Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-137)|
TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2002
120. Do you think it was prudent to reject it
absolutely rather than to negotiate for other concessions?
(Mr Gilmour) I think complete rejections are never
sensible but, again, Palestinians would say they did not reject
121. Are you being now, effectively, just a
spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, or do you try to understand
what is happening within Israel itself?
(Mr Gilmour) Very much. We are the only people who
move from one side to the other. All the diplomats in the country
are accredited either to the Israelis, if they are in Tel Aviv,
or, if they are Consular Generals in Jerusalem, to the Palestinians.
We are the only office that move from one to the other.
(Mr Keating) If I may add, we think there is a terrible
irony at work at the moment which is that the focus on securityand
obviously Israel has very legitimate security concernsif
it is at the expense of progress on the political front, may prove
very counter-productive, and that there is a vicious cycle at
work which is that the focus on security and the absence of political
progress is creating a sense of hopelessness and despair. That
in turn is contributing to an environment in which violence can
thrive and that, in turn, is reinforcing the focus on security.
We believe that, while this focus on security must remain, there
must be a political track that is robust enough to survive these
outrages that are inevitably going to punctuate the effort, and
this is taking place at a time when the economic fundamentals
are just appalling. Just below 50 per cent of the population in
Gaza is now unemployed: 46 per cent of the population is living
below the poverty line: trade is impossible; the West Bank and
Gaza are now divided in up to 200 separate blocks; there are checkpoints
and blockades everywhere; and the Israeli government has imposed
these closures in order to improve security for Israeli citizens
which we consider to be entirely legitimate. However, the Israeli
defence forces themselves in an internal audit are questioning
whether this approach to security is going to yield security and
not doing precisely the opposite. It is creating flashpoints between
the two sides; it is the cause of humiliation on a daily basis;
it is not stopping the terrorists from getting inside Israel;
and it is resulting in economic despair as trade and employment
122. What do you say about the current settlement
policy? As there is more money set aside and the budget for these
existing settlements are being expanded, what is your assessment
of the current position?
(Mr Keating) On settlements?
(Mr Keating) In the context of inciting further violence,
the Palestinians consider them to be the single major affront
to their aspirations for statehood. There is an international
agenda, supposedly, as a result of what President Bush said, what
Prime Minister Blair said and what Secretary of State Powell said,
which is international support for the movement towards a viable
Palestinian state, and any viable state needs a number of basic
attributes to make it viable, and settlements are an example of
a reality which really prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian
state and, therefore, the Palestinians consider them to be not
only a massive problem in terms of conducting their everyday lives
but also a living example of the lack of real commitment to what
they consider to be the political future that has been mapped
out by the international community for the region, and as a means
of trying to resolve the conflict.
124. And these are proceeding apace? Is it just
expansion of existing settlements or new ones?
(Mr Keating) Both. The most dramatic recent development
has been the occupation of Har Homar. I believe this House has
paid a lot of attention to Har Homar. It began to be occupied
I think four days ago, so the evidence would suggest that both
the expansion of settlements and the population of existing settlements
Sir John Stanley
125. We seem to be in a complete cul de sac
of policy at the moment. Could you explain to us how the Israeli
government, which continues to demand that Mr Arafat and the Palestinian
Authority should take firmer action to deal with the terrorists,
can expect the Authority to do it when at the same time the Israeli
government seems to be systematically dismantling the ability
of the Palestinian Authority to do so, taking out their police
stations and taking out an increasing amount of the civilian structure
and organisational ability of the Palestinian Authority? The policy
seems to be wholly contradictory; it is wishing an end, certainly
in rhetorical terms, and then systematically preventing the Palestinian
Authority delivering the means to achieve the end.
(Mr Keating) I do not know how to respond to that
except to say that the evidence would suggest that what you say
is valid. It is very difficult to see how, at a time when the
capacity of the Palestinian Authority is being eroded and indeed
dismantled, they can be expected to control the streets, let alone
capture the imagination of the Palestinian population in terms
of there being a viable future. In terms of security I cannot
speak for the government of Israel but clearly Mr Sharon does
have a plan. I think Andrew may have a better sense of what that
is than me.
(Mr Gilmour) Yes, likewise. I have put that question
to Israelis, very much as you have said it, including the IDF,
and the people who give the answer are never very convinced by
what they say. The inference from what you say is exactly how
I would draw it as well. We find it hard to imagine that the Palestinian
police can arrest when they are not allowed to go to their offices,
when their cars have been blown up, their offices have been destroyed
and they cannot move. It is a serious problem. The Palestinian
security services have been unable to operate.
126. So what do you judge are the real objectives
that the Israeli government is following? Are you saying that
it appears that they are systematically trying to dismantle the
main means of operation of the Palestinian state, to ensure that
that state never becomes viable? What is the objective that they
are trying to pursue?
(Mr Gilmour) The Israeli government would deny that
it is trying to systematically destroy but many people within
Israel will tell us that this is, indeed, perhaps the case.
