HL Deb 17 October 2001 vol 627 cc591-3

3.6 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations European Union Ministers have recently made to the Government of Israel about the internal situation in Israel.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the European Union has made a number of representations to the Government of Israel about the situation in the occupied territories but not about the internal situation in Israel. Since the start of the intifada on 28th September 2000, there have been 16 EU démarches on, inter alia, restrictions on free movement, Israeli incursions into Palestinian authority controlled areas, extra-judicial killings, settlements, the closure of Orient House and the repayment of tax revenues. In the same period, the European Union delivered six démarches to the Palestinian authority, including on the death penalty.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may also take the opportunity to condemn utterly the assassination of Minister Zeevi in Jerusalem today. Does the noble Baroness recall that Minister Zeevi once campaigned on the slogan, "Arabs should go back to Mecca"? Does she agree that, far from adding to the security of Israel, such attitudes, combined with the fact of the astonishing figure of 400,000 illegal settlers today in the occupied territories, increase the dangers, as today's tragedy sadly shows?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in his condemnation of the assassination that took place this morning. Not only has my right honourable friend the Secretary of State condemned the assassination, so too has President Arafat in unambiguous terms. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, would not wish in any way to give even a shred of comfort or a hint of justification to those who have murdered a senior member of an elected government, no matter what the views of any such member on any subject. That sort of political violence is totally unacceptable. However much individuals or groups of individuals may disagree with what a politician has said, I am sure we would all agree that a politician in a democracy must be able to express views without fear of an assassin's bullet.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I should like to express sympathy for the family of Minister Zeevi. There is a tragic inclination at present for a new "tit-for-tat" to take place in which leaders of each side are destroyed by the other. Given that in the end these political leaders will have to meet to discuss together, this development seems to be entirely tragic and short-sighted.

Does the Minister agree that the proposed EU mission to the Middle East could be of great use in the present, tense situation? Does she further agree that the recommendation and welcome extended by the US Secretary of State to that mission is a small constructive step to what we hope may one day be a lasting settlement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that these "tit-for-tat" killings, as she described them, are in no way conducive to the peace process, which I am sure the overwhelming majority of your Lordships—and, I suspect, of right-minded people everywhere—would wish to see going forward. It is my view that those who committed this act have done a great disservice to all those Palestinians and Israelis who need peace, justice and security in their country.

I agree with the noble Baroness that the EU mission should receive our good wishes. We hope that it will take forward the Mitchell proposals which Her Majesty's Government believe to be the right way forward in trying to find a route back to the peace process. It should be remembered that those proposals suggest that there should be an absolute freeze on settlement—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont—which has been the cause of so much unhappiness to the Palestinians.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that history has dealt unkindly with both peoples in the Middle Eastern dispute and that they both deserve our sympathy and understanding? Does she further agree that whenever the peace process appears to be underway, somebody finds a method of destroying the accords, strengthening the extremists and weakening the peacemakers? Finally, does she agree that if we cannot bring about a reconciliation and heal the wounds, we should at least abstain from interventions which are likely to inflame the situation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree that both sides are suffering considerably in the current situation. Your Lordships may know that barely a week goes by without our learning of more families being ripped apart by violence. Often those who suffer the violence are young people. I make no discrimination on either side in that regard; the death of a young person—indeed the death of any person—is equally to be regretted on whatever side of an argument such death may occur. But we must do our best, even in these difficult circumstances, to look forward. In fact, violence in the area had decreased in the past couple of weeks or so, certainly since 7th October. It is the view not only of Her Majesty's Government, but also of our colleagues in the United States and the European Union, that the recommendations of the Mitchell committee, which cover many of the points at issue, are where we must focus our diplomatic effort. They were published in May this year. They were followed by the Tenet accord, published in June this year, which exhorts both Israelis and Palestinians to implement a security work plan to enforce the declared ceasefire. It is on Mitchell and Tenet that we should be directing our efforts.