MPs slam Israel over Gaza bombardment but welcome endorsement of two-state solution

July 27, 2009 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment

gazabombing
A major report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been published by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

They welcomed the endorsement by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but  expressed concern about continuing settlement growth, and the situation in Gaza.

The committee made a series of recommendations about the ways in which the British government can help bring an end to the conflict.

The MPs said the 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.”

The committee also praised the work of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is a representative of the quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) in the region.

They said Mr Blair “is making an important contribution to Palestinian economic and institutional development.”

They also criticised Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“The Committee concludes that Hamas targets civilians in its attacks in Israel, while Israel’s military action in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 was disproportionate,” said the committee’s chairman Mike Gapes.

“We welcome the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council’s inquiry into the conflict under Judge Goldstone.

“We call on the Government to give the Goldstone inquiry its full support and to press Israel to cooperate with it fully.

“We also welcome the Government’s decision to revoke some licences for arms exports to Israel, in light of the Gaza conflict.

“It is unacceptable that Israel continues to deny unrestricted access for humanitarian assistance to Gaza.”

The committee said the EU should make any ‘upgrade’ of its relations with Israel conditional on Israel halting practices which are “prejudicial to the achievement of a two-state solution.”

They welcomed the public call by the British Government and the Obama Administration for a freeze on all Israeli settlement activity.

The committee said the British Government should “urgently consider” engaging with moderate elements within Hamas.

“We welcome the Government’s decision earlier this year to open contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as we recommended in 2007.”

Conclusions and Recommendations – The December 2008/January 2009 Gaza conflict

1. We conclude that the Government took speedier and more robust diplomatic
action to try to halt the conflict in Gaza than it did in the case of the war in
Lebanon in 2006. We further conclude that this development is to be welcomed,
particularly as it appears that the Government may have drawn on the 2006
experience in making policy during the Gaza conflict, in line with criticisms which
we made of its earlier policy at the time. (Paragraph 24)

2. In light of the FCO’s official conflict prevention goals, we conclude that the
outbreak of the conflict in Gaza constitutes a disappointment, although we
welcome the fact that the Government has acknowledged publicly that it
underestimated the risk of the situation escalating into full-scale conflict. We
recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should set out the
steps that it is taking to reduce the risk of such a miscalculation occurring again
and to work with others to increase prospects of being able to prevent another
outbreak of full-scale conflict in Gaza. (Paragraph 29)

3. We conclude that the conflict in Gaza has confirmed our previously expressed
view that it is not appropriate for the FCO to have quantified performance targets
in fields such as conflict prevention where the causes of the prospective conflict are
likely to be wholly or largely beyond the Government’s control. (Paragraph 30)

Humanitarian aftermath and Gaza access

4. 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. (Paragraph 47)

5. 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. (Paragraph 48)

6. We conclude that the obstacles to legitimate economic activity and the increased
role of unofficial economic transactions in Gaza may have a damaging long-term
effect on the territory, which could make more difficult the creation of an
integrated Palestinian state including both Gaza and the West Bank. (Paragraph
49)

7. We recommend that the FCO should press the Israeli government to compensate
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) for the costs of repairing
the damage to the CWGC cemetery in Gaza which was sustained during the latest
conflict there, as Israel did in 2008 for the costs of repairing damage sustained on a
previous occasion. We further recommend that the Government should provide
an update on this issue in its response to this Report. (Paragraph 53)

Regional diplomatic follow-up

8. We are dismayed that, six months after the end of the conflict in Gaza, there
remains no ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas and no united
Palestinian government. There also appears to have been little underlying change
regarding several of the key issues which contributed to the outbreak of the
conflict, such as Hamas’s control of Gaza, weapons smuggling into the territory,
and the lack of access through the Gaza border crossings. We conclude that this
situation makes for an ongoing risk of insecurity and a renewed escalation of
violence. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government
should set out what support it has offered to the conclusion of a new ceasefire
agreement between Israel and Hamas, and its assessment of the prospect that such
an agreement will be reached. (Paragraph 60)

Possible violations of the laws of war

9. 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. (Paragraph 73)

10. 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. (Paragraph 77)

British arms exports to Israel

11. 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. We further
recommend that the Government should provide its assessment of the impact on
the UK-US defence relationship of its decision since 2006 to cease licensing the
export of components for incorporation into F-16s and Apache helicopters in the
US; and specify any end-use restrictions which it places on exports of components
for unmanned aerial vehicles for incorporation in Israel for onward export.
(Paragraph 90)

Policy towards Hamas

12. 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 nonengagement
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 cooperation
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. (Paragraph 103)

West Bank development

13. We conclude that some progress has been made on Palestinian economic and
institutional development on the West Bank, and that this is to be welcomed. We
conclude that the Palestinian Authority government under Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad has shown improved capacity to deliver increased security and manage the
Authority’s economy and public finances. We further conclude that international
assistance to the Palestinian security sector, including the EU police mission, is
fulfilling an important role. (Paragraph 111)

