The government’s decision to commit £3 million of government money for co-existence projects between Israelis and Palestinians has been applauded across the political spectrum.
The three-year commitment, announced in Parliamentary Answers by Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Alistair Burt, follows a five-years of campaigning by Labour Friends of Israel and others..
Only £150,000 was allocated for such projects in 2015/16, and the budget was completed eliminated in 2016-17.
LFI chair Joan Ryan and fellow Labour MP Ian Austin have repeatedly pressed officials in the Department for International Development (DfID) to increase funding for “people-to-people” co-existence projects. “LFI is delighted that the Government appears to have listened to our calls on this important issue,” said Ryan, following a five-year campaign that gained the support of the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council.
“It is based on the premise that bringing Israelis and Palestinians together will promote reconciliation, trust and understanding between the two peoples which is vital in underpinning any successful peace process.”
Burt, responding to a question from Tory Paul Masterson, confirmed the support said the UK’s support “will help Israelis and Palestinians work together to achieve tangible improvements in their lives and build understanding between people on both sides of the conflict”.
Conservative Friends of Israel – whose supporters have also lobbied for the support and whose delegations include visits to such projects – welcomed the “unprecedented” announcement, with honourary president Lord Polak saying coexistence projects “facilitate positive interaction between Israelis and Palestinians and ultimately form the foundation of a lasting two-state solution”.
He added: “We are delighted that [DfID] has secured this unprecedented funding, which together with the redirection of Palestinian Authority aid to health and education will ensure taxpayers value for money while directly supporting conflict resolution.”
A recent BICOM study looked at co-existence projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories over the past 20 years, and Sorene said: “The evidence is clear that these projects have profound long-term impact.”
The study showed that one in five participants went on to devote their careers to peace-building, and four in five said they trusted the ‘other side’ more and wanted to work for peace after taking part.
“Based on all the evidence we recommended that the UK significantly increase its funding in these projects and we are hugely encouraged that DFID has made a clear commitment for the next three years,” he said. “But to ensure long term change the funding needs to be long term and substantial.”
James Sorene, chief executive of UK-Israel think-tank BICOM, expressed hope this is just the start of long-term UK financial support for Israeli-Palestinian co-existence projects”.