he agreed with John Kerry's speech or whether he will attend the Paris foreign ministers' meeting along with John Kerry on Sunday.
He again refused an inquiry into the "Shaigate" affair where an Israeli embassy official recruited parliamentary researchers and young members of the Conservative and Labour parties to help him bring down the Deputy Foreign Secretary and other MPs.
He made at least a dozen statements which are clearly at odds with the current position of the UK government and displayed stunning ignorance of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Foreign Office questions
Questions Tuesday January 10th 11.30 am
Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Israel on illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Boris Johnson: I spoke to the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Netanyahu—he is also the Israeli Foreign Minister—on 23 December and raised the subject of illegal settlements. I probably spoke for a large majority of Members when I said that I am a strong and passionate supporter of the state of Israel, but I also believe that the continued expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank is by no means conducive to peace. (This is not incorrect, but is surely the understatement of the century.)
Paula Sherriff: I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Will he further advise us on what assessment his Government have made of the Israeli Government’s intent to comply with UN Security Council resolution 2334 on illegal Israeli settlements?
Boris Johnson: That is clearly a matter for the Israeli Government, (no, breaches of international law and abuses of human rights are legitimate matters of concern for all UN member countries) but I repeat our position that we believe—this is a long-standing view of the UK Government—that settlements in the West Bank are illegal, and that the 20% expansion we have seen in those settlements since 2009 is a threat to the peace process. That was why we resolved as we did. Of course, there has been a certain amount of argument about that and a certain amount of push back from the Israeli Government, but the Member will find that there is a wide measure of international support for that view, which in no way diminishes this Government’s strong support for a Jewish homeland in Israel.
Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Is there anything in the substantial analysis presented by Secretary Kerry on 28 December, following the adoption of Security Council resolution 2334, with which the Foreign Secretary does not agree?
Boris Johnson: Let me repeat my point: John Kerry was completely right to draw attention to the illegal settlements and to the substance of resolution 2334. I remind the House that the UK was closely involved in its drafting, although of course it was an Egyptian-generated resolution. We supported it only because it contained new language pointing out the infamy of terrorism that Israel suffers every day, (this is clearly not true) not least on Sunday, when there was an attack in Jerusalem. I was glad that the resolution identified that aspect of the crisis in the Middle East, and John Kerry was absolutely right to point out the rounded nature of the resolution. May I pay tribute to John Kerry, who is shortly to step down as Secretary of State, for his tireless work for peace not just in Israel-Palestine, but across the wider Middle East? (Theresa May issued a statement saying the speech was 'inappropriate'. Boris does not say whether he agrees with Kerry's speech.)
Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I welcome the Government’s vote in favour of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, not least because it stated that “the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution”. Following the Foreign Secretary’s discussions in the past couple of days with members of the incoming Administration in the United States, does he think that that view is shared by President-elect Trump?
Boris Johnson: I think it is a widespread view in Washington, and across the UN Security Council, that settlements are illegal, which was why the resolution went through as it did, without any opposition. To answer the Member’s question directly, I think it is too early to say exactly what the Administration will decide on this matter, but he can rest assured that the British Government will continue to make the points that we have, not because we are hostile to Israel—on the contrary—but because we wish to support the state of Israel.
Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Let me try to get this right: the British ambassador is summoned formally in Israel because of the way the UK voted at the UN Security Council; meanwhile, in the UK, an employee of the Israeli embassy is caught on film conspiring with a British civil servant to take down a senior Minister in the Foreign Secretary’s Department, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and other Members of this House; and the Israeli ambassador makes a couple of phone calls and all is forgiven and forgotten. Can the Foreign Secretary enlighten us on the thinking behind all this?
Boris Johnson: I certainly can enlighten the House, in the sense that, as my Friend points out, the Israeli ambassador made a very full apology for what had taken place and the diplomat in question no longer seems to be a functionary of the embassy in London. Whatever that person might exactly have been doing here, his cover can be said to have been well and truly blown, and I think we should consider the matter closed. (Just a plot to bring down the Deputy Foreign Secretary? No big deal, then.)
Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): But if a UK embassy official had been caught on film in Tel Aviv talking about “taking down” an Israeli Government Minister, they would have been booted out of the country without any further ceremony, so why did that not happen to Mr Masot? If the Foreign Secretary showed even a teensy-weensy bit of resolve in such matters, perhaps Israeli diplomats would not talk about him in such disparaging terms. (Shai Masot said Boris was an idiot.)
Boris Johnson: The Member seems, alas, to have been failing to pay attention to the salient point, which is that the Israeli diplomat in question is no longer doing his job in London—whatever his job is, he is no longer doing it in this city. The Israeli ambassador has made a full apology for the matter and I am happy to consider it closed.
Mrs Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and colleagues to discuss our grave concerns about Resolution 2334, which my constituents believe will make peace in the Middle East harder to achieve by imposing a complex set of preconditions that the Palestinians will use to avoid serious engagement in negotiation? (Agreeing to stop breaking international law is not a pre-condition, it is a legal requirement.)
Boris Johnson: I am very grateful for that question, and I am happy to offer exactly such a consultation with colleagues. I know that the Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood, has already undertaken to do just that.
Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the horrific attack on Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem on Sunday. We will never achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East until the state of Israel, its soldiers and civilians are free from the threat of terror. Nor will we achieve that lasting peace until all sides accept a two-state solution and a viable Palestinian state can be built, free from illegal settlements. In his allegedly frank discussions with the incoming Trump Administration on Sunday, was the Foreign Secretary frank about those points, too? If so, what response did he receive?
Boris Johnson: The answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second is wait and see.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to promote the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Boris Johnson: We are using every forum at our disposal to try to encourage both sides to get to the negotiating table. It is deeply frustrating. I join Members on both sides of the House who have condemned the appalling attack on—the murder of—four Israeli soldiers at the weekend. All I can do is repeat what we have said: the only way forward has to be a two-state solution, and that is why it was important to restate the Government’s position in Resolution 2334.
Mrs Ellman: The General Secretary of the UN has warned about Iran’s activities in arming Hezbollah in Lebanon through its base in Syria. What can the Foreign Secretary do to combat this growing menace to the prospects of any peace in the region?
Boris Johnson: It is very important to recognise that Iran is a malign influence across the region, and we must be very vigilant about what it is doing. On the other hand, we have to engage with Iran. I think the joint comprehensive plan of action does represent, still, a substantial and valid way forward, and it would be regrettable if we were to junk that process now.
John Howell (Henley) (Con): In looking at the steps to promote peace talks, what effect does the Foreign Secretary think the current level of Palestinian violence is going to have on that process?
Boris Johnson: As my Friend will know, the level of violence, as we have discussed, has been down by comparison with 2015, but it is still too high. I think it was important, therefore, that the resolution, which has been so much discussed this morning, had that balance in it and that language in it pointing out the threat that Israel faces. It is important that we stress that, and that we encourage the Palestinians to understand that there can be no hope of peace unless they get their extremists under control. (All the evidence is that this was a 'lone wolf' attack, unconnected to any organisation.)
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary is using every forum to bring peace. Will he, therefore, be attending the Paris conference, and what new initiative will the UK Government be putting forward there?
Boris Johnson: I can certainly assure the Member that the UK Government will be attending the Paris talks (he does not promise to attend Sunday's meeting himself, even though Kerrry will be there and so will many other foreign ministers) and we will be reinforcing our message, which is that we think that both sides must get round the table and negotiate. That is the only way forward. It would be folly now to abandon a two-state solution, because, in the end, a one-state solution is not in the interests of Israel.
Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): Does my Friend share my disappointment that the Palestinian authorities did not issue a prompt condemnation of the murder of Israeli soldiers over the weekend? Does he believe that the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of violence, refusal to recognise Israel and refusal to meet face to face is one of the major obstacles to a two-state solution?
Boris Johnson: I am very grateful to my Friend for that point because it is absolutely true. (It is not. The Palestinians formally recognised Israel on September 9th 1993 and they have said they will meet face to face as soon as Israel agrees to abide by the unanimous decision of the United Nations and stop building settlements). Yes, Resolution 2334 has been characterised as a settlements resolution. As I have explained to the House, it also contains some valuable language about terrorism. But there can be no lasting solution for that part of the world unless there is better leadership of the Palestinians and unless they renounce terror. (The Palestinian leadership renounced violence and condemned terrorism on December 7th 1988.)
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The Foreign Secretary referred to the Middle East process. Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry failed in their efforts to get a bilateral agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. Is it not now time to go to the international sphere, in the sense of the Arab initiative originally introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2002?
Boris Johnson: The only way forward is for both sides to get to the negotiating table and recognise that a two-state solution is the way forward. (The UK position is that, while the peace process must involve face-to-face negotiations, that is not enough by itself. It must also involve an end to settlement building.)
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Earlier this morning, the Midde East minister Tobias Ellwood, said that the Government only support UN Security Council resolutions when they know they can be enforced. So, if the Israelis continue with the settlement programme, what steps will the Foreign Secretary take to enforce resolution 2334?
Boris Johnson: The Member will know very well that we are working with our international counterparts to persuade both sides to get to the table, to persuade the Palestinians to drop their violence (if he is referring to the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas, he is well-known as a moderate who does not support violence) and recognise the existence of the state of Israel (they did that in 1993) and show some leadership (it is the UK that has failed to show any leadership on this issue, especially since William Hague stood down), and to persuade both sides to understand that a two-state solution is the only way forward (the Palestinians have strongly supported the two-state solution since 1982, but a majority of Netanyahu's cabinet now oppose it). I believe that that is the best thing for the Government to do.
Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con): Many of my constituents are concerned that the recent UN vote marks a change in the British Government’s stance towards Israel. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that that is not the case, and that we remain steadfast allies of that beacon of liberalism and democracy in the Middle East?
Boris Johnson: As is well known, the state of Israel is just about the only democracy in that part of the world (it rules over 12 million people of which 6 million are Arab Palestinians - but they will never have a majority in the Knesset (parliament) as nearly 5 million of them cannot vote in Israeli elections). It is a free and liberal society, unlike many others in the region (but 50 laws discriminate on racial grounds). I passionately support the state of Israel. It was very important that, in Resolution 2334, the UK Government not only stuck by 30-year-old UK policy in respect of settlements, but underscored our horror of violence against the people of Israel. (It also underscored our horror of violence against the people of Palestine, but apparently that is not worth mentioning.)
First published on Palestine Briefing.