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Mr. Straw: It was always our view that Chairman Arafat should not have been incarcerated at the facility in Ramallah or anywhere else. We made that increasingly clear over many weeks. Indeed, we were pressing the Israelis—unsuccessfully as it turned out—to release President Arafat from his detention in Ramallah so that he could attend the Arab League summit in Beirut a few weeks ago.

I am fully aware of the concern in the Arab world and the wider Muslim community about what has happened in the occupied territories. As it happens—this is not the moment for a lengthy debate about these matters—I do not believe that there is a parallel between the position of Iraq and its flagrant violation of nine separate Security Council resolutions and the fact that all the Security Council resolutions relating to Israel and the occupied territories impose obligations on both sides in Israel and the occupied territories. It is fair to say that neither side has implemented these obligations with sufficient alacrity or assiduity in the past.

There has been a serious obligation on the Palestinian Authority and on Palestinians not to engage in terrorism, and we must bear that in mind.

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I understand entirely what my right hon. Friend says about Jenin. It is a point that I have made repeatedly to Israeli Ministers. If, as they say, the action in Jenin was proportionate and justified, the quicker an international inquiry of the standing of that appointed by Kofi Annan gets in there, the better it will be for Israel itself.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Has President Arafat given a clear and unambiguous statement that he deplores the activity of suicide bombers and believes that those who organise them should be brought to justice? In a complex and difficult situation, does the Foreign Secretary think that such a statement, highly publicised, would be a major contribution to bringing about a peaceful settlement?

Mr. Straw: The answer is yes to both questions, but it is important that President Arafat speaks not only in English, in which he is very competent, but also in Arabic to his own people. That is an important element in him exercising leadership.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): As chairman of the Britain-Palestine group, may I thank my right hon. Friend and his team for all the efforts that they are making at this difficult time?

From the Palestinian point of view, it must be difficult for Palestinians and their sympathisers now to believe that Israel is serious about establishing a Palestinian state. In my opinion, it is up to the Israelis to make a bold gesture—for example, at the least to stop building the 32 settlements that have been started since Ariel Sharon came to power. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be done to bring back confidence to the Palestinians?

Mr. Straw: While I accept what my hon. Friend says, there is not one view in Israel about the nature of any final settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The UN is clear about what needs to be done, which is that we have a secure state of Israel and a viable state of Palestine, and that there is also a solution to the problems of refugees and the siting of capitals in Jerusalem, and the settlements of Israeli residents in the occupied territories.

We have always been clear that the physical settlements must be ended quickly. There cannot be a lasting solution to the problem of Palestine until that happens.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): The Foreign Secretary has been forthright, and rightly so, about what he expects from President Arafat. Will he be equally forthright about what he expects from Mr. Sharon; and will he tell Mr. Sharon that if he expects a newly released President Arafat to behave as a responsible leader, it is essential that the siege of the Church of the Nativity be lifted and that the international team, which is about as respectable an international team as has ever been assembled, be allowed in immediately?

Mr. Straw: The answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Would it not be useful to recognise that that should be the first step in international intervention to try and end the long, bloody conflict which has taken the lives of so many innocent

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people, including children, in the past two years? Although we should criticise Israel, and Israel should recognise the depth of criticism—which is by no means anti-Semitic, and it is nonsense for Sharon to describe it as such—is it not also necessary for the Palestinians to accept that suicide bombings and public lynchings do nothing to further the Palestinian cause? Those messages to both the Israelis and the Palestinians should be clear and sharp, and there should be no illusions on the part of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership about our feelings on the matter.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the balanced way in which he expressed that. It is not possible to understand the depth of the hatred of Israel in the occupied territories without understanding the fact of occupation and the way the Palestinians have been treated; nor is it possible to understand the depth of fear and, in many cases, hatred in the state of Israel without understanding the way in which the increasing crescendo of suicide bombings going off indiscriminately and without warning has terrorised that country.

As for public lynchings, that is no justice in any territory or any country, and it damages the reputation of the Palestinians. We must look forward, and rather than trying to allocate blame, which in my judgment is an impossible and hopeless task in a desperate situation, recognise that people have been profoundly damaged on both sides. They need our moral, practical and physical support. We are proposing small but significant steps—in the hope that by going forward rather than backwards, we may in the end secure some peace.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I wholeheartedly support everything that the Foreign Secretary said in his statement this afternoon, particularly in respect of sending experienced British monitors to the region and an international inquiry into what happened in Jenin. Is it not worth while pausing for a moment and reminding ourselves that Israel is one of the few complete parliamentary democracies in the middle east? If, therefore, we are to win over Israeli opinion so that there is a withdrawal from the occupied territories, it is essential that there be an end to terrorism, suicide bombings and the lynching of so-called collaborators. If that does not happen, the situation will go from bad to worse.

Mr. Straw: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I also say that, in any conflict, one side has a significant responsibility to the other side to take account of the way in which its own political processes operate.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): If the Sharon regime continues to act in flagrant defiance of the United Nations, international law and fundamental human rights, will Her Majesty's Government consult our American and European allies about the possibility of putting economic pressure on Israel?

Mr. Straw: I object to the failure by all sides fully to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions as quickly and assiduously as possible. I say to my hon. Friend, however, that it is important that we use words in a particular context. "Regime" is generally applied to

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countries that are undemocratic. Whatever else one says about the Israeli Government and Parliament, they cannot be criticised for not being democratic. They are democratic. Some of us, were we writing the Israeli constitution—I speak entirely personally—might come up with a slightly different voting system, but that is another matter.

Mr. Menzies Campbell: D'Hondt?

Mr. Straw: I do not want to go into that now. I mention it in passing and as an entirely parenthetical remark.

My hon. Friend spoke about economic sanctions. The economies of Israel and the occupied territories have already been very severely damaged by the conflict. Nabil Shaath, the foreign affairs representative of the Palestinian Authority, told the gathering in Valencia last week that what had been a $4 billion economy was now reduced to a $2 billion economy, and Israel's has also suffered. In that context, the argument that making the suffering worse on both sides will somehow advance a settlement is not one that I find especially convincing.

Angus Robertson (Moray): The Foreign Secretary urged other parties to give their support. I am pleased to speak on behalf of the major opposition parties in Scotland and Wales in giving the full support of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru for the diplomatic initiative. I share the concern felt by many hon. Members on both sides of the House about the continuing lack of access of the United Nations to investigate circumstances in Jenin. Are the UK Government expressly ruling out the possibility of economic and military sanctions? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he agrees with Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP and Plaid Cymru Members of the European Parliament, who have voted in favour of suspending the EU-Israel association agreement as a first step toward trying to bring the Israelis to a decision to allow UN access?

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