Thank you for contacting me about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
I firmly believe that the international community must redouble its efforts to support a comprehensive peace agreement that delivers a safe and secure Israel alongside an independent Palestine. A two-state solution brought about through agreement is the most effective way for Palestinian aspirations of statehood to be met.
Like you I am deeply distressed by the deaths and injuries in Gaza; the violence is shocking and tragic. Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself, however, the UK Government believes that the number of those killed and injured demonstrates that there are urgent questions to be asked about the circumstances in which force was felt to be necessary.
I believe the Palestinian right to protest is important, however these protests must remain peaceful. I am extremely concerned that extremist elements may have used the protests to further their own violent and deplorable aims against the State of Israel. This is another reason why I believe there is an urgent need to establish the facts. Above all, it is important that this violence is not repeated and that all those involved commit to peaceful protest, restraint and observe international law.
There is a pressing need for all parties to reach a wider agreement that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Gaza and to take the necessary steps to ensure Gaza’s reconstruction and economic recovery. The UK Government is clear that any agreement should ensure that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket and other attacks against Israel, that the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective governance, and that Israel lifts its restrictions on Gaza.
I am deeply concerned by the recent activities of Hamas in Gaza, including attempts to rearm and rebuild tunnel infrastructure. These actions undermine efforts to improve the situation in Gaza and harm prospects for the Middle East peace process. Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Ministers have been clear that any investigation into the recent violence in Gaza must examine the role of non-state actors, including Hamas.
The Government’s policy towards Hamas is clear – it does not have contact with Hamas, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation. Hamas must make a credible movement towards the conditions set out above, which remain the benchmark against which their intentions are judged, before we consider a change in our stance.
Israel, like any state, has the right to ensure its own security, and its citizens also have the right to live without fear of attack. I can assure you that the UK will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself. The UK Government has called on Iran to end its financial support for Hamas as well as its supply of military equipment.
The UK is providing humanitarian support to the people of Gaza through a number of programmes including those of UNICEF. Of this support, £2 million is helping to support up to a million people in Gaza by providing access to clean water and sanitation facilities in order to prevent the spread of disease. I also welcome the recent announcement of a new £38.5 million programme to support economic development in Gaza and the West Bank.
The UK regularly makes representations to the Israeli authorities on the issue of children in Israeli military detention. This particular issue is, in the view of the UK Government, a human rights priority for the UK. I understand that a senior official from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office raised this issue with the Israeli Ambassador to the UK on 11 May. I am pleased that recent Israeli policy amendments have made progress on this issue and the UK stands ready to work alongside Israel to secure further improvements in practices surrounding children in detention.
Prior commitments due to my duties as a Government Whip mean that I was unable to attend the meetings in Parliament on 1st and 28th November.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP