Many of you raised the Middle East Peace Process. A peaceful two-state solution is firmly in the interests of the UK. We want the new generation of Palestinians to grow up in hope, not despair, not impoverished and susceptible to terrorist recruitment. But we also want the next generation of Israelis to live free from the fear of rocket fire and able to enjoy peaceful relations with all their Arab neighbours. As friends to both Israelis and Palestinians we want to help the diplomatic initiative of President Obama’s Administration, and we will be strong supporters of those building the institutions of a future Palestinian state.
Our goal is a secure and universally recognised Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, based on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem the future capital of both states, and a fair settlement for refugees.
We will not hesitate to disagree with Israel where we need to. But Israel is a key ally and friend of the UK. For instance, we strongly oppose both boycotts and sanctions directed at Israel. It is despicable that, four years on, Gilad Shalit should still be held by Hamas in denial of his most basic human rights. Yet we have told Israel that the situation in Gaza is a tragedy and unsustainable, and welcome their decision to relax controls on goods allowed into Gaza. There is more to do - without compromising the security of ordinary Israelis - to deliver real change for ordinary Gazans. This will mean building capacity at the crossings, getting vital reconstruction projects up and running and ensuring that Gaza can export as well as import goods.
Many of you raised human rights issues more broadly, and in particular the rights of Christians overseas. We strongly support the right to freedom of religion or belief. It is a real worry that, in some countries, we see instances where Christians are persecuted. British Embassies round the world have the job of monitoring all human rights issues in their host countries and routinely raise concerns with host governments, and that includes freedom of religion or belief. Embassies sometimes take action on individual cases where persecution or discrimination has occurred and lobby for changes in discriminatory practices and laws. You might like to check out the guidance we issue to our Embassies on freedom of religion or belief internationally:
We also unreservedly condemn the use of torture and we are working hard with our international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice.
Finally, a number of you mentioned Afghanistan. We are there to protect our national security. We are working to support the Afghan Government to tackle the insurgency and build a stable Afghanistan which no longer offers a foothold for international terrorism. This needs a combined security, political and economic approach. This will include a political process of peace and reconciliation that takes account of the concerns of all Afghan peoples. The mission of UK and international foreign troops will change from combat roles to support roles as the Afghan security forces become increasingly capable. We are already seeing this happen in Kabul itself, though it will obviously take longer in some other regions of the country.
The Prime Minister has made clear that he does not want our troops in Afghanistan for a day longer than is necessary. The objective is withdrawal from a combat role by 2015 - and the entire focus of our effort and that of our international and Afghan partners is creating the conditions that will allow that withdrawal, including through training the Afghan security forces.