Tuesday, May 24 2016

Foreign Affairs Select committee report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

 The House of Commons Foreign Affairs select committee, chaired by Mike Gapes MP (pictured), released its report on ‘Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories’, on July 26th. The report deals with many of the questions put to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, by ENGAGE both during and after the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Excerpts from the report's conclusions and recommendations which deal with issues we have raised in our letters to the Foreign Secretary are copied below:

Humanitarian aftermath and Gaza access

We conclude that rocket fire from Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian groups on civilian targets in Israel is unacceptable. It generates the risk of a renewed escalation in violence, and constitutes a central obstacle in the way of Israeli willingness to move forward towards a two-state settlement. We therefore conclude that the British Government is correct to support Israel’s goal of bringing rocket fire from Gaza to an end. However, we are not persuaded that the maintenance of the current regime of restrictions at the official crossings between Israel and Gaza is likely to achieve this.

‘Rather, we conclude that the restrictions at the official crossings help to sustain the system of smuggling under the Egyptian border which itself contributes to the presence of illicit weaponry in Gaza. We recommend that, in its response to this report, the Government should update us on the steps being taken and the results being achieved as part of the international effort against smuggling into Gaza, and in particular on the British contribution. We further recommend that the Government should update us on any discussions which are underway on a possible international monitoring presence at the crossings between Israel and Gaza.

‘After two years in which we and others have consistently been highlighting the poor humanitarian situation in Gaza, and six months after the end of a damaging conflict, we conclude that Gaza’s continued lack of free access to humanitarian and reconstruction supplies is a matter of distress and frustration. We conclude that it is unacceptable that Israel continues to deny unrestricted access for humanitarian assistance to Gaza. We further conclude that there are indications that Israel is seeking to use its control over the transfer of humanitarian and other supplies into Gaza partly for political objectives

Possible violations of the laws of war

We recommend that in its response to this Report the FCO should state whether it considers that violations of the laws of war were committed during the December 2008/January 2009 conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.

‘We are deeply concerned about the high number of casualties, the extent of the damage sustained and allegations of violations of international law during the conflict in Gaza. We conclude that Hamas targets civilians in its armed actions, and that Israel’s military action in Gaza was disproportionate. We welcome the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council’s inquiry into the conflict under Judge Goldstone, and the fact that it will investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed during the conflict, by either side. We recommend that the Government should give the Goldstone inquiry its full support and press Israel to cooperate with it fully.

British arms exports to Israel

We welcome the Government’s investigation into Israel’s use of UK-sourced military items during its campaign in Gaza. We conclude that it is regrettable that components supplied by the UK were “almost certainly” used in a variety of ways by Israeli forces during the most recent conflict in Gaza, and that this constitutes a failure of past Government arms export control policy. We recommend that the Government should continue to do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen again. We welcome the Government’s decision to revoke some arms export licences to Israel for components for Saar 4.5 naval vessels...

Policy towards Hamas

We recognise that success in the Quartet’s strategy—of encouraging Hamas to reject violence and accept Israel’s existence, by bolstering the position of the Palestinian forces which have already done so, and rejecting contact with Hamas itself—could be realised only gradually and over time. However, two years after we advocated a shift to engagement with moderate elements within Hamas, we conclude that there continue to be few signs that the current policy of non-engagement is achieving the Quartet’s stated objectives. We further conclude that the credible peace process for which the Quartet hopes, as part of its strategy for undercutting Hamas, is likely to be difficult to achieve without greater co-operation from Hamas itself. We are concerned that the Quartet is continuing to fail to provide Hamas with greater incentives to change its position. We therefore reiterate our recommendation from 2007, that “the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles.” We further recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should set out the specific indicators, if any, that would trigger a shift of British Government policy towards engagement with Hamas. We further recommend that the Government should set out the relevant differences between the cases of Hezbollah and Hamas that lead it to conclude that engagement with moderate elements within Hamas is not currently worth attempting.

West Bank development

…the EU is correct to make the future nature of its relations with Israel, under the terms of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, partly conditional on Israel’s cooperation with implementation of the EU-PLO Interim Association Agreement. We recommend that the Quartet Representative should also press Israel on implementation of the EU-PLO Interim Association Agreement as part of his work on Palestinian economic development.

‘We conclude that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must now be understood as essentially a three-way situation, comprising Israel, the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority, and Gaza and Hamas. We further conclude that the continued split in political authority between the West Bank and Gaza represents a central obstacle to progress towards a two-state solution—because of the way in which it weakens the willingness and ability of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides to make deliverable commitments in peace negotiations, and because of the divergent paths of institutional and economic development on which it sets Gaza and the West Bank. We therefore recommend that the UK Government and the Quartet should reject any idea of a ‘West Bank first’ approach, and make the ending of the West Bank-Gaza split an explicit and urgent objective and work more actively to achieve it

Settlement policy

We conclude that expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank prejudices prospects for a two-state outcome, and that, as such, continued settlement activity must call Israel’s commitment to such an outcome into doubt. We further conclude that a settlement freeze is a previous commitment of the kind that Israel calls on the Palestinian side to fulfil, and that there are fewer security-related obstacles to Israel’s
fulfilment of its commitment on settlements than there are to progress on some other issues. We therefore support the British Government in its call on Israel to freeze settlement activity. We welcome the new willingness of the US under President Obama to call on Israel publicly to cease activities which appear unhelpful to a negotiated two-state solution.

Quartet policy towards Israel

…it is appropriate and potentially effective for the EU to make the planned “upgrade” of its relations with Israel conditional on Israel halting practices which are prejudicial to the achievement of a two-state solution. This could be through a settlement freeze and an easing of Israeli restrictions on access into Gaza. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should specify the conditions that the EU is setting for Israel for securing the “upgrade” in relations.’ 

You can read Seamus Milne's comment in the Guardian's Comment is Free section on the role of the west in widening the Hamas-Fatah split, here.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 August 2009 10:42

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