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The report also states that there are discussions with the European Commission about how best to take forward the World Bank’s finding that the Rafah trade corridor, referred to earlier, could be used to provide high returns for Palestinian exports. Has any progress been made on greater use of the Rafah trade corridor to negate the suffering that many people are undergoing because of the closure of the limited access through it?

The Karni crossing used to handle between 200 and 300 trucks a day and is a vital trade route to Gaza. Is DFID still working with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence to support the US security co-ordinators’ work there, for both commercial goods and people? Another fundamental factor in the depression of the Palestinian economy has been the fact that while almost 45,000 Palestinians used to work in Israel every day, for security reasons that figure is now almost zero.

We accept that events have overtaken much of the report, but it would be helpful if the Minister addressed the following points about the current humanitarian situation, UK funding and DFID’s strategy on the Palestinian territories. As I have said, Israel has agreed to resume the monthly transfer of taxes to the new, Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. We welcome that step. The Quartet has agreed to lift the economic embargo on direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Will the Minister provide more details? Will the direct budgetary support begin immediately? If so, how much of DFID’s budget will be given? Will it be in addition to the temporary international mechanism, or will it act as a replacement? How will DFID monitor the money to ensure that it is spent for the purposes for which it was originally intended?

Currently, the money delivered under the temporary international mechanism is channelled through the office of the President. However, the greatest poverty exists in Gaza, and the whole purpose of the mechanism was to circumvent the Hamas structures of government. How will the funds that are being put into the mechanism be delivered in Gaza if the circumvention of the Hamas political apparatus is to continue? The mandate for the mechanism ends on 20 September and has already been extended four times. Does the Minister expect it to be extended again and, if so, for what period?

There is clearly an immediate necessity to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza in particular. What is the Minister’s assessment of the humanitarian situation, and are the funds being sent through various mechanisms, whether the Red Cross or the United Nations, reaching the front line? He will be aware that there was a UN appeal for roughly $450 million. Of the money that was pledged, how much did the UK contribute and how much was delivered by other international donors?

The initial country assistance plan put together by DFID stated its objectives as

and enhanced prospects for peace. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree about that. DFID claims that those objectives have not changed since the
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election of Hamas in January 2006. Is that still DFID’s view, and is it making progress towards those objectives in the changed circumstances, particularly in Gaza?

The priority for the Palestinian territories and Israel must be security and stability in the middle east. There is a blueprint as to the way forward, which was almost agreed at Taba. Palestine in particular must ensure economic growth and the ability to trade, which will contribute to the alleviation of poverty. Sadly, recent events in Gaza make a two-state solution less likely in the immediate future, more complex and more difficult to achieve.

The fact has been highlighted that there is no one person any more who represents the Palestinian people. I urge the Government to provide well targeted, accountable development assistance that is carefully monitored to ensure that it reaches those who most require support and assistance. They should also work with the international community not just to deliver humanitarian assistance but rebuild Palestinian public services and assist in the development of trade, economic growth and security. Those are the combining factors that will ultimately lead to a satisfactory political solution and the significant alleviation of poverty that is much needed in the Palestinian territories.

4.26 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Shahid Malik): I was expecting the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) to be in the Chair—I fear that my reputation precedes me. May I say, Mr. Bercow, that yours certainly precedes you? It is the most unexpected of pleasures to have you in the Chair for my maiden debate as a Minister. You are one of those politicians who command respect for their integrity right across the House.

I shall first respond to the various contributions, which have been extremely useful and, importantly, based on personal experience. That makes them much more powerful and relevant. I commend the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), for his frank and candid approach to the debate. For obvious reasons, he is well respected in the field of international development. He is right that international aid cannot in itself lead to sustainable economic growth in the occupied Palestinian territories. Like him, I welcome the release of Alan Johnston and the role played by both President Abbas and Ismail Haniya and Hamas.

The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that the situation is fluid, given recent events. On whether there is a sustainable solution, the truth is that in the long term there can be no such solution in that part of the world without the inclusion of Hamas. At the same time, Hamas must be clear that it has obligations. The Quartet has set out principles and we expect them to be adhered to.

I shall deal in my closing remarks with the questions that the right hon. Gentleman raised about the temporary international mechanism. On the situation of people living in the Gaza strip, we know, for example, that 70 per cent. of the population are food-insecure.

