HC Deb 05 December 2001 vol 376 cc333-45 3.32 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Government policy in the light of recent events in the middle east.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for asking this private notice question.

I am sure that I speak for the whole House in expressing once again the shock and anger that I felt when I heard the news on Saturday night and on Sunday morning of the series of terrorist atrocities in Jerusalem and in Haifa, in north Israel. These atrocities killed at least 25 and injured more than 180 people. They came on top of a series of other terrorist attacks that have caused many deaths and that, in turn, have put the people of Israel in fear of going about their normal lives.

On Sunday, I spoke by telephone to Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, and then to President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. To Mr. Peres, I expressed my sincere condolences and those of Her Majesty's Government. To President Arafat, I stressed the imperative that the Palestinian Authority now properly detains terrorist suspects in Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups, and the imperative of the need for him to take other action to remove the continuing threat that terrorists pose to the stability of the whole region.

Israel is entitled to take steps to ensure its security. Our approach to the peace process has been well set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and by myself, including in my address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on 11 November. We have backed fully the initiative set out by the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on 19 November, and his appointment of General Zinni and Ambassador Burns as US envoys to the region.

Although the situation is grave—indeed, precisely because it is—the case for peace remains as strong as ever. We in the United Kingdom and in Her Majesty's Government stand ready to do all that we can to help the parties to resume substantive dialogue and to bring about the swift and full implementation of the Tenet and Mitchell committee recommendations. Distant and difficult though that aspiration may appear, we work towards a day when two states—Israel and Palestine—live peacefully together within secure and recognised borders, as called for by Security Council resolutions.

Mr. Campbell

In the spirit of the day, I draw attention to an entry in the Register of Members' Interests against my name in relation to the Liberal Democrat middle east council.

May I begin by sharing the expression of sympathy that the Foreign Secretary gave, not only to the Israeli community but, of course, to the Palestinian community as well? Even though it appears that the middle east is staring into the abyss, does he agree that it is necessary urgently to restate two cardinal principles: first, that Israel is entitled to live in peace and security within its boundaries; and, secondly, that the Palestinians are entitled to justice and a viable homeland, as both the Prime Minister and President Bush have said in recent weeks, although, unhappily perhaps, not in the past 72 hours?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that whatever President Arafat's faults, and they are by no means negligible, it is wholly unreasonable to equate him with Osama bin Laden? Does he also agree that to target Arafat personally, or to encourage others to do so, will have grave consequences in the middle east, both in moderate and in radical states, and not least for the coalition against terrorism, which may simply fall apart?

Finally, whatever violence may be committed against the people of Israel and whatever military action may be taken against the Palestinians, is it not the case—as I think the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged—that sooner or later dialogue will have to resume? Does he agree that that dialogue is much more likely to succeed if President Arafat makes serious, sustained and credible efforts to apprehend terrorists, and Israel, in return, exercises restraint and orders an immediate cessation of the policy of the expansion of settlements, which causes so much discontent and creates an atmosphere in which Hamas and Islamic Jihad can flourish?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks, and express my sympathy for his current condition. I agree with what he said about peace, security, justice and a viable homeland. Indeed, I said exactly that in my remarks. As for equating President Arafat with Osama bin Laden, that is not a description that I or any member of the British Government has used or would use. There are many criticisms of President Arafat, but he is the head of the Palestinian Authority and needs to be recognised as such.

My criticism of President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority is that they have not done sufficient to pick up the terrorists. I have had many conversations with President Arafat and other members of the Palestinian Authority. Their good intentions are not in doubt, but there is a failure to take action on the ground to pick up those terrorists who are known to them and everyone else. Those people have no love whatsoever for the Palestinian Authority, any more than they do for peace in Israel, the occupied territories and the middle east in general.

Even at this late hour, it is essential that President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, in recognising the gravity of the situation, take action to pick up those known terrorists and terrorist suspects, not just to arrest them, but to detain them securely and in circumstances in which the international community and Israel can see that they are detained securely.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

