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Exclusive interview with Amanda Milling, UK Minister for Asia and the Middle East

Jerusalem24 – Amanda Milling, United Kingdom Minister for Asia and the Middle East, joined us in the studio on Thursday for an exclusive interview as part of her first official tour of the region.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the interview.

On the UK’s repeated calls to Israel to abide by international law: there is “slow progress” in the UK’s dialog with Israel.

On UK support for UNRWA: “Be reassured that we have supported UNWRA, and we will continue to do so.”

On the results of investigations by the Palestinian Authority and a number of international news outlets into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper: “There are no conclusions yet, there’s nothing conclusive.” The Minister presented her condolences to the family of Shireen.

On Masafer Yatta: the Minister confirmed that she raised the issue of the impending forcible transfer of over 1,000 Palestinians from their homes in Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank with the deputy foreign minister in Israel on her visit there on Wednesday. The Minister visited Masafer Yatta on Friday.

The Minister expressed that the UK is “very concerned about the increase in settler violence”. The Minister further said she was “really shocked by the murder of Ali Harb.”

Below is a full transcript of the interview. A link to the interview audio can be found at the end of this article.

 

Welcome Madam Minister.

Thank you very much, I’m absolutely delighted to be with you.

It’s our absolute delight to have you here too. Let’s talk first about the- your itinerary, highlights of your trip, and what are you hoping for to achieve with your visit.

Well first of all I’m absolutely delighted to be here, and it’s part of a number of days in the region. I was in Israel yesterday, I’m here in the OPTs, and I’ll be going on to Jordan. And this is my first official visit as the Minister for the Middle East, which I took on earlier this year. But I have actually been here before. But for me it’s really about understanding the current dynamic. You know, we see things in news, we talk about it a lot, you know I get a lot of briefings on this from the team. But it’s actually having the opportunity to be here on the ground, to talk to politicians, to talk to businesses – I’ve literally just come from a business meeting – and also kind of talk to people as well. So it’s a really fantastic and fun, pack- you know fun, full-packed program over a few days.

That’s wonderful. Well there have been a lot of developments here on the ground during the very first few months of this year, since you have taken office too, such as the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court to forcibly transfer the residents of Masafer Yatta, the violence that occurred during the Flag March in Jerusalem. How have you approached these developments in your new capacity as UK Minister for Asia and the Middle East?

So can I start by expressing my sincere condolences to the family of Shireen. This was a really tragic killing, and you know, we were- you know, I and- you know, those of us in the UK were really shocked by this and it’s something that, we do want to see people that were- those responsible held to account, and also want to see an independent and fair investigation. There are a number of things that have been going on which have been of great concern. And this is actually a part of my visit, is to kind of meet with people who are faced by possible eviction and demolitions of their home. Tomorrow I’ll be going to Masafer Yatta, because again this is of great concern, the kind of possible forcible removals, because we are clear that this is at odds with international humanitarian law. And actually in my visit to Israel, I did raise these issues with the deputy foreign minister. And fundamentally the UK supports the two-state solution aligned with the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as a shared capital. So this is about me really getting to see and speak to people on the- on the ground, to better understand it and also to be able to represent these different views.

Madam Minister, the- in terms of UK policy to the region since you have officially left the EU, in April this year you said you welcomed the US Middle East Partnership Peace Act that was passed in 2020. The act established a $250 million fund over five years to support peacebuilding projects. You said the UK stands ready to coordinate and cooperate further. First, does the UK participate in the fund either financially or otherwise?

So I think that the key on this is that the UK is engaging with the US and we stand ready to support, because peacebuilding is really important.

Especially, like, can you give us an example, do you have- a special- participation- future participation in peacebuilding efforts in the region, especially with partnership- or relations with the Palestinians?,

So you know, we have- peacebuilding is very important as I say. And actually yesterday, you know, one of the kind of programs that I looked at was, I went to a project in Lod to look at kind of a peacebuilding project there and to be able to hear from people in terms of, you know, what- their involvement in the program and in terms of how, you know, the two- the communities worked together and kind of talked to each other and try and understand each other better.

So what kind of projects and programs would you like to support?

So as I say, kind of peacebuilding is just- is this really important area to kind of support in order to be able to ensure that the communities better understand each other and also kind of work alongside each other.

Madam Minister, on June 21, so that’s two days ago, you said in a written answer to a member of parliament that you were planning to visit the community of Masafer Yatta, and you just confirmed that. Have you confirmed- you just did. When will you take place- when was it- where- is it going to take place?

Yes as you say, in a written question- in London in parliament, I did confirm that I would be visiting Masafer Yatta. That is part of my program tomorrow; Because we are very clear in the UK that evictions do cause unnecessary suffering, are illegal under international law, which is why it was really important that this was part of my program over the next few days.

Also, are you planning to take up the issue with your Israeli counterparts?

So I visited Israel yesterday, but I confirmed that these are issues that I have raised with my Israeli counterparts as part of this visit-

But after your visit to Masafer Yatta will you be addressing these issues, especially, Masafer Yatta, you’re going to have an on-hand experience in Masafer Yatta tomorrow and talk with affected Palestinians?

