HC Deb 08 July 2003 vol 408 cc885-7
4. Helen Jackson Sheffield, Hillsborough)

If he will make a statement on the middle east road map. [123868]

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

Implementation of phase 1 of the road map is now taking place. That includes the ceasefire by Palestinian factions and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and Bethlehem, continuing Palestinian reforms and Israeli action to dismantle settlement posts. All of those are positive first steps. Plainly, however, much more will have to be done.

Helen Jackson

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming today's reports that the Palestinian Authority in Gaza are cleaning anti-Israeli graffiti and murals off the walls in that area? Does not that contrast with the continuing construction of a security wall, much of it on Palestinian land, by the Israelis? On walls in general, what is the Quartet's view as to a permanent wall playing any part in the long-term solution? What is his view on walls in that area?

Mr. Straw

I have raised, as Her Majesty's ambassador in Tel Aviv has raised, with my interlocutor Silvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister, our widespread concerns in the House and in the country about the building of this security fence, particularly as it unlawfully takes in Palestinian land and cuts the Palestinians off from access to facilities that are theirs. We shall continue to press that issue. The Quartet, as far as I know, has not reached a formal position in respect of the security fence. What the Quartet is actively doing is monitoring, adjudicating and pushing the parties towards a continuous implementation of the road map. All that I would say is that given where we were even two months ago, and the terrible killings on both sides and among both communities, the progress that has been made, and the relationship built up, particularly between Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Sharon, is remarkable. We must do everything that we can to support the process.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Given that we can all take pleasure in the fact that there is at least some progress and cautious optimism that America is at last fully engaged and genuinely determined to push forward the process, does the Foreign Secretary agree that, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bedrock of any solution must be security? To that end, will he determine what further efforts the British Government may make to assist the Palestinians, whose security arrangements—in many respects through no fault of their own—are not nearly good enough? Will he consider whether there are places to which assistance could be given by the police staff college and other police and military bodies to train the Palestinian police and security forces to help Abu Mazen's positive progress?

Mr. Straw

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his excellent suggestions. We are already doing a lot, but I shall take those suggestions forward and write to him.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

Is not the truth of the matter that the structure is not a fence or a wall but an obstacle to peace, especially because it cuts so deeply into Palestinian areas? If the fence were to be built, would it not be better if it were built on the 1967 border, in which case the Israeli Labour party, all Palestinians and the whole of Europe would probably help to build the thing?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The issue is not so much the fence itself—the Israeli Labour party has also proposed that—but the site of the fence and the obstacle that it puts in the way of the ordinary lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Having last week visited Israel and the west bank with my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), may I confirm the positive, if necessarily cautious, change of attitude to the road map on both sides? The realisation that the United States means business has opened the window to progress but, nevertheless, the road map requires difficult actions from both sides. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore join me in congratulating both Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen on their inspiring joint press conference in Jerusalem last week and on restoring the eight ministerial joint commissions to promote agreement on local issues? Will he persuade his European colleagues to be even-handed in giving support to both sides and wholehearted in backing President Bush's bold effort to achieve a secure Israel and a viable Palestine?

Mr. Straw

Of course, and as I have already done, I congratulate both leaders on really impressive statesmanship, especially when one takes account of the severe opposition that each has faced from within their own territories. The establishment of the eight ministerial commissions is important because there must be daily intercourse among Palestinians and Israelis if they are ever to live side by side in peace and security. I also tell the right hon. Gentleman, however, that the European Union has repeatedly and consistently welcomed and backed the position of the United States. It is working closely with the United States, in addition to the United Nations and the Russian Federation in the Quartet.

Mr. Ancram

It was clear from my meeting with Abu Mazen a week ago that his biggest problem when controlling terrorism stems from Iranian-sponsored and directly funded support for terrorist activity in both the west bank and Israel itself. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Iran, with its stated aim of trying to destroy Israel, poses a very real threat to the peace process, and did he raise the matter when he was in Iran last week? What steps can he take to help to halt the dangerous undermining of Abu Mazen and the road map?

Mr. Straw

I did indeed raise the matter with my interlocutors when I was in Iran last week, and I pointed out that the situation is unacceptable not only because of disruption to progress toward the implementation of the road map, but because it is counterproductive for Iran. For example, progress on the trade and co-operation agreement that Iran wants with the European Union will partly be judged on whether it continues to support unacceptable rejectionist terrorist groups in Israel and the occupied territories. We continue to press, and to apply pressure on. the Iranians.

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