HC Deb 12 May 1998 vol 312 cc139-41
4. Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

If he will make a statement on the talks held in London on 4 May on the middle east peace process. [40493]

6. Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

If he will make a statement on the middle east peace process. [40495]

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

The UK was pleased to host the peace process meetings held in London last week. I met the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, on the eve of those talks, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I repeatedly met Madeleine Albright and the two parties to the talks over the two days of meetings.

Throughout those meetings we urged on both parties our view that the American proposals represent the best chance of breaking the deadlock. We welcomed President Arafat's acceptance of them. We regret that Prime Minister Netanyahu was unable to accept the American package, but we hope that further progress can be made when he meets Madeleine Albright tomorrow in Washington.

We fully recognise the importance of security to the Israeli people, but we also believe that their security will be best served by a just and fair peace settlement.

Ms Morgan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the major problems is the resistance and inflexibility of Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli Government regarding the peace talks that have been proposed? Will he continue to work with the US Government to encourage Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli Government to accept those proposals?

Mr. Cook

We will maintain very close contacts with the United States and I, in particular, will maintain close contact with Madeleine Albright. I pay tribute to her strong, firm leadership of the talks last week.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he would like to go to final stages talks. The United States' strategy offered him the opportunity to do so, but those talks can commence only when we resolve the interim issues, and it is a matter of regret that he has been unable to accept what we regard as a fair and reasonable offer to settle interim issues so that we can get on with the final stages talks.

Mr. Butterfill

Will the Foreign Secretary join me in congratulating The Times on publishing on Saturday probably the most balanced and detailed analysis of the problems in the peace process? Will he confirm that there are genuine difficulties relating, for example, to giving up the early warning systems on the Sumerian heights, to the flight path into Tel Aviv airport and to the aquifers that supply Jerusalem, but that genuine progress was made in narrowing the gap between the parties in the discussions held in London? Does he share my optimism that all those problems can be resolved with good will on both sides?

Mr. Cook

I must confess that that article in The Times did not catch my eye on Saturday. Of course there are genuine problems, and nobody should take lightly Israel's important concerns about security, but those issues are much more likely to be resolved in the context of progress in the peace process.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's points about outstanding issues, I can tell him that Britain and Europe stand willing to help to resolve the issues relating to economic progress in Gaza, particularly the airport, the industrial park and the sea port. One of the great tragedies of the peace process is that it has been accompanied by a drop of one third in Palestinians' standard of living. It is vital that we restore to the ordinary families of Gaza a belief that the peace process will bring progress to them too.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

I do not share the optimism that has been voiced. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all the evidence seems to show that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Denktash have one feature in common: neither has any intention of reaching a peace settlement?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend expresses a point of view. It is important for both Europe and the United States that we continue to take at their word the Government of Israel when they say that they wish to restore the peace process. After all, Mr. Netanyahu was elected on a commitment not to end the peace process but to achieve peace with security. There will be no security without peace and no peace unless we manage to get the peace process back on track.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Israeli Government cite security concerns as their reason for refusing to withdraw from territory on the west bank. What action have the United Kingdom Government taken to reinforce the ability of the Palestinians to deal with terrorist activity emanating from their territory in association, liaison and co-operation with the Government of the state of Israel?

Mr. Cook

I am delighted to tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that Europe and Britain have been at the forefront of working with the Palestine National Authority to enhance its capacity to deal with security. That is why when I was in Gaza we announced a permanent joint security committee, which is being supported by a British expert who has real expertise in security and intelligence matters. We are providing practical and real help to enable the Palestine National Authority to get on top of the security problem. I regret that the Government of Israel declined our invitation to join that committee. I hope that they will reconsider their decision in the future.

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