We in the Opposition are horrified and outraged by the recent bombings in Israel. Only today, we heard of six more innocent civilians injured and, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, 25 young people were killed and many more critically injured on Sunday. Our thoughts are very much with the families of all those who have suffered so grievously since the intifada started. We hope that those who suffer in that way will, at some stage, feel a greater sense of security.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that no matter how difficult or even impossible the current position, it has never been more imperative to create the conditions for negotiations to start, based on the Mitchell process, and that, ultimately, going back to the Mitchell process is the only way to make progress? Does he agree that it is essential that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian authorities ensure not only that those who are responsible for the terrorist outrages are swiftly detained and securely imprisoned, but that they are not quickly released, as has happened all too often in the past?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the terrible impact of these events is to undermine economic structures in Israel, the west bank and Gaza, creating a vicious cycle of unemployment and deprivation that simply exacerbates the problems? Does he share our view that the continuing crisis might undermine not only the coalition partnership in Israel and the stability of the Israeli Government, but the personal position of Chairman Arafat, and that that is yet another reason why the violence and bloodshed must end? If the right hon. Gentleman, working through international organisations and other bodies and through the offices of our Government, can bring any influence to bear on that tragic situation, he will have our fullest support.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks on behalf of his party. I think that I covered most of his points in my previous answer. The Tenet and Mitchell reports set out a clear framework, agreed by both sides, for progressing from the current position to one of relative peace, and thence to longer-term negotiations.

One of the many individual tragedies in the continuing tragedy that has befallen the region is that there was yet another window of hope following Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech on 19 November and his appointment of General Zinni and Ambassador Burns to take a hands-on approach to carrying forward the process. Yet again, extremists—in this case, on the Palestinian side—have exercised what in practice amounts to a veto on the process, blocking it for the time being. That makes it all the more important that such people, who kill innocent people and are negligent of people on their own side being killed, are locked up and detained for as long as is necessary, not released quickly.

On the issue of political instability, we have seen time and again that the cycle of violence produces great instability and makes it all the harder for those who recognise that the long-term future of their region lies in peace to be heard.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Does my right hon. Friend understand that most of the young people who decide to give up their lives in such a way are born into occupation, live all their lives under occupation, and, with their families, suffer the daily humiliation of the extremes of occupation? At some stage, the Israelis have to get back to the negotiating table, but they will not do so as long as they are using their military might—Israel is the fourth or fifth ranked military power in the world—against a mainly unarmed civilian population. At some stage, the Israelis have to be told to restrain their military forces; otherwise, there can be no peace.

Mr. Straw

I understand how strongly my hon. Friend feels. I hope that he, in turn, understands that throughout our years in office we have tried to be even-handed in the pursuit of peace. However, it is impossible to excuse the use of suicide bombers. Recent UK history has many instances of explanations being offered for various terrorist outrages on both sides of the Irish sea, but whatever the motives or background of those who committed the atrocities, one simple, terrible fact remained: innocent people were killed and that was wholly unjustified.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

The Foreign Secretary will command widespread support for the tenor of his remarks. Will he use Britain's undoubted influence in the region, especially at this stage, in the face of appalling provocation of the Israeli Government, to distinguish between targeted action against the terrorists, which is completely justified and with which no one can quarrel, and reprisals pure and simple, which cannot be justified and perpetuate the cycle of violence?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is now a question mark over whether Yasser Arafat is still a viable partner in the peace process? Either he has the ability to control and influence, and to stop these dreadful outrages taking place, in which case he is wilfully culpable for not doing so, or he is incapable of exercising that influence and control, in which case he is not much use.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He makes an important point about the difference between targeted action and untargeted reprisals. I will ensure that his remarks are drawn to the attention of the Government of Israel. They are important.

In some ways, I wish that the position of President Arafat were as simple as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. However, it is not, as ever, in the occupied territories of the middle east. The simple fact is that President Arafat is the elected senior representative of the people from the occupied territories, and it is a matter for those people, and not for us, to determine who their representative is. Meanwhile, it is fair for us to point to failures by the Palestinian Authority to meet its international obligations to the state of Israel, which it has recognised, and its people. In my judgment, in failing to do so, it has failed, in turn, properly to protect its own people.

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while we should condemn the Israeli military attacks personally on Chairman Arafat, we should recognise that he often speaks with one voice in English to the outside world and with another voice in Arabic to his own people? Until he speaks with the same voice to both his own people and the outside world, there can be no return to the peace table.

Mr. Straw

I speak only a few words of Arabic, and I shall not try them out now. My hon. Friend knows well that any remarks made by President Arafat in Arabic can be translated quickly into English. All the important statements that he makes at his press conferences are in Arabic and not English, as I and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister know, having been alongside him on such occasions. I do not think that there is a great deal in that point. However, it is important that we see action taken by the Palestinian Authority to detain those who are causing outrages and who are daily flouting and challenging the authority of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that however great the injustice that has been done to the Palestinians—it is a very great injustice—absolutely nothing can excuse the sort of behaviour that we have seen in the past few days? Does he agree also that this cycle of violence must end and that the European Union, sovereign Governments and America must bring every ounce of influence that they have to bear to secure a ceasefire?

