HC Deb 11 May 2004 vol 421 cc138-41
2. Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of Mr. Sharon's plan to remove settlements from Gaza and its effect on the road map. [171830]

11. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab)

In what ways the Government are carrying forward their commitment to the success of the middle east peace plan. [171839]

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

The removal of settlements and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from positions in the occupied territories are in line with Israel's commitments under phase 1 of the road map. For this reason, the plans of the Israeli Government were welcomed by the Quartet, as Kofi Annan spelled out last week. It is the road map, internationally agreed and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, which is fundamental to a peaceful settlement in the middle east. Despite the setback of the recent Likud referendum, we, the European Union, and the Quartet are fully engaged in making what progress we can. Last week, I met Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher and Nabil Shaath and Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority.

The United Kingdom's position is identical to that of the Quartet. In the latter's statement of 4 May, it said that any withdrawal by Israel must not prejudice the final status negotiations between the parties nor undermine the two-state solution of Israel being in security and at peace with its neighbours, and Palestine established as a contiguous and viable state.

Ms Munn

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of ordinary Israelis do indeed want peace? Does he further agree that it is essential that the Palestinian Authority be involved in negotiations with Israel? What steps should now be taken by both sides in order to get negotiations started?

Mr. Straw

I entirely share my hon. Friend's views. The steps are set out in the road map and include more activity by the Palestinian Authority in respect of security, and withdrawals by the Israeli Government. So far as security is concerned, there have been some improvements in the organisation of security forces inside the Palestinian Authority, and we continue to offer what advice we can to that authority.

Mr. Cunningham

Given the recent statement by the President of the United States that progress towards the implementation of the Palestinian state is slipping, what discussions has the Foreign Office had with my right hon. Friend's counterpart in the United States to clarify the situation? Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that any future discussions between the Israelis and the Americans will also involve the Palestinians, and will not repeat what happened a few weeks ago, when the Palestinians were left out of discussions about the settlements?

Mr. Straw

I have a great many discussions with Secretary Powell of the United States and I shall be seeing him again this Friday to discuss the middle east, among other things. The United States is one of the four members of the quartet and is as fully committed as the other three members of the Quartet to the two-state solution set out in the road map and to the lines of progress described by the road map, which include full involvement by the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority.

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

The right hon. Gentleman will know about the International Development Committee report in January entitled "Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories", which condemned the damage to the Palestinian economy and blamed Israel's incursions, curfews, checkpoints and so on. The Palestinian economy is being choked and decimated. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing about that?

Mr. Straw

We were grateful to the Select Committee for the report. As it highlighted, after the United States, the United Kingdom is the largest single donor of aid within the Palestinian area. We have had continuing discussions with the Israelis and I raised these matters again last week when I saw Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom about the need for them to lift the restrictions, which are unquestionably making life, which is always difficult, much more difficult in the occupied territories. At the same time, it must be put on record that the sooner the Palestinian Authority gets a real and convincing grip on rejectionist terrorist groups operating within those territories, the easier life will be—and the easier it will be, too, for the Israeli Government to lift some of those restrictions.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con)

Despite the uncertain impression made by the Prime Minister on his most recent visit to Washington, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the British Government remain fully committed to the full implementation of United Nations resolutions 242 and 338?

Mr. Straw

I confirm that, and I also make it clear to the House that in his press conference alongside President Bush as well as on many other occasions, the Prime Minister was categorical in his support for the British Government's long-established policy of supporting resolutions 242 and 338.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's opening remarks that there is no inconsistency between Israel's obligations under the road map and a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip. Is it not time that instead of complaining about that, other parties to the road map recognised their own phase 1 obligations under the road map—namely, the complete cessation of terrorist violence? Is not the reason why the timetable is slipping and the road map is not being implemented that Hamas set out last summer to destroy the road map through bus suicide terrorist bombs?

Mr. Straw

There is no doubt that reasonable progress was being made in the implementation of the road map between the end of June and 19 August, and it was the planting and detonation of a terrible bomb in the middle of Jerusalem on that day which has marked the decline of progress and much bloodshed since then. The road map lays down obligations on each party there—Israel and the Palestinian Authority separately—and on the international community. What is crucial is that each party—Israel and the Palestinian Authority—instead of complaining about the other, take the steps that it is obliged to take to implement the road map.

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

Whatever the contents of the revised Sharon plan when it finally emerges, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government's response and subsequent actions will continue to focus on getting the parties talking to each other again and on getting the road map back on track? Does he agree with President Bush that a Palestinian state in 2005 is no longer realistic? Given the lack of progress since 2003, is it intended that new time lines will be introduced into the road map?

Mr. Straw

Of course, a key part of our approach is to encourage both parties into direct collaboration. There is always some collaboration—often more than meets the eye—and that is of crucial importance. That is one of the reasons why I met representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Foreign Minister last week. On time lines, our position remains as set out in the road map. Of course it is the case, given what has happened since last August, that delay is more likely than rapid progress, but the road map set out obligations, and it is our responsibility as an indirect member of the quartet, through the Security Council and the European Union, to do all that we can—as we are—to ensure that the road map's implementation is as consistent as possible with the time line.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is despair among the Palestinian community here and in the middle east following the meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush and the subsequent hype made of it by Prime Minister Sharon. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the communiqu?#x00E9; issued on behalf of the Quartet last Tuesday makes it clear that final negotiated positions with regard to refugees and borders must be based on resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, the Madrid peace process and the Prince Abdullah initiative, which was accepted in Beirut, and that that is our Government's position?

Mr. Straw

I confirm all of that. I also remind the House, as I did a few minutes ago, that the United States is a key member of the Quartet, and that it signed up to the road map and to these conclusions. Although I understand the concern of many of our friends in the Palestinian community, both here and abroad, about what happened in the rose garden three weeks ago, I ask those friends to examine what President Bush actually said. President Bush mentioned the road map six times, and has made it clear, both then and subsequently, that he stands by the road map and resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, and that that includes no prejudice or prejudging on the final status negotiations.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the proposal for disengagement from Gaza is the first step towards the creation of an independent Palestinian state; is very much in line with the requirements of the road map; and indeed is similar to proposals made at Camp David four years ago, which is why, as he said, it has the broad support of the Quartet?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I do. Whenever the withdrawal from the occupied territories occurs, it is bound to be on a phased basis. We should not get into a position where, because we cannot have everything all at once, we take nothing. That is why the withdrawal policy was welcomed, and I hope that the Israeli Government can resurrect it, notwithstanding the problems with their referendum.

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