As I say, I met with the deputy foreign minister yesterday and actually specifically kind of raised these issues with him. But obviously kind of, being- having the visit tomorrow will enable me to better understand the situation there. And this is something that we continue to raise with our Israeli counterparts.

You have also in the past condemned incidents of settler violence. Yesterday the UK consulate in Jerusalem condemned the stabbing and killing of 27-year-old Palestinian Ali Harb by an Israeli settler. You have acknowledged that settler violence is actually growing and- and it is a growing problem. What do you think should be done to address this growing settler violence?

So, the- we are, you know, very concerned about the increase in settler violence. And, you know, I was really shocked by the murder of Ali Harb. And, you know, this is another area where I’ve urged Israel to tackle, investigate, and hold perpetrators to account. But specifically the case of Ali Harb, I know that the consulate actually kind of expressed our shock and condemnation only yesterday.

You have said, and I quote here, “We repeatedly call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and have a regular dialog with Israel on legal issues related to the occupation.” What have been some outcomes, Madam Minister, of this dialog?

So you know, these are issues that we raise with our Israeli counterparts, and I think it’s important that as a close ally of Israel we can have these frank discussions. As I say, I did raise, and- you know, these issues with the deputy foreign minister only yesterday. And we do remind our Israeli counterparts that they do need to abide by international law. And it goes back to the kind of- the fundamental here, is that the UK is a supporter of the two-state solution.

But what have been the outcomes of this dialog? We know that this is a risen [sic] issue, you’ve talked about it with your ally, Israel, but what have been some of the outcomes if you can share it with us?

So I think the key thing is that, you know, we- there is slow progress. But you can only kind of get, kind of- the outcomes by actually having that dialog. You know, we want to see that two-state solution. And it’s important that by having that dialog, by having those conversations, that we do progress to that point.

Okay, let’s get back to Shireen Abu Akleh. The UK has called for a thorough investigation into the killing of veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. The US department yesterday- the US Department of State yesterday changed their approach to this issue and called on Israel and Palestine to conduct their own separate investigations. Do you support this approach first?

So I think the first thing I want to say is that, as I say, we were really shocked by the killing of Shireen. And you know, we are- the UK hold kind of media freedom as something kind of really, really important, so it’s a very, kind of, important value to us. You know, we do continue- and I asked for an independent and transparent investigation. I spoke to the ambassador in London at the time about this. But- and I also raised kind of this particular case with the deputy foreign minister yesterday, because it is important that those are held- those people responsible are held to account.

So since the PA also has already conducted its own investigation, do you support the findings of the investigation? Also the PA use- is going to be using its findings to press for accountability, do you support this?

So the key thing that we want with, you know, this case, is we want to get those responsible accountable for this. And you know, we need to kind of get close, you know, kind of- understand this. But obviously the US is closer to the case because Shireen was a dual national.

Also, there are- there have been many investigations: the PA, AP, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, and all these international outlets all conducted the same findings [sic] leading to the result that Shireen Abu Akleh, AlJazeera journalist, was killed by an Israeli sniper. And since the UK is calling for a thorough investigation, do you trust these results of these different, separate, independent investigations?

Yeah I think the most important thing is that we actually find out who is responsible for Shireen’s killing. You know, that is what is most important in this. And you- as I say I’ve been following this closely. I don’t think we’ve got any conclusive answers yet. But I- so I think the most important thing is that those answers are found and the person responsible is held to account.

Does that mean that you’re still waiting for the- Israel’s independent investigation?

As I say, there are no conclusions yet, there’s nothing conclusive, and that therefore it’s most important that, you know, the answers are found. Because, fundamentally this- shocking, and actually, as I say, my sympathies really go out to Shireen’s family, and I know the community felt this really hard too.

Madam Minister, the UK is a supporter of UNRWA. Are you going to continue your support and what role can the UK play in ensuring the viability of the organization at a time when its future is actually in doubt?

So I think it’s kind of very important to kind of reassure that we are actually a really strong supporter of UNRWA and we will continue- continue to assist it. Now we’ve provided more than £380 million to support UNRWA since 2015, providing things like kind of basic education to more than 530,000 refugee children. So I think, you know, be reassured that we have supported UNWRA, and we will continue to do so.

Right. Finally, the UK is a long-term supporter of a state- a two-state solution. Will you be seeking updated information here on the ground during your visit in order to issue an assessment as to whether the two-state solution is still viable?

So as you say in your question we are, obviously, we remain, kind of absolute supporters of the two-state –

Right, the position is still the same. Right.

– solution as the best way to address the conflict, and one based on the 1967 boundaries with the agreed land swaps. So you know, obviously, we’re talking to people, that is why I’m here, in order to kind of talk with politicians and kind of- and also the community as a whole. So, you know, as I say, the UK are fully supported- supportive of the two-state solution.

Madam Minister, Amanda Milling, UK Minister for Asia and the Middle East, thank you so much for joining us here in Jerusalem24’s studios, it’s been a delight to have you here.

Thank you very much for inviting me in.

 

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

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