“Not giving money to so-called terrorists”
So said so-called Diane Abbott towards the end of Monday’s parliamentary debate about foreign aid, which took place at Westminster Hall.
This was the debate that ‘we’ instigated by signing a petition organised by OMG-The-Mail-on-Sunday.
It was brought about the Mail’s revelation that money donated by the UK through our aid programme has been finding its way into the hands of Palestinian terrorists. It funds the salaries and stipends of convicted terrorists or the families of deceased martyrs.
The petition quickly received enough signatures to warrant a parliamentary debate, but people signed because they objected far more to funding terrorism than to the principle of funding foreign aid itself.
In other words, even though 0.7% of our gross national income might well be a big boost to our own underfunded services, the Mail’s indignation was directed against the lack of scrutiny of how the money is being spent and not against foreign aid per se.
However, as these things tend to do, the debate was diluted, a bit like the inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party (more of which later) which was expanded to embrace “All racism” or the Holocaust memorial commemorations which certain people insisted had to include “All” holocausts. In the spirit of inclusivity, this debate had to include “All” foreign aid.
You can read the transcript here, but I’ve just selected the bits that I deem relevant to the original petition. You can watch the whole thing here:
The debate was opened by Steve Double MP for St Austell and Newquay.
“Mr Double, a devout Christian and lay preacher, employs his wife as a senior caseworker alongside assistant Sarah, who is currently on compassionate leave.”
Far be it for me to cast aspersions on a devout Christian lay preacher who prides himself on standing for”the traditional fabric of family and community life” who happens to have been caught with his pants down so to speak, but I have to say the holier than thou stuff emanating from Mr Double Standards is a bit rich.
The debate got off to a good start with Mr. Double refusing to believe that any of DFID’s funding goes to terrorists.
“ There are many myths out there relating to foreign aid spending. One example is that aid money from British and European taxpayers has gone to Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists. That is simply not true. Another is that UK aid to the Palestinian Authority funded an £8 million presidential palace. Again, that is simply not true. The myths go on and on, and they are based on out-of-date information or inaccurate reporting. The Government have been very clear on that.”
The debate might as well have ended there and then. The whole point of the petition was that it did and does go to Palestinian terrorists and other corrupt items , so why not pack up and go home? But no, there’s copious virtue signalling to get through first, which I'll ignore for the purpose of this post.
Ian Austin (Labour Dudley North) piped up:
“The hon. Gentleman is right about the good work that DFID does, but he is completely wrong to say it is a myth that the Palestinian Authority fund terrorists. The fact is that nearly all of DFID’s funding in the region goes directly to the Palestinian Authority. That is a matter of concern because of the allegation that the Palestinian Authority continue to fund payments to convicted terrorists and their families, which is in direct contradiction to the demands of the international community.”
Alan Duncan was soon off the mark, stating:
“it would be a tragedy—indeed, it would be repulsive—if it was hijacked by those who want to use it to demonise Palestine and Palestinians? The debate should concentrate on the 0.7% and only that.”
Sir Alan’s dislike of Jews trumps the unpalatable thought that he wouldn’t last long (as a gay man) under the PA or Hamas.
Over the page, more of the best bits.
Joan Ryan (Labour, Enfield North) a strong supporter of Israel)
We must always ensure that aid meets three tests: it must be effective and transparent, and it must reflect our country’s values. In the case of the aid we give to thePalestinian Authority, we are failing those three tests. Let me give one example: the issue of the PA’s payments to convicted Palestinian terrorists, including, we must assume, Taleb Mehamara, the uncle of the Sarona market murderers, a member of a terror cell that in 2002 targeted Israelis, killing four in a shooting attack. We are not talking about, as one DFID Minister claimed in 2012,
“social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments”.Instead, by operating a perverse sliding scale where people receive more money the longer their sentence—in some cases as much as five times the average monthly wage in Ramallah—the payments actually incentivise people to commit the most terrible acts of violence. I simply do not see how that advances the cause of a two-state solution. What are the Government doing about it?
Last month, Palestinian Media Watch showed how the PA sought to deceive international donors by shutting the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs and claiming that the Palestine Liberation Organisation would assume responsibility for those payments, but that was merely financial sleight of hand.