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I believe that it was the right hon. Gentleman who raised the issue of the Rafah border. Certainly, one of our colleagues did. If it was not him, my papers are a little muddled. None the less, I shall deal with the matter now. The Foreign Secretary will be speaking with his Egyptian counterpart over the next couple of days. He hopes to get some movement on a situation that, clearly, is unacceptable from anybody’s perspective.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) has a clear passion in this area. It is a passion that I share and that I believe every Member in this Chamber shares, by virtue of their attending this debate. He has done some interesting and valuable work in trying to move forward issues that, on occasion, are clearly contentious but that need to be raised and discussed none the less.

I had the privilege of being alongside my hon. Friend and other colleagues when we acted as international observers of the Palestinian elections in January 2006. They were, without doubt, the best elections that I have experienced in my life. I wrote in the New Statesman that Nablus was more like Notting Hill. There was a kind of carnival atmosphere, and there were more women out on the streets than anybody else. That was probably the peak of Palestinian optimism in the past couple of years. It is tragic that between January 2006 and July 2007 we moved to where we are now.

On Hamas, I reiterate that the Quartet has set out its three principles, which deal with non-violence, the recognition of Israel, and respecting and accepting existing agreements. My hon. Friend asked about the clearance revenues. The amount of $120 million has already been released to the new Palestinian Government, and I am happy to tell him that the total amount that we believe ought to be released is circa $800 million. It is certainly the position of this Government that the entirety of that money needs to be released.

John Battle: I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour on his appointment and wish him well. I thank him for allowing me to intervene.

To follow up on the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), is the Minister in a position to say whether any of the money that has been released has gone to medical care? I believe that we would all agree that insisting that appropriate medical care reaches people, whether combatants or not, and whatever the conflict, is an absolute priority. Our report recommended that with regard to doctors’ and nurses’ salaries and medical provisions for hospitals and clinics in the occupied territories, the withholding of funds should be lifted. Has that now happened or is it happening today? Medical needs should have been exempted months ago, when our report was published.

Mr. Malik: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. In his constituency—in fact, across Leeds—he is known not as right hon. but as right on. He usually is right on, and this case is no exception.

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, and I shall deal with some aspects of it in my closing speech. There is a new political reality, and it might well present opportunities for us to look at some situations in a rather different way. However, I do not want to pre-empt anything that has not yet happened. I shall
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wait for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my other right hon. Friend—and boss—the Secretary of State for International Development to continue their discussions. I know that the Prime Minister himself is keen to look at the new political reality and see how we can take best advantage to move forward the peace that we all want.

As well as the revenues, I am pleased to say—indeed, I will probably repeat this, or try not to, in my speech—that more than 130 truckloads of food and humanitarian supplies have been delivered to Gaza. What is really needed now is for the Gaza borders to be opened and, as I believe others have said, for imports and exports to start to flow.

On the arrest of Palestinian Cabinet Ministers, this Government’s position is clear: they ought to be charged or they ought to be released. The current state of affairs is not acceptable. Indeed, on 30 May, the Quartet asked for their release.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I am sorry that I have not been able to make the speech that I wanted to make this afternoon. Unfortunately, acceleration of business on the Floor of the House meant that I had to deal with matters there, and I have come back here to find that this business is also collapsing. Unfortunately, it has been one of those days. I shall not try to make my speech under the auspices of an intervention, Mr. Bercow, but I hope that I may be given a moment to raise one point in relation to what the Minister has just said. I congratulate him on his appointment. As someone from his intake, I am pleased to see him up there.

What the Quartet says and what it does, and what the British Government say and what they do, seem to be very different. The discrepancy between the Government’s stated policy and action on the ground is profound. I had the opportunity to spend five days on the west bank about six weeks ago. Some of the issues that were dealt with in the earlier part of the debate, when I was here—the separation barrier, checkpoints, settlements, settler roads, controls on access, annexation of east Jerusalem, and what is happening in the centre of Hebron—are all matters that the Quartet and the British Government have expressed concern about and have said are illegal acts. The difficulty is that all those problems persist and are being accelerated. What are the Government actually going to do rather than say to curtail the Government of Israel in what is, in effect, the destruction of the possibility of a two-state solution by the cantonisation of the west bank?

Mr. Malik: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is right to raise that issue, and I shall deal with some aspects of it in my speech. He is right to say that ultimately it is actions, not words, that will give confidence and hope, but it is through dialogue with all the parties that we get the action that he wants and that I am sure everybody in this Chamber wants as well.

