Israel’s settlements in the West Bank must not define the borders of a two-state solution, the Foreign Secretary has said.
Philip Hammond warned Israel’s takeover of further land in the West Bank was intended to undermine the peace process but insisted the buildings can be demolished and moved.
Mr Hammond spoke in the Commons to clarify earlier remarks from Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood, who told MPs the settlements must not distract people from restarting peace talks.
Mr Hammond told Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): “I know exactly what (Mr Ellwood) was trying to say to you earlier on.
“These settlements are illegal and building them is intended to undermine the prospects of the peace process. We must not allow that to happen.
“These are buildings. Buildings can be transferred, buildings can be demolished. Where these buildings are built must not be allowed to define where the final settlement line can go.
“We need to be very clear about that.”
Mr Irranca-Davies had told MPs: “There are massive asks both on the Palestinian and Israeli leadership in taking us to a place where we can have meaningful peace discussions.
“But could I ask (Mr Ellwood) to reconsider his comment earlier on that the issue of settlement building was something of a distraction and we shouldn’t be fixated on it.
“It’s no more a distraction than achieving peace in the region as well and security for the Israelis.”
Earlier in Foreign Office questions, Liberal Democrat former leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Israel’s settlements put the possibility of a two-state solution “further and further into the future” and could have completely undermined it.
He asked Mr Ellwood: “Would you accept that no leader of the Palestinians could accept a solution which, for example, made it impossible for a Palestine state to have East Jerusalem as its capital?”
Mr Ellwood replied: “The issue of settlements is very serious indeed but we must not allow it to deflect from the bigger issues of reaching an actual settlement.
“But it is possible for land swaps to take place, we do need to focus on this bigger issue.
“It is, as you imply, illegal under Article 46 of the Hague Regulations but we do want people not to be distracted by the settlements themselves but to come to the table and restart the negotiations.”