HC Deb 12 February 1997 vol 290 cc336-8
18. Mr. Ernie Ross

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress in the middle east peace process. [13971]

19. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Israeli Government regarding the implementation of the Oslo agreement; and if he will make a statement. [13972]

Mr. Hanley

I welcome the reopening, after last month's Hebron agreement, of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a range of outstanding issues. We will continue to urge both sides to move swiftly to implement existing agreements, and to restart the final status negotiations.

Mr. Ross

I am sure that the whole House would like to welcome unreservedly the freeing of the 31 Palestinian female prisoners from Israeli gaols. The Minister will be aware that there are still about 2,000 male Palestinian prisoners in Israeli gaols. Does he agree that, the more that Prime Minister Netanyahu is exposed directly to the peace process, the more likely it is that the peace process will move forward?

Mr. Hanley

We welcome the release of prisoners last night. That was as stipulated in the interim agreement, proper implementation of which is crucial. Further redeployments must be substantial if Palestinian faith in the peace process is to be maintained, and we must move swiftly on the other outstanding issues. I shall keep my comments to a minimum because of time constraints.

Mr. McAvoy

Will the Minister confirm the Government's stance that the best guarantee of secure borders for Israel is co-existence with the Palestinian entity or state? Bearing that in mind, will he continue to press the Israeli Government and the Palestine Authority to continue the Oslo process as the only way to guarantee peace in the middle east?

Mr. Hanley

I thoroughly agree that continuation of the middle east peace process is the only way forward. The United Kingdom supports self-determination for the Palestinians in United Nations resolutions. The final status of a Palestinian entity is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a matter for negotiation between the parties, but we believe strongly that it would be unwise to rule out statehood as an option.

Mr. Batiste

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the development of trade is an important ingredient in the peace process? When will the United Kingdom ratify the EU-Israel trade agreement?

Mr. Hanley

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Improved trade for Israel is vital not only for the people of Israel, but for Palestinians. I hope that in the House next week we can make progress on the EU-Israel agreement.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Is not considerable credit due to Prime Minister Netanyahu for the substantial progress that has been made recently with the middle east peace process? Should we not always bear in mind the fact that his Government have a responsibility to the people of Israel to be mindful of their incredible vulnerability, because of the size of the country?

Mr. Hanley

My hon. Friend is correct: the Prime Minister of Israel is committed to the peace process. We must do everything that we can to encourage further progress, following the Hebron agreement. There was a serious delay over the Hebron agreement, but it has now been passed, and we must make progress. All parties believe in peace.

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