Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 20 May.
“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on Israel and Gaza. Over seven months since the horrors of 7 October, there is no end to the current conflict in sight. This Government want to bring the conflict to a sustainable end as soon as possible but, as so often with conflicts of this nature, the question is not about our desire for peace, but rather about the best means of achieving it. We continue to believe that the fastest way to end the conflict is to secure a deal that gets the hostages out and allows for a pause in the fighting in Gaza. We would then have to work with our international partners to turn that pause into a sustainable permanent ceasefire.
Building momentum towards a lasting peace will require a number of elements, including removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. It was a deal of that kind that secured a pause in the fighting before Christmas—the only such pause since Hamas’s horrific attack. It was that approach that the United Nations Security Council endorsed just last month, following some effective British diplomacy.
A deal with Hamas for a pause in the fighting would involve exchanging hundreds of Palestinian prisoners charged with serious acts of terrorism in return for the hostages’ release. I do not underestimate how difficult that must be for the Israeli Government, but it is the best way forward that we see right now.
We continue to work closely with the United States and partners in the region to support such a deal. We do not believe that the International Criminal Court prosecutor seeking warrants will help in that regard. As we have said from the outset, we do not think that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case.
A deal as I have described offers the best prospects of reuniting more hostages with their families; the anguish for them is unbearable. I am sure that the whole House joins me in holding the family of Nadav Popplewell in our thoughts at this deeply distressing time. We are still working intensively to establish the facts after the awful video that his Hamas kidnappers released last week. The Foreign Secretary met the family last week to hear more about their ordeal at first hand. Likewise, we send our condolences to those families whose loved ones the Israeli authorities stated last week had died.
At the same time, the toll on civilians in Gaza continues to rise. Images from the Strip give us some sense of what they endure: civilians piling belongings on to a cart led by a donkey, or seeking to scrape together a meal in a makeshift shelter. We have seen appalling attacks on aid convoys and UN offices by Israeli extremists, and the tragic deaths of UN and other humanitarian personnel in Gaza.
We keep in close contact with Sigrid Kaag, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, and we condemn all attacks on aid workers and support the United Nations’ call for an independent investigation. The Government of Israel have previously set out publicly their commitment to increase the flow of aid into Gaza significantly, but we need to see far more. The Prime Minister impressed the urgency of that on 30 April. In the past 10 days, the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Israeli Ministers Ron Dermer and Israel Katz. He has called on them to implement in full Israel’s aid commitments. We want to see: humanitarian aid allowed to enter through all relevant crossing points, including in Rafah; critically needed goods flowing in, particularly fuel and medical supplies; effective deconfliction processes to ensure that aid can be distributed safely and effectively; critical infrastructure restored and protected; evacuations for all those eligible; concrete action to protect civilians and minimise casualties; and, as Israeli Minister Benny Gantz said over the weekend, more planning for reconstruction and a return to Palestinian civilian governance of Gaza once the fighting has ceased.
We remain absolutely committed to getting aid into Gaza to alleviate the suffering, and we are working with a wide variety of other Governments and aid agencies to deliver aid by land, sea and air. I am delighted to confirm to the House that we have now successfully delivered British aid to Gaza’s shore using the Cyprus maritime corridor, which we and our partners—notably, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus—made operational just last week. We have committed almost £10 million in funding. RFA ‘Cardigan Bay’ is acting as a logistics hub for the operation.
We have now delivered more than 8,000 shelter coverage kits alongside aid from the US and the UAE, with more aid to follow in the coming weeks, including hygiene kits and forklift trucks. Work to develop other effective partnerships for the delivery of aid continues. My noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is in Qatar today, discussing a health partnership for Palestinians so that a British medical training agency can support doctors and health practitioners treating Palestinian patients.
We know that much, much more aid is required, but that delivery by land remains the quickest and most effective option, so we continue to work closely with Oman to maximise the aid delivered via the Jordan land corridor. I pay tribute to all those aid workers, military personnel, diplomats and medical professionals who are involved in Britain’s efforts to save lives and alleviate the suffering of civilians in Gaza. I confirm to the House that, last week, intense efforts by the Foreign Office led to the departure from Gaza of three British aid workers who were at risk from an outbreak of fighting.
As the fighting continues, we estimate that around 800,000 Palestinian civilians have fled from where they were seeking shelter in Rafah to other parts of the southern Strip. The extent of this displacement is why we have been clear that we would not support a major Israeli military operation in Rafah, unless there was a very clear plan for how to protect people and save lives. We have not seen that plan. We and 13 of our partners, including France, Germany, Italy and Australia, set out our concerns in a detailed letter to the Israeli Government.
After more than seven months of fighting, it is becoming difficult to imagine the realisation of a lasting peace, but Britain continues to try to build momentum towards that goal. That will require not only the release of all the hostages and an end to the current fighting, but the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel; Hamas no longer being in charge in Gaza; the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the West Bank and Gaza; and a political horizon for the Palestinians, providing a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution. That is what we continue to strive towards: peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I commend the Statement to the House”.
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the focus of all politicians should be on achieving an immediate ceasefire to end the war in Gaza, free the hostages, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and create a pathway towards a lasting political solution. In March, the Foreign Secretary said that we needed to work with our international partners to give hope to that process and to move towards recognising a Palestinian state, not wait for the end of the process. Can the Minister tell us what assessment the Foreign Secretary and the Government have made of the announcement today by Norway, Spain and Ireland recognising a Palestinian state?

