HC Deb 27 January 2004 vol 417 cc150-2
6. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of restrictions announced by the Government of Israel on the right to travel to Palestinian-controlled areas from Israel. [150692]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)

We are seriously concerned by the possible impact of new regulations on media, humanitarian organisations and civil society groups operating in the occupied territories. We have raised our concerns with the Israeli Government directly, and are exploring with our EU partners further avenues for doing so.

Mr. Connarty

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. It is clear that the Israeli state is trying to obliterate any sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority. I was an observer, on behalf of the EU, at the elections for the Palestinian Authority and it was clear that in certain areas there was, theoretically, a Palestinian state in the making. Will my hon. Friend step up the pressure—together with the EU, which has raised the matter already—to have the restrictions withdrawn? They apply not only to voluntary organisations but to EU officials and, I presume, representatives of this Government and Parliament.

Mr. Rammell

I fully understand my hon. Friend's strength of feeling on the issue. Baroness Symons, who made a three-day visit to the occupied territories last week, has been lobbying the Israeli Government vigorously on the issue and spoke to the Israeli ambassador yesterday evening. It is worth noting that our understanding at present is that the new regulations are not being applied on the ground at Ben Gurion airport. However, it is worrying that such restrictions exist and that information leaflets are being distributed. We shall certainly continue strongly to urge Israel to lift the restrictions as soon as possible.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con)

While I understand the Israelis' need for security against the daily threat of suicide bombings, the controversial fence, 63 checkpoints and 34 road gates bring intolerable disruption to the lives of many Palestinians going about their ordinary, peaceful business. Does the Minister accept that one possible benefit of the Israeli Government completing their security partition—as they are determined to do—would be the removal of many, if not all, of the roadblocks on the east side of the partition? Will he urge them to do that as quickly as possible?

Mr. Rammell

We understand the legitimate security concerns of the Israeli state, but the issue is that several of those measures are not only a concern in themselves but are counterproductive to the interests of the Israeli Government and their people. The fence is a retrograde step; it is unlawfully positioned on the occupied territory and it threatens the two-state solution. I urge all parties on both sides to go back to the negotiating table and to implement the roadmap, which is the only feasible way forward in the circumstances.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about the new movement restrictions. It is important that British Members of Parliament are able to see the situation over there for themselves. For example, over Christmas I met a disabled Palestinian boy who has to take a £20-a-day taxi ride to reach his special school and his father cannot go with him because he does not have the right permit. Does my hon. Friend agree that such movement restrictions are not only unlawful but immoral? No country, including Israel, should stop parliamentarians from this country or anywhere else seeing matters for themselves and making the appropriate representations.

Mr. Rammell

I fully understand the views that my hon. Friend puts forward. There is a genuine concern that the restrictions will have serious consequences for those who attempt to work in or report from the occupied territories. More importantly, the restrictions could seriously disrupt the supply of essential emergency provisions for the most vulnerable people in the Palestinian territories. We will continue to put forward those views vigorously.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

Given the high priority attached by President Bush and the Prime Minister to the middle east peace process in the run up to the conflict in Iraq, what precisely is now being done to draw the two sides together to attempt to reach a real solution?

Mr. Rammell

We continue to urge both parties to go back to the table and to fulfil their responsibilities in terms of phase one of the road map. If the road map process did not exist, we would have to invent a similar process. It is the only way forward, and the US, the UK and the other Quartet partners continue to make that argument forcibly.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab)

As someone who was fortunate enough to see the area at close quarters last week, I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware of the situation in Kalkilya, a Palestinian town that is now surrounded by the security fence, barbed wire and a concrete wall. There is only one entrance and exit, and even that was closed for part of last week. Will my hon. Friend make representations to ensure that that does not happen again?

Mr. Rammell

We shall certainly continue to make representations to the Israeli Government on the issue of the fence. My hon. Friend's description underlines the serious impact that the fence has on those Palestinian people who are cut off from their livelihoods. It is an issue of real concern and, as I said earlier, it is counterproductive to the interests of the Israeli Government and people, because a settlement cannot be reached while opinion remains so polarised and divided.

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