Israel-Hamas War: Diplomacy - Commons Urgent Question

– in the House of Lords am 3:35 pm ar 12 Rhagfyr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 11 December.

“I thank the right honourable Gentleman for his Question. The Government are undertaking extensive and global diplomatic engagement to get much greater aid into Gaza, support British nationals and the safe return of hostages, and prevent dangerous regional escalation. Days after Hamas’s brutal attack, the then Foreign Secretary was in Israel to see for himself the devastation wrought by this heinous act of terrorism, and his successor visited in late November to continue dialogue with Israeli leaders. Last week the Prime Minister discussed the latest efforts to free hostages with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and stressed the need to take greater care to protect civilians in Gaza. Two days later, the Foreign Secretary discussed the future of the Middle East peace process with the US Secretary of State in Washington.

The situation in Gaza cannot continue, and we are deploying all our diplomatic resources, including in the United Nations, to help to find a viable solution. The scale of civilian deaths and displacement in Gaza is shocking. Although Israel has the right to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home, it must abide by international law and take all possible measures to protect civilians. We have called for further and longer humanitarian pauses. It is imperative that we increase the flow of aid into Gaza, but as we have said at the UN, calling for a ceasefire ignores the fact that Hamas has committed acts of terror and continues to hold civilian hostages.

We remain committed to making progress towards a two-state solution. Britain’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process is clear: we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state”.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:46, 12 Rhagfyr 2023

My Lords, we are all agreed: a cessation of hostilities to give space and time to get food, water, electricity and medicine into Gaza is essential. Although Israel has the right to defend itself against terror and bring back the hostages, it must act within international and humanitarian law. Andrew Mitchell said yesterday:

“We continue to identify and look for mechanisms for ensuring that there can be no impunity”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/23; cols. 618-19.]

Does the Minister recognise that the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza? As he knows, I have asked before about whether the Government will match the US and impose travel bans on illegal settlers involved in attacks, serious criminal activity and fostering hatred in the West Bank. Andrew Mitchell also said yesterday that the UK was

“seeking that those responsible should be not just arrested but prosecuted and punished”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/23; col. 614.]

Did the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, discuss travel bans with his US counterparts last week? When can we anticipate an announcement that we will follow suit?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second question, my noble friend Lord Cameron was in Washington and, as I said last week, there were discussions on a wide range of issues including the situation in the Middle East. The noble Lord will know that I cannot speculate at this time, but I assure him that we are fully seized of the actions the US has taken and are reflecting on what further actions we can take on settler violence. Again, we are very much at one on this. The Government’s position and the Opposition’s is that settler violence must be stopped, but as my noble friend the Foreign Secretary said when he visited Israel and the OPTs, it is not just about stopping the violence; it is also about holding perpetrators to account.

On the issue of the ICC, the UK remains a strong supporter. As a state party to the Geneva conventions, it is also important that Israel recognises its accountability and responsibility. As a democratic Government and a democratic state, I am sure it will adhere to that. On the wider issues of humanitarian routes and access, the noble Lord knows that both my noble friend Lord Cameron and I have been fully engaged. I returned from Doha only last night. One of the key areas we were focused on is the importance of releasing the hostages and getting humanitarian relief into Gaza. We welcome the announcement from Israel on the checking facility at Kerem Shalom. The UK was the first to raise this and we hope that we can restore the full operational capacity and capability of Kerem Shalom to get vital, life-saving aid into Gaza.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, as the Minister is aware, I too have just returned from Doha, this lunchtime. During my visit, I met separately with the Prime Minister, the assistant Foreign Minister and the Minister of State, as well as the Jordanian Foreign Minister. All those discussions covered the need for opening up and providing immediate life-saving humanitarian assistance. From these Benches we stress our repeated call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire to stop the air attacks from the Israeli Government, as well as a period in which all hostages would be returned. That would signal day one of a much-needed political track. It needs to involve moderate Israeli leaders, as well as a reconstruction of a Palestinian entity. What support are the UK Government giving to that much-needed political track, as part of an enduring ceasefire?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we are working extensively on those very points. As I have said before, as friends and allies of Israel we understand its security issues—but, equally, people within Israel and in the wider region understand that for the medium and long term this means security, justice and stability for Israelis and Palestinians alike. We are very much engaged on a range of diplomatic tracks. Together with my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, we have been engaging directly in the region; the Prime Minister has also visited a number of times. This week we will have some inward visits from Ministers within the region. What really needs to happen is what we have talked about before: a revitalised contact route that ensures we understand the current realities on the ground. Both Israel and the Palestinian leadership need to be part of that.