Labour has been clear throughout this conflict that international law must be upheld, the independence of international courts must be respected and all sides must be accountable for their actions. As signatories to the Rome statute, the United Kingdom should support the independence of the ICC, which is a corner- stone of the international legal system. We must remember that the decision of the ICC chief prosecutor is only the start of the process. Therefore, we should wait for the decisions of the wider court, which will assess the information before it and decide whether to issue a warrant. It must be allowed to do so with independence.

Labour has been opposed to an Israeli offensive in Rafah for months. The UK Government’s priority must be to work with the United States and other allies to prevent a full-scale Rafah offensive. Does the noble Lord accept that, if the Rafah offensive goes ahead, we should join our American allies in suspending weapons or components that could be used in that offensive?

At the Business and Trade Select Committee this week, Andrew Mitchell confirmed that the assessment that no serious risk of a breach of international humanitarian law exists undertaken on 8 April only included evidence taken

“up to the end of January”,

so any actions the IDF may have taken over the last four months have not been taken into consideration. His department has said that it reviews its assessment of Israel’s actions on a rolling six-weekly basis, which means that a fresh assessment should have been published by Ministers on Tuesday. Can the Minister confirm whether a new assessment has taken place and when it would be announced?

In that same Select Committee meeting, Andrew Mitchell also said:

“You cannot use starvation as a weapon of war and remain within international humanitarian law: that is clear”.

Yesterday, I reminded the Foreign Secretary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2417, which condemns the use of starvation against civilians as a method of warfare. It also condemns

“the unlawful denial of humanitarian access”

and the act of “wilfully impeding relief supply”. The Foreign Secretary acknowledged that Israel has not had

“a clean bill of health”.—[Official Report, 21/5/24; col. 947.]

on allowing humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Does the Minister accept the Foreign Secretary’s description of the Israeli action and, if so, does he believe such action to in breach of Resolution 2417?

On Monday, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns, welcomed

“the effort on the maritime port”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/5/24; col. 648.]

However, as we have heard, the United Nations has expressed deep concern about that and particularly stressed that land routes are the most viable, effective and efficient aid delivery method, which is why we need all crossing points to be opened.

Since 6 May, when the attacks on Rafah started, only 40 trucks have gone through the Kerem Shalom crossing. In Rafah, no fuel has gone in, no medical evacuations have taken place, and aid agencies have started to suspend the sending in of their own people to support aid distribution.

Andrew Mitchell acknowledged the importance of getting aid in by road—the Minister himself has said this—and the difficulties caused by Rafah having been effectively closed for the last few weeks. He pointed out the ability to do that is one of Britain’s specific demands of the Israeli Government. Andrew Mitchell also expressed the hope that there will soon be a deal between Egypt and Israel to put that right. Can the Minister give us an update on those talks? Will they succeed?

Concern has also been expressed about the safety of aid workers. On 5 April, the Foreign Secretary called for an independent inquiry into Israel’s killing of seven aid workers, including three Britons. Israel did take some action against those responsible for the decisions made in those attacks. However, Andrew Mitchell said on Monday that

“we are considering, with our allies, the best way to inject further independence into that investigation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/5/24; col. 655.]

