International Development Questions – so I thought I asked an interesting question of our new Secretary of State. Sadly, it got a competent answer but not an interesting one. This is the exchange:
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): I welcome the Secretary of State to his role and wish him well. The stringent restrictions of movement that are imposed on the Palestinians continue to exacerbate the humanitarian position. They undermine all the aid and humanitarian work that is going on. What will the Secretary of State do to persuade Israel to remove those restrictions?
Mr. Alexander: When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last addressed the House, he made clear the three principles whereby we will move our work forward on the matter in the months ahead. He said that first, we would be unyielding in our support for finding a two-state solution; secondly, we should express a genuine willingness to work with all those who would renounce violence as a way forward; and thirdly, we need to continue to address the immediate humanitarian challenge while recognising the social and economic development needs of the Palestinians. It is right to place on record the fact that restraints on movement and access are a severe constraint on the capacity of the Palestinian economy to grow.
Although, of course, it is necessary to provide humanitarian assistance with immediate effect, there is no substitute in the longer term for a sustainable, developed Palestinian economy. For that to happen, we need the restrictions on movement and access to be removed.
I had been hoping for more. Because the simple mantra of a two-state solution etc (albeit I agree with it) doesn’t really answer the question I asked.
You see, right now when the Palestinians are having a hideous time in terms of movement, poverty, etc – I don’t think that the most constructive approach is to simply condemn Israel (albeit the wall position and the ongoing settlements are wrong) – but I want to find out what Israel wants, needs or could be persuaded by to remove those restrictions. Let’s try and see what Israel needs and what process would be acceptable. If there is nothing that will ever persuade Israel to lift restrictions through negotiation and agreement – then we would know where we are and can work out perhaps what next steps say the EU might need to take. (They are the biggest aid donor to Palestine and biggest trading partner of Israel). I have always felt that there is a way through this – and the people of both countries desperately need the international community to find this way through and hold both safe on that journey.