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21 July 2009 : Column 204WH—continued

It is also illegal to build the wall inside the west bank. It is okay to do so on the green line, but 87 per cent. of the wall will be in the west bank and it will not be there to enhance Israel's security but to enhance the security of the settlements themselves.

If it is legal for the Israeli courts to transfer ownership of Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah to Israelis who owned them in the 1920s or 1930s, as the Israeli courts did yesterday, most of the Israelis in Israel should be forced to hand their homes back to the original Palestinian owners.

The wall is strangling the Palestinian economy and imprisoning many Palestinians in their own villages. Already, 10,000 people live in areas enclosed by walls on all sides; 125,000 people will be surrounded by walls on three sides. In total, 70 gates, 43 tunnels and underpasses, and 614 checkpoints have been constructed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West pointed out.

Our Government's response has been to protest to the Israeli ambassador, but protesting to the Israeli ambassador is a pointless exercise; it is like shouting at a fish. All the evidence is that, when we protest, the Israelis build the settlements even faster. Even since Obama's speech, they have approved 300 new homes north of Ramallah and a new settlement in the Jordan valley. The only thing that will have any effect is international action to impose an economic penalty on Israel.

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I thank the Minister for rejecting the upgrade of the EU-Israel trade agreement, but I ask him to go further and suspend it, because the Israelis are in breach of its human rights clauses. I am glad that he has taken a firm line on settlements and encouraged President Obama to do the same, but what action will be taken against Israel if it refuses to stop building illegal settlements? Given that it is illegal under the Geneva convention to build settlements on occupied land, what action will be taken against the Israeli Government?

I have many other questions, but my time is up.

10.20 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) on securing this debate.

I shall be brief. Like many in the Chamber, I have had the good fortune to visit Israel, the west bank and Gaza and see for myself the effects of the settlements. It is humbling to stand on the Mount of Olives and look down at what ought to be the famous, historic road to Jericho, with the hills and the descending road all the way to the Dead sea. Now all that can be seen are settlements-massive settlements with all the arrogance of an occupying power-of huge, red-roofed, red buildings and special settler roads leading from one to the other. As my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) pointed out, around each settlement are preserved areas of land for them to expand further.

Then one looks across to the Palestinian towns and villages. Many of the buildings have been destroyed by Israeli military action or physically depopulated, the people having been moved away. Unemployment and poverty are rife-and anger very rife-in those remaining Palestinian villages. An apartheid state is developing on the west bank with the settlements, specialist roads between them and checkpoints for Palestinians travelling around-to the extent that a journey that I made from Jericho to Jerusalem took six hours, by a series of buses and taxis, because of the number of roadblocks, closed crossings and all the rest of it. And I am relatively well treated, because I am not a Palestinian. Then one observes the daily abuse and humiliation of ordinary Palestinian people-workers tired after a whole day's work in the field or somewhere else being made to wait for hours at checkpoints, because a settlement has been built alongside and Israel claims that its "security" is at risk without this process.

The world cannot stand by and treat Israel as a normal state and say that it is a normal participant in international affairs. It is not! It illegally occupies a large amount of Palestinian land, holds nuclear weapons but has not signed up to any relevant convention, and is flouting the 2004 International Court of Justice judgment concerning the legality of those settlements. Goods are produced on those settlements that masquerade as Israeli goods and are sold on the international market. Water is taken from Palestinian farmers by the presence of those Israeli settlements, which obviously creates poverty and problems for Palestinian farmers and causes massive ecological damage. The beautiful plain area outside Jericho, just north of the Dead sea, is now covered in glasshouses built by Israeli settlers to produce goods, such as tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, which are then sold on the international market. The water
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abstraction from the River Jordan, mostly by Israel-and to some extent by Jordan-means that the Dead sea is disappearing at a rate of between 1 m and 3 m every year. In our lifetime, the Dead sea will be gone-it will be finished.

What do we do about this? Do we stand back and treat Israel as a normal country, or do we take sanctions against it? If any other country in the world behaved like Israel-in a wholly illegal and abusive manner towards the people whom it occupies-it would face international sanction. I support the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, therefore, that we should not be buying goods produced in the settlements. We should be imposing economic and military sanctions against Israel. I am not arguing for military action, but for military sanctions, such as the non-supply of weapons and parts for those weapons, a boycott of Israeli trade and, in the European setting, a suspension of the EU-Israel trade agreement-not just the non-extension to elevated status, but suspension of the existing agreement, because Israel is clearly in breach of the human rights clauses in that agreement.

It is up to us, as a Security Council member, a very important member of the United Nations and a very significant past trading partner of Israel, to say, "Enough is enough. We are not prepared to tolerate this. You behave illegally. You illegally occupy land and flout international law-consequences follow!" I would love to hear a British Minister send the message, once and for all and loud and clear, that that is this country's position on this illegal activity.

10.25 am

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) on securing this debate. The debate is timely in the light of President Obama's intention to achieve a freeze on settlement development, which has been referred to already, and Netanyahu's recent comments, which have been heavily caveated, but which are a general step in the right direction.

