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25 Mar 2003 : Column 142—continued

Middle East

3. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister of Israel regarding the proposed road map to peace. [104461]

10. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What initiatives he is undertaking to bring into existence a fully internationally recognised state of Palestine. [104468]

11. Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): If he will make a statement on his middle east policy. [104469]

12. Claire Ward (Watford): If he will make a statement on the Government's current activities in seeking a middle east peace settlement. [104470]

13. Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): What steps the Government is taking to promote the establishment of a Palestinian state and the withdrawal of illegal settlements. [104471]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I discussed the road map with my Israeli counterpart, the new Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, on 21 March. The United Kingdom Government are committed to the establishment of a viable state of Palestine living in peace alongside a secure state of Israel, as provided in Security Council resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. This is achievable through full implementation of the Quartet road map, which was published, after the approval of Abu Mazen's Government, by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

In recent months, we have worked with the Palestinians on their reform effort, notably through meetings in London on 14 January and between 18 and 20 February. We have encouraged President Arafat to appoint a Prime Minister. We are grateful that he has and, by doing so, he has helped to clear the way for road map publication.

The first phase of the road map includes a requirement on Israel to take specific steps to halt settlement activity, which is illegal under international law and plainly an obstacle to peace.

Mr. Thomas: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply. When can we except phase 1 of the road map to be implemented and, especially, when will the Israelis and Palestinians give a commitment to the two-state solution? Will he comment on, and tell us what lies behind, Prime Minister Sharon's remarks in the Knesset that the road map is a matter of "controversy"? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that peace in Israel and Palestine cannot be achieved by going down the path of bulldozing settlements and homes in acts of collective retribution and justice or down the path of suicide bombers, but that the road to peace must be a two-state solution that is agreed and signed up to in full with no amendments?

Mr. Straw: The important thing is to get the road map published and for both sides to start work on its implementation with the facilitation provided by the

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Quartet. I cannot give specific time scales, but the hon. Gentleman knows that the aim of the road map is to move away from present divisions and conflict towards a situation in which there are two states in a relatively short time.

A viable and separate state of Palestine is controversial in sections of Israeli politics but also in parts of the Arab world. Some people in the Arab and Islamic world take the view that there should be a one-state solution. However, a two-state solution has been agreed, it is part of international law under resolution 1397 and it is our duty to ensure that it is implemented.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about suicide bombers and the bulldozing of people's homes in the settlements. We must end the spiral of violence and destruction. The only way the 6 million people in Israel and the 3.5 million people in the occupied territories can live together is by living in peace, which is the aim of the road map.

Mr. Gibb: What commitments has the Foreign Secretary received from Abu Mazen that he will end Palestinian terrorist activity?

Mr. Straw: I have not spoken to Abu Mazen since his appointment, although I spoke to him before that. We regard him as a fine politician and statesman who is fully capable of leading the Palestinians. He is committed, as is the rest of the Palestinian Authority, to a peaceful path. The Palestinian Authority will be required to take firm security action against the terrorist organisations, but some of the Arab states that neighbour Israel and the occupied territories have an even greater responsibility to end the funding and support of terrorist organisations. Of course, one of those countries is Iraq.

Simon Hughes: Does the Foreign Secretary accept that providing for a secure Palestine with recognised and secure boundaries, in addition to a secure Israel, is the greatest contribution that could be made to peace in Europe and Asia, as well as in the middle east? If so, will he explain why phase 1 of the so-called road map appears to require a withdrawal by the Israelis to the position as of September 2000? Will he confirm that Government policy is still for all occupied territories to be returned to the Palestinian Authority and that Israel should have returned to its 1967 boundaries by the end of the three phases?

Mr. Straw: If we are to get from where we are to where we want to be, there has to be a phasing of it. The first stage needs to be a withdrawal by the Israeli defence force and other security forces from area A, which represents the occupied territories previously and effectively controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Our policy remains that very clearly laid down in resolutions 242, 338 and 1397: a return to the 1967 borders—there may be some amendments to those, but a state based on the 1967 borders—an end to the settlements, a solution to the refugee problem and a capital for a Palestinian state in Jerusalem.