Desmond Swayne Minister of State, Department for International Development
“ Our taxpayers’ money goes to build the Palestinian Authority so it is able to morph into the Government of a Palestinian state when that opportunity arises. We pay named civil servants to provide public services.”
I think the Minister understands the point I am making and wilfully will not look at this. In fact, the payments we make enable the Palestinian Authority to make its payments to prisoners.
Richard Burden (transport) is a well-known anti-Israel campaigner. He said that if payments to the PA are suspended it would massively increase unemployment and raise the chances of a violent escalation. There ensued further discussion (Global poverty. Bangladesh. Clean water. Hygiene. Sanitation. Make Poverty History. Nelson Mandela. HIV/AIDS) before returning to the topic about which we petitioned.
“ those of us who are concerned about the Palestinian Authority’s support for terrorists are not saying that we should withdraw, walk away and leave them to it—not at all. We are saying that perhaps some of that money would be better spent supporting projects that work across both communities, with Palestinians and Israelis, building dialogue and putting in place the building blocks of the peace process that we all want to see.
Matthew Offord (Conservative, Hendon)
support for helping the poorest people on our planet is harmed, and DFID suffers reputational damage, when behaviour that contravenes aid agreements is unchallenged and when, despite being presented with evidence, DFID takes no remedial action. There is no greater example of that behaviour than the support DFID provides to the Palestinian Authority. However, I do not wish to dwell upon that as my views on the subject are well known. Where I seek to take this debate is to how DFID spending can assist in the quest for a two-state solution—something that all of us believe in.
Will Quince (Conservative, Colchester)
I had the great pleasure last year of visiting Israel and Save a Child’s Heart, a wonderful charity that has helped about 4,000 children, half of whom are from the west bank and Gaza. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the kind of co-existence project that DFID funding should be supporting?
“ I, too, have had the pleasure of visiting that hospital. I am very proud of my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, who makes a monthly donation to that hospital out of his own pocket, which is something he should be commended for.However, I do not wish to dwell on the Palestinian Authority and where they spend money. There is a need for greater support for individual projects actively promoting peaceful co-existence in the region, as Save a Child’s Heart does. That would support the UK Government’s own stated goal of securing a lasting and peaceful two-state solution, which, once again, is something that all of us in this room want.”
“Does my hon. Friend understand the foundations from which he wishes to build that co-existence that we would all like to see? Will he unequivocally confirm that he endorses the Government policy that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are wholly illegal?”
Was Alan Duncan’s remark relevant? Alan Duncan, the gay man who supports the Palestinians, introduces ‘illegal settlements” and “Palestinian land” somewhat gratuitously. He implies that co-existence is unachievable until Israel stops building or dismantles settlements, echoing the PA’s contrived ‘preconditions’ to talks with Israel. A completely unhelpful remark, and Matthew Offord might not have conceded so readily.)
I can confirm that I think that. Indeed, the Israeli Supreme Court says that as well, so there is no misunderstanding about that.
(Whether there are such a thing as ‘Palestinian land’ or ‘illegal settlements’ is a matter of opinion or a matter of definition.
“Less than 13% of DFID’s £1.17 million funding of Israeli and Palestinian NGOsgoes towards projects that bring the two peoples together. That represents around 0.2% of the £72 million that DFID spends in the Palestinian Territories. A number of NGO projects currently sponsored by DFID in Israel and the Palestinian Territories carry out laudable activities, yet have a questionable outlook of endorsing violence. Some of those NGOs engage in activities that undermine peace efforts and increase tensions, and a number are heavily involved in “lawfare” and the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctionsmovement.
UK-funded NGOs have their own NGO, through something called NGO Monitor, that looks at how some of the funding is spent through the conflict, stability and security fund. NGO Monitor seeks to hold NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian territories to account, and regards UK funding to a number of those NGOs as
“a manipulation of the democratic process, an attempt to change ‘Israeli civil and military judicial practice and decisions’ and government policy” and notes that some of those groups are“engaged in anti-Israel efforts.”
NGO Monitor has also said that“a significant proportion of the NGOs receiving British funds promote the Palestinian political narrative, focusing only on allegations of Israeli human rights violations.”