Can the noble Lord tell which allies we are talking in this respect and what action will be taken?

Finally, I want to raise something else that we have considered in this Chamber, which is the increased violence against Palestinians living in the West Bank. They are facing increased attacks, clearly in breach of international humanitarian law. I have also raised the attacks on the UNRWA headquarters. Can the Minister tell us what steps he and his department are taking to boost accountability for settler violence?

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we on these Benches have been making a set of points, essentially from early October, when the terrorist attacks against Israel started a cycle of violence and killing, and a situation that no one could have wished to see.

The first duty is surely for the Israeli Government and Hamas to come together and for Hamas to return the hostages. Like some other Members of your Lordships’ House, I have a small yellow lapel badge. Nobody has asked about it, but I was given it when I was in Israel before Easter, as declared in the register of interests. It basically calls for a return of the hostages. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to try to work further with the Israeli Government, and through other means, to get negotiations going again, to bring about a ceasefire and to discuss an appropriate way of bringing back the hostages? There are still over 100 hostages, some of whom we hope are still alive. What is going on? At the moment there seems to be very little discussion about a negotiated ceasefire, temporary or permanent, yet that is absolutely essential. And, again, we have long called for a two-state solution.

The Foreign Secretary, who I understand is due back in the UK—sadly not to repeat the Statement in your Lordships’ House but to be at a Cabinet meeting, I gather—has talked about recognition of Palestine “when the time is right”. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, pointed out, three countries have today recognised Palestine. Although I do not expect the Minister to say now whether there is likely to be an announcement from His Majesty’s Government, what is the British Government’s longer-term thinking about what a future settlement might look like?

Minister Mitchell in the other place was very clear that His Majesty’s Government cannot support an Israeli attack on Rafah without seeing a plan. He explicitly stated that the United Kingdom

“and 13 of our partners, including France, Germany, Italy and Australia, set out our concerns in a detailed letter to the Israeli Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/5/24; col. 646.]

What is the basis of that letter? Do His Majesty’s Government feel that they have any leverage? Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary ruled out a suspension of arms sales, pointing out that UK arms sales are very small in quantity compared with American sales of arms. But Germany is the second-largest exporter of arms to Israel—has it considered a suspension of arms sales? Is that being considered? Is there a position of saying that we do not support attacks on Rafah and that a way of leveraging might be to say that we would potentially suspend arms sales?

I will finish with questions about one brief mention of the ICC, because we have now heard that the prosecutor has put forward his recommendations and Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, has clearly pointed out the importance of giving the ICC our full support to deliver justice. Clearly, that is the Lib Dem position, and surely it should be the United Kingdom’s position, because we are signatories to the Rome treaty. The problem is that Israel is not—nor is the United States. So what is the Government’s position on persuading Israel and the United States to take notice of the ICC?

Finally, Minister Mitchell pointed out that the Minister was in Qatar on Monday, looking at provision for health support for Palestinians. Is he able to elaborate on those discussions and whether it is now possible to evacuate some of the sickest children from Palestine?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their questions and their observations, many of which I agree with and, indeed, are reflective of the Government’s position. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we continue to work with international partners. As he clearly outlined, that is exactly the focus of the Government: bringing the war in Gaza to an end; ensuring that hostages are returned after—as the noble Baroness pointed out—being held for so long; and ending the suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza. That remains the number one priority of the United Kingdom Government, together with our key partners.

The noble Baroness mentioned Qatar; that was not just about a health partnership. We announced a new health partnership on psychosocial support, looking at each other’s equities, and how we are currently working with key partners in the Gulf states—again, noble Lords have raised this in your Lordships’ House before—on how to work practically to get people out, who are now receiving support. We are also, working with key partners, extending training not just to Qatar, which we have announced formally, but to other Arab states, including Kuwait. I will continue to update your Lordships’ House in that respect.

The hostages themselves were part of the discussions with Qatar, which continues to play an important role, together with Egypt. Earlier this morning, I convened a meeting with Arab ambassadors to gauge their updates. There was of course interest in the United Kingdom’s position on a number of issues that both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, have raised. I will go through those in turn.

