HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc141-2
17. Mr. Eric Clarke

If he will make a statement on Israeli settlement expansion in the west bank. [26447]

Mr. Robin Cook

The EU position on settlement building in the occupied territories is clear. It is both illegal under international law, and damaging to the peace process. The building of settlements pre-empts final status talks and destroys hard-won trust between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Clarke

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation there is critical and is inhibiting a peaceful settlement? I was delighted to hear this afternoon your previous statement on the matter, and I give you full support—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must speak through the Chair. I think the Foreign Secretary has got the question—a very complimentary one, which I am sure he can answer.

Mr. Cook

As I understand it, I have my hon. Friend's support, as well as his question. I fully share his concern on the matter.

Two issues of great concern to the Palestinian people arise from the Ras al-Amud development—first, the illegal continuing occupation and building of settlements on territory occupied by military force; and, secondly, the longer-term implications for Jerusalem, as it appears to be part of a strategy to make sure that Jerusalem does not continue to be a mixed city with a division between the two peoples there. For those reasons it is very important, if Israel wants the peace process to proceed, that it halts that particular expansion and refrains from all further settlement development.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

There is no doubt that the expansion of Israeli settlements on the west bank and elsewhere is impeding the peace process in the middle east. Bearing in mind the exceptional relationship that exists between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States, and the fact that, through its funding of Israel, the United States is undoubtedly contributing to the expansion of the settlements, what action is the Foreign Secretary prepared to take to bring pressure on the Government of the United States to influence what is going on in Israel?

Mr. Cook

I discuss the middle east peace process at least every second day with my opposite number in the United States, the Secretary of State. I entirely and thoroughly endorse her call on the Government of Israel to take time out from settlement building. During Mr. Netanyahu's recent visit to the United States, President Clinton made perfectly clear the impatience of the United States at gestures that make it more difficult to take forward the peace process.

The hon. Gentleman raises the very real financial and economic consequences of doing that. Israel has prospered well from the peace process and the extra investment that peace and stability attracted. Israel has more to lose than anyone else if that peace and stability now appear to be at risk.

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