HC Deb 14 July 1998 vol 316 cc170-3
2. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

If he will make a statement on the middle east peace process. [48702]

6. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

If he will make a statement on the current position regarding the middle east peace process. [48706]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

We remain committed to the Oslo process based on the principle of land for peace. Under the Oslo agreement, the third redeployment of land on the west bank to the Palestinian National Authority should take place next month. It is a worrying measure of the delay to the peace process that there is as yet no agreement on the second redeployment, far less to a third redeployment.

We believe that the original US proposals for a redeployment of 13 per cent. remains the best way forward. We welcome the decision of President Arafat to accept the US package as a whole. We continue to urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to do likewise, which would be in the interests of the Israeli people, in the interests of the whole region, and in the interests of peace.

Mr. Murphy

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which goes some way to answering the question before I ask it. Many right hon. and hon. Friends in the House consider themselves to be friends of the state of Israel. That does not mean that they are always friends of the Government of the state of Israel. Will my right hon. Friend add to his comments an assurance that pressure will be put on the Palestinian National Authority to ensure that terrorist activity occurring within that organisation is stopped and that the continuing desire within the Palestinian charter for the destruction of the state of Israel no longer exists? With that continuing pressure on the Government of Israel, we can once again have momentum, and land for a lasting peace, which the whole House supports.

Mr. Cook

We are very active with the Palestinian National Authority in seeking to win the war against terrorism. That is why Britain has seconded a security adviser to the team of the European special envoy on the middle east peace process and why we were able, during my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's visit, to secure an agreement on security between the European Union and the Palestinian National Authority.

It is important that it is understood on both sides that, if we are to carry forward the peace process, the authority and the prestige of President Arafat must be maintained. That will not be possible if another participant in the talks constantly undermines the Palestinian status and position.

Dr. Iddon

It looks from the outside as though the Washington peace initiative has run into the sand. Unless the Israeli Government accept the package by the end of the present Knesset session, which is I believe 29 July, it looks like staying that way. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Israeli Prime Minister's prevarications on acceptance of that package and events that have occurred recently in that region—not least of which was a serious attack on the Israeli Prime Minister by the Israeli President—have created a dangerous situation? Does he feel that it might be worth while for European leaders to try yet again to kick-start the middle east peace process?

Mr. Cook

I do not know whether the suggestion of a sitting in August would be any more welcomed in the Knesset than it would in this Chamber. All the details of the package have been known since 4 May and there can be no justification for continued prevarication in coming to a decision on that package. We have hitherto bent our efforts to ensuring that we supported the American proposals and encouraged both parties to accept those proposals. I am bound to say that I think that that was the right course because it was important that there should be no diversion from the peace process. Should we arrive at the point at which the American initiative collapses and the United States withdraws from the process, that will obviously be a point at which European and other parts of the international community will have to consider what alternative way forward there may be.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Does the Foreign Secretary remember the qualified optimism that greeted the Oslo peace accords and the feeling of admiration for the courage of Yitzak Rabin and Yasser Arafat—a feeling common both to friends of Israel and friends of Palestine alike—courage for which Yitzak Rabin ultimately paid with his life? We have come a long way since those days, have we not? Does the Foreign Secretary think that the current proposals to cede some 10 per cent. of the west bank to the Palestinians, or to expand the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, are consistent with the spirit of the Oslo agreements?

Mr. Cook

I can frankly and candidly tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that we support the United States proposal of a 13 per cent. redeployment. That in itself is a major compromise by the Palestinians, which went into those negotiations seeking a 30 per cent. redeployment and has already come down to 13 per cent., which it has accepted. To invite the Palestinian negotiators to go further would be to leave them without credibility among their own people.

It was agreed at Oslo that Jerusalem should be settled in the context of the final status talks. We regret any action that unilaterally disturbs that agreement. We should like to get to final status talks, but, before doing so, there must be progress on the interim steps.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the American policy on the middle east has, for the past 10 years, proved a catastrophic failure, with serious consequences for the future of peace and the stability of the middle east? Does he agree that now is the time for Britain and the European Community to take a more independent and more robust line of their own? What steps does he envisage taking down that road?

Mr. Cook

We were absolutely right to make sure that we gave every possible opportunity for the American proposal to succeed. If we had produced, over the past two months, a diversion from the American proposal which had taken away from either party the pressure to sign up to it, we would not have been serving the cause of peace in the middle east. If it becomes evident over the next week or two that there is no way forward on the American proposal, others will have to become more active, but, for the present, I am not for letting up the pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to sign up to a package which is in the interest of his people and, on the most recent opinion poll, is supported by 60 per cent. of them.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

One of the positive steps that the European Union has taken is the drawing up of an interim trade agreement with Israel and with the Palestine National Authority to encourage a commitment to peace in the area. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as part of that, the European Commission is receiving monthly reports on human rights violations in the occupied territories by the Israeli Government? What action does the EU intend to take in respect of those violations, given that there is a human rights clause in the interim trade agreement?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend is correct; there is a human rights clause in all trading agreements reached by the EU. She is also correct to say that we monitor those agreements carefully; indeed, our embassies in Tel Aviv regularly produce a monitor on the growth of settlements in the occupied territories. We will continue that monitoring, and will certainly take action should we at any stage consider that to be appropriate.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that the trading agreement also applies to the Palestinian territories. We are anxious to achieve progress on the Gaza seaport and the Gaza airport so that the Palestinians can trade with the EU and the rest of the world.