The new Middle East minister has faced Labour demands to recognise the state of Palestine, amid concerns over the actions of Israel’s prime minister.
Andrew Murrison stuck to the UK Government’s approach of committing to the two-state solution, adding that a Palestinian state is expected to be recognised “when the time is right”.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry pressed him over the issue on his first outing in the Commons since succeeding Alistair Burt, who quit in March over Brexit.
The Labour frontbencher accused Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of taking steps which push Israel “away from democracy and away from the rule of law” while also “attacking the freedoms” of Israeli Arabs and ignoring the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza.
She warned Britain should recognise the state of Palestine “while there is still a state left to recognise”.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Thornberry said: “Can I join colleagues in welcoming the new minister of state for the Middle East to his place – and while I applaud the sterling work other foreign ministers have been doing to cover the absence, it really is a disgrace that at a time like this we should have 50 days without a dedicated minister for such a critical region.
“Can I ask if the new minister of state agrees with me that it is also a disgrace that prime minister Netanyahu is proposing to give the Israeli government and parliament the legal authority to ignore rulings from the Israeli supreme court and put himself personally above the law?”
Mr Murrison replied: “In general we would support the Israeli government. It is the only democracy in the Middle East and a firm friend of this country.
“Where we find that our friends are doing something which we consider to be edgy or with which we would disagree, we will certainly be keen to discuss that with them and I shall be seeing the Israeli ambassador very shortly to discuss a range of issues – and that perhaps, given she has raised it on the floor of the House, might form part of our discussion.”
Ms Thornberry pressed: “We of course support Israel but we also support the rule of law, and we can see where this is going.
“Exactly one year on from the slaughter on the Gaza border, Netanyahu is taking a further giant step away from democracy and away from the rule of law by giving himself immunity against prosecution and complete impunity when it comes to attacking the freedoms of Israeli Arabs, ignoring the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and completing the annexation of the West Bank.
“So I ask the minister of state whether he agrees that now is finally the time for the Government in Britain to take a different step and recognise the state of Palestine while there is still a state left to recognise.”
Mr Murrison said the British Government supports the two-state solution, adding: “When the time is right, that inevitably implies we will support and recognise the state of Palestine.
“But in the meantime we’re engaged in building institutions that are necessary in order to sustain such a state.”