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Thank you to all members and supporters who have emailed the Foreign Office in response to our ‘action not words’ appeal. We have made  further representations to the FCO based on your views. Thanks to everyone who responded. 

Read Alistair Burt’s response below: 

The UK Government’s position on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is clear: they are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. No UK public funds have gone in direct support of settlements.

We have condemned the Israeli government’s decisions in recent months to progress development of over 10,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to unfreeze planning in the area of the West Bank known as E1. We have called on the Israeli government to reverse these decisions. I formally summoned the Israeli Ambassador to the UK to the Foreign Office on 3 December, to make clear the depth of our concerns.

We understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  It was in order to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy that, in December 2009, the UK introduced voluntary guidelines to enable produce from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories to be specifically labelled as such.  At other partners’ request, we have shared our experience of operating this voluntary labelling scheme with interested countries.

The issue of settlement produce is a subject of active discussion with our EU partners.  EU Foreign Ministers, at their meeting on 10 December, reiterated their commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products.

This ongoing work includes measures to ensure that settlement produce does not enter the EU duty-free, under the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and steps to ensure that EU-wide guidelines are issued to make sure that settlement products are not incorrectly labelled as Israeli produce, in violation of EU consumer protection regulations.  There are, however, currently no plans for EU or domestic legislation.

On the issue of funding by EU research programmes, we believe this should be consistent with the EU’s position on settlements. We understand that Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories received an EU contribution totalling 1.13 million Euros under the Fifth and Seventh Framework Programmes for Research, Development and Technological Development.  We are following up with the European Commission to outline our concerns. The European Commission has undertaken to issue precise operational guidelines on this matter, consistent with the EU’s political position on settlements, ahead of the 2014-2020 funding round.

Through the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development (FP7), the EU only funds specific activities targeting civil research that are clearly defined in the annual work programmes. Research entities, including those from Israel are entitled to participate in FP7 projects financed under all the FP7 Specific Programmes and research themes of the framework Programme. Israel contributed almost €90 million to the EU budget in 2011, which made it eligible to participate in the FP7.

No military research is or can be funded either directly or indirectly under FP7. The programme does fund some security-related research which is done under strict ethical guidelines. Security-related projects are submitted to an Ethics Review procedure with independent experts and a Security Scrutiny procedure with Member States, before the grant agreement is signed. This is to make sure that the EU does not support research which would be contrary to fundamental ethical principles. Issues related to potential dual use or abuse are specifically examined under these two procedures. In addition, the Commission and the European Anti-Fraud Office carry out regular spot checks of participants to ensure that EU funds are used for the civil research project in question and not for other purposes.

The UK Government will not hesitate to express disagreement to Israel whenever we feel it necessary. Nonetheless, we enjoy a close and productive relationship with Israel.  It is this very relationship that allows us to have the frank discussions often necessary between friends.  We do not believe that the isolation of Israel is the way to achieve progress on the peace process, or the positive steps that we would like to see.

Alistair Burt MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs