Alistair Burt: Thank you for your questions. I am grateful for the chance to hear your views and have a two way conversation. I haven’t been able to answer all the questions, but I hope the answers that follow will help explain the UK’s policy and what we are doing. I apologise for the delay - which was the result of a packed schedule over the past few days as I learnt more about the issues so many of you have raised.
Omar Saif: us faild in the middle east becouse it s relation with Israel. Time for eu to realy work haerder ?
Alistair Burt: I can give you my assurances that the UK and EU are working as hard as we can to bring peace to the Middle East. Baroness Ashton made this clear when she called for a Quartet meeting in Munich at the start of February and set out the EU’s proposals for Gaza just two weeks ago.
My visit this week has been enormously important in supporting US efforts to find a lasting solution to a peace that has caused so much suffering in the region for so long. In my discussions with both Israelis and Palestinians I made clear the urgent need to return to direct talks, and emphasized the UK’s commitment to work together with both parties to help deliver this.
Daniel Rothenberg: if the UK is so insistent on recognising a Palestinian state with ‘East’ Jerusalem as its capital, is the UK willing to recognise ‘West’ Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and if not, why not?
Alistair Burt: We will recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital once there has been a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis which resolves the status of Jerusalem and establishes internationally recognized borders - there can be no doubt about the Jewish connection to this holy city. Our position on Jerusalem is extremely clear. It is also shared by EU partners - as demonstrated in its December Foreign Affairs conclusions. Jerusalem should be the shared capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state. It is for both sides to decide the detail of how this is worked out through direct negotiations.
Mike Bee: Mr Minister: 1. What future does the Minister see for the cities such as Ariel, the many smaller towns, settlements and the 300,000+ non Palestinians living on the west bank of Jordan once a two state solution the the UK Govt supports is reached? 2. Why does the UK Govt not pressurize Hamas to release Gilad Shalit? This would go a long …LONG way to help the peace process. 3. With a very small distance from the 67 border to the sea what will stop similar rocket attacks, as we see from Gaza daily raining down on all Israeli cities? Thank you.
Alistair Burt: There are numerous issues that must be worked out between the sides as we realize a two-state solution and painful compromises will have to be made. Israel has already twice taken the brave decision to evacuate and take down settlements - which are illegal under international law. We understand how traumatic this was, particularly for those who had to leave their homes and also that Israel needs its security concerns recognised when an agreement on land and borders is reached. But we firmly believe that the benefits of a lasting agreement between the sides will bring enormous benefits to Israel, especially on these issues.
The UK government has made it clear time and again that Gilad Shalit’s detention is outrageous and that he should be released immediately. The Foreign Secretary emphasised this in November, and both he and I have met the Shalit family. I have also continually worked for this -including leading a delegation to the Red Cross from the UK.
Hamas should be under no illusions about the UK’s policy. We will not meet with them until they take steps to meet the Quartet Principles. The rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza are a terrible crime and must stop immediately.
Owen Smith: Robert M.Danin recently wrote an article suggesting that Palestine had gone through two stages since the Israeli state was formed: armed struggle and negotiations. He suggests they are now at a third stage, building institutions and counting down to statehood, and that Israel should help them achieve this. What is the UK’s view of this? And if you agree, how can the UK help push Israel towards supporting such a settlement?
Alistair Burt: The UK has been a strong supporter of Palestinian PM Fayyad’s plan to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority has made great progress over the last 18 months - particularly on security. Of course more needs to be done. That is why this week I announced £17 million of DFID support. I very much hope that Israel will work with the Palestinian Authority in its aims so that it is ready and able to act as a state when a final resolution is negotiated, and that this presents opportunities - economic and social - for both sides in the future.
Alan Kaze No Kae: What is the UK government planning to do about British companies continuing to manufacture and ship arms for the Israeli military?
Alistair Burt: Our position on arms controls is very clear. All export licence applications are considered against the EU consolidated arms export criteria which define when arms exports should not be allowed. We are a supporter of these and take our obligation to adhere to them extremely seriously. We recognize Israel’s right to self defense and as such do not believe an arms embargo against Israel is appropriate.
Ian Day: Olive branches are traditionally a gesture of peace. What is the UK doing about the Israeli disruption of the Palestinian olive harvest & destruction of their olive trees, as reported by the BBC & others? How is the UK encouraging those Palestinians who simply want to farm in peace, & harvest & market their produce without interference….
Alistair Burt: I am very concerned at such reports. We are working to ensure that the Palestinian economy develops. If there are allegations of illegal activity that threatens this development they should be investigated and appropriate action taken.
Daniel Rothenberg: Everybody asks about the Arab prisoners that Israel holds. What about Gilad Shalit? He isn’t even allowed visits by the Red Cross and yet that same organisation in Jerusalem is quite willing to shelter Arab political figures that Israel wants to question
Alistair Burt: As above, the ongoing detention of Gilad Shalit is an outrageous crime. He should be released immediately and unconditionally. We have repeatedly called for the IRC to have access to Gilad and I will continue to do so. Watch for House of Commons Questions when I make this point whenever possible.
Stella Ridgway: Over 100 countries recognise a Palestinian state; when will the UK Govt join them?
Alistair Burt: The UK believes that the best way to achieve a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestine living alongside a secure and prosperous Israel is through a negotiated solution. It is vitally urgent that the Palestinians and Israeli resume talks so that we can see the establishment of an independent Palestine as soon as possible.
John McTernan: Christians being persecuted in Baghdad are fleeing to Erbil. What support can the UK government give to the Kurdish Regional Government who have welcomed the Christians but are finding their public services under pressure.
Alistair Burt: I was recently in Iraq and saw for myself the difficult situation faced by Christians there. I also visited Erbil and saw first hand the UK’s work to support the economic, social and cultural development of the KRG. This will continue. We also press Iraqi authorities to keep safe this vulnerable minority.
Stella Ridgway: What is the UK government doing to assist and realise the aspirations of the young Tunisians who want a true democracy and not the same sort of govt in another name?
Alistair Burt: Over the last week we have seen scenes that few expected. The Tunisian people have come together in an extraordinary show of unity in pursuit of political change, greater freedom and an end to corruption. It is now critical that the authorities act to bring peace and stability to Tunisia to allow it to swiftly hold free and fair elections so that the people of Tunisia can chose their government. The Foreign Secretary and I have both called for this. We are also working with EU partners to support this aim, building on work done under previous EU partnership agreements which have political and civil rights at their core.
Gary Spedding: As a British Citizen who lives in Bethlehem, Palestine i wish to ask the UK minister for the Middle East whether having seen the oppression caused by the occupation with his own eyes (I have it on very good information that you have indeed seen the oppression caused), Whether you think it is continuably justifiable to support Israel as a state which daily not only shatters Palestinian human rights and human dignity but also does it to one of your citizens.
Alistair Burt: Over the last week I have seen the realities that stem from the lack of a peaceful settlement. I have spoken with Israelis about their security concerns. And I have been to Al Walajeh and Cremison to see how illegal settlements and the Barrier are affecting ordinary people. I leave more convinced than ever that the UK must do all it can to help support efforts to find a sustainable peace for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians.
Stella Ridgway: What is the UK doing to “persuade” Israel to stop building illegal settlements and return to the borders as conceded by the Palestinians in 1967?
Alistair Burt: The UK is extremely active in talking to all sides. We have consistently called on Israel to cease settlement building. Settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. We will continue to make this clear. We have also set out that 1967 borders should be the basis of a negotiated solution and have emphasized this to both sides. This week I have done so when I met FM Lieberman and President Abbas. In addition we meet regularly with partners to help try and find a way to deliver this. The Foreign Secretary is in constant contact with Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell, and I spoke with the Quartet Representative on Sunday before visiting the region.
Gary Spedding: It has been clearly outlined for all to see using the internationally accepted definition of apartheid that Israel engages in acts of Apartheid. Whether this be the easily recognized discrimination against Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship or those living in the occupied territories who have been given semi autonomous rule in “bantustans”. Why does the UK allow the continued violation of international law and crimes against humanity to continue?
