HL Deb 25 June 2003 vol 650 cc285-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Blaker

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made with the road map for peace in the Middle East.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government have accepted the road map that was presented to them on 30th April. At the Aqaba summit on 4th June, Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas made public commitments to implement the road map. Phase one of the road map has begun, with action including the appointment of Prime Minister Abbas and the dismantling of some settlement outposts. Much remains to be done.

Her Majesty's Government are ready to support all efforts towards a just and settled peace.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, the noble Lords will welcome the fact that the noble Baroness is able to report some progress. However, are there not still too many killings?

The killing of members of Hamas by the Israeli forces—targeted killings—are conducted on the instructions of the Government of Israel; whereas the killing of Israeli people by extremists on the Palestinian side is conducted against the wishes and the efforts of Mr Abbas. Is not that the difference? Is not the danger that the actions of the Israeli Government are making the efforts of Mr Abbas to secure a ceasefire on his side, more difficult?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there is some progress, but as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, points out, it is very fragile at the moment. I hope that I stressed that when I said that much is still to be done.

The killings carried out by Hamas are clearly terrorist actions. I hope that your Lordships understand that discussions are taking place between Hamas and the Palestinian Government to try to work towards a ceasefire. I am sure that we all support those strenuous and continuing efforts.

As regards the Israeli actions in carrying out assassinations, it is regrettable that the Israelis feel that they are trapped into a security situation in which that action seems necessary. However, I am bound to say that the belief of Her Majesty's Government is that such actions do not help the path of peace, and may well mitigate against the very thing that Israel is trying to secure—namely, its own security.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

As the Minister rightly confirmed yesterday, the Aqaba summit was the beginning of an extremely important discussion on the possibility of a ceasefire by Hamas. Can the Minister comment on yesterday's pre-dawn round-up of the largest number of Hamas suspects ever undertaken by the Israeli Defence Force, which might jeopardise the chances of that negotiation?

In her view, is there any possibility that both sides might accept the presence of international monitors who could inform the international community as to the repercussions on both sides, across the border, which are of such importance in trying to create new trust?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, these are indeed huge questions. The fact is that there was an enormous round-up of Hamas suspects. We know that terrorist activity is carried out by Hamas and that Israel has the right to do everything that it can within international law to make itself and its citizens as secure as possible. It is very important that those who carry out acts of terrorism are put as far away from their objectives as possible.

We are at a very delicate phase in the whole road map. What happens over the next few weeks is crucial to whether or not the road map is able to succeed. I choose my words extraordinarily carefully, particularly at the moment, in answering these questions.

I hope that I have been clear to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, about extra-judicial killings. However, we must be clear that extra-judicial killings are very different from rounding up terrorists who themselves may he perpetrating terrorist actions.

On the need for international monitors, I understand that the United States is planning to send a nine-person team to the region to carry out some of the monitoring that will be necessary for the road map. That will be headed by John Wolf, who is a State Department official. We are very pleased with that development.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld

My Lords, while it is very encouraging that the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority are committed to the road map, it remains a fact that the only road map in the possession of Hamas terrorists is the road map to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where they perpetrate their terrible crimes. Does the Minister agree that there is little moral difference between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom pursuing a war against terrorism and Israel pursuing a war against terrorism when it is in the very front line of that terrorism? Is it not right that we should encourage the Arab nations and the Islamic countries to give as much encouragement as possible to the implementation of the road map?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, if noble Lords will forgive me, I will not gel drawn into the question of moral equivalence. However, terrorism is terrorism wherever it is carried out. I believe that what we undertook in Iraq was of a rather different nature. In phase one of the road map, it is clear that the Palestinians themselves must act against terrorism and that they must do what they can to prevent attacks, to dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure and to rebuild their own security infrastructure in Palestine. That is a very clear objective of phase one of the road map.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the erection by Israel of a security fence and wall in its present position is extremely unhelpful? If it is required, should it not be moved back to the green line? Will Her Majesty's Government raise the issue with all members of the quartet?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, while we fully understand Israel's need to take steps within the law to protect itself from terrorist attacks, we have concerns about the seizure of more Palestinian land and the isolation of Palestinian villages, which resulted from the construction of the security fence. Our embassy in Tel Aviv has raised those concerns with the Israeli Government about the location and likely impact of the fence.

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