HC Deb 30 October 1996 vol 284 cc633-6
3. Mr. Batiste

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the progress of the middle east peace process. [685]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

Redeployment from Hebron was scheduled for the end of March in the interim agreement. Both sides must abide by commitments under the interim agreement. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Arafat have both said they will do so. Concrete steps are necessary soon or there is a risk of the peace process slipping backwards. We also wish to see the reopening of the Syrian track.

Mr. Batiste

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, since the democratic process produced a change of Government in Israel, all parties have had to adjust to changes in priorities and in the nuances with which they approach the peace process? Nevertheless, is he satisfied that all parties remain committed to its success? What steps have the British Government taken since the House rose in the summer to assist that process?

Mr. Hanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that, in the time scale following elections, such as those in Israel, one may need to reflect. However, agreements such as the one on Hebron have already been made between the parties. They have agreed not just that Hebron should be returned, but on the other outstanding elements of the Oslo accords: redeployment from areas B and C, the rural west bank; the release of Palestinian prisoners; and free passage between the west bank and Gaza. Those are issues that have been agreed, and although I understand that the security situation changes from day to day and needs to be addressed seriously, we also need to see progress very soon.

Mr. Kaufman

I congratulate the Minister on the reply that he has just given. Does he agree that, amid all the discourtesies and incompetences that accompanied President Chirac's visit to Israel and to Palestine, it was somewhat curious that the Israeli regime was willing to accept European Union aid, but not to accept a European Union role in the peace process? Taking into account the fact that, as the Minister has pointed out, those agreements are international, ought it not to be pointed out to the Israeli regime that, if it accepts international aid, it should also pay attention to international views on an international agreement?

Mr. Hanley

The European Union is the largest aid donor to the Palestinians and we favour a strong European Union role supporting the peace process. We are ready to play an active part, commensurate with the scale of European Union interests and economic support for the peace process. That is why we welcome the decision to appoint Ambassador Moratinos as the European Union's special envoy. That will help the European Union to have a stronger role within the peace process. The mandate makes it clear that there is no intention to cut across the mediation role of the United States, but that we should support and complement the United States' role.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) that Britain has taken a very firm line with the European Union and with the United Nations, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly. It is important that the international community works together to bolster the peace process. There is nothing inconsistent in President Chirac's visit—it was clearly part of an attempt which has been co-ordinated with actions by allies, such as the visit by my right hon. and learned Friend to Israel next week.

Sir Mark Lennox-Boyd

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the light of the Israeli Government's extraordinary and unacceptable pursuit of the peace process, a visit by any British Foreign Secretary to Jerusalem gives the opportunity for a visit to Orient house, and that our right hon. and learned Friend should be strongly urged to make such a visit because, by doing so, he would send a message without having to use offensive language, which would offend him as our foremost diplomat?

Mr. Hanley

My right hon. and learned Friend's decision not to visit Orient house next week is in line with European Union policy that short working visits need not include a call on Orient house. That in no way changes our firm policy that visits are important in maintaining the European Union position of principle on Jerusalem. I paid a longer visit to Israel earlier this year and I called on Orient house. That was completely consistent with the European Union position, as is the action of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Last week, the Secretary of State told the House that he would not indulge in megaphone diplomacy when he visited the middle east, and that, I think, gained general acceptance throughout the House. Notwithstanding that, may we have an undertaking that he will pursue robustly the case against any further settlements in the occupied territories, not least because they are extremely provocative and they provide ready fuel for fundamentalist action?

Mr. Hanley

Those who know my right hon. and learned Friend know that he needs no megaphone, nor will he seek to use one in the way that the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. He will state firmly to the Israelis our position on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Under the fourth Geneva convention, all settlements in the occupied territories are illegal and an obstacle to peace. We have regularly raised that issue with the Israeli Government and the expansion of settlements can prejudice the final status talks. My right hon. and learned Friend will make that clear.

Sir Timothy Sainsbury

Does my right hon. Friend agree that successful economic co-operation between Israel and her neighbours, including the Palestine entity, is an effective way of progressing and strengthening the peace process? Will he therefore consider the obstacles that exist to the use of public or private finance from the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom's considerable expertise to help that economic co-operation? For example, there are a number of obstacles which he might like to discuss with his right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Hanley

Yes, I thoroughly agree that trade can help to underpin the peace process. I have said before in the Chamber that a prosperous Palestine is a peaceful Palestine, and there is no doubt that a prosperous Israel, which is self-confident, with the freedom to trade with its neighbours and beyond, is an Israel which will maintain the peace. Trade relations between our two countries have increased greatly during the past three or four years and it would be tragic if any reduction of effort or reversal in the peace process caused a reversal in economic relations, which are so valuable to all people within the region.

Mr. Robin Cook

The Minister will be aware that I visited Hebron and Orient house last month. Anyone who has seen Hebron must be aware that there can be no peace progress so long as a city of 100,000 Palestinians is dominated by the presence of Israeli military and by road blocks around the city centre. In view of the question of the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste), will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Oslo accords have the status of an international treaty and are binding on the new Government of Israel, who must now honour the commitment to withdraw the military occupation of Hebron? Finally, will he press the new Israeli Government to recognise that their legitimate aim of peace with security for Israelis can be achieved only on the basis of peace with justice for Palestinians?

Mr. Hanley

I agree with every word that the right hon. Gentleman has said. He is absolutely right about Hebron. Unless there is a solution there before long, there will be no peace. It is the next step, but other steps clearly must follow. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the Israelis and any Government of the Israelis must make security a priority. It is vital for them. They must take that into account. That is why we urge restraint upon all those who might be tempted to loosen their tempers in reaction to what has happened during the last few weeks and months. Remarkable restraint is being shown. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is correct.

The Oslo accords have been agreed by the parties. Prime Minister Netanyahu told my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he would stand by the Oslo accords—by any agreement that had been signed by Israel. I believe that he means what he says.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Has my right hon. Friend made any representation to the Israeli authorities, perhaps through our excellent consul general in Jerusalem, over the recent killing of a Palestinian youth who was throwing stones at an Israeli settler? Is it not extremely important that justice should be done in such a situation? Is he aware that the settlers, who are armed to the teeth, frequently behave in an offensive and ridiculous way?

Mr. Hanley

I agree with my hon. Friend about that tragic action. Indeed, I regret the death of anyone in that area. I regret, too, the deaths of two Israeli soldiers in the past couple of days in south Lebanon. I regret any death. We must have peace. I admire those who do not over-react or even react in anger to such tragic actions. We need calm, peace and justice. My hon. Friend is right: justice should flow from that tragic act.

Back to