Claire Ward : There remains some scepticism in the Muslim community in my constituency over whether the United States Administration are genuinely

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committed to the peace plan and that the plan is required to be backed up by the United States using its influence over the Israeli Government to prevent the incursions that are taking place in Palestinian areas. What is required is an assurance not just from this Government but from the United States Administration that this will be a priority in foreign policy not only at the end of the Iraqi conflict but from now.

Mr. Straw: I understand the scepticism, which is shared by my own constituents and not just by my own Muslim constituents. It is incumbent on the United States Government, as much as it is on the other partners, to deliver on the road map. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has played an absolutely critical role in securing the creation of a road map and its earlier publication than anticipated. The middle east peace process will be one of the major items on the agenda for discussions that my right hon. Friend and I will be having with the United States Administration later this week.

Mr. Brazier : Following that answer, does the Foreign Secretary accept that at a time when many Arabs in the middle east are believing Saddam Hussein's false propaganda that this is a war against Arabs, the acid test for moderate opinion in the middle east and for the very large Arab media, whose microphones we see before Saddam Hussein every day, will be the attitude to the Palestinian question and a genuine commitment to two states secure in their borders? Will the right hon. Gentleman finally accept that it is a measure of how far we in the west—America and Britain—have failed that we now see press reports that large numbers of Palestinians are among the Fedayeen fighting our soldiers at this very moment?

Mr. Straw: I have not seen those reports, but I accept entirely the burden of the hon. Gentleman's comments. Only a tiny handful of people in Iraq and in the Islamic world outside Iraq have anything good to say about the Iraqi regime and the terror committed by Saddam Hussein. At the same time, across the Arab and Islamic world there is a real palpable sense of injustice at the way in which the Palestinians have been treated. I know that all of us acknowledge and share that. That is why, if we are to ensure that there is not a terrible clash of so-called civilisations or religions, we in the west, with our power, have a profound duty to deliver justice to the Palestinians alongside security for the Israelis.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Although we are all delighted that the United Kingdom Government have played such a role in the agreement that has led to the road map—I think particularly of the actions of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary accept that people cannot go on talking about this road map for much longer without seeing what it is? Will he explain either what is impeding publication or what steps it is expected will need to be taken before it can be published?

Mr. Straw: I accept that there is a degree of impatience, which I have to say we share, about the publication of the road map. The approximate reason for its delay is this. It was due to be published in

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December, but because of the impending Israeli elections on 28 January, it was decided that its publication had to be delayed until an Israeli Government were in place. An Israeli Government are now in place, and we have almost got to the point of having a Palestinian Authority Government in place. We want to see the road map published the moment that the Palestinian Government are fully in place and have been approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): The whole House will note my right hon. Friend's choice of words to describe the delay in the publication of the road map. I am not sure that the whole Palestinian community would exactly go along with that choice of words, but I would like to deal with another major issue affecting the daily lives of Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza. Given that there has to be good will on both sides, can the Foreign Secretary tell us what evidence there is that the new Israeli Government are attempting to curtail the activities of their defence forces on the west bank and Gaza in their approach to the Palestinian community? The United Nations has made it clear that only 600 of the 10,000 houses that have been demolished have any connection whatsoever with any security operation, yet the Israeli defence force continues to demolish houses. What chance does the Palestinian community have if the Israelis are simply going to humiliate them daily?

Mr. Straw: Let me make it clear to my hon. Friend that the publication date of the road map is a matter to be decided by the partners in the Quartet, and is not the responsibility of either the Government of Israel or the Palestinian Authority. It is, as it were, our decision, not theirs. On my hon. Friend's second point, we continue to call for the Israeli defence force to show proper restraint. In all my conversations with Israeli Foreign Ministers—with B. B. Netanyahu and now with Mr. Shalom—I have emphasised not only that that is required under international law and simple human care, but that it is not in the interests of the Government of Israel or the reputation of the Jewish people to act excessively and outside international law.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Could my right hon. Friend give a more specific assurance about the role that the American Administration will play in the implementation of the road map? I am thinking specifically about the halting of the demolition of Palestinian homes and the removal of Israeli settlements in the west bank.

