Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Middle East discussion event this Saturday in Hexham - Syria, Israel, Palestine, Iran & more on the agenda

I have tried to get to know the Middle East by traveling as part of holiday and work to the region over the last 6 years as a candidate, and then MP. As a result, I have been to Turkey, Jordan, greater Lebanon and Beirut, Israel, Egypt, and the edge of the Gaza Strip. I took my mid winter break in 2011 to Beirut, which was not everyone's idea of a holiday, and certainly was an interesting experience! I have not been able to visit Gaza itself. In January 2014 I helped out in a Syrian refugee camp on the Turkey / Syria border. I have spoken at length on the plight of Syrian refugees, the role of Iran, and the Middle East generally in the House of Commons. You can access my speeches on the website They Work For You and my blog for my experiences working with the Syrian refugees in the Nizip Camp.

Syrian Refugees:
The blog details my trip here:
The Journal article after the Nizip refugee camp trip is here:
and subsequent debates on UN Resolutions and the getting of aid into Syria in the House are here:

Israel /Palestine:

should start by saying I am a strong supporter of the two state solution. I am not pro-Israel or pro-Palestine or anti-either. But I do support the continued existence of Israel. I may not always be in agreement with the actions of its Government, but that does not detract from the fact that Israel is the only true democracy in the region.
At the same time, I am proud to be a friend of the Palestinian people. I look forward to the day where the Palestinian people can enjoy the security of a sovereign state upon the successful conclusion of a negotiated two-state solution. This will require difficult compromises from the leaders of both states, and a resolution of the problem of Hamas, but it remains achievable.

The international community must restart its efforts to support a comprehensive peace agreement that delivers an independent Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel. The Government has reiterated its commitment to recognise a Palestinian state, albeit as part of as a two-state solution, brought about through negotiated agreement. Everyone agrees Palestine should be recognised as a state, the only issue is when, and on what basis. 

The question is what is the best and most effective way for Palestinian aspirations of 
statehood and Israeli hopes for safety and security to be met? Our strong focus must be on encouraging all groups to return to direct peace talks. Clearly the role of Iran and Hamas is key and I have put my effort into pushing for an improvement of relations with Iran – as without this I fear the two state peace process will struggle. My blog post my 2012 Israel trip is here:
My recent 2014 speech here on the recent Iran debate in the Commons is here:

The UK Government’s position on the issue of settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and make a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, harder to achieve. Ministers consistently urge the Israeli authorities to cease all settlement building and to remove illegal outposts, as required under international law,and in fulfilment of Israel's obligations under the Roadmap.

I have a shared debate on this, and many of the issues in the Middle East, in Hexham, this Saturday at 11-12. I stress it is not a hustings or a political meeting. It is a discussion. The desire for this meeting was at the request of several constituents who wanted to discuss the situation in Syria, and who wanted to know more of my experiences on the ground in the Nizip 2 Syrian refugee camp; the experience moved me tremendously, and it remains one of most rewarding experiences I have had as a Member of Parliament. I have spoken of this several times at other groups, and in other contexts, in London and across the country, not least in support of international aid, but never been asked to talk about these issues by the Hexham Debates or the Hexham churches, so I have readily accepted the invitation. However, because several locals, and the Northumbrian United Nations Association and supporters of the Kairos movement were keen to discuss the Israeli / Palestinian situation, and UN resolutions in both these countries and Syria, and we have widened the discussion. I have not previously come across the Kairos Britain movement, but will be coming to listen and learn and try and answer questions on the approach it espouses. In addition this blog is an expansion of the letter I have sent to various constituents who have written in asking for my views and wanting to know if I am pro Palestine or pro Israel or anti either. As I have hoped to show I am in favour of both Israel and Palestine and against neither. In short, Saturdays discussion is how we can move towards peace in the Middle East. Given that we only have an hour this will be difficult but it was agreed to press ahead on the basis that some discussion over an hour is better than none. I have the Hexham clean up from 9-11am on Saturday but will be there 11 sharp at the St Marys Church, Hencotes, and am looking forward to the discussion.