HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc131-3
6. Mr. Jim Marshall

if he will make a statement on his Department' s assessment of likely progress on the middle east peace process. [26435]

Mr. Robin Cook

We believe strongly that the best hope for progress towards a lasting peace in the middle east is through the current process, based on the Oslo agreements and the principle of land for peace. In particular, we believe that significant and credible Israeli troop redeployments from the west bank and an end to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the west bank are essential to restore confidence. We shall continue to work for an outcome that offers peace with security to the Israeli people and peace with justice to the Palestinian people.

Mr. Marshall

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but may I push him a little further? Does he agree that Israel should comply fully with international agreements, into which it freely entered some years ago, and with successive United Nations resolutions on the middle east? Does he further agree that, if Israel were to do that, it would not only progress the middle east peace process but make it easy for Arab states which wish to support further action against Saddam Hussein to do so?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the read-across in the minds of the population of many Arab countries between the current confrontation in Iraq and the stalemate in the middle east peace process. To ensure that we are not vulnerable to any charge of double standards, and for the sake of peace in the middle east, it is important that we are robust in insisting that the terms of the Oslo accords are carried out. I therefore assure him that we shall continue to condemn any breach of the Oslo accords. In particular, we call on the Government of Israel to honour the agreement entered into by the previous Israeli Government, which, because it has the force of a treaty, is binding on successor Governments.

Mr. Flight

What information, if any, does the Foreign Secretary have on the production of biological and chemical weapons in other parts of the near east? I am thinking in particular of Syria and Libya, which are a factor in the stability of the area and the peace treaty.

Mr. Cook

I am not aware of such production in Syria. Libya, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is also subject to very tight sanctions, one of the aims of which is to ensure that there is no possibility of that country developing any chemical or biological weapons.

Mr. Wyatt

Can my right hon. Friend say what new European initiatives to push forward the middle east peace process will be made during Britain's presidency of the European Union?

Mr. Cook

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the European Union is the major provider of funds to the peace process. During Britain's presidency, we shall consider how we roll forward that budget to ensure that we continue to support the peace process practically. In particular, we shall look for initiatives to boost confidence in the middle east and address the economic problems of the Palestinian authority, perhaps through supporting the Gaza sea port and airport. I shall visit the middle east next month to take forward those initiatives.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Is it not clear that an overwhelming obstacle to the peace process—indeed, one that causes the most offence to the Palestinian people—is the Israeli Government's persistent breaches of international law on settlements? If the Government, and those of us who support them in their attitude to Saddam Hussein and his breaches of international law, are to carry any credibility, must not we be even-handed in our condemnation of other countries in the middle east that so obviously breach the principles of international law?

Mr. Cook

I agree absolutely with the hon. and learned Gentleman. We have done precisely what he says—only last week in the middle east, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), condemned the settlement programme and the expansion of the settlements. The Israeli Government should be under no illusion: whatever they gain in domestic opinion, they lose in international opinion by jeopardising the peace process.

Mrs. Ellman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Palestinian demonstrations in support of Saddam Hussein that took place over the weekend will not help the cause of peace, as they intensify the anxieties about security of those Israelis who genuinely want peace for land? Given that the memory of the 39 Iraqi Scud missiles that landed on Israeli towns is still uppermost in Israeli citizens' minds, will my right hon. Friend call on the Palestine National Authority to act responsibly, just as he rightly calls on the Israeli Government to act responsibly?

Mr. Cook

We would welcome support for our position on Iraq from any quarter, including the Palestinian authority. I agree that the Israeli people are fully entitled to be secure and to feel that their safety is catered for in any peace settlement. It is also important that we remember that those who voted for the current Israeli Government did not vote for a suspension of the peace process; they voted for peace with security. Unless the Palestinian people are offered peace with justice, there can be no peace with security.

Mr. Howard

The Foreign Secretary has not told us what action he has taken under Britain's presidency to help break the logjam. Will his third planned visit to the middle east, which is due to take place next month, be cancelled as the other two were? Does he accept, as the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) suggested, that the logjam in the peace process is hindering and complicating any action to solve the situation in Iraq? Will he impress that on the Government of Israel, with all the status of his presidency of the European Union Council of Foreign Ministers?

Mr. Cook

Just for the record, one of those visits was cancelled because of religious holidays in the middle east and the other because of the previous Iraqi crisis. To respond to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's points about the presidency—[Interruption.] If the House will allow me to deal with the question, I can tell him that we had a discussion on the middle east peace process at the last meeting of the General Affairs Council and as a result I have been in close contact with Madeleine Albright. We anticipate that we may have a freer and closer access to the American-brokered initiatives on the peace process. As part of that, we are producing our own complementary measures on the Gaza sea port and airport, to which I referred.

Mr. Ernie Ross

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his robust comments about Prime Minister Netanyahu at the weekend? There is a problem as far as the Netanyahu Government are concerned. On the one hand, the Ministry of the Interior is allowing 132 housing units to be built in Ras al-Amud and on the other, the security service is trying to suggest that the Palestinians will complain about that simply to cause problems in the area. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to condemn any attempts to build on the Ras al-Amud area of Jerusalem?

Mr. Cook

I am very happy to condemn that, and to repeat the statement made by the Minister of State, who did exactly that in the middle east. The Government of Israel are in no doubt as to our views and the overwhelming views of the international community. If they want to return to the peace process, they have to abide by the interim agreements, which means ending the expansion of the settlements and the closure programme, which interrupts the free passage of the Palestinian people.