HC Deb 08 May 2002 vol 385 cc143-5
Q1. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister of Israel. [53173]

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)

I have had many discussions with Prime Minister Sharon over the past weeks and months.

Jeremy Corbyn

I am sure that the Prime Minister would join me in condemning both the suicide bombing attacks that have taken place on Israel and the attacks on the Palestinian people by the Israeli armed forces. Will he, however, make it clear to Prime Minister Sharon that the only way to bring about a long—term, realistic peace in the region is for Israel to withdraw from Palestine; to accept United Nations resolutions on Palestinian self—determination; to allow an independent United Nations investigation into the massacres of Jenin; and to recognise a Palestinian state? Until that position has been achieved, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the British Government cease all arms sales to Israel?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that the whole House would like to join me in condemning totally the appalling outrage that has happened in Israel, in which 16 innocent people have lost their lives. That takes the total, incidentally, of Israeli civilians who have been killed since the beginning of March to 100. And for those people who sometimes do not understand the strength and depth of the feeling in Israel, I hope that this latest outrage reminds them of the precise extent of the pressure that Israel and Israeli people are under. At the same time, of course it is right, as my hon. Friend points out, that many Palestinians—many hundreds of Palestinians—too have lost their lives

There has been a strong statement of condemnation from the Palestinian Authority about this latest terrorist attack. But it needs more than simply a strong statement. There must also be action. And I want to make it clear that, as far as we are concerned, we the British Government—and, I hope, the wider international community—are prepared to work with the Palestinian Authority in any way that is possible, in order to ensure that they have the proper security apparatus that they require and that that is properly enforced throughout the Palestinian Authority, because we cannot have a situation where every time it seems as if there is some hope of political progress, that progress is immediately derailed by a terrorist attack.

Unless the fate of any political process is to be in the hands of the latest suicide bomber, we must do more than ensure that a political process can be restarted properly; the most immediate task now is to ensure that we have in place proper security measures within the Palestinian Authority that allow those in Israel some confidence that, if they start to talk, they will not carry on suffering these appalling outrages, for which there can be absolutely no justification whatever.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman of course express, when he next meets Mr. Sharon, the sympathy of the entire House for the latest outrage that has been perpetrated in Israel? Will the right hon. Gentleman also say how pleased we are that Mr. Sharon does seem to be moving towards some dialogue, and that we all hope that that will lead to peace within Israel?

However, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether he has seen copies of the documents that were captured by the Israelis in Ramallah, which clearly appear to implicate Mr. Arafat himself in the funding and organisation of these terrorist atrocities? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that, on that basis, Mr. Arafat can form part of any further discussions?

The Prime Minister

We will of course study the documentation that has been provided by the Israeli Government. I believe, though, that what is important is that we have some means of ensuring that the claims about the Palestinian Authority and their complicity in acts of terrorism are properly adjudicated upon, so that we do not have claim and counter—claim every time one of these terrorist attacks occurs.

There is no doubt at all, therefore, that the immediate task—because otherwise I believe that political progress is impossible—is to try to find some way of ensuring that there is a verifiable security apparatus in place inside the Palestinian Authority and their territories. If that cannot be done, it is very difficult for Israel to negotiate, if it believes that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are indeed complicit in terrorism. On the other hand, if the condemnation by the Palestinian Authority is genuine, we have indeed a true tragedy, where we cannot make any political progress, and where each time one of these terrorist attacks occurs, whatever progress there is immediately dissipates. We have to find a way through that.

In relation to the lifting of the siege of Ramallah, we have tried as a Government to play our part in providing some means of ensuring that, if people are alleged terrorists, they are properly and verifiably under lock and key. But we need to make sure that we build on that and try to put the same type of process in place right across the Palestinian Authority; otherwise we will be faced with this situation time and again. In the end, the casualties are clear: there are innocent Israeli civilians dying in very large number, and there are innocent Palestinian civilians dying as well. It is a tragedy that is now pretty much a catastrophe, not just for that region, but for the world.

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