HC Deb 12 May 2004 vol 421 cc338-9
2. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

What progress he is making with the country assistance plan for Palestine. [172236]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn)

Following extensive consultations with a wide range of partners in the UK, Palestine and Israel, I have now approved the final version of the plan. It will be formally published in early June, and I will make a copy available in the Library as soon as it is printed. A copy will also be available on our website.

Richard Burden

The draft country assistance plan rightly placed a great deal of emphasis on promoting the peace process in order to achieve development assistance effectively. I welcome the assistance given by the Department and by the international community to the support unit of the Palestinian Negotiation Affairs Department, which plays a vital role in assisting the Palestinians to develop and present their case and to develop a generation of leaders committed to peace. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that there appears to be a fairly concerted lobbying effort by those close to the Israeli embassy—we may even see it today—to get that funding cut, presumably to deny to the stateless Palestinians the capacity to make the kind of articulate and moderate presentation of their case that a powerful state like Israel can fund for itself?

Hilary Benn

The decision that we took, together with four other donors, to fund the negotiation support unit was taken precisely because it is right and proper that the Palestinian Authority should have access to good advice. It was always explicit in the establishment of the unit that that role would include communicating to the wider world the views of the Palestinian Authority. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of the negotiation support unit, because it has received praise from many quarters, including from the Governments of Israel and of the United States. I agree with my hon. Friend, however, about the importance of moderation in presentation because it is right and proper that that work should be done in the spirit in which the negotiation support unit was established, but it is undoubtedly playing a valuable role in trying to help create the conditions in which the peace process can develop.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

Does the Minister detect that the refusal of the United Kingdom to condemn in the United Nations the ex-judicial assassination of Palestinian leaders and the Prime Minister's support for the Bush-Sharon initiative has interfered with this country's reputation as an honest broker that can help the Palestinian people? Does the Minister think that the continuation of that approach to the middle east problem and the departure from the traditional attitude will interfere with the country assistance plan and other initiatives?

Hilary Benn

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's characterisation of the Government's position on the two issues that he has outlined. We have always made it clear, and we continue to make it clear, that all those issues must form part of the final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Government of Israel. From my position of responsibility, I do not detect that anything has got in the way of the appreciation for UK support by the Palestinian Authority and others in the occupied territories—on the contrary, the UK help is much appreciated. The practical assistance that we are providing is set out in the country assistance plan, copies of which will be available shortly.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Coop)

How can my right hon. Friend ensure that funds intended for the development of Palestinian society are not used to support terror, the use of which is intended to stop peace ever being achieved? Does the film, "The Farewell Letter", which is shown repeatedly on Palestinian television, concern him? It extols the virtues of suicide bombing, and ends with a young boy, who, having successfully completed a suicide-bombing mission, falls on the ground and says, "Martyrdom is sweet."

Hilary Benn

I have not seen that particular film, but suicide bombing has nothing to offer the peace process, and all hon. Members on both sides of the House utterly condemn it. On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, a reform process is occurring within the Palestinian Authority. Indeed—this relates to the previous question—the support that the UK gives is partly directed at that reform process. Real strides have been made, which is why praise has been universal for the efforts of Salam Fayyad, the Minister of Finance in the Palestinian Authority, who has made great strides in bringing order, openness, scrutiny and accountability to the Palestinian Authority's expenditure. We strongly support the continuation of that process, which helps to deal with my hon. Friend's concerns. Every accusation that money has been directed towards terrorism has been investigated, but none of them has been proven.

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