Thank you for contacting me in relation to questions concerning Israel and Palestinian human rights.
I do not support specific or general boycotts of either Israel or the Palestinians since I believe that it is too complex a situation for responsibility for any particular wrong to be allocated with sufficient precision. I believe that closer EU economic links with both parties will assist in contributing to a peace solution.
But I strongly support the EU’s and UK’s longstanding position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. The EU refuses to give legal recognition to Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories, irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law. Hence settlement products are not entitled to benefit from the preferential terms of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the ACAA excludes settlement products, for example.
I take the point that some of the settlements may well become part of Israel through a land swap in a peace agreement. In the meantime however I do believe it is reasonable for the EU to implement its legal position through its trade preference and funding programmes.
After discussions between the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the Member States, the European Commission published in July 2013 ‘Guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards’. Under these guidelines eligibility for EU grants, prizes or financial assistance is not available for legal entities in Israel registered in the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip or the West Bank including East Jerusalem, or for projects carried out inside these territories.
It is important that UK and EU politicians press all countries and authorities in the Middle East in an even-handed manner on human rights. I am certainly alive to both Israeli and Palestinian human rights infringements. As a Vice-President of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel I do not shrink from criticism of Israeli government policies such as settlement building, when justified, and I regularly raise human rights and other concerns with Israeli diplomats. In April 2012 I wrote to the Israeli Ambassador to the EU criticising a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court that declares the exploitation of natural resources in the West Bank by Israeli companies to be legal. I abstained on a European Parliament resolution in 2012 condemning Israeli actions on the West Bank and East Jerusalem only because it missed a chance for more balance by failing to make any mention of Palestinian human rights abuses.
I have a record of speaking up about the situation of Palestinian prisoners which is why in 2013 I co-signed a EP resolution on administrative detention of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. In 2012, I also raised the case of Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud al-Sarsak directly with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton. She assured me that the EU raises the issue of administrative detention with the Israeli authorities, both publicly and in all the contacts that they have, making clear to Israel that the EU views administrative detention as disproportionate and that there needs to be certainty about the future of the people in detention.
Following these efforts, Israel agreed to limit the the use of administrative detention and solitary confinement and reinstate family visits for detainees. It also said that it would only renew administrative detention orders if significant new information is received. This agreement represents a positive step and was welcomed by the UK Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Office annual review of human rights last year pledged to continue to focus on the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including human rights defenders, and it has called for a reduction in the use of administrative detention orders.
Israel faces major and continuing security threats and is entitled to defend itself against rocket and terrorist attacks. However, a lot of the human rights challenges it is embroiled in are a result of an occupation that must end, through a negotiated solution for 2 secure and universally recognised states, for the sake of Israelis as well as Palestinians.
Thank you again for contacting me about these issues.