The UK Government currently funds 10 NGO projects in Israel through the conflict, stability and security fund: the Peres Centre for Peace, INJAZ, Kids Creating Peace, Yesh Din, Gisha, Peace Now, Terrestrial Jerusalem, the International Peace and Co-operation Centre, and Rabbis for Human Rights. Because of the limited amount of time, I will look at just one of those. Yesh Din describes its mission as working
“to oppose the continuing violation of Palestinian human rights in theOccupied Palestinian Territory... documenting and disseminating accurate and up-to-date information about the systematic violation of human rights in the OPT, by raising public awareness”.
In October 2013, members of Yesh Din took part in an Arab celebration on the ruins of a Jewish community in Homesh, with attendees desecrating Jewish symbols and waving anti-Semitic posters, including one depicting a Jew with a spear through his head. That is where our money is going.
I would like the Minister to hear our concerns today and not to continually view this problem through a prism of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Our money is going to some causes that I am sure he would be ashamed of. I hope that we can take that message to the Government today and make sure that we actually look at our spending.
Andrew Percy: (Conservative, Brigg and Goole)
“There may be some groans, but I will say something about funding to the Palestinian territories. I heard the Minister’s intervention and I think he is right in much of what he said in that the Department has tried to get a grip on this and is keen to do more, but concerns continue that while we might be able to say that British money is not directly funding individual terrorists in prison, it is perhaps displacing other funding in the Palestinian Authority general fund or elsewhere that is being used to fund terrorists. We should be concerned about that. I welcomed the article in the Jewish Chronicle last week saying that theSecretary of State and the Department are reviewing that.As Joan Ryan said, there are people engaging in terrorist activities, including Hamed Abu Aadi who last year confessed—
There may be some groans!! Indeed, and an intervention by inveterate Israel-basher Andrew Slaughter (Shadow minister justice) gives an example:
“If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, having been corrected by theMinister that UK Government funding is not, for example, paying salaries to Palestinians prisoners, he is now conjecturing something else. On reflection, would he and others not think that hijacking this important debate effectively to give cover to the Netanyahu-Lieberman regime is a gross abuse of an important subject?
“I mentioned patronising and sniffy, and the hon. Gentleman’s intervention is a prime example. It was so patronising it is not worthy of a response. Members are allowed to come to this Chamber and speak as they wish on a matter of international aid, and this about international aid from British taxpayers’ money. The hon. Gentleman can patronise all he wants, but I won’t be silenced from saying what I think I am entitled to say in this Chamber on this issue.
Ian Austin (Labour, Dudley North)
“It is not just supporters of the Netanyahu Government who are concerned about this. The central point is that the Palestinian Authority receives our aid money because it has signed a memorandum of understanding with DFIDwhich is underpinned by renunciation of violence and a commitment to peace. That is directly contradicted by funding terrorists, whether or not the money comes directly from the UK, and is directly contradicted by the Palestinian Authority’s routine incitement of violence. On both grounds, the Minister should be examining the matter in greater detail.
The Overseas Development Institute stated that our aid money to the Palestinian Authorityhad failed to promote peace and a peaceful attitude. There is more to be done.
I mentioned a terrorist who confessed that he had engaged in his behaviour to obtain payments. I also want to mention NGO funding, particularly the Ibda’a cultural centre, which will receive £5,602 from DFID this year. Last year, it hosted an exhibition to honour martyrs, including Mohanad Al Halabi, who killed one and injured 11. We must be careful about where our money is going and always be prepared to review.
“In my last minute or so, I want to talk about some of the co-existence projects. We had a wonderful meeting last year in Jerusalem with a group of Palestinian and Jewish young people from MEET—the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow. It was a really inspiring meeting. Those Palestinian youth and Jewish youth were being educated together. Both were very open about what they thought about each other beforehand and how that project had helped to bring them together.
We should be supporting projects such as that, as we should—in these last 46 and a half seconds—be supporting Save a Child’s Heart, which I am proud to serve as a UK patron of. It is a wonderful charity. I was very moved when we visited it last year, particularly when we were meeting and talking with the young Gazan children who receive treatment through it.
That organisation supports heart surgery not just for Palestinian children—it is mainly Palestinian children, with Israeli doctors—but for Tanzanian children and Iraqi children. It trains doctors and nurses and is a project that has a reach beyond just Israel and the Palestinian territories. I hope that that is one of the projects we can look at funding in the future.”