In wholly endorsing the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) about reprisals, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that until there is a ceasefire no process can begin, and that without a process there is no possible hope of the end of these wicked activities? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore agree to speak to his colleagues in the United States of America to ensure that the most severe pressure is brought on both the parties to this dispute for an immediate ceasefire?

Mr. Straw

I shall see Secretary Colin Powell tomorrow in Brussels. This afternoon, I shall speak to, among others, Hubert Vedrine and Joschka Fischer, the French and German Foreign Ministers, with the precise aim of achieving what the hon. Gentleman wisely set out. I agree with him, with just one caveat. I agree that no serious peace process can begin until there is a ceasefire, but we need a process to achieve a ceasefire, and need it rapidly. Although that is difficult, I hope that General Zinni and Ambassador Burns will be able to assist with it.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not clear that the terrorists responsible for Saturday's atrocities—crimes against humanity, as the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has just said—have no regrets about the Israeli military retaliation because they believe that it will deepen the anger of the Palestinians and create a breeding ground for terrorism? Will my right hon. Friend take up the point about the United States? Is it not clear that the one country that can have some influence on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but especially Israel, is the United States? Every effort should be made by the United States to bring about a viable Palestinian state, which, while it will not eliminate terrorism—no one has any illusions about that—will certainly help to undermine terrorism in that area.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right that the terrorists who caused the outrages—and, even more so, those behind them who did not volunteer as suicide bombers and continue to organise those outrages—have no regrets about the loss of civilian life or the provocation to Israel. However, I am afraid that that cannot lead us to assert that Israel should do nothing in response to those threats. There were plenty of occasions when we were fighting Irish terrorism when extremists in the Provisional IRA and others deliberately sought to provoke a reaction from the British Government and security forces; we had to make a proportionate reaction, but we had to react properly.

The United States should be commended by both sides of the House for the efforts that President Bush and Secretary Powell have made since 11 September and, indeed, before that date. The Tenet and Mitchell reports were produced well before 11 September, but there has been an acceleration of effort since then, with the important statement by President Bush in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 10 November, followed nine days later by Secretary Powell's speech, which led to the appointment of General Zinni and Ambassador Burns. I know that the United States is ready to do everything that it can, but it believes, as we do, that the first steps out of the terrible situation must be taken by the Palestinian Authority to ensure that those terrorist suspects from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups are locked up and stay locked up.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

I associate my party and our colleagues in the Scottish National party with the condemnation of the atrocities and the sympathy expressed in the House to those who have suffered on all sides. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the Israeli Government are seeking to make a direct comparison between their actions at the moment and those of the western coalition against terrorists in Afghanistan. Will he take the opportunity to reject that comparison and remind us both of the peace process that has taken place as a result of hard work in the middle east and the need to return to that process? Does he also accept that the Palestinian Authority's failures, of which there have been many in the past, are manifest, but that there is no viable alternative for the Israeli Government other than to discuss and negotiate with President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority?

Mr. Straw

In all terrorist situations, there are differences in the discrete causes, but there are also similarities. I am afraid that the most dreadful similarity is that innocent people end up getting killed. Action that needs to be taken will vary; plainly, given the scale of events on 11 September, that action was different from the action required in the middle east.

As to viable alternatives, everybody in Israel, the occupied territories and the region who supports a peaceful future for the middle east understands what needs to be done. It is all there, in Tenet and Mitchell. It is laid out in great detail in Secretary Powell's speech. Working out what ought to be done is the easy part; ensuring that it is done is the more difficult part. I come back to my point that if there is to be a pathway first to a ceasefire, and then to peace in the middle east, President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must take action now—today—to lock up those terrorist suspects.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Since any onslaught would make an appalling situation even worse, may we take it that the British Government are doing everything possible to deter certain Americans from the folly of attacking Iraq?