I further assure the noble Lord, on the diplomatic track and ensuring some sustainable agreements, that we welcome—as all noble Lords did—what happened in the pause. That cessation allowed for hostages to be returned. I also agree with him that the release of the hostages is the vital first step to ensuring that we see lasting and sustainable peace in the Middle East.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, should Hamas release all the hostages and lay down its weapons, and should the terrorists who perpetrated the appalling atrocities on 7 October flee to the Gulf to live in luxury hotels with their leaders, would there not be an immediate ceasefire? Peace might be able to come. We could then decide some long-term political future for the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that as a first step, as I have said, the hostages must be released. It is a no-brainer, as far as I am concerned. Those people were taken, so that will be a vital first step. The other issue to recognise is that we have proscribed Hamas as a terrorist group. It is for Hamas to choose its pathway. Does it want to put down weapons and talk peace? Then say so and put that offer on the table. I alluded earlier to being in Qatar. We are seized of ensuring that, in every country, we deliver the vital messages to those who have influence over Hamas. Given the priority of releasing the hostages and bringing a cessation to the violence we are seeing, Hamas needs to lay down its weapons and say that it no longer wishes to continue to attack Israeli interests.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister accept that following the widespread breaches of human rights by both Israel and Palestine over quite a period, it has now become urgent for the international community to bring pressure to bear on them both to replace their leaders with those who genuinely respect the human rights of both communities? Only with such leaders on both sides—it will not do if it is simply on one side —will Israel and Palestine have hope to live in peace in the future.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness agrees that it is for Israelis and Palestinians to choose who leads them, but I agree with the sentiments that she expresses. It is important that we have people who recognise, as difficult as peace is, how a sustainable peace can be possible. That is why we have committed ourselves to revitalising and energising the peace process that leads to the delivery, in practical terms, of the two-state solution—not just one in which Israel and a Palestinian state live side by side in peace and security but one in which there is a recognition that real strength comes from the inter- dependency of people and communities.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Llafur

My Lords, have the Government considered, in conjunction with our friends, sending hospital ships to the region to provide emergency medical help to people in Gaza who are not getting it in their own hospitals?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise that. Our discussions with key Gulf partners and directly with Israel are about opening land routes, which are the most effective routes. That is why I alluded earlier, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, to Kerem Shalom. These are six lanes instead of the one lane from Rafah, and we will continue to implore that. I assure the noble Lord that we are looking at all routes, including maritime routes, to provide support and aid into Gaza. We also recognise that where we can provide support we should, whether through supporting countries that have field hospitals in Gaza or through a specific idea that the French have had and that we are exploring, involving vessels that we have currently deployed for humanitarian support and the flexibility to provide support in the way the noble Lord suggests.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

My Lords, this tragic situation is also caught up in the complexity of the religious faiths of the region. In what way are faith leaders involved in the diplomatic conversations to seek to bring peace?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, to me that is fundamental. There is a unifying factor, which from the Muslim perspective was the prophet Abraham, and we all recognise that. Faith leaders have an important role: they can bring people together as an important part of track 2 diplomacy. I am engaging directly with faith leaders because I believe to my core that faith is about bringing people together, not dividing us.

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, particularly my interests relating to friendship with Israel. Was my noble friend as shocked as I was this morning to see videos of much-needed aid going into Gaza being hijacked at gunpoint by Hamas in front of Palestinian citizens? Given this callous disregard for the interests of Palestinians within Gaza, has my noble friend received any indication from the bloodstained, child-murdering rapists of the terrorist group Hamas that they have even the slightest interest in abiding by any diplomatic initiative?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I have not seen those specific videos but I have seen earlier videos about the atrocities and the abhorrent attacks of Hamas. I have already said that we regard Hamas as a proscribed group. It has shown by its actions, and continues to demonstrate, that the welfare of the people of Gaza—the Palestinians and the civilians who are suffering—is not a priority for it. We want to see unhindered access, which is why we are working with Israel and other key partners, including Egypt, to ensure that can happen. We are also working with key partners that have influence over Hamas because it is important to ensure that there is a reality check. This will not stop until it does the right thing. There are the wider issues of the Middle East peace process, which we are also working on, but as a first step it must release the hostages. Let us have a cessation of hostilities. We want to allow unhindered access for aid to reach the most vulnerable, and that is needed now.