HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc159-62
7. James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

If he will make a statement on the middle east peace process. [91786]

8. Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester)

What recent discussions he has had with the US Government about the middle east peace process. [91787]

11. Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire)

If he will make a statement on developments in the middle east peace process. [91790]

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

Lasting security can be achieved only through a negotiated settlement to secure an Israeli state free from terror and a viable Palestinian state based on Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. We are committed to reviving final status negotiations as soon as possible. We fully support the efforts of the quartet to agree and to publish a road map to that end. The London meeting on Palestinian reform, which I chaired last week, was a valuable and successful contribution towards the reform of the Palestinian Authority on which a viable Palestinian state will crucially depend. A copy of the statement of outcomes from the conference has been placed in the Library.

James Purnell

I welcome the Palestinian conference, especially the commitment to reforming the security apparatus. Does my right hon. Friend accept that until those promises become reality, the Israeli public's primary demands will be for security? Does he also accept that a Labour Defence Minister initiated the construction of the defensive wall and that the Labour candidate supports that, not as a land grab but as a method of allowing the Israelis to withdraw from the occupied territories?

Mr. Straw

Progress on all aspects of reform in the occupied territories must take place as fast as the Palestinian Authority can reasonably undertake it, notwithstanding the current restrictions. We have always acknowledged the Israelis' overwhelming security concerns, but they must act proportionately. That applies to the security fence. Although we understand some of their anxiety to establish the fence, its line has been unjustified. The British ambassador in Tel Aviv has made representations about it.

Ms Russell

I should also like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the conference on Palestinian reform last week, and on his persevering with it despite the intransigence of the Israeli authorities in not allowing the Palestinian delegates to travel to London. I believe that one of the conclusions of the meeting was that the continued building of illegal settlements was seriously jeopardising the viability of a two-state solution. Following his discussions with his counterparts in the United States, what does my right hon. Friend perceive to be the view of the US Administration on the illegal settlements? Do they, too, wish to see them dismantled? They are a real obstacle to peace.

Mr. Straw

The building of the settlements is in defiance of international law, to which the United States has subscribed, as has every other permanent member of the Security Council. There have been frequent occasions on which United States Secretary Powell has issued statements condemning further settlement activity. The simple fact is that these settlements are unsustainable. They cannot continue, and they are a blockage in the way of a solution to the problem of Israel and Palestine. Their removal has to feature in every possible conception of a solution to this terrible conflict.

Mr. Arbuthnot

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the Prime Minister's inviting the Israeli Labour leader to Downing street in the middle of an Israeli general election campaign was not something that was calculated to improve our influence in the middle eastern peace process?

Mr. Straw

I do not accept that. There are plenty of occasions on which visiting foreign parliamentarians, including Opposition leaders, have been accorded proper respect, not only by this Government but by Governments whom the hon. Gentleman has supported. We are the Government of this country, but we also have party-to-party associations. That was true for the right hon. Gentleman's party as much as it is for ours. I believe that the even-handed approach of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister makes a great contribution towards a final situation in which we can make progress towards peace.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that progress on the middle east process, as in any other peace process, depends on a measured, balanced and even-handed approach, involving the concept of two states to the west of the Jordan; an Israel secure from attack within acceptable borders; a viable Palestinian state; Israeli withdrawal from the occupied west bank, alongside an end to terrorist incursions into Israel and a reformed constitution for the Palestinian Authority; and a readiness on both sides to reach accommodations on issues such as Jerusalem, the right of return and the removal of the settlements? Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that progress towards those ends will be advanced only by painstaking work based on the Tenet/Mitchell proposals, on the negotiations at Camp David and Taba, and on low-level agreements which, in the end, are the only way to help to build confidence between the two sides?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This is a terrible conflict, but there have been other, worse, conflicts in which, thanks to a commitment on both sides, there is now hope. I refer the House to the situation in Sri Lanka, where thousands more have died as a result of terrorism even than in the occupied territories and Israel, but where, because of a commitment by both sides, there is now a peaceful process leading, I hope, to a final negotiated settlement. We have to follow the same process in respect of Israel and the occupied territories. There is no future for the 3.5 million Palestinians and, in a sense, still less for the 6 million Israeli citizens, unless we have a political process alongside the necessary security action.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on last week's London conference on Palestinian reform? I support all its outcomes. My right hon. Friend regularly advises us to look at our approach to Northern Ireland. Has he tried to impress upon successive Israeli Governments that, if they were to look at the way in which the parties in Northern Ireland have approached the problems there, and the way in which we as a Government—I do not want to describe us as the occupying power, although some people saw us as that—have responded to acts of terrorism, the Israelis might consider that a way of sending a message to the Palestinian people that they really were committed to peace?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I do use the example of Northern Ireland as well as that of Sri Lanka, although I do not want to pretend that the situation in Israel and the occupied territories is anything like as apparently straightforward as the situation in Northern Ireland. The situation in Northern Ireland was terrible, but the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is very much worse. At least we did not have to contend with the utter horror of suicide bombings.

All that said, I must repeat that the only way in which we can secure peace for Israelis as well as Palestinians is through a negotiated settlement. That is why we must keep on track, not least in supporting the process of the quartet—the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and the Russian Federation.

Many dark things have happened since the intifada was declared two years ago. One good thing, however, is the unanimous agreement that now exists in the international community that the only way forward is a two-state solution involving a viable state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel, borders and other matters being dealt with on the basis of the key UN resolutions 242, 338 and 1397.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

What pressure has the Foreign Secretary put on the Israeli Government to pay for the considerable damage done to installations and infrastructure in the occupied territories, many of which were paid for by our own Department for International Development and European aid?

Mr. Straw

We continually make representations to the Israeli Government at every level when we believe that the Israeli defence force has acted disproportionately by, for example, destroying humanitarian projects financed by the European Union and United Kingdom taxpayers. There has not been much progress on that, but there has been better progress in respect of payments by the Israeli Government of the arrears of tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority. Those revenues are beginning to be paid, as a direct result of reforms of the financial arrangements that the Palestinian Authority itself introduced.

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