Mrs. Ellman: I would like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his position. Does he agree that, although the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) are relevant, the solution lies in the
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resumption of negotiations on the peace process? Does he also agree that it is totally unbalanced to blame Israel alone for the breakdown of a negotiated peace?

Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend is correct. It takes all sides to work together to make peace, and although we can argue about which element has the greater share of blame, ultimately all sides must have some discomfort if we are to achieve peace in the region—Lord knows there is enough discomfort there at the moment.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) was right to raise the potential of a failed state, as he termed it. He also spoke about the temporary international mechanism, which was mentioned by other hon. Members. The TIM will continue until the end of September, and President Abbas has welcomed that. It will play an essential role in delivering aid to Palestinians in the west bank and in Gaza. The UK and the EU are currently exploring other ways of providing support directly to the Palestinian Authority.

It is right to say that leadership is critical and that moving the situation forward requires people who are willing to take risks and show leadership. In any crisis such as this there are opportunities, and it is up to people to grasp those opportunities. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West was, probably not for the first time, right in much of what he said. The UK Government must provide an even-handed approach to all sides of the conflict and ensure that all sides adhere to their international obligations.

I think that the right hon. Member for Gordon spoke about engaging with the national unity Government. This Government did engage with those elements of the national unity Government that were prepared to accept the Quartet principles. That might not be exactly what the right hon. Gentleman was looking for, but it would be unfair to say that there was not engagement with the national unity Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) was right to talk about the constitutions and other things that exist on bits of paper. Obviously, people who say that their objective is the destruction of the Jews are despicable, and nobody in this room could possibly want to see that on any bit of paper. This Government will not tolerate anti-Semitism or any other form of discrimination. My hon. Friend was also right to talk about Hamas in the context that she did because it will be a constant reminder about the challenge that Hamas faces if it wants to move forward. I slightly disagree with her about the wall, because I would say that Israel has the right to build any wall that it wishes, if it feels that that would give it extra protection. However, that wall can only be within Israeli territory and cannot be on occupied territory where it patently contravenes international law.

Mr. Slaughter: It is the Government’s stated position that in so far as the wall trespasses on to the west bank, it is illegal. Would the Minister go further than that and recognise that the principal purpose of the wall is to allow the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on the west bank and as part of that process to incorporate Palestinian farmland and Palestinian settlements? Putting Palestinian settlements within the wall would, of course, negate the whole security argument. On that basis, will
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the Minister make it clear that the Government’s position is that the wall should be withdrawn to the green line and on to Israeli territory?

Mr. Malik: I shall deal with some of that in my closing speech, but I will say that the Government’s position is actually quite clear.

John Bercow (in the Chair): Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but for the avoidance of doubt, this is his closing speech.

Mr. Malik: Sorry. Let me rephrase my point: at the moment I am dealing with responses to hon. Members and the prepared text is en route. Unfortunately, some of my remarks may be repeated, but it is better that they are repeated than omitted. The position of the Government is clear: we consider the future for the region to be a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders. That has not shifted for a number of years, since the previous Prime Minister gave the commitment in 2001. Thank you, Mr. Bercow, for reminding me that this is indeed the closing speech and that I do not get two bites of this particular cherry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) gave a moving insight into the reality of life in the occupied Palestinian territories. Her description of Gaza as being literally a rubbish tip was very powerful, and I say to her that that is an indictment on all of us. We all need to do so much more to eradicate the poverty and hardship that are the reality for people who live in Gaza and the west bank. She spoke with much common sense, which is not unusual for her. Sadly, that seems to be a commodity that is, on occasions, in short supply in this part of the world.

The difficulties of everyday life under occupation were highlighted extremely well by my hon. Friend and she is right to speak about support for the Palestinian private sector. Let us be clear: there can be no viable Palestine without a diverse economy, and the private sector will play a crucial role in that. She was right to say that small steps will be important as we move forward.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) was right to stress the importance of the democratic process that took place. Her analysis of the success of Hamas and of the issues around corruption, frustration and protest was spot on. She also raised the issue of the Rafah crossing. I think that I have dealt with that already. The Foreign Secretary will in the next few days ring his Egyptian counterpart to try to bring some relief to a situation that clearly ought not to exist.

Richard Burden: I am very much enjoying my hon. Friend’s closing speech. He has mentioned the Rafah crossing on two occasions and I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary will raise that with his Egyptian counterpart. Given that the closure of the Rafah crossing is an action not of the Egyptian Government but of the Israeli Government, will he also raise it with the Israeli Government?

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