14. We conclude that Quartet Representative Tony Blair is making an important
contribution to Palestinian economic and institutional development which will be
helpful to a future Palestinian state. However, we further conclude that movement,
access and administrative restrictions on the West Bank continue to represent a
major obstacle to further Palestinian economic development. We recommend that
the Quartet Representative should seek to use the Israeli government’s stated wish
to further economic development on the West Bank as a lever to press for further
and significant relaxation in the administrative and security regime which it
operates there. (Paragraph 117)

15. We conclude that Israel’s failure to allow the full implementation of the EU-PLO
Interim Association Agreement is placing significant obstacles in the way of EUPalestinian
trade and thereby damaging both Palestinian and EU businesses. We
further conclude that 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. (Paragraph
120)

16. We recommend that the Government should continue to do all it can to further
the development of plans for a fixed transport link including a road element
between Gaza and the West Bank. (Paragraph 125)

17. 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. (Paragraph 127)

Palestinian elections

18. We conclude that the current contested constitutional situation in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories creates an obstacle to the development there of a united and
democratic state. We therefore conclude that the holding of free and fair elections
according to procedures accepted by all parties presents an important potential
opportunity for Palestinian state-building, with the possible prospect of bringing
the West Bank and Gaza back under a single political authority. However, the
elections could also become a source of further political division and institutional
break-up. We recommend that the Quartet should do everything possible to
facilitate the holding of polls which are accepted by all parties, and should make
careful preparations for them so that its stance in light of the results furthers its
stated two-state goal. (Paragraph 132)

Administration of the West Bank and East Jerusalem

19. We recommend that the Government should continue to do its utmost to prevent
further changes with respect to East Jerusalem, such as its physical separation from
the West Bank, and Palestinian housing evictions, that prejudice the prospects of it
becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state. (Paragraph 139)

Settlement policy

20. 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. (Paragraph 146)

Quartet policy towards Israel

21. We conclude that efforts at diplomatic persuasion have to date been ineffective in
securing Israeli compliance with a number of Quartet demands. We further
conclude that the apparent shift in the US approach to Israel under President
Obama constitutes an important and potentially effective change in the external
pressures facing the country. We further conclude that 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. (Paragraph 151)

22. We conclude that flourishing ties between the UK and Israel are welcome and are
in the interests of the people of both states. (Paragraph 153)

23. We conclude that the Government is to be commended for seeking ways of giving
concrete expression to its position that Israeli settlements violate international law.
We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should update
us on its work on the issue of the labelling of settlement produce and the
enforcement of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and provide an assessment
of the impact of this work on UK-Israeli relations. (Paragraph 158)

Iran

24. We conclude that a realignment is underway in the Arab world against Iran which
gives some Sunni Arab states and Palestinians some shared interests with Israel,
and which therefore has significant implications for the dynamics of Middle East
peace-making. We recommend that the Government should not allow the urgency
of addressing Iran’s nuclear programme and regional role to diminish efforts to
tackle pressing Israeli-Palestinian issues. (Paragraph 172)

Lebanon

25. We recommend that in light of Israel’s provision of relevant maps, and the
concerns that have been raised about a funding shortfall, the Government should
in its response to this Report provide an update on the progress of—and prospects
for—the de-mining operation in southern Lebanon, including information on the
UK’s contribution. (Paragraph 176)

26. We welcome the Government’s decision to open contacts with the political wing of
Hezbollah, in line with the recommendation which we made in 2007. (Paragraph
179)

27. We welcome the fact that Lebanon’s general election has passed off peacefully and
yielded results which appear to be accepted by all parties. We recommend that in
its response to this Report, the Government should provide its assessment of the
impact of the election results on Syria’s position vis-à-vis Hezbollah and Lebanon.
(Paragraph 180)

Obama Administration

28. We conclude that the Government is correct to continue to regard a two-state
solution as the only outcome which holds out the prospect of sustained peace
between Israel and the Palestinians. We recommend that in its response to this
Report the Government should set out the progress that has been made towards a
peace settlement on this basis that has arisen from the Gaza conflict and the
change of Administration in the United States. (Paragraph 192)

Arab League Initiative

29. We conclude that the reinvigoration of the Arab Peace Initiative, and the
Initiative’s promotion by members of the Quartet, are greatly to be welcomed. We
further conclude that the Government is correct to support the Initiative.
(Paragraph 200)

Israeli position

30. We conclude that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s acceptance of the prospect of
a Palestinian state is a necessary condition of any two-state settlement under his
government and, as such, is to be welcomed. We recommend that the Government
should continue to press him on other issues vital to progress towards a two-state
outcome, such as those concerning a freeze on settlements as a first step. We
recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should inform us
of any discussions it has had about possible international involvement in providing
security assurances to Israel in connection with the conclusion of a two-state
settlement. (Paragraph 206)

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