I stress that we remain very much focused on this. My noble friend Lord Cameron and I have been engaged in extensive diplomacy. On Sunday, I hope to be in Brussels for specific meetings to follow up recent engagements in Riyadh with Arab partners and—I know that noble Lords have raised this as well—with EU partners on how we work together. It is clear to me, from a number of meetings that we have had, that we need to ensure that this is not just about the current conflict, which must cease, but that we get the hostages out. Anyone who has met with hostage families realises that. I have met with Palestinians who have left Gaza and seen their predicament, and I have met with doctors who are treating Palestinian children and women in Qatar. We need to ensure that humanity prevails in all that we do. That is the guiding beacon—if I may put it that way—in all my engagements.

My noble friend Lord Cameron spoke to Minister Gantz yesterday and he has also spoken to Minister Dermer. The Prime Minister has also engaged at prime ministerial level with Prime Minister Netanyahu. In all these, the primary focus is on the humanitarian, as well as seeking a resolution on getting the conflict ended —and the long term.

I would add that, when you see certain statements from Defence Minister Gallant and Minister Gantz recently, there is a real question that Israel needs to answer on whether the option of Palestinian governance is a real one—recognised not just by us in your Lordships’ House or by the United Kingdom Government, but within Israel and its Cabinet. It is important that that point continues to be emphasised. We are pressing on the humanitarian issues that were raised and on the issue of getting the Erez crossing fully opened. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the challenges there. He will be aware that I myself called out the attacks on those convoys. I am travelling to Jordan next week to see how we can enhance our partnership and get more through the Jordan corridor.

The issue of settlers was raised quite specifically by the noble Baroness. As she will know, earlier this month, the Foreign Secretary announced new sanctions on extremist groups and individuals for inciting and perpetrating settler violence in the West Bank. We will not hesitate to take further actions in this regard. I know that noble Lords across the House have been supportive of curbing those particular actions.

We are very much seized of the two-state solution, and I come on to the point of recognition. My noble friend Lord Cameron articulated very clearly the United Kingdom Government’s position. Of course, we have noted what has been announced today by Norway, Ireland and Spain, and we are engaging with those countries: I have done so. Our position is also different from that of the United States. We have said repeatedly, as the Foreign Secretary recently articulated, that Israel does not have a veto on Palestine coming into existence. We have also said that this is not something that should wait until the end of any given structured process for peace. We remain focused on that. But the first step must be, as I am sure that noble Lords will agree, bringing this current conflict in Gaza to an end for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, particularly the hostage families and those who are suffering in Gaza.

On the issue of IHL, questions were asked reflecting Minister Mitchell’s recent appearance before the Business and Trade Committee. I was very clear when I appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee last week that the principle of law must prevail. I assure noble Lords that, both in the advice that I give and in the decisions that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary takes, those are the key principles that are considered in terms of the overall position when it comes to export licences. Noble Lords know of our very extensive and robust regime in that regard, but its application is also important. We are not a state supplier of weapons to Israel and, equally, the processes that are undertaken are well tested. Of course, the issue of the World Central Kitchen workers forms a big part of the assessment process which is currently being undertaken. I cannot give a specific or definitive date; what I can share with the noble Lord is that it is imminent, and I know it is being looked at specifically.

On starvation as a weapon of war, there is no way of holding back: of course, no one should use starvation as a weapon of war, and where it is seen, as I have said before, it brings serious questions. We rely on the strength of our relationship with Israel, which means that, as an ally and a friend, we continue to raise these issues, privately at times and quite directly. Equally, where we feel it necessary to take public action, we continue to do so.

