HC Deb 27 February 2001 vol 363 cc709-10
12. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

If he will make a statement on the prospects for peace in the middle east, following the Israeli prime ministerial election. [149713]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

The cycle of violence is undermining the confidence of both sides in the peace process. I am encouraged by Prime Minister-designate Sharon's statement that he plans to continue with the peace process, and to ease the conditions for Palestinians.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Will the Minister confirm that his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave his support to financial help for the Palestinian Authority at yesterday's EU General Affairs Council? Given the historic ties that exist between the United Kingdom and both Arab countries and Israel, may we have the Government's continuing assurance that they will be even-handed in their initiatives to try to bring peace to the middle east—especially given that only a fortnight ago, in a democratic election, an overwhelming 62 per cent. gave power to Prime Minister-elect Sharon?

Mr. Wilson

I think that even-handedness—along with transparency—is the key to building and maintaining credibility. I am delighted that yesterday the EU approved the provision of £38 million for the Palestinian Authority: money that had been held in reserve is now being made available. Obviously, the economic health of the authority is very much part of the key, and I am pleased to note Prime Minister-designate Sharon's recognition of that since his election.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

My hon. Friend will share our sadness at the apparent unravelling of the peace process over recent weeks, and the sadness felt by Labour Members, at least, at the defeat of Ehud Barak. As he is doubtless aware, there are some conciliatory signs, not least the fact that the Labour party in Israel has joined the national unity Government.

May I urge my hon. Friend to ensure, in his discussions with the partners in the middle east, that they put pressure on Chairman Arafat to be tough on some of the extremists, particularly those in Hamas? Will he also urge the Prime Minister-elect to honour and respect the wishes of the vast majority of Israeli and Palestinian people, so that we can have a lasting peace based on "land for peace"?

Mr. Wilson

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the vast majority of the Palestine and Israeli people want peace. That is usually the case in such conflicts. At present, every effort of everyone who has a contribution to make should be to ensure that the dialogue on peace is maintained and takes up where it left off, and that every door is kept open to dialogue.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new appointment?

Given our historic links, is the hon. Gentleman aware of the disappointment that is widely felt in the middle east about Britain's lack of influence in the peace process? Does he realise that that is borne out by the embarrassing unwillingness of political leaders in the area to see the Prime Minister's personal envoy, Lord Levy?

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. There our accord ends. I find it sad that such a serious matter should be reduced to such a trivial level on the basis of some ridiculous inaccuracy, on a personalised basis. If that is all the Tory party has to offer a serious question such as the middle east peace process, heaven help the Tory party, never mind the rest of us.

Back to