Mr. Straw

I have set out before, as has the Prime Minister, our approach to the situation in Iraq. I was pleased that we achieved a much better roll-over resolution to United Nations Security Council resolution 1284, which is the current sanctions resolution, with a clear undertaking from Russia that there would be an enhanced sanctions regime with a proper goods review list within the next six months. The key to Iraq coming back into the civilised world is for Iraq to implement the undertakings imposed on it by the UN Security Council resolutions, including the re-admission of weapons inspectors. I say strongly to my hon. Friend that Iraq continues to pose a very serious threat to Arab states, as well as to the state of Israel, by its continued unlawful development of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

What impact does the Foreign Secretary think the continuous building of Israeli settlements on Arab territories is having on moderate Arab opinion in this ghastly period? Does he think that it makes the task of the Palestinian authorities any easier when attacks are made on the police, police barracks and those who are supposed to be in authority? Is not Israel in a cleft stick, in that if it takes such action, it weakens the very authority that it is inviting to take tougher action against extremists?

Mr. Straw

Successive United Kingdom Governments have said that they do not agree with the building of settlements inside the occupied territories. The future of those settlements must be one part of any peace process, but to get there—to achieve a sense of justice for the Palestinians, alongside what is equally and desperately needed: a sense of peace and security for Israelis—there must be an end to the violence, terrorism and vetoes on any kind of peace process. That requires of the Palestinian Authority the kind of action that I described.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the deaths of innocent Jewish teenagers at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, and the deaths of innocent Palestinian teenagers—of whom we might have heard a little more this afternoon—at the hands of the Israeli army, are both parts of the terrible tit-for-tat that is going on in what is called the holy land?

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that the Labour party members of the Israeli Cabinet walked out of the Cabinet meeting that decided that the Palestinian Authority was an entity that supports terrorism and must be dealt with accordingly? Will he bear it in mind that Yossi Beilin, the ex-Labour Minister who was the architect of the Oslo accord, wrote yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot: The war that Sharon is planning … will push us many years away from the chance of leading a normal life"?

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that a Labour Member of the Israeli Parliament, Colette Avital, a former ambassador to Portugal, said yesterday: Bombarding targets associated personally with Arafat is not fighting against terrorism. If we topple Arafat, are we ready to reocuppy all those territories and be again the masters of all those Palestinians? Should not this Labour Government be listening to those Labour voices from Israel?

Mr. Straw

We certainly listen to those Labour voices. I spoke directly to Shimon Peres on Sunday in answer to a phone call. I can think of no one who has sought more to secure peace in Israel and the occupied territories, but his mood was one of gloom and despair about the way in which these terrorists had undermined his efforts on the path to peace. My right hon. Friend asked me by implication whether we share the view expressed by Prime Minister Sharon, which is that the Palestinian Authority is an entity that supports terrorism. As I made clear earlier, that is not a description that we have ever used or would use. At the same time—I shall labour the point—it is extremely important that the Palestinian Authority does more to contain the terrorists who are operating from within the occupied territories. As it does more in that respect, any suggestions that it is supporting terrorism will dissolve.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

When does the Foreign Secretary believe that Palestine will be able to exist within secure and recognised boundaries?

Mr. Straw

I do not think that it is possible for anybody to put a time scale on that. It depends on when it is possible for the good people on both sides to exert power and come together to work on Tenet and Mitchell and then on a proper peace process. As I said, what needs to be done is pretty straightforward, but getting there is much more difficult.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

I am not aware of any hon. Member who has sought to excuse the suicide bombings at the weekend or subsequently. They deserve to be condemned.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to an e-mail that I received today from somebody in Wadi Fouquin, a Palestinian village next to the Israeli border? Its road has been cut off and people cannot get in or out. The writer of the e-mail referred to a pregnant woman who may go into labour, but the village has no clinic and the people there simply do not know where or whether she will be able to have her baby safely. We need to say to the Israelis very clearly that the action that they are taking is disproportionate and is punishing a people collectively, which is against the Geneva convention. If we are to ask President Arafat to crack down on terrorists among the Palestinians, bombing the very security apparatus that could achieve that result is not a good way to go about doing so.

Mr. Straw

The Palestinian people have suffered grievously since the territories were occupied and they continue to suffer. As many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have pointed out, a large number of entirely innocent deaths have occurred among Palestinians as well; indeed, a greater number of deaths have occurred. None the less, we must recognise that in the past six months, the Israeli Government have taken steps to work towards a peaceful solution. Yes, I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. There have been two recent windows for progress. Tourism Minister Zeevi was assassinated after a period of quiet that had lasted 10 days. The process was disrupted, after which there was continuing lower-level violence. Now there is a situation in which, notwithstanding the Powell speech on 19 November, the appointment of Zinni and Burns and the existence of a better prospect than there has been for many months of a process leading back towards Tenet and Mitchell, that effort and those chances and hopes have been vetoed again by terrorists. Any state that is in that situation is bound to take action—yes, proportionate action—to deal with it.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

In most certainly not condoning Israel's ill-targeted reprisals after the weekend's wicked events, may I nevertheless ask the Foreign Secretary whether he can confirm that Hamas is largely funded by sources in Iran, and, if that is so, what action we are taking against those sources and the Government of Iran, as a leading member of the international coalition against terrorism?

