has vowed never to stop these hateful payments”.
Watch Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers’ speech in full in the video below.
Zac Goldsmith MP condemned Hamas for its violence against Israel and for “routinely and completely” letting down the Palestinian people. In an intervention, the MP for Richmond said: “It is worth noting that recent polling shows that a clear majority of both Israelis and Palestinians want peace, with a clear majority in favour of a two-state solution. However, it is hard to see that happening when Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel”. He asked the Minister: “Does my right hon. Friend agree that Hamas routinely and completely lets down Palestinian people in their quest for peace?”
CFI Vice-President John Howell OBE MP underlined the importance of the resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, not holding “an international conference without the attendance of the two parties”. He condemned Palestinian Authority incitement, stating that President Abbas “vowed to Palestinians that he would not stop prisoner salaries even if he had to resign, despite telling the US that he would do so”. Mr Howell highlighted the importance of peaceful coexistence projects bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, naming Save a Child’s Heart, which he has “visited on a number of occasions and does fantastic work”.
Andrew Percy MP joined calls for the Government to ban Hezbollah, and asked the Minister whether he would also condemn “unacceptable” abuse of Israel supporters by the hard Left during the General Election campaign. Mr Percy said: “During the general election campaign, a supporter of the Leader of the Opposition screamed the name of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) in my face, and then proceeding to describe me as “Israeli scum” and “Zionist scum” because of the simple fact that I list myself as a friend of Israel—I would say that I am also a friend of the Palestinian people. That sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable”.
CFI Officer Bob Blackman MP highlighted Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel this week, stating that “these two great countries can come together and form an excellent security relationship” .
CFI Officer Dr Matthew Offord MP underlined in his speech and in several interventions that premature recognition of a Palestinian state before the resolution of face-to-face peace talks “directly harms the peace process and the possibility of a lasting two-state solution”. He asserted: “Unilateralism is a rejection of the peace process, not a means to revive it”.
CFI Officer Oliver Dowden MP called on the Government to ban Hezbollah in its entirety, and in a separate intervention in Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP’s speech, he said “the shadow Foreign Secretary is very dismissive of her leader’s description of Hamas and Hezbollah as friends. I have to say to her that a great many of my constituents, many of whom are Jewish, are deeply worried and troubled by the prospect of someone who aspires to be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom describing those two Jew-hating terrorist organisations as his friends. I would welcome it if the shadow Foreign Secretary were to take the opportunity to withdraw, on behalf of the Labour party, those comments that have caused so much upset and offence in the community”.
CFI Officer Will Quince MP, stated “Hamas cannot be a partner to the peace process unless it changes its ideology, renounces violence and accepts the State of Israel?”. In a separate intervention, he emphasised “there will be no peace deal while children are being indoctrinated to ‘hate the Jews’ and the destruction of the State of Israel is encouraged”. He also said that the PA’s naming of schools and sports competitions after terrorists is “completely wrong”.
Chris Davies MP highlighted that the “bitter” division in Palestinian leadership between Fatah and Hamas presented a key obstacle to the revival of peace talks. He pointed out that Israel was unfairly “vilified by the international community” for reducing Gaza’s electricity supply, while in actuality it was on the request of the PA who recently announced it would no longer pay the bill. He underlined: “this is illustrative of the entire Gaza crisis”.
Paul Masterton MP underlined that Israel faces “the threat of rockets from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, endangering 70% of the Israeli population”, and referred to his own constituency, where the Scottish Jewish community was “touched by the barbarity of terrorism” when 19-year-old Yoni Jesner was killed in a Tel Aviv bus bombing. Mr Masterton paid tribute to Yoni’s mother, Marsha Gladstone, and others carrying on his memory with the Yoni Jesner Foundation”.
Ross Thomson MP said he was “deeply concerned” by the “wholly unacceptable” actions of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions protesters in his constituency, asserting that it they serve “to polarise the debate, undermine community relations, undermine peace efforts and increase tensions”. Urging the Government to proscribe the entirety of Hezbollah as a terror organisation, the MP for Aberdeen South said that it was a group that “believes not in peace, but only in the extermination of Israel”. He underlined: “We need to look at the actions of Hezbollah, and the Government should judge it on those actions. Hezbollah cannot be forgiven for its criminal, terrorist, or militant pursuits simply because it engages in political or humanitarian ones. I urge the Government to join our closest allies in the US, Canada and the Netherlands in proscribing Hezbollah”.
Mary Robinson MP reflected on her visit to Israel and the West Bank with CFI in 2015 where she visited Rawabi, the first Palestinian-planned city, emphasising that “we should not underestimate the prospect that a desire for economic progress could also fuel a drive for peace”. She said that the upcoming centenary of the Balfour Declaration “presents a unique opportunity to revive the Middle East Peace Process”, adding that the UK must “support authorities on both sides to come to the table without prescriptive preconditions and in a spirit of understanding”.
Nadhim Zahawi MP highlighted that Palestinian disunity presented a great obstacle to peace, stating that “one of the tragedies of this conflict is that for many years both sides have seemed to know what a deal looks like but, sadly, have never got there”. He added: “One of the views in the middle east region is that that is in part because Hamas can never agree with Abu Mazen. Indeed, some will say that Hamas does not want a peace deal because it does not suit their interests”.
James Morris MP underlined the importance of no preconditions when restarting peace negotiations: “Historically, when a two-state solution has almost been reached, it has been on the basis of negotiations where there were no preconditions between either side… Having no preconditions leads to a potential two-state solution”.
A number of MPs from other parties also expressed support for Israel and a return to direct talks, including DUP MP Jim Shannon, who called on the Palestinians to “finally recognise Israel as a Jewish state”.
Minister for the Middle East, Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt MP, who responded to the debate, said that Israel’s “courageous act” of pulling out of Gaza in 2005 “has not brought the swap of land for peace that the Israeli Government intended when they left”.
Regarding the UK’s approach to resolving the conflict, the Middle East Minister said: “We are going to redouble our efforts. We have to work with international partners and will continue to engage with those in Israel who are seeking such a solution”.
He said: “We recognise the concerns of those in Israel who fear for their security, and they are right to do so, as we have heard. We know well about the random attacks and the fears that have affected the people of Israel”.
Click here to read the debate’s transcript in full.