HC Deb 10 December 2002 vol 396 cc149-51
10. Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

What assessment he has made of the implications of the policy statements made by the new leader of the Israeli Labour Party for the peace process. [84330]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

It is for Israeli voters to decide which party's policies are most likely to bring them peace and security. We look to the next Israeli Government, whoever leads it, to engage with the Palestinians and the international community in the implementation of the Quartet road map within the time frame set out by President Bush on 24 June.

Dr. Turner

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the emergence of Mr. Mitzna offers us new hope for restarting the middle east peace process and for withdrawal from illegal settlements on the west bank? Does he also agree that whether Mr. Mitzna becomes Israel's next Prime Minister or the leader of the Opposition, this Government should do their utmost to support his efforts towards a peaceful and political settlement in the middle east?

Mr. O'Brien

We certainly want a peaceful settlement of the middle east conflict. Our policy on settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law and are an obstacle to peace. Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including road building, because it is creating facts on the ground. It breaks up Palestinian territory throughout the west bank and makes the possibility of a negotiated settlement much more difficult to reach. We have consistently called on both parties to refrain from unilateral acts which prejudice the outcome of the permanent status negotiation. Each brick in a settlement is a barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Mr. Mitzna said that if he were Prime Minister, he would immediately begin talks without condition. Whichever candidate wins the forthcoming Israeli elections, does the Minister agree that with attention largely focused on Iraq, the international community, especially the United States, must actively re-engage in pushing for a resumption of the middle east peace process? Does he agree that a continuing stand-off is simply not acceptable and that there is a moral compulsion on all parties to make every effort to engage in dialogue based on a genuine desire to reach an agreement? Who is he in touch with on each side who might actually be prepared to talk to each other?

Mr. O'Brien

It is the case that we need to resume the talks. The process would be enhanced if the suicide bombings stopped and the Israelis were able to remove their forces from the large areas of the west bank that they occupy, which disrupts activity among Palestinians, so atomising that society. We are in regular contact with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Indeed, this week I met Palestinian representatives and this afternoon I will meet the Israeli ambassador. We are also obviously in contact with representatives of the Quartet who are working hard to create the road map that we hope will be the basis on which a peace process will be constructed. A great deal of discussion is going on and there are many contacts between various Israeli and Palestinian groups. It is important that we encourage a process of dialogue because it is only through negotiation and dialogue that we will secure peace.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Have the British Government made representations either to the new leader of the Israeli Labour party or Mr. Sharon on the illegal building of the great Israeli wall? It is illegal from end to end because it is built 6 or 10 km within Palestinian territory, thus confiscating 10 per cent. of the total land.

Mr. O'Brien

Only a small portion of the wall is built. I have seen photographs of it, but I have not been to see it. The wall is clearly wrong. We have made strong representations to the Israelis that it should not be constructed. Israel has a right to protect itself from terrorist activity, but, frankly, building barriers and walls is not the way to go about creating long-term security for Israel. The Israelis will get long-term security when there is a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians and when a middle east peace process brings about a two-state solution—a state for the Palestinians, but also a secure and peaceful state for Israel.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Endorsing what the hon. Gentleman has just said, has the Foreign Secretary told the leaders of both major parties in Israel that the constant flouting of UN Security Council resolutions is not conducive to peace in the middle east?

Mr. O'Brien

Both parties are well aware of our view that resolutions 242, 338 and 1397 are the basis on which any peace process needs to go forward. We have made it clear that flouting or ignoring those resolutions is not acceptable, but we also know that those resolutions require a peace process. That is why the discussions in the Quartet are important—they will provide the road map to peace. We hope that both parties—Israel and the Palestinians—will work with the international community to ensure that that road does lead to peace.

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