Mr. Straw: The US Administration are a key part of the Quartet. They are one of the four partners in the Quartet, and have signed up to the road map. It is known, of course, that Israeli politics and concern for Israeli security are a dominant theme in United States politics—that is just a fact of life. It is critical to build confidence among both the Israeli community in Israel and the Jewish community in the United States that their security is not going to be daily threatened by terrorism, particularly by suicide bombers. We have worked very hard with the Americans, the Israelis and particularly the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the maximum security action is taken against those terrorists. However, to return to the key point made by

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my hon. Friend, I believe that the US Administration are fully committed to the implementation of the road map, otherwise they would not have endorsed it. We shall press them, as with all the other partners in the Quartet, to press ahead with its implementation.

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): The Liberal Democrats, too, wish to associate themselves with the earlier comments of the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary about the sad loss of members of the armed forces—our thoughts are with their families.

The Foreign Secretary properly emphasised the importance of the road map to peace in the middle east. Once the new Palestinian Government have been formed, the next step in the draft plan requires unequivocal statements from both sides recognising each other and ending violence against each other. In light of the many recent deaths in the region, does the Foreign Secretary believe that the parties are close to being able to make such statements? Does he agree with the Israeli Prime Minister's suggestion that the road map is still negotiable? At what point will it cease to be amendable?

Mr. Straw: I can certainly express hope on the hon. Gentleman's first point. It is in the interests of both sides to live in peace, so they have to recognise that the only way to peace is a two-state solution. On the issue of amendment, yes, I am aware that there are those in Israel who want amendments, and I discussed that with Foreign Minister Shalom last week in a long telephone conversation. My point to him was that the road map is the property of the Quartet, not the Israeli Government or the Palestinian Authority. It is a framework: yes, some of its detail may of course be changed over time, but what we cannot see is any change to its fundamental principles.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has referred to the scepticism of our constituents, both Muslims and others, over the middle east peace process, and particularly America's involvement in it, and by connection, its involvement in Iraq. Is my right hon. Friend able to tell the House what are the key ingredients of the road map that will give our constituents some confidence that it might succeed where so many other peace initiatives have failed?

Mr. Straw: Copies of the informal text of the road map, which has not yet been published, are available in the Library. There is no magic ingredient in the road map; it reflects a series of previous peace plans. What is required—I suppose that this is the difference—is a stronger international commitment to its implementation, and perhaps more robust international architecture, and a weariness on the part of the Palestinians, the Israelis and the international community with the idea that conflict provides any answer to the solution of this centuries old problem.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): How far has the Foreign Secretary pressed upon the Israeli Government the importance of making urgent and even-handed progress towards the two-state solution, which those of

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us who are friends of both Israel and Palestine believe is the only way forward? In that context, is it not vital that nothing further is done now before publication of the road map that could block it by pre-empting negotiations and decisions? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that not only includes continuing settlement activity—I am sure that he welcomes, as I do, the small but significant dismantling of the outposts near Hebron yesterday—but must also include the continued development of the new security fence on boundaries that presumably can never conform to those in the road map? To clarify this, should not the road map be published immediately?

Mr. Straw: We continue to press the Government of Israel very hard on the principles of the road map. That comes up time and again in conversations with Israeli Ministers and representatives, but also, for example, and in a sense more powerfully, in the actions that the British Government decided to take when the Israeli Government decided to ban representatives of the Palestinian Authority from travelling to the London meeting. We decided that we would not simply accept, as it were, an attempt by the Government of Israel to cancel our meeting. Instead, we pressed ahead with it by using video links. I believe that that was an important milepost on the way to getting the road map published.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to express anxieties about the security fence, which unlawfully takes more land from the Palestinians, and in some instances, quite gratuitously, good agricultural land. That is unacceptable and we have made that clear to the Israelis. The road map needs to be published as quickly as possible. With a decision by the partners in the Quartet, it will be published as soon as Abu Mazen's ministerial team is confirmed by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

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