127. It struck me, to cut through the catalogue
of deprivation of the Palestinian Authority, presumably at some
stage they have no revenue, have they, even to run the police
and ambulance services, their foreign services? There can be no
method of collecting taxes and also you cannot collect taxes from
people who have nought? Is that right? Is there a problem of resources
(Mr Keating) There is indeed.
128. Which, of course, invites gifts from people
(Mr Keating) Yes. At the moment, or until recently,
I believe the Palestinian Authority was receiving something like
$50 million in budgetary support per month and there is a short
term fiscal crisis at the moment because this money has been coming
largely from the Islamic development bank in the Arab world and
some of it from the European Union, and it is a constant struggle
to ensure that this revenue keeps coming, but there are other
ways in which the Palestinian economy and society is helped to
stay afloat. One is through the UNthe biggest UN agency
in the world is located in the West Bank and Gaza, the United
Nations Relief and Works Agency which has over 22,000 employees
and several hundred thousand beneficiaries, if not millions, in
the forms of schools, clinics and all the rest of it, and they
are facing financial problems as well. But the income basis of
the Palestinian Authority is weakening. I think it has to be said,
however, that there is scope for reforming the political economy
of Palestine. The problems that are faced by Palestinians cannot
exclusively be laid at the doors of its neighbours or the international
community. There is plenty of scope for a renewal of Palestinian
institutions, for a much stronger governance agenda and more accountable
government, and so on, so if there is to be a way forward it requires
action by the Palestinians themselves. We believe there is scope
for the Israelis to do things which do not compromise their legitimate
security concerns but do make life easier for the Palestinians
in terms of managing their own affairs, in terms of their economy,
as well as continuing support by the international community.
129. What could the UK government bilaterally
or the European Union do to try and get the problem to turn, as
(Mr Keating) I would immediately make three points:
first, to identify and support impulses within Palestinian society
for political reform and not to reject them when they emerge.
There are signs of political reformnot necessarily from
the top but from other parts of society, and this is very important.
Secondly, to enter a dialogue with the government of Israel on
whether the way it is meeting its security concerns could be done
in ways which do not inflict so much damage on Palestinian society
and economy. We are convinced that the government of Israel can
meet those concerns in other ways and could take a number of immediate
steps which would relieve the pressure on Palestinian society.
The third is by trying to bring the parties back to discussions
on the political track, as well as maintaining our very generous
support to Palestinians through the UN, the World Bank and a number
130. On that last point, do you think at this
moment the west, the European Union, the UK government, other
players, are not trying to create that dialogue? Has it gone on
ice, as it were? As we speak, are there people working in the
Foreign Office trying to marshall a get-together, as it were?
(Mr Keating) Our understanding is that there is a
great deal of concern but there is a certain exasperation as well.
Clearly Israel's security concerns absolutely must be addressed
but the exasperation is that this is not being accompanied by
progress on the political front. After all, there is an agenda
there. There is Mitchell; there is Tenet; it is not as if there
is a mystery as to how to move things forward but there is this
fundamental blockage, which is that the government of Israel is
insisting upon seven days' calm before anything happens, and I
do not think it is for us to say whether the government of Israel
is deliberately or otherwise preventing a resumption of political
discussions but the evidence is they are not going back to those
discussions, and many would feel that the only players who are
able to influence them to do that are the United States, and maybe
the UK can play a role in encouraging greater efforts by the US
as well as through the European Union to get that political track.
(Mr Gilmour) Increased engagement would be welcomed
by many parties there, and at various levels. There is one issue
only where I might have encountered complete consensus amongst
Israeli liberals, Israeli right wingers and the Palestinians,
which is that the US is perceived by all threeand I stress
the word "perceived"; it may well not be the realityto
have aligned itself entirely behind the Israeli right wing. Now,
of course, the reactions are quite different. One of the three
elements is cock-a-hoop about it and the other two are depressed
and demoralised, but there is that perception there. Britain is
seen as having great potential influence over the United States.
It also has a tremendous historic role which some people say perhaps
could be played out more, and I would have thought frequent visits
also allow people to feel that they have not been ignored and
their problem has not been put on the back burner, which is how
some people would see it right now. There is, if I may suggest,
a permanent revolving door of parliamentarians coming from France,
Germany, Italy and the United States. I think there were something
like 30 congressmen from the US there last week. I was told by
the Palestinian Legislative Council that there has not been an
official delegation from this House since 1998, and I think it
would be seen as very welcome were links to be solidified there.
Andrew Mackinlay: Most interesting. Thank you.
131. What can the Americans bring to the table
to get the peace process started? When the Committee were in America
a few months back, it seemed to me that the American politicians
are saying, "We had our fingers burned at Camp David, we
are not going to go near the fire again". What can the Americans
bring, if they want to?