Mr. Straw

I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman with the information that is publicly available about exact sources of finance for Hamas and other terrorist organisations. In Prime Minister's questions, my right hon. Friend answered a question about whether we should have better relations with Iran, notwithstanding some of the associations that have been mentioned. I share the Prime Minister's view that we are better able to achieve peace in the region by dialogue. I visited Iran twice in the past three months, and I make no apology for that. On my first visit in particular, I spoke to the Iranian Government about what we believe to be their support for terrorist organisations elsewhere in the middle east. That dialogue and engagement must continue.

John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)

Although we must be even-handed in our condemnation of indiscriminate acts of violence that kill innocent civilians, whether by Islamic Jihad, Hamas or the Israeli state, is it right to base our foreign policy on even-handedness when one of the most powerful and heavily armed states in the world occupies its neighbour in contravention of international law and United Nations resolutions? With hindsight, does my right hon. Friend believe that we were wrong to abstain on the proposal for an international peace force—a protection force—earlier this year and that the United States was wrong to veto it? Does he agree that we might not be in our current predicament if that force had been established? Will he reconsider the matter now?

Mr. Straw

I make no apology to my hon. Friend for trying to be even-handed in my approach to foreign policy. That does not mean that one produces an equally balanced statement every day; it depends on the exact circumstances. However, if even-handedness means securing the objective of the people of the state of Israel living in peace and security alongside a viable state of Palestine, which also enjoys peace and security, I plead guilty to it. Such an approach is the only way to achieve peace in the region.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the fairness and consistency of his statement and answers today. I remind him and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) that when a United Nations force was ordered out in 1967, a chain of events began with threats to Israel and culminated in the occupation of what are today the occupied territories.

The Foreign Secretary correctly differentiates between the actions of bin Laden and Arafat. However, perhaps a better parallel is between the actions of bin Laden's suicide bombers and those of Hamas's suicide bombers. When we consider the measures that we have taken against bin Laden, is not it correct that similarly tough measures against Hamas and its suicide bombers should be undertaken by the one democratic state in the area: Israel?

Mr. Straw

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, one of the most striking features of the middle east conflict is the extent to which people can be partisan even in their analysis. It is almost impossible to find a single work that presents both sides of the argument fairly. Like the Irish question or the Kashmir question, one can argue about the matter for ever and a day. Who cast the first stone? It depends on one's point of view. In all those conflicts, many stones have subsequently been cast and we must end that in the interests of the people concerned.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, it is neither appropriate nor helpful to try to compare one group of terrorists to another. I repeat that if one is killed or maimed by a suicide bomber, it does not matter whether that person was ordered to act by bin Laden or Hamas; the victim is still dead or injured. When I was Home Secretary, I proposed to the House that the military wings of Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas, among other terrorist organisations, should be proscribed. The House agreed to that.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

We all condemn the appalling atrocities that took place on Sunday, and acknowledge that Palestine needs to do more to tackle the problem of terrorists operating from within Palestine. The difference, however, between those atrocities and the excessive reprisals taking place from Israel is that those reprisals are being carried out officially by the state of Israel. We must remember that at all times. Does this not make it much more difficult for us to open the window of opportunity and get back to where we were last year, when a negotiated settlement was within reach? Since then, violence has escalated, and it has become increasingly difficult to keep that window of opportunity open.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right to assert that the cycle of violence that has taken place, particularly since the intifada began on 28 September last year, has made restraint more elusive on both sides. We all wish to see restraint. It has also led to the circumstances described my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in which those who seek to be a moderating or restraining element in the politics of Israel or the Palestinian Authority have less authority than before.

My hon. Friend is also correct to say that an important opportunity to secure lasting peace was missed last year, and that what has unfolded since has its origins in the failure to achieve a settlement at that stage.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Surely we must urge restraint on both sides even-handedly—as has been said—and recognise that for a state to commit indiscriminate acts of reprisal and revenge can be just as morally reprehensible as terrorism, and can provoke escalating violence. Will the Government seek dipLornatically to impress on our US allies that for some members of the Administration to make partisan or inflammatory statements can only exacerbate the conflict, undermine the international coalition against terrorism and endanger world security?