Sir Erick Pickles (conservative, Brentwood and Ongar)
”I, too, am very proud of the 0.7% spend on international development, but it is not unreasonable, during times of stringency, to address the quality as well as the quantity of that aid. The impact of our funding, especially on conflict-struck regions, is of the utmost importance, and I particularly want to talk about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. DFID’s stated goal in aiding the Palestinians is to help to secure a lasting and peaceful two-state solution. That is very sensible, but I regret that the funding does not follow that laudable ideal. As Joan Ryan and my hon. Friend Dr Offord pointed out, we are talking about 0.2%, and that does not seem to be a point at which we can readily move on.
I must say to my right hon. Friend the Minister, with great affection and respect, that it is no good just saying, “We don’t fund terrorism.” There is a kind of knock-on effect. If my right hon. Friend is saying, determinedly, that not a single one of the civil servants whom we fund has committed a criminal act, and that their job has not been left open for them, that is a wonderful thing, but the report from the Overseas Development Institute says:
“For public sector employees the opportunity cost of conflict is lowered as their employment will be kept open when they return from detention, and their family will continue to be paid their salary”.That needs to be addressed.
Has the right hon. Gentleman read the ODI report entitled, “Does the wage bill affect conflict? Evidence from Palestine”, from February 2015? It states that
“some of the factors linked to the development of grievances at least in the West Bank, including the construction of the West Bank Wall and the Palestinian prisoners, are associated with increases in conflict intensity. Removing these factors may well be a more effective strategy in reducing the conflict in the long-run than any employment opportunities provided by the public or private sector.”
I want a two-state solution. I want young Palestinians and Israelis to work together. I do not want to change Government policy; I merely want to see the actuality on the ground reflect it.
My hon. Friends have spoken with great powers of persuasion about the various groups that we have seen on visits to Israel and Palestine, particularly the Middle East Entrepreneurs for Tomorrow. There was one thing that really struck me about that. When I was talking to a young Palestinian, I said, “What’s the big difference?”, and he said, “I’ve never met an Israeli before. The only Israeli I’ve ever met is a soldier with a rifle and body armour. This gave me an opportunity to actually meet an Israeli.”
The organisation Save a Child’s Heart provides an opportunity for parents to talk about the future of their children, and about working side by side with Israelis. That must be for the better, but worrying reports have emerged that some NGOs that support the Palestinian territories have been promoting violence on social media pages. Surely it is not unreasonable for us to ask theMinister and his officials to check what is going on on those pages. Surely it is not unreasonable to say that if people are to receive money from the British Government, they should unequivocally renounce violence in all its forms and work for a two-state solution.
Jim Shannon (Shadow DUP spokesperson (health etc etc)
International development aid is no different from spending in any other Department: Departments are accountable to their Ministers; Ministers are accountable to this House; and Select Committees scrutinise the work of Departments. I support the target of 0.7% of gross national income, but as Dr Offord and Joan Ryan have said, accountability is needed within that process. The Public Accounts Committee recently said:
“The value for money for the UK taxpayer of the Department’s funding of UN agencies is undermined by the overlapping remits of the agencies and inflexibility in their systems.”The Committee noted that there is something wrong, and there clearly is.
I have a couple of quick examples from Palestine. Two Palestinian terrorists who repeatedly stabbed two women, killing an American lady and leaving a British woman with life-threatening injuries, are receiving a salary from thePalestinian Authority.
A convicted double killer—he was interviewed by a newspaper and confirmed that he murdered two people—receives a monthly salary. My constituents are appalled by the examples of DFID’s spend, which is why they support the Israel-Britain Alliance’s campaign to stop such abuses. My constituents are even more incandescent when they receive responses fromBritish Government Ministers in both DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office restating the collective denial that such payments are made.
Let us make this very clear to the Minister: we know that the Palestine Liberation Organisation pays the prisoners, and we know that the Palestinian Authority pays the PLO. We further know that the World Bank pays aid money to the Palestinian Authority. Finally, we know that British aid money is sent to the World Bank, which is clearly where the issues are. Will the Minister ensure that British aid money does not support Palestinian Authority incitement to commit violence? All he has to do is turn on his computer and visit www.palwatch.org to see for himself that the Palestinian Authority is misusing the funds given to it by Britain.
In Northern Ireland, parties to peace had to sign up to the Mitchell principles. They had to sign up to using democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues. In 2011, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN assessed that the PA’s governance functions were sufficient for a functioning state, but that it had to renounce violence, and it is clear that the PA has not done that to the extent it should have. I therefore call on the Minister to commit to implementing the recommendation of the 2014International Development Committee report that set out how the payments-to-prisoners issue can be resolved.