(Mr Keating) Pressure on both sides, essentially,
to talk to each other. Our concern is that security in the Middle
East is indivisible. It cannot be achieved for Israeli middle
classes at the expense of the Palestinian middle classes and the
Palestinian people and we seem to be stuck at a stage where the
focus is so much on security, particularly for one of the sides,
that the importance of exploring ways in which the security of
the other side can also be meteconomic and social as well
as personal securityhas drifted out of focus. We feel it
needs to be re-emphasised and the Americans need to be persuaded
to come back and look at the other side of the problem as much
as one side.
(Mr Gilmour) There is a perception out there that
Mitchell will not be implemented and I think it would help very
much if both sides were made aware that the United States really
will try to persuade both parties to move ahead on that. At the
moment we feel this is lacking out there.
132. Is there an exasperation on the part of
the Americans about the suicide bomber?
(Mr Gilmour) "Exasperation" is a very mild
word for that, yes. There is also exasperation they feel, as do
many of us, that the Palestinian Authority has not always been
entirely frank over the people it has been supposed to arrest.
This has led to exasperation amongst many members of the international
Sir John Stanley
133. It is very unfair to ask you a big question
in the last couple of minutes but what is your view as to how
you see the relationship between the Israel/Palestinian situation
and the wider international al-Qaeda terrorist operation. In particular
do you think that, for al-Qaeda, the Israel/Palestinian situation
is a pretext for their terrorism, or do you think it is a genuine
cause, as Mr Bin Ladin would have us believe? Putting it the other
way, if the Israeli/Palestinian situation was resolved, do you
think that that would result in al-Qaeda terrorism simply melting
away, or do you think, if it was resolved, al-Qaeda terrorism
aiming at the objective of attacking non-Islamic societies, the
American society in particular and those of its allies, would
(Mr Keating) My personal view is that the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict has been exploited by al-Qaeda as an additional reason
to explain and justify their actions, but I do not think al-Qaeda
is doing what it has been doing in order to help the Palestinians,
and I do not think many Palestinians think this either. I do not
think that a successful pursuit of actions against al-Qaeda would
in any way stop the violence continuing in the Middle East. It
is as useful to see how different these two problems are as to
see how connected they are. The interesting point is they have
arisen quite separately and they may reach out to each other in
various fumbling ways to justify each other and so on, but I do
not think the links are all that strong. Our central contention
is that the scope for more violence and terrorism in the Middle
East is enormous, and we are concerned that the way it is being
tackled at the moment is not necessarily going to result in a
diminution of violence or terrorism. Indeed, at the risk of being
very provocative, we may be at a stage in the Middle East which
we were at in Afghanistan ten years ago, where a dramatically
deteriorating social and economic environment combined with radicalisation
of society, growing support for Islamic groups, erosion of the
middle class, and delegitimisation of authorities may be creating
conditions in which terrorism could breed and thrive, so I just
do not think it is useful to take the spectacle of how you deal
with al-Qaeda and put it on the Middle East and assume that the
solutions and the influence points and levers will be the same.
I think it needs its own approach.
(Mr Gilmour) The Palestinian leadership resent very
much the exploitation of "Palestine" by Osama Bin Ladin
which they see as being as cynical as by Saddam Hussain in the
Gulf War. Osama Bin Ladin had no known record for supporting the
Palestinians before, so it was cynical. At the same time, I think
it is clear that the continued occupation of "Palestine",
as they see, it and Jerusalem is definitely a cause for Muslim
humiliation across the Muslim world which is a cause for terrorism,
yes. It is one of the underlying factors, definitely.
134. What are your final thoughts on Syria and
on Iran? To what extent has Hezbollah lack of action since September
been due to pressure from the Syrian government?
(Mr Gilmour) Hezbollah action has been very minimal
ever since the pullout of the Israelis was completed in August
2000. There have been some activities in a disputed area of the
Golan Heights otherwise Hezbollah action has been very minimal.
Every six weeks they do an operation but, and this is the perception
of the IDF as well, they are deliberately not killing people because
they know this leads to a massive reaction. They try to indicate
that they are still around and that their issues must still be
addressed. We feel also that the Syrians, since September, have
been careful to ensure that there are no other undue provocations.
135. And Iran?
(Mr Gilmour) Iran, likewise, Mr Chairman.
136. Gentlemen, you have given a very gloomy
prognosis. Are there any signs of hope at all for the Committee?
(Mr Keating) There are indeed. I think most people
on both sides want peace. Support for violence is a desperate
measure and we believe that, if there is a return to a political
process, very quickly you would see support for violence and support
for fundamentalist groups dropping dramatically. We also believe
that the economic fundamentals of the region are such that there
could be tremendous economic development, the economies of Israel,
of the Palestinian territories, of the sub-region, are very compatible:
the IMF and the World Bank have done studies on this, and the
scope for there being a prosperous sub-region is, in theory, enormous.
So it really is a question of getting back to the political process;
not letting the economic fundamentals crumble entirely, and meeting
security concerns within that context.
137. Is that post Sharon?
(Mr Keating) It may be. It may be post both of them.
Chairman: At least there is an element of encouragement
in the challenge at the end! Thank you very much.