The issue of the maritime port was raised. I pay tribute to those who worked to bring this into operation but, to be clear, what was delivered was a payload of only about 20 trucks. My noble friend Lord Clarke, who is in his place, asked me previously about British troops. The decision was taken to position no British troops, which then provides logistical challenges on the ground. We were able to deliver some of this, working with key partners such as the World Food Programme, but this is a desperate humanitarian situation on the ground, people are suffering and we need to alleviate that. That is why we are focused on land routes, on the situation in Rafah, on Kerem Shalom, and on the crossing in Erez, to get more aid in. The Ashdod port is also key. That is now operationalised but we now need that flow of aid. It was Israel that said quite publicly, “We need to flood Gaza with aid”. Yes, that is a good intent; it needs now to be seen in action.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister take the opportunity to clear up some of the misinformation that is being put out, not least, I am sorry to say, by the BBC? For example, there are already 142 states that recognise Palestine and it has not made a scrap of difference. Humanitarian aid is being sent in but it is not being distributed, or it is being stolen by Hamas and sold. Even the United Nations has now admitted that the casualty figures relating to women and children should be halved—we have been given false casualty figures. Finally, I am puzzled by the way that we put Israel under a microscope but no one has anything to say about the hundreds of thousands of people who have died recently in Congo, in Yemen, in Syria and all over the place, without any concern, it seems, for their humanitarian aid.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s last point, I disagree with her. On Yemen, we have announced additional funding of £139 million. On Syria, we have announced further funding of £89 million, so we are very much seized of the humanitarian plight of those suffering across the region. On Congo, the situation is desperate. I myself visited Congo with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, so the noble Baroness is wrong to say that. I cannot speak for others, nor will I: I speak for the British Government and our country. We are very much focused on that.

On the casualty figures, yes, the UN revised them because they are based on casualties that it is now finding. I fear, and I do not want to add to speculation, that we need to make a full assessment on the ground. I agree with the noble Baroness inasmuch as we need to have these figures established and verified. To do that, we need the UN agencies and we need the verification process to take place, because what is undoubtedly true is that much of Gaza is currently in ruins and we need to ensure that those souls who have been buried under that are given dignity.

At the same time, I recognise that we hold Israel to a high standard because it is a democracy with a rule of law. We do not have the same standard for Hamas. It is a terrorist group. When we hold Israel to account, we do so as a friend and constructive partner. It is important that we continue to focus on that.

On recognition, and I am sure the noble Baroness will, on reflection, agree with me, I have said repeatedly that stability, security and peace will be possible only once there is stability, security and peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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The Statement refers to

“a political horizon for the Palestinians, providing a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution”.

Is that not a mountain the top of which will never be reached? Why will the Government not do as the Foreign Affairs Select Committee does—of course, now Norway, Ireland and Spain are added to the 142 countries—and recognise the state of Palestine? My party has long argued for this so that we can move forward in the way that the Minister describes, to a peaceful and just existence for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I am proud of the work done by the late, lamented Lord Goodhart and many other British lawyers to bring about the ICC. Is it not important that we do not undermine its work?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of international law and the role that the ICC has played. We have seen this in areas such as Russia and Ukraine. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, articulated, it allows a pre-trial process to be followed and it is important that that process is now undertaken. Many have expressed their personal perspectives on that, but when it comes to legal processes, less is more. Let the ICC get on with its process. There will be an opportunity to discuss it further at an appropriate time.

It is very clear that we continue to engage with Israel as a constructive partner. There are those in Israel who recognise the same credible, irreversible pathway to the two-state solution. On recognition, I have articulated the United Kingdom’s position. We will continue to work constructively with Israelis and Palestinians, and do so in quite a dynamic fashion, between my noble friend the Foreign Secretary’s engagements and my own. We have been working in tandem on this.

The noble Baroness mentioned a mountain, the top of which will never be reached. If there is one commodity one must have in abundance when it comes to public service, it is to never give up on hope.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I commend my noble friend for his support for the two-state solution, which I share. Israel has sought to live in peace with its neighbours. For the last few decades, it has offered a two-state solution and every time the Palestinians have rejected it. Israel has withdrawn from territory to make peace with Egypt and Jordan. It has given back Gaza unilaterally and withdrawn from the settlements. It is willing to do so in exchange for peace.

Meanwhile, we have recently seen the Palestinians using Gaza to attack Israel. The Hamas leaders of the Palestinians have hijacked the aid that is going in. They are making threats against America for building a pier to distribute aid. They have targeted and attacked the crossings, killing Israeli soldiers who were trying to facilitate the aid. Can my noble friend tell us what evidence there is of the Palestinians or their leaders actually wanting to live in peace with the State of Israel, or taking care to avoid the deaths of their own civilians?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My noble friend raises some very important points. To achieve peace, you need to have partners for peace. It is very clear that Hamas is not a partner for peace.