I further ask the Minister to commit DFID to tackling the PA on the evidence of its incitement to and support for violence. If the PA does not end its support for the men and women of violence, our support for the PA must be reviewed. A demand without an incentive is worthless. Middle east peace will be achieved only if both sides participate in the process, yet DFID’s support for co-existence programmes between the Israelis and the Palestinians is pitiful. I ask the Minister to use some of DFID’s mammoth budget to help make those things happen.
Nearly all the direct UK grant to the Palestinian Authority is provided through the Department for International Development’s “Statebuilding and Service Delivery Grant”, and the Minister must do much more to assure us that it is not simply being paid—untied and un-earmarked—into the central treasury account of the Palestinian Authority, and that the verification of the funds is more than simply a notional accounting exercise. The Overseas Development Institute concluded that it is of “questionable robustness” and “provides few fiduciary assurances”.
By contrast, as we have heard, just 0.2% of 0.2% of the money that DFID spends in the Palestinian territories goes to projects bringing Palestinians and Israelis together. I have visited the group that was mentioned earlier and that brings Israeli and Palestinian students together to break down barriers and acquire new skills. Actually, it would be quite useful if the Minister noted some of this down, so that he can answer the specific questions that he has been asked when he sums up at the end of the debate.
For example, can the Minister consider funding the Cherish Project and the One to One Children’s Fund, which tackle the mental health problems suffered by children affected on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Would he consider funding OneVoice, which gives mainstream Israelis and Palestinians a voice, helping them to campaign for a peaceful two-state solution? The Aviv Peace Impact fund creates jobs and boosts prosperity by investing in growing businesses that employ Palestinians and Israelis side by side. Also, will he go to Rawabi, a new city that I have visited, which has new homes for 40,000 people in the west bank, a hospital, sports and community facilities, a shopping mall, offices and a business park that will provide jobs and prosperity for thousands of Palestinians, but which needs support and investment? He ought to look at funding Rawabi.
I have some specific questions for the Minister. Will he publish the memorandum of understanding with the Palestinian Authority? Will he commit to DFID implementing the 2014 recommendations on prisoners?
I simply rise to ask my hon. Friend a question: does he agree that when we ask for this forensic analysis of DFID spend, we do so in order to support the 0.7% commitment, because if there is any question about that spend it will undermine the whole project?
I agree with my right hon. Friend entirely and I am grateful for the extra minute that she has given me to speak.
I also want to ask the Minister whether he will tackle the Palestinian Authorityon the evidence of incitement. We should use Britain’s aid spending to bring people together by promoting peace and co-existence, tackling poverty, and creating jobs for Palestinians by promoting trade and economic development in the west bank and Gaza. The British people would be proud to support projects such as the ones I have mentioned, instead of being so concerned about support for terrorists that they back the Daily Mail campaigns against international aid.
The truth is that British aid feeds 25 million under-fives, educates 11 million children, has helped 4.3 million babies to be born safely, has helped to tackle Ebola in Africa, feeds the starving, helps refugees and builds stronger economies around the world. It does all that and so much more, but I am afraid that it also funds the Palestinian Authority, which in turn funds terrorists, and that undermines much of the good work that it does.
Some very unpleasant remarks have been made about the Palestinian Authority. I am all for transparency and accountability, but let us remember that United States Secretary of State John Kerry said:
“Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear he does not wish for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority”.
He pointed out that, without the Palestinian Authority, Israel would have to“shoulder the responsibility for providing basic services in the West Bank”.
The ODI report on the matter clearly said that the UK support on the ground helped to prevent economic collapse and an escalation in violence.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend shares my dismay that there has been a concerted campaign today to demonise the Government’s funding of the Palestinian Authority, which the Minister has rightly resisted.
Does she agree that, if there is concern about UK and EU money going into Palestine, we should be most concerned about the demolition of Palestinian homes and villages funded by the UK to make way for illegal Israeli settlements?
My hon. Friend puts it very well. It is of no help to people in the region, particularly ordinary Palestinians on the west bank, to demonise thePalestinian Authority. I am confident that DFID is exercising scrutiny and is not giving money directly to so-called terrorists.