Ian Austin: Let’s use the aid budget to promote peace in the Middle East and ensure our money never funds violence

14th June, 2016 9:00 am

 

Ian Austin

British aid feeds 25 million under-fives. It supports midwives, nurses and doctors so 4.3 million babies can be born safely.

Our aid spending helped tackle Ebola in Africa. It feeds the starving, helps refugees and provides jobs.

It builds stronger economies around the world. It helps the poorest countries tackle the most desperate poverty.

It does all that and so much more. And we should be very proud of it.

But it also funds terrorists. And that obscures and undermines all the good work it does.

That’s why this week Parliament debated whether Britain should have an international aid budget at all. You might not be aware of it, since it was prompted by a petition in the Daily Mail, which is hardly the in-house reading of choice around these parts.

Like other Labour MPs, I’ll be speaking up in support of our aid budget, but I’ll also be calling for our money to be used to promote peace, not reward terrorism.

Last week four people were murdered when terrorists opened fire in a Tel Aviv cafe.

People in Britain will be horrified by the deliberate, indiscriminate murder of civilians. There can be no justification. But they will be appalled that the two murderers could now be eligible for government salaries – paid for by international aid money from Britain.

Mary Gardner, a Scottish visitor to Israel, died five years ago when terrorists bombed a bus stop. Hassin Qawasme, who led the attack, has been paid almost £14,000 since his arrest.

Amjad and Hakim Awad, killed Ehud and Ruth Fogel and their three children aged 11, four and just three months in 2011. Since then it’s estimated that Amjad alone has been paid up to £16,000 from PA funds.

I have been campaigning on this issue for years.  I support Britain’s history of leading the world on international development, but I have warned Ministers in debates, in writing and in Parliamentary Questions that British money being paid to the Palestinian Authority is going to convicted terrorists.

They failed to act. And that failure has caused a crisis of confidence in the aid programme as a whole. The Government’s failure to deal with this issue has undermined public trust in how British aid money is spent and the world’s poorest people could lose out as a result.

Support for the Palestinian Authority is based on the idea that they are willing and able to move towards a peace resolution to the conflict.  But handing out millions of pounds every month to convicted terrorists promotes violence that prevents the negotiations that are the only route to the secure and independent state Palestinians need.

I desperately want to see a Palestinian state established as part of a two-state solution to this conflict.  I have believed in that and campaigned for it for over 30 years.  I want Britain to do everything it can to advance a peaceful and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based upon security, peace and justice for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

That’s why I think it’s shocking that just 0.2 per cent of the £72m the Department spends in the Palestinian territories goes to projects bringing Palestinians and Israelis together through the Conflict, Security and Stability fund. Instead, Britain should fund charities and NGOs fighting for justice, and dialogue, and peace.

There are hundreds of organisations working with Israelis and Palestinians, bringing people together, promoting dialogue and cooperation, coexistence and peace.

Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET) gets Israeli and Palestinian students working together on technological and entrepreneurial projects. They break down barriers and acquire amazing skills as they work together. I’ve been to see for myself how MEET forges relationships and develop skills on which peace will be built.

CHERISH and the One to One Children’s Fund, works with teachers and pupils, psychologists and public health experts in primary schools in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories to tackle mental health problems and improve the mental well-being of children affected on both sides of this conflict.

OneVoice gives mainstream Israelis and Palestinians a voice, empowering 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 both Palestinians and Israelis side by side.

Earlier this year I met Palestinian entrepreneurs building a new city for 40,000 people at Rawabi. It is a phenomenal enterprise with new homes, a hospital, sports and community facilities, a shopping mall, offices and a business park nearby. It will provide jobs and prosperity for thousands of Palestinians but needs support and investment.

So let’s use Britain’s aid spending to bring people together by promoting peace and coexistence, tackle poverty and create jobs for Palestinians by promoting trade and economic development in the West Bank and Gaza.

I think the British people would be proud to support projects like these, instead of being so appalled by support for terrorists that they back Daily Mail campaigns against international aid.

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