Merger of departments praised for bringing ‘more value’ on Middle East progress

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Merger of departments praised for bringing ‘more value’ on Middle East progress

James Duddridge, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the foreign office, praised the fusion of the FCO with the Department for International Development

A Palestinian boy looks behind a wall separating Jewish part and Palestinian part of the West Bank. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A Palestinian boy looks behind a wall separating Jewish part and Palestinian part of the West Bank. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

A government minister has said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an example of how the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development “can add more value as one than as two”.

The comments were made on Tuesday by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Duddridge MP in a Westminster Hall debate secured by Labour Friends of Israel’s new vice-chair Catherine McKinnell MP.

Some MPs have expressed concern that British aid to the Palestinian territories may be at-risk now that DFID has merged with the FCO, and that money for support in the West Bank and Gaza could become conditional on politics.

Duddridge appeared to suggest that it could be, and that such conditioning may result in more progress on issues such as Palestinian willingness to cooperate with Israel on security issues.

“I know there is some concern about the merger, but this situation is perhaps typical of where the FCDO can add more value as one rather than as two, because development and politics are so tightly fused as to be almost indistinguishable. If the matter is not moving forward, it is not because of political or development reasons.”

He said more needed to be done to build trust, and that while the “suspension of the threat of annexation” as a result of Israel’s accords with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates was a welcome step, it “must made be made permanent”.

He added that the British government had set aside £20 million this year for the salaries of Palestinian teachers, nurses and doctors, which Jim Shannon MP said could be conditional on them performing “cross-communal” work, plus £51 million to the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees.

McKinnell said Donald Trump’s defeat in the US “provides an opportunity to reassert international consensus in favour of a two-state solution,” adding: “Britain should seize that opportunity by supporting the establishment of an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

She said a £700 million fund in Northern Ireland invested in peace-building work, “bringing together nationalist and Unionist communities in more than 5,800 co-existence projects”. Duddridge said it would be discussed with the US next year.

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