From engaging with people who have left Gaza, it is my opinion that Hamas has not done the Palestinians any favours. It is abundantly clear it has not put any security or protection in place for the people of Gaza. That is why we have been consistent that Hamas cannot be the governing authority in Gaza.

We also need to ensure that Israel comes to the diplomatic table. My noble friend is correct that peace agreements have been signed with Jordan and Egypt, but there are further chapters in that process with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. There is talk of normalisation with the wider Gulf region. These are important elements, and, ultimately, that is what we strive to achieve. I agree with my noble friend about the recent appointment of a new Prime Minister in the Palestinian Authority, with whom we are engaging. We also need the Palestinian Authority to mitigate the previous issues that have arisen with the Palestinian leadership, to ensure that there is an inclusive approach and that, when direct discussions begin, both parties are committed to the notion of peace, stability and security. That should remain the aim of any Government.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, we all share the sense of outrage at the massacres on 7 October. Is it not now unrealistic to expect Hamas to give up the remaining hostages for a pause and not a ceasefire, knowing that giving up its main bargaining counter will open the door for Israel to seek to eliminate the remaining Hamas militants in Gaza itself? Can the Minister say what the preferred solution is for the post-conflict governance of Gaza?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, it is important that Israel is very much part and parcel of that discussion. We have seen Ministers in the Israeli Government ask that very question of their own Prime Minister. It is important that that discussion takes place within Israel. Two options currently prevail, both of which are unpalatable: that Hamas remains in governance or that the Israelis retain the security of Gaza. Neither is palatable—that is not me saying that as a British Minister; that is the opinion of the Israeli Defence Minister.

On the issue of hostages, I have just come back from Qatar, and while I cannot go into detail, we will continue to pursue that particular avenue. I have met with the hostage families, and I assure the noble Lord that anyone who has done the same knows that they can never give up. Even if it is the 59th minute of the 11th hour, we should continue in that endeavour if it means that, with all our efforts, we get one more hostage out.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Portrait Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston (CB)
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My Lords, I refer to my register of interests. Can the Minister turn his mind again to the ICC? It is my understanding that the prosecutor usually declines to act where there is an independent and effective legal system in the state concerned that can address any legal charges. Are we really suggesting that that is not in place in Israel?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, we have previously talked about the strength of accountability and the justice systems in Israel. As I said earlier, the prosecutor has submitted his evidence and a process is now under way. What we also implore Israel to do—and which it has demonstrated on certain issues—is to show accountability; for example, by investigating the tragic events around the World Central Kitchen that resulted in the killing of people, including British nationals. In that vein, we have asked for further details, including how it can be looked at independently.

To answer the earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we are talking with key partners, including Australia, which are also undertaking a similar process. When we look at these processes, we of course look at the local system, but the ICC is an independent organisation that will make its own judgment.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the ICC seeks to prosecute individuals and not states, in answer to some of the questions that have been floating around here? What does he have to say, and what is the response of the British Government, to the comments made by the National Security Minister of Israel, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the day after the ICC’s announcement? He said:

“Only Israel will control Gaza … Israel will occupy Gaza, completely & fully including Jewish settlement in”

the “entire enclave”, and he called for the

“‘encouragement of voluntary migration’ of Gazans”.

He also stated that he wanted to live there in Gaza. Today, he stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque, in response to the declarations from Norway and Spain.

The Minister will know that Netanyahu’s Government oppose a two-state solution; the ambassador to this country has said very clearly, on record on the radio and television, that her Government oppose a two-state solution. In the light of that, why are our Government—who are committed to a two-state solution, as are all parties in this House—giving so much comfort, and not showing more resistance, to those opposed to it? We must consider those demonstrating against Netanyahu and the hostage families who want a ceasefire and to see their families brought home—which is not in the interest of Netanyahu, who is just trying to cling on to power to avoid corruption charges.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, ultimately, who governs Israel will be a matter for Israelis. On the noble Baroness’s point about the hostage families, we are extending extensive support to them by facilitating engagement, including in private meetings with key negotiators.

