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Time to get tough, Prime Minister

We are strong supporters of international aid, but, as the people who foot the bill, the public have a right to know that money is being spent appropriately and that it is achieving its intended purpose.

    Joan Ryan MP
    Joan Ryan MP

    Britain is a major donor to the Palestinian Authority. Over the period to 2021, £125m of taxpayers’ money will be sent to Ramallah. 

    Supporting a viable Palestinian administration is key to the UK’s goal of achieving a two-state solution, a goal we fully endorse.

    However, UK aid does not come without strings attached. These are laid out in the agreement between the PA and the Department for International Development. Among the “partnership principles” the PA are supposedly committed to is respecting the principle of non-violence and respect for human rights.

    The PA’s compliance with these principles is reviewed annually by DfID. Sadly, this process is clouded in secrecy. For the past two years, ministers have refused our requests to release the review. We have recently been told that this year’s assessment will be undertaken shortly. 

    We are strong supporters of international aid, but, as the people who foot the bill, the public have a right to know that money is being spent appropriately and that it is achieving its intended purpose.

    We are increasingly concerned that spending on the PA is not meeting the goal of promoting peace and a two-state solution and that ministers are asleep at the wheel.

    Over the past year, we’ve asked the government about numerous specific examples of incitement to violence perpetrated by the PA. 

    We’ve asked about its decision to increase salaries to terrorists serving time in jail for murdering Israelis. 

    We’ve asked about the PA’s policy of glorifying terrorists – for instance, the naming last June of a town square after Khaled Nazzal, who planned the attack that led to the murder of 26 people in the Ma’alot Massacre in 1974.

    We asked about the PA’s funding of summer camps in which children performed mock stabbing attacks and about the many examples of the PA promoting messages of hate through children’s programmes on state TV.

    We asked too about the language deployed by the PA’s media to describe terrorist attacks – about, for instance, its labeling of the killer of three Israelis last September as a “martyr”.

    In their answers to 20 specific examples we raised, ministers would only offer rote words of condemnation and general assurances that they raise the issue of incitement with the PA. They would not confirm that they had brought up with the PA any of the instances we put to them. 

    Instead, ministers simply stated UK aid is not paid to Palestinian prisoners and their families. This is sophistry: as the government well knows, and the International Development Committee warned in 2014, British cash to the PA effectively frees up other money for Ramallah to incentivise terrorists. 

    It is time for a more transparent and tougher approach. First, we have written to Theresa May urging her to order DfiD to publish this year’s review of the PA’s compliance with the partnership principles. 

    Second, we are asking the Prime Minister to direct her ministers to tell Parliament the specific examples of incitement they have raised with PA over the past year. 

    Third, ministers claim that they regularly discuss incitement with the PA. Their words are clearly falling on deaf ears. There are no signs of any let up in the drumbeat of hate pumped out by the PA. 

    That’s why we are asking Mrs May for the government to put our money where its mouth supposedly is. The PA spent seven per cent of its 2017 budget on payments to terrorist prisoners and the families of so-called “martyrs”.  As a first step, we propose that, until these payments stop, Britain should cut 14 per cent from its aid to the PA.

    This money should be used to establish a new Palestinian Peace Fund, aimed at young people. 

    It would support education projects in Palestine not tarnished by the PA’s hatred of Jews, but it could also be used in other ways — for instance, to establish scholarships to allow youngPalestinians to study in the UK alongside Israeli students. 

    Our plan makes an investment in the future and a two-state solution. And it would be a signal to the PA that it needs to mend its ways.

    Joan Ryan and Ian Austin are Labour MPs. Ms Ryan is chair of Labour Friends of Israel