Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-47)



  40. Do I take it from that that the aid that is required will not be forthcoming until there is a cease-fire, a peace settlement and suicide bombings stop?
  (Peter Hain) I do not think it is as clear-cut as that. No decisions have been made on rebuilding the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure, as we want to do, because it is simply not practical at the moment. Inserting development projects in the middle of war zones is not practical. We have strongly condemned, as Commissioner Patten especially has in very strong terms, the destruction or the waste of tens of millions of European funds, that is in sterling, European funds just blasted to smithereens by the conflict there.

Mr Cash

  41. You may have heard the Today programme this morning in which there was a response to these tragic circumstances.
  (Peter Hain) I did.

  42. I think it was either the Israeli Ambassador or a very senior Israeli spokesman clearly indicating that they regard this as a fight for their survival and the history of this, which goes back centuries, is not a new problem. What concerns me, to come back to the question of the involvement of the European Union in this, is you said Solana was a respected person, and I am not going to argue with your description, but what I am going to say is that he was given pretty short shrift and some newspapers reported it as a humiliation. Is not the problem really that the truth is that Europe is completely split on this subject, there are splits all over the world on what position people should adopt and who they think should be supported? If I may say so you put a very balanced response just now when you pointed out about the problems of suicide bombers. Nonetheless, is not this huge problem connected, as far as Europe is concerned, with this constant ambition to be involved and to take a position as a European Union? Is that not part of the difficulty that we now face, that there are these ambitions which cannot be fulfilled because of the genuine splits for very, very profound and historic and political reasons in an historic landscape, and that all this talk of legal personality, for example, in the European Union, which I have been following very closely in my capacity, is in fact highly dangerous because if, in fact, there was a legal personality in this kind of area in the European Union it would be a total disaster and Europe would actually get an extremely bad result from interfering in these matters on that basis. Could you please comment on that issue.
  (Peter Hain) I will happily do so. First of all, I think from my recollection of the newspapers the words "humiliation" and others were used about Secretary of State Powell's visit, so if that was used, and I did not see those reports, about Javier Solana's visit, he was not alone, was he? If I may say so, I think in your embittered stance on Europe you should be a little more rounded about these matters. This is a desperately difficult situation. If you are saying to me that Europe should simply turn its back on the situation as the richest part of the world with strong historic ties to the region and have nothing to do with this because it would fit your agenda of saying that Europe should have nothing to do with pretty well everything, I do not think that is a responsible position to take.

  43. But that is not what I am saying and you know that.
  (Peter Hain) I am just responding to your question. I think Europe should continue to do all that we can. Europe is evolving, the development of Europe in global affairs is in its infancy but in my view it should increase. I think the world is evolving into a multi-polar world with America the dominant super power but China is going to be much more important later this century and Russia wants a partnership with Europe. Why does Russia want a partnership with Europe? Because Europe is seen as an increasingly important global force.

  44. Can you answer my question on legal personality. Is it the Government's intention to give credence and/or encouragement to the idea that the European Union should be given legal personality in the context of Common Foreign and Security Policy and matters of that kind?
  (Peter Hain) It is my view and the Government's view, happily they coincide, that Europe should have a more powerful Common Foreign and Security Policy. Yes, I think we should shoulder our burden of responsibility in areas like the Balkans for peacekeeping purposes and the trouble spots in our own backyard.

  45. Who is going to decide on matters like the Middle East as to which position should be adopted if you have a legal personality in the European Union?
  (Peter Hain) It depends what you mean by a legal personality. If you are suggesting that this becomes a Community competence, that is not our policy. That should not be meant to imply, as I think you are doing and have conflated into an argument, that High Representative Solana should not be trying his best to put Europe's weight behind a solution to the Middle East peace process. I think we have a duty to do what we can and I think his role is very important. It is respected in Washington and it may not for the moment be particularly respected by the Sharon Government, but then who is? But I thought what was very important at the Sharm el-Sheikh discussions under Prime Minister Barak, the then Prime Minister of Israel, was Solana was part of those negotiations in 2000, was respected by the Israeli Government and that is the way I think Europe should be moving.


  46. I think I should say I am not in any way super critical of what is happening in the European Union because I understand how difficult it must be and I wish Javier Solana very well, and like you I hold him in high regard, but I think the point has to be made when you see him treated with such contempt as he was when he visited the region it does not fill you with any comfort at all. I think sooner or later the European Union has to play a hard ball game instead of, as it appears to be, trying to sweet talk the Israelis out of these terrible tragedies that are occurring.
  (Peter Hain) I would agree with you, Chairman, but I would just say one other thing. As a member of a Government that is strongly committed to an independent Palestinian state co-existing in peace and in co-operation with the State of Israel, I really do think that those Palestinians, whatever their frustrations, and goodness me they must be monumental, those Palestinian leaders who are encouraging suicide bombings are actually blocking the development of that independent state that I know you have supported, Chairman, Mike Connarty, and probably many other Members of the Committee, as I have over the years. We need a better strategy from the Israeli Government but we need a better strategy from the Palestinian leadership, however difficult it is for them, and the Arab world as well or this situation is just going to go from a nightmare into something worse, if that is possible.

Mr Connarty

  47. To return to the declaration at the Barcelona European Council on the Middle East, it states in the fourth paragraph "As the legitimate authority, the Palestine Authority bears the full responsibility for fighting terrorism with all the legitimate means at its disposal." You did refer earlier obliquely to the fact that what authority is at its disposal is constrained when the leader of the Palestine Authority, Yasser Arafat, is basically surrounded, cut off without telephones, without food and water at times, completely unable to communicate from Ramallah to Jenin. I have been to the area a number of times and know that in terms of Israeli blockades Jenin to Ramallah is a very, very long road to get in contact with Jenin or any other part of the Occupied Territories. You are talking about a very diminished authority. I would condemn, and I am sure you would, extra judicial killings of people who are accused of collaboration or whatever. In terms of control of suicide bombing, it is quite clear that there are other forces in that area, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbullah, who want to see peace fail for their own reasons, they certainly want to see the Palestinian Authority and Fatah fail for their own reasons. You are talking to one group on one side who have very little control. It is like asking Sinn Fein to stop the Continuity IRA or the Real IRA from bombing and shooting when they have got no control over them. On the other hand you have a state that is recognised, that is funded in particular by the US and is in a relationship with the European Union and other countries yet is perpetrating acts, some may say, of state terror. Some may just say acts beyond the bounds of legitimacy. It appears to me that the European Union should be focusing on how it can influence or pressure the Israeli state to withdraw and then help build up a legitimate authority of those on the Palestinian side who want to see the Islamists and the Fundamentalists being defeated as much as they want to see the establishment of a Palestinian state. If that is a correct analysis, what is our Government going to do to strengthen the hand of the European Union in pressuring or whatever they have to do to bring Israel to a more realistic position?
  (Peter Hain) There is a General Affairs Council due to take place in a couple of weeks which will review policy. I do not have an easy answer to that. As a Minister it would be wrong for me to pretend otherwise. The truth is the Israeli Government is not open to influence and the actions of the suicide bombers are discouraging it from adopting a more constructive policy in its own interests. I am sorry, it sounds very weak but it is desperately difficult.

  Chairman: Minister, we fully appreciate your point. I would like to thank you for your usual candour and for your contribution during this evidence session, in particular on the last point which we are all very, very concerned about. Minister, thank you very much.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 17 June 2002