Alistair Burt: I have been a friend of Israel since my childhood. But the strength of my friendship means that I must convey my concern about some trends in Israel - including the treatment of Arab-Israelis and some of the rhetoric concerning them. I heard first-hand about the concerns and problems faced by Israel’s Arab community during my visit to Nazareth this week. All people in Israel should be treated equally, in line with the vision of its founding fathers.
Brendan Work: Will the policy of the United Kingdom toward East Jerusalem come to reflect the recent position papers released by the European Union recommending that EU diplomats treat it as the future Palestinian capital and refuse diplomatic visits to Israeli offices based over the Green Line?
Alistair Burt: The UK position on Jerusalem is clear. It should be the shared capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state. It is for both sides to decide the detail of how this is worked out through direct negotiations, and alongside EU partners we will continue to work to support this aim.
Paul Macdonald: Whether a one- or a two-state solution looms on the horizon, the question of civil rights will not evaporate, nor will the need for all parties to the conflict to comply with international law. Whatever the circumstances adherence to a law, norms and fundamental rights approach seems to be the best option for the EU and one that is vindicated by the arguments put forward in this Chaillot paper. Does the minister agree with this conclusion?
Alistair Burt: The Foreign Secretary has emphasized the importance of human rights and universal values and the pursuit of these through the UK’s foreign policy. This is as true in the Middle East as anywhere else. It is extremely important that people respect international law.
Paul Macdonald: Why have those most closely involved in attempting to make good on the promise of helping create a Palestinian state inherent in the Oslo-Madrid process - the European Union, the United States and the Arab states - accumulated nothing but an enormous amount of frustration and the sense that they have so little to show for years and years of commitment? And the question must furthermore be asked: for how many more years will diplomatic engagement along the same lines continue to be deployed in vain?
Alistair Burt: This week I witnessed the frustration of both sides at the lack of a solution to the conflict. And I share this. But there still remains opportunities for negotiations that can lead to peace. We are doing all that we can to support efforts to find a lasting peace and I am more committed than ever that we must continue to do so.
Aj Kabar: What is your opinion about what is happening to Palestine, concerning the wall and locking the Palestinian people in one place?! And how do you suggest we, as youth of Palestine, can resolve this problem?! Thank you
Alistair Burt: This week I went to Al Walajeh and Cremison to see how illegal settlements and the Barrier are affecting ordinary people. The best way to resolve these problems is for Palestinians to re-enter talks with Israel and negotiate a final solution.
Greer Fay Cashman: Is is possible that the Palestinians don’t really want a sovereign state because then they will have to take full responsibility and will no longer be able to blame Israel for blocking their path to progress?
Alistair Burt: I don’t believe this is the case. I have heard that argument put forward this week, but the facts on the ground and those I have met have only shown otherwise. PM Fayyad’s work to build institutions is real. That is why we’ve committed £ 17 million this week to support the PA’s efforts.
George Alexander: What is the legal basis for stating that all Israeli settlement in the area controlled by Jordan after the 1949 armistice agreement and controlled by Israel since the 1967 war is illegal? Surely the terms of the British Mandate allow for Jewish settlement in the entire area covered by the mandate?
Alistair Burt: We believe that settlements outside Green Line Israel are illegal under International Law.
Stella Cohen: Isn’t it about time the UK stopped blaming Israel for the stalemate in the talks? Why is it that you only blame Israel and not the Palestinians who make unreasonable demands and threats? And why do you keep silent on what’s going on in southern Israel, but release statements every time another brick is laid in the settlements? Double-standards, anyone?
Alistair Burt: There is no double standard. My statements on settlements reflect the reality that they are illegal and an obstacle to peace. This is the basis on which we have consistently called for the moratorium to be renewed. It is simply not true to suggest that this is unreasonable. Nor is it right that we do not put pressure on the Palestinians to return to talks. I did so consistently this week. And we raise constantly in Parliament the illegal attacks on Israel from Gaza and the need for Gilad Shalit to be freed.