It is clear that settlement construction is not supported by anyone here, but I want to make a few remarks about some details that perhaps we have not heard about today. More often than not, we talk about settlements and settlement growth in terms of the number of people living in them. For instance, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories points to the fact that 2008 saw the settler population, excluding East Jerusalem, grow by 4.7 per cent. We all hope to see the west bank form the basis of a Palestinian state, and we all accept that many of Israel's settlements sit on land that will be within that Palestinian state, but it is also important to discuss the location and geographical size of settlements.

In an interview with the Jordanian newspaper Al-Dustour on 25 June, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat discussed the two-state deal that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last September. Their lengthy discussions focused unsurprisingly on the issue of land and the proportion of the west bank taken up by Israel's settlements. According to Erekat, Abbas calculated this to be 1.2 per cent. Others put the figure, when one includes empty land around the settlements where Palestinian construction
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is restricted, at about 3 per cent. Either way, although we all accept that the current system of settler-only roads that surround the settlements unjustly restricts the movement of Palestinians, and so increases the effective size of the settlements, if we are talking about drawing the borders of a two-state solution, 3 per cent. is a relatively small number that can be compensated for in land-swap deals.

It has been widely accepted, since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993, that some settlements will remain in Israel in exchange for ceding Israeli land to the Palestinians. Although we know that Olmert and Abbas failed to come to a final agreement over a two-state solution, it is useful to see how the issue of land swaps was dealt with. Olmert reportedly offered Abbas territory equal in size to 100 per cent. of the land occupied in 1967 by means of a land swap. Olmert proposed that the Palestinians establish their state on 93.5 per cent. of the west bank, receiving another 5.8 per cent. through a land-exchange deal with Israel. The rest was offered in the form of a safe-passage corridor from the west bank to the Gaza strip. Olmert's plan left the major settlement blocs of Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion in Israel's control, in exchange for the southern Hebron hills-colleagues will be aware of this-the Judean hills and the Beit She'an valley. I understand that that was turned down-Saeb Erekat appears to confirm this-on the basis that previous offers, made at Camp David for example, had been much better. They thought, "Why take this deal now?" I am not here to pass judgment on what is essentially history, but I think that that is significant.

The Annapolis process was certainly not perfect, but through it, as it turns out, Olmert and Abbas made a lot of progress, although they did, of course, fail to sign a deal. Israel and the Palestinians cannot be allowed to come this close and fail again. The international community therefore needs to be much clearer about what it expects to see from negotiations. In my view, a deal that allows Israel to keep major settlement blocs, situated just beyond the 1967 green line and that compensates the Palestinians with land swaps is a good deal. It would reduce the disruption to normal life that any major settlement evacuation would cause and give the Palestinians the quantity of land that they deserve.

Accepting that position, however, calls into question some of the more rigid approaches to Israeli settlements. A freeze in settlement construction, which we and the US Government want, is a good way of engendering trust. At the moment, Netanyahu is offering a freeze on all settlement activity, bar that in Jerusalem and that which is based on natural growth-by that I mean activity which occurs within the natural parameters of existing settlements. No one here doubts that Netanyahu has to go a great deal further. If he does not, the international community will continue to believe that the expansion of Jewish communities in East Jerusalem counts as settlement construction. This is an issue on which we must continue to press him.

In conclusion, I agree with the Government's position on pushing for a freeze on settlement activity. However, we should also call for a temporary freeze on natural growth, because that would go some way towards enabling the peace talks to restart.

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10.30 am

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) on securing this interesting debate. It is always pleasing when there is a good turnout of hon. Members because we get a wide range of contributions, even if that means that those contributions are fairly brief. No doubt we could have debated this issue for many hours and still found interesting points of discussion.

I should like to preface my remarks by putting it on the record that I support the two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. I should also like to remind hon. Members that over the many years of this conflict there have been crimes, abuses and breaches of trust on both sides. There are other debates, motions and opportunities in this House for us to discuss the rocket attacks and the suicide bombings against Israel or the continuing detention of the hostage Gilad Shalit. Today, however, we are debating settlements, which is a central aspect of the conflict and could be the key to unlocking a peace deal.

We have heard about the massive growth in the numbers of settlers. In 1972 there were 10,500 settlers and now there are some 480,000. The hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) said that since the Oslo accords in 1993, the number has more than doubled. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West interestingly pointed out that we use the pleasant and homely word "settlements", but that the word "colonies" is perhaps a more accurate description of the dwellings and towns.

The whole House will have welcomed the movement in the US position towards engaging with the middle east and putting the region at the heart of its foreign policy. I welcome the robust line on the settlement freeze that we have been hearing from President Obama and Hillary Clinton. However, a freeze on settlements has to be the absolute minimum for starting the negotiations. Let us be clear: the settlements are illegal, and if we are to have any prospect of peace in the middle east, they have to go. A freeze is just the starting point; ultimately, the settlements will have to be dismantled.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) was very prescient when he said that the settlements are not in Israel's interests. He said that they were counter-productive and made security more difficult, which is an important point for us to remember in this debate.

Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech was disappointing. Although he spoke through gritted teeth about the need for a two-state solution, he also talked about the natural growth in settlements. Last month, we heard that Israel plans to build dozens of new homes in Adam, which is deeply worrying. In recognising the importance of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, security and, in his words, prosperity, Netanyahu totally fails to see the huge negative impact on economic development and prosperity that such settlements have on the west bank. In fact, they threaten the very viability of a Palestinian state.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady not think that the Prime Minister of Israel is in a very difficult position when his own Foreign Minister is an illegal settler on the west bank?

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Jo Swinson: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Of course, he is in a difficult position because there are many differing views and constituencies of opinion that he has to balance. However, dealing with the settlements has to be in Israel's self-interest, and that political reality cannot be lost on the Prime Minister.

The west bank has been sliced, diced and carved up as part of a deliberate strategy, and the settlements have been part of the tactic. We have heard about the numbers of settlements, the roads, the checkpoints, the roadblocks and the security wall. When they are overlaid on the land, we can see how impossible it is for ordinary Palestinians to go about their everyday lives in this Swiss-cheese patchwork. Settlements impact on the fabric of civil society, making trade, education and visiting family and friends incredibly difficult, and that is why they are so damaging to future peace in the region.

Natural resources are also key. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was right to talk about the issue of water in relation to the Golan heights. When I visited Israel, I thought that the problem was all about land and ideology, but practicalities are also key. I come from the west of Scotland where access to water is not quite the same issue. However, in an arid climate such as that in the middle east, water is a key issue, and with rapidly increasing climate change, the problem will only become worse. Water is also a problem on the west bank. As the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) pointed out, most of the water is going to the Israeli settlers' farms, which makes that land very fertile but causes havoc elsewhere in the region.

Let me turn to the products that come from the settlements. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West raised an interesting issue about the legality of collecting customs duties on the products from the illegal settlements. Unlike him, I am not a lawyer, so I await the Minister's reply to those remarks. Before the election, I was a marketing manager, so perhaps I am better placed to comment on the marketing of such products. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon that we should have consumer information clearly marked on the products so that people know what they are buying. I know that the Government, through the EU, have made some efforts on that issue, which I support. It is very important that consumers know what they are buying and whether it has been produced by the Palestinians or produced illegally on the settlements.

We have debated whether there should be preferential trade tariffs for such products. The settlements are illegal so there should not be any preferential trade agreements. The debate must now move on to considering whether we should allow the sale of any products from the illegal settlements. There is a case for looking at whether a ban on those particular products might be considered. I am interested to hear whether the Minister has considered such a ban. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that we should boycott all Israeli goods. To say the least, that would be an overreaction at this point.

In conclusion, we have debated settlements many times in the House. It is right that we should do so, but it is very sad that we have to continue to do so. I hope that the new US President's push for peace will persuade Israel to freeze and then dismantle the settlements, so that we can move towards a viable two-state solution. I
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urge the Minister and the Government to use all the tools at their disposal-not just words with the ambassador-to help Israel recognise that removing the settlements is in its own self-interest.

10.39 am

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Let me congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) on securing this debate; it is one of those topics on which there will be a large degree of bipartisan agreement between members of different political parties. The Opposition support the Government's approach, and endorse the view of successive British Governments that the Israeli settlements are illegal. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West reminded us, that verdict applies whether we are talking about settlements in what is commonly referred to as the west bank, or those on the Golan heights or in those areas of East Jerusalem that have been annexed by Israel, which the Israeli Government regard as part of the Israeli state.

Let us look at the history. The settlements have been declared illegal by successive resolutions of the UN Security Council, by the International Court of Justice and by contracting states to the Geneva convention. It is worth noting that when one gets into a debate with Israeli officials about the legal position, they assert that the settlements are not illegal in the absence of a treaty to govern arrangements for the administration of those territories, following the end of the British mandate. The Israelis with whom I have discussed the matter would argue that there was no definitive peace treaty in 1948, and that therefore they are not acting illegally. Against that, as long ago as 1967, the legal counsel to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised that civilian settlements in the administered territories contravened the explicit provisions of the fourth Geneva convention.

When one looks at how Israeli Governments have operated in practice, one can see that they have regarded the settlements as a political, rather than a legal, issue at root. After Oslo, the then Israeli Government agreed to a United States request to limit expansion to the so-called natural growth of existing settlements. In April 2003, they agreed to freeze settlements, including natural growth, as part of the road map. In recent months, the current Israeli Foreign Minister-who, as the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) reminded us, is a settler-has talked about the political conditions under which he would be willing to give up his home and recommend to his neighbours that they do the same.

The argument that we have heard recently from some Israeli spokesmen, which is that the settlements are needed to cope with population expansion, simply does not wash if one looks at the demographic reality. Israel's central bureau of statistics states that the population of settlements grew by 4.7 per cent. in 2008, compared with 1.6 per cent. in Israel. Forty per cent. of settlement growth was from new immigration-certainly assisted by the sort of incentives described by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West-rather than through the birth of children to families already living there.

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