The British government’s Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly was pressed by MPs in parliament on Wednesday about the ongoing violence in Gaza.
In a statement to parliament, Cleverly insisted the British government was working with its partners to bring about a peaceful resolution to this latest bout of violence.
“We are supporting United Nations, Egyptian, and Qatari efforts to that end, and we work closely with the United States,” he said. “We’re also prioritizing our own diplomatic efforts through both bilateral and multilateral channels.”
He pointed to talks between the UK and the Israeli foreign minister, Palestinian prime minister, and the UN security council. He added that the UK will participate in the emergency UN general assembly session later this week.
Cleverly then went on to use his statement to put pressure on Hamas. He said the UK "unequivocally" condemns the rocket attacks in Israel, and Tel Aviv has a legitimate right to self-defense.
“We urge all parties to work together to reduce tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The UK is clear that the historic status quo in Jerusalem must be respected. Violence against peaceful worshippers of any faith is unacceptable," said Cleverly.
On the UK position on forced evictions, demolitions, and settlements by Israel, the minister called for Israeli authorities "to cease its policies related to settlement expansion immediately and instead work to a two-state solution".
"The UK will continue our intensive diplomatic efforts in the region focused on securing a ceasefire and creating the conditions for a sustainable peace,” he added.
MPs from all political parties then pressed the government minister for further details as to what the government is doing.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who is of Palestinian descent, and is the foreign affairs spokesperson for her party, said: “Last week I read the names of four, of the then 14, Palestinian children and one Israeli child who had died. And a week on, the number of Palestinian children is now 63 in Gaza alone. My heart was broken before, it’s shattered now.
“We need a ceasefire, and the UK shouldn’t have left it to France to be the main sponsor of a UN resolution calling for it. This government is shirking its historic responsibility and it is time to step up.
“So today I wear my keffiyeh, in recognition that if we want lasting peace we cannot go back to how it was before. The police brutality, the demolitions, and the oppression. We need a peace process that it isn’t doomed before it begins. So if this government is committed to a lasting peace, then why doesn’t it recognize the state of Palestine?”
Cleverly said he recognized Moran’s “passion” for the Palestinian people and her background, but that the UK was working with its partners to bring about a ceasefire and a “meaningful two-state solution.”
On the issue of recognizing Palestinian statehood, Cleverly said the issue should rightly be debated, but that now was not the time as all efforts had to be put towards an immediate ceasefire.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who is also chair of the Defense Select Committee, said: “Given our history and our legacy there, could I ask Britain lean into this more?
“We call for a ceasefire, let’s ask the United States to join us there as well. It’s difficult to see how any tactical or strategic advantage could be gained from either side from continuing this conflict. But once we get to this ceasefire, those old legacy challenges will remain and Israel will require a partner to work with. And my concern is Palestinian elections have not taken place for about 16 years, and Hamas is now supported by the Iranians and has no interest in working with Fatah in the West Bank let alone the Israelis.”
He continued: “Perhaps the neighbouring Muslim countries, particularly those who have just signed the Abraham Accords, could be invited to help encourage Palestinians to hold fresh elections so we get more representative voices for which Israel can then work with.”
Cleverly said the UK supported elections for Palestinian authorities and a negotiated political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jeremy Corbyn, MP and the former leader of the Labour Party and an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian cause, said: “The images of death, destruction, loss of life all over the region are horrific. The targeted bombing that has taken place on buildings in Gaza, the tanks on the West Bank, and the destruction of educational and health facilities is absolutely appalling.
“Could the minister explain exactly what is the nature of Britain’s military relationship with Israel, what is the nature of that cooperation with Israel?”
Corbyn went on to ask whether any British weaponry, munitions, or drone were used in attacks or surveillance leading to attacks in occupied Palestinian territories.
Cleverly said the UK has a robust arms licensing export regime and that it took its responsibilities in that regard seriously. He added that Hamas was associated with Iran, and that the UK urged all nations to take their arms exports as seriously as the UK does.