On the issue of statements by Israeli Ministers, I and the United Kingdom Government are clear on what needs to happen. The prevailing view of one Minister within the Israeli Government is not necessarily the view of other Ministers within that same Government. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that the current Government in Israel do not believe in this two-state solution; it is a stated policy of the Prime Minister and the current Government. That does not stop us engaging quite directly on this important issue and making the case in advocacy that, ultimately, as I say repeatedly, that will be the time for the realisation of the two-state solution, and of peace and security for both peoples, while equally recognising that the long-term future is an interdependency between Israelis and Palestinians to ensure the long-term prosperity of those two nations.

Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise His Majesty’s Government’s position to wait for the second report into allegations of UNRWA staff involvement on the 7 October terror attack before making a final decision on the new funding, once our current allocation has expired at the end of this month. UNRWA supports 3.7 million Palestinians, 2.3 million of whom live in Jordan, and hundreds of thousands of whom live in Syria and Lebanon. If there is no further commitment to aid, refugees who have nothing to do with 7 October or the situation in Gaza are going to suffer as a result. In order to avoid this scenario, will my noble friend consider exploring the option of restoring the funding for UNRWA’s activities outside Gaza or outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories as an interim measure, pending the second report?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On my noble friend’s second question, our funding structures do not allow for that differentiation. We are waiting for the OIOS report—the oversight report—which is due this month, because it is specific to the abhorrent events of 7 October. However, this has not stopped us extending humanitarian support into Gaza, which is now well over £100 million. Last week, I met the head of the World Food Programme, Cindy McCain, when she was in London; earlier today, I met the executive director of UNICEF, Catherine Russell, to focus on how we can extend the best level of support. However, I agree with my noble friend, though I know that there are others who have differing perspectives. There are mitigations which are required, and UNWRA is addressing them. Philippe Lazzarini is very much focused on this, and I have seen the detail of some of the direct mitigations he is putting in place. I agree with my noble friend about the important role that UNRWA plays, both within Gaza and in neighbouring countries.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Green Party and then we will move on to Labour.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, in oral evidence yesterday to the Business and Trade Committee on UK arms exports to Israel, two Ministers, Andrew Mitchell and Alan Mak, confirmed that there is data available only for the first two quarters of 2023, and that the data for the following two quarters of the year is overdue, which the committee expressed concerns about. Does the Minister agree with me that, in the current situation, it is deeply concerning that the British public does not know what is going on, and, perhaps more damaging, that the world does not know what is going on? Whatever the volume, surely what is being sold is not a determinant of the UK’s legal position on arms exports to Israel. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, suggested that the US and the UK were in a different position because our volumes of sales were much less. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that it is no defence in court to say, “Well, I did not commit very much of the offence.”

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On all these assessments, as I have said before, there is a process. If we are not talking at cross-purposes, it was about data and information we received, as my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell said earlier to the committee about the assessments made during a particular period of time in 2024. On the issue of the principle of law, I agree with the noble Baroness that the principle should be directly applied.

Lord Turnberg Portrait Lord Turnberg (Lab)
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My Lords, no one can view what is going on in Gaza with any equanimity; it is truly horrendous, and Israel is coming in for a lot of criticism for what is happening there. But one has to look at this with some form of balance and look at who may be responsible for the majority of the problems. Hamas was responsible for the original horrendous acts, and its terrorists are preventing its own people sheltering in its caves. It is purloining the aid that is getting in and selling it on at a high price to its population, which is very cynical. It is also cynically sending rockets to the crossing at two places, closing them temporarily. So Hamas must bear some of the responsibility, and I am afraid that UNRWA is not entirely blameless either. Does the Minister agree?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Lord on the role that Hamas has played. As I said earlier, I think that many in Gaza recognise the devastation it has wreaked on the people of Gaza. The United Kingdom position is very clear: we regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation, and it cannot be part of the future of Gaza. It could end this now.

The noble Lord points out the missile attacks on Kerem Shalom specifically, which curtailed the aid delivery. Equally, the current Rafah operation has closed the Rafah border, which was crucial for fuel supplies getting into some of the key hospitals, so we are also seized of that. On the issue of not holding Hamas to account, nothing could be further from the truth. We hold it accountable and responsible but, when we deal with this, this is not unfair scrutiny of Israel. Israel is a country that everyone from your Lordships’ House stood with, and rightly so, after those abhorrent events of 7 October, and we continue to work with it as a constructive friend and partner.