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Mr. Straw: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and for welcoming the initiative. It is extremely important for those people from the UK who participate in it to know that they go there with the support of the whole House and all the parties represented in it.

Our involvement is being carefully planned. As I explained, we preceded this stage by an earlier scoping measure and visit, which was obviously contingent on agreement. I should also say, as I said in my statement, that it is possible that there will be last-minute hitches, although we hope not—such is the nature of events in the middle east. All of us are working with the United States to ensure that those do not arise.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether this is a forerunner of any larger deployment. It is not, in itself. He asked whether any deployments are currently actively planned, and the answer is no. However, as I made clear in my speech to the House on 16 April, if and when peace develops in any greater depth, in our judgment, there will be a greater role for such people and perhaps, down the

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track, for an international force, and none of us should rule that out. As I explained to the House on 16 April, our policy is very clear: there should be two states, a secure state of Israel and a viable state of Palestine, consistent with the clear decisions of a sequence of United Nations Security Council resolutions, the most important recent one of which is 1397.

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the importance of Israel ceasing its incursions into the occupied territories. I accept also what he says about the responsibility that now rests on the shoulders of President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. That is why I made the point that as soon as he is released from his siege, he will in practice be able to exercise a much higher degree of leadership and authority over the Palestinians and the Authority, and it is incumbent on him to do so in a responsible way.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether there are plans afoot to provide further assistance for rebuilding the facilities of the Palestinian Authority and, indeed, those on the west bank as a whole. The answer is yes, and there have been very detailed discussions with colleague Ministers in the European Union. This time last week, I was at a two-day meeting in Valencia of what is called EuroMed, an EU-Mediterranean states meeting, which was completely dominated by the middle east crisis. So far as I am aware, EuroMed is the only forum attended by representatives of both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, and, after some difficulty, they stayed in the same room for what turned out to be a poignant but very important discussion. I also saw the new Japanese Foreign Minister this morning, and Japanese assistance for rebuilding facilities in the occupied territories was part of our discussion.

We are, however, conscious of the fact that if there is to be, as there will have to be, a rebuilding of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure—schools, hospitals and so on—it can only be on the basis of undertakings from the Government of Israel that this will not be under threat in the future. It will have to be in the framework of an overall settlement. There will have to be better and more transparent arrangements to ensure that the money paid in is used for the purpose.

I have not seen President Prodi's speech, but I say to the House that we should judge institutions by their actions. Javier Solana, the European Council's high representative on foreign affairs, has been tireless in his work to secure a settlement. The United States Administration would be the first to say that much of what they have done has been in concert and collaboration with Javier Solana, to whom I spoke just before I came to the House to make this statement. The second thing that has to be said about the European Union is that, over many years, it has been by far the largest donor of aid to the Palestinian Authority, and it stands ready to act in that constructive way as soon as it can in the future.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): The deployment of British and US personnel to resolve the question of President Arafat is a very welcome development and a tribute not only to my right hon. Friend and the British Government but to those personnel who carry out these incredibly difficult tasks, and we should place that on record. However, I hope that the

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Foreign Secretary is aware that we should press on the Israelis the importance of bringing an international aspect to the matter, not least because the Israelis, while they occupy the territory of the Palestinians with illegal settlements, might one day have good reason to call on international observers of the type that we are employing at this time. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make sure that the Israelis never forget that.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We found it difficult, and quite painful, when it was first suggested that outside intervention might help us to resolve the situation in Northern Ireland, but in the event it turned out to be a very sensible move.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): There is nothing in the Foreign Secretary's statement with which I take issue. I offer him my support and, indeed, congratulations on the ingenious initiative to free President Arafat from de facto captivity. In addition, it is worth recognising that there will be physical risks for those who will be deployed on that difficult and dangerous task, and we should take every step to ensure that they are minimised.

The Foreign Secretary mentioned the Church of the Nativity, where conditions surely do not bear thinking about, given the duration of the siege. In the name of humanity, is it not now essential to end the incarceration of those inside? Does the Foreign Secretary, like me, feel a sense of irony or perhaps even discomfort, because he and I and others in the House have asserted, by reference to UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, Israel's unqualified right to live within secure boundaries, but Israel persists in its defiance of the United Nations and its Secretary-General on the necessary inquiry into events in Jenin? Finally, what is the Foreign Secretary's response to those who allege that Israel's operations in the occupied territories will have the effect of dismantling the Palestinian Authority and emasculating Yasser Arafat, consequently leaving a vacuum, which will severely undermine the possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's welcome for the initiative; as I said, please God that we can deal with the final details and it can go ahead. I am in no doubt that resolving the issue of the continued detention of the six suspects in a way that satisfies Israel's legitimate anxieties about the manner in which the Palestinian Authority in the past have or have not detained such individuals is important. We need to recognise that the Palestinian Authority have been open to entirely justified criticism that too often in the past they have picked people up, detained them for a period, then the revolving door has got going, and they have let them out the back, which is unacceptable behaviour. We are seeking to resolve the issue without absolving the Palestinian Authority of its principal responsibility of ensuring the security of those who are detained and those doing the detaining.

As for the physical risks, of course one understands that monitors could face a risk, which is why a further mission is going out today, arriving shortly, and why every effort will be made to minimise the risks. It is worth repeating that all the individuals in our team have police, prison or military backgrounds, although they are not serving

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officers and have, as I said, previously worked for the OSCE. In the Church of the Nativity, conditions are dreadful and negotiations must continue. As for the question of dismantling the Palestinian Authority, at the meeting last Monday and Tuesday in Valencia, we were given a lot of detail and tables by Nabil Shaath, the foreign affairs representative of the Palestinian Authority, about what he claimed was the gratuitous destruction of Palestinian Authority facilities, which is obviously of concern, especially if and where they serve no military purpose whatsoever. It just adds to the challenge facing the Palestinian Authority to rebuild that infrastructure as quickly as possible.

As for President Arafat, if under the arrangement he is released and can travel, whatever has happened until now—we must not forget the increasing terror suffered in Israel in recent months and the assassinations—and in the past, he has a heavy responsibility to act for peace once he has his new freedom.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): With regard to the potential lifting of the blockade on Yasser Arafat, does my right hon. Friend accept that it is distinctly unimpressive that it has taken six months' work by the British Government, together with the wheedling of the United States President and the British Prime Minister, to persuade the Israeli Government to do what they should have been made to do weeks ago, and as they continue rampaging through the Palestinian territories?

Will my right hon. Friend understand further that throughout the Arab world and the Muslim world, and much more widely, it will be seen as double standards that we threaten military action against Iraq because it will not allow United Nations arms inspectors in, as they should be allowed in, while we allow the Israelis to get away with dodging UN resolution 1405, which provides that a fact-finding mission should be admitted? The more that the Israelis continue postponing the implementation of the resolution, the more others will take the view that that is because they have something to cover up. If the Israelis do not get on with allowing the mission in immediately, it will be time to impose sanctions and an arms ban on them.

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