Mr. Straw

Of course everybody wishes to see restraint exercised and action taken proportionately—a point made by the right hon. Member for Horsham earlier—and properly targeted. We must also recognise, however, that a proportionate response is determined by the proportion of the outrage that occurs before it. That is the difficulty that we face in this situation.

So far as United States policy is concerned, I tend to follow the official statements of Secretary Powell and President Bush, rather than newspaper reports of what somebody is supposed to have said to somebody else. So far as the official statements of Secretary Powell and President Bush are concerned, they have my full support and the full support of Her Majesty's Government.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

While condemning absolutely the suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa at the weekend, may I ask my right hon. Friend what pressure the British Government can bring to bear on the Israeli Government to withdraw from the west bank and Gaza, as demanded officially by the United Nations in 1967?

Mr. Straw

As President Bush spelled out in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, we are all seeking a secure and safe state of Israel, operating within internationally and regionally recognised borders alongside a viable state of Palestine, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. All of us in the international community subscribe to the implementation of those resolutions, but to get to what is laid out in resolution 242—and subsequent resolutions—requires action on the ground by the parties. I have suggested to the House today how some of that action might be achieved.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the perpetrators—and their backers—of the continuing atrocities against Israeli citizens are people who want the elimination of Israel, rather than a just solution to the conflict on the basis of two secure and viable states?

Does my right hon. Friend recall that a year ago it was the Palestinians who walked out of negotiations? Does he feel that the continuing messages of hate broadcast by the Palestinian Authority and taught in Palestinian schools over the years, including recent months and weeks, provide some justification for Israelis' fears that they are now fighting for their existence, not for a just solution based on Israel and Palestine?

Mr. Straw

I accept what my hon. Friend says: almost all those who are behind, and claim to speak for, the suicide bombers, and other terrorists, want Israel to be eliminated. That cannot happen; it must not happen. It is completely inconsistent with any sense of humanity, and with international law.

As for what happened last year, there are many arguments about who did what, and who caused the negotiations to fail. All I know is that, according to what I have seen, they came within an ace of success—and if they had succeeded, the conditions of the people of Israel and those in the occupied territories would be very much better.

I also accept what my hon. Friend said about the way in which children in some areas of the middle east are being incited with parodies of Israel, although I must add that a measure of restraint should be exercised in regard to similar things that have been said by some Israeli politicians.

It is the Palestinian Authority that has signed up to a proper recognition of the state of Israel, and we look to it to put that recognition into effect.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

My right hon. Friend said that Israel had a right to take steps to protect its security. Does he accept that its long-standing policy of the targeting and assassination of Palestinian activists simply cannot be justified? While no one seeks to excuse suicide bombers, was not the Government of Israel's deliberate choice to assassinate a well-known Hamas leader just before the arrival of the American peace envoys guaranteed to provoke a violent response of some sort, to continue the cycle of violence, and to prompt a suspicion that it was designed to do precisely that?

Mr. Straw

I have condemned such killings in the past when I have felt it justified, in the terms used by my hon. Friend, and I shall continue to do so when it is appropriate. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has done the same. I understand what my hon. Friend is saying; but what we—Members on both sides of the House—must do is ensure that one act of violence is not excused by what happened immediately before it.

There was no excuse for the terrorism that took place at the weekend. Had it not taken place, there would have been a good prospect of Zinni and Burns being able to restart the peace process. The result of its taking place was the understandable reaction of people in Israel, described by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). It greatly increased the levels of fear in Israel, which are already palpable and which mean that many people in Israel simply cannot go about their normal lives as they would wish. Their children cannot go to school without being worried that they will be killed. Similarly, there is a cycle of fear and suffering in the occupied territories.

We must say to those who are triggering the violence that they have to stop. As I have said, we must also say to the Palestinian Authority that it must take steps to apprehend, arrest and detain for a long time the terrorists who are causing these atrocities, while asking the people and Government of Israel to show a proportionate response in the face of such huge provocation.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

May I pursue the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)? Is my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary as concerned as Shimon Peres appears to be about the dangers inherent in what is now the potential collapse of the Palestinian Authority? If so, will he communicate his concerns to Mr. Sharon?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I have made clear our opinion on the Palestinian Authority. President Arafat is the elected constitutional head of the people in the occupied territories, and we believe that it is important that, as long as he enjoys the confidence of the people of the occupied territories and of the Palestinian Authority, he should remain in that position and we should deal with him. However, that is in no sense to justify some of the Palestinian Authority's failures, as I have spelled out today.