Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 196-199)




  196. Minister, may I welcome you to what I think is your first appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee. We welcome you and we welcome your team. You have with you, Mr Christopher Prentice, who is Head of the Middle East and North Africa Department, Mr Edward Chaplin, who is Director for the Middle East and North Africa Department and Mr William Ehrman, Director for International Security. Minister, as you know, the Committee is conducting an inquiry into the war against terrorism, as seen under its general and its several regional aspects. We will hope to turn later in the questioning to Iraq but the crisis at the moment is clearly that between Israel and Palestine. We had the debate, a very useful debate, in the Chamber on Tuesday of last week, and the Committee thought it very useful within the context of our inquiry into the war against terrorism to have a further exchange with you at this time, particularly because of the deterioration of the situation, the despair of those who have tried to build bridges and the fact at least there are various peace proposals on the table. I note that on 16 April you said this, "We shall be seeking a UN Security Council Resolution, based on Crown Prince Abdullah's plan, to promote a political process, following US Secretary of State Powell's visit to the region. We stand ready to help with the monitoring of a ceasefire and confidence building measures." That is your proposal, what will the Government propose as the first step to the implementation of the plan, which is now not only the Saudi Plan of course but one which has been endorsed by the wider Arab countries at the Beirut Summit? How do we see that plan evolving, what are the first steps towards implementation and, in particular, what leadership will the Foreign Office give in that?

  (Mr Bradshaw) Mr Chairman, the first step is to defuse the crisis, as you have so rightly described it, on the ground. My analysis of the current situation on the Middle East peace process is we have this dreadful dichotomy between the appalling situation on the ground, as you yourself have already said, and the rather hopeful big picture where we have an unprecedented level of international consensus on what a final settlement will look like, not just Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal, which was unanimously endorsed at the Beirut Summit, but the historic American support for a United Nations Resolution calling for a two state solution, a vision that unites the Arab world, the West, Russia and I think most reasonable people in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The challenge for us is how we get there, and first and foremost our priority has to be to get humanitarian aid into the towns and cities which are still suffering terribly since the recent incursions, to get the Israeli withdrawal in accordance with the United Nations Resolution 1402, and a ceasefire also in line with those resolutions, and then the necessary steps which we all know and are very familiar with from Mitchell and Tenet leading to a settlement. One of the reasons we are speaking more openly and candidly about how we see a final settlement looking is we think, as you yourself said in your speech last week to the House, that the incremental approach adopted in the Madrid and Oslo processes was not enough and we need to articulate more than ever the solution as we see it, as indeed does the whole international community.

  197. But parallel with what will be a hoped for lowering of the temperature on the ground, what steps specifically are you taking towards convening a wider conference?
  (Mr Bradshaw) We have said we would be supportive of a wider conference. There are still a great many question marks as to where that conference would be, who would be involved, what its aims would be, who would be invited and so forth. The examples you quoted in your introduction are elements that have been pioneered by Britain, if you like, that the Prime Minister put in the public domain in Crawford in his recent speech at his bilateral with President Bush which we feel can contribute to a process. I do not think they are the solution, there are going to be a number of elements which are required before we get to a conference.

  198. And the next steps at the UN level, the Security Council?
  (Mr Bradshaw) There are none specifically planned. We had last weekend Security Council Resolution 1405, which very much came out of Britain's initiative derived from our concern specifically about the situation and events in Jenin following the visit not just by the humanitarian organisations but also our Defence Attaché in Tel Aviv. It was as a result of a British initiative we got that resolution which endorsed a United Nations fact-finding mission to Jenin. But I am not aware of any immediate further UN Security Council proposals, and I see my officials shaking their heads as well endorsing that.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  199. Mr Bradshaw, could I ask you three questions. First of all, have you had any indication at all that the Israeli Government would be prepared to take the Crown Prince's proposals as the basis for a conference?
  (Mr Bradshaw) No, we have not any strong indication but at the same time they have not rejected them out of hand.

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