Previous SectionIndexHome Page


5. Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the US Administration about the Israeli wall. [164124]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): We are in regular contact with the US Administration, at all levels, about the situation in the middle east, including the Israeli fence and wall.

Mr. Hall: Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the Israeli wall—particularly the part built illegally within Palestinian territory—generates a deep sense of injustice and anger among the people whose lives are disrupted by it every day? Does he agree that such injustice acts as a recruiting sergeant for extremists such as Hamas? They and the Israeli extremists deliberately

30 Mar 2004 : Column 1412

maintain the vicious cycle of violence, which is unlikely to be broken unless and until the US adopts the unambiguous position that the wall must be removed. What more can the British Government do to impress that policy on the US Administration?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the adverse effects of the wall. When completed, about 210,000 acres or 14.5 per cent. of west bank land, excluding East Jerusalem, will lie between the barrier and the green line. That land is among the most fertile in the west bank and is home to 275,000 people, so the wall is already of great and adverse consequence to the people who are trapped between it, the barrier and the green line. Once the wall is completed, it will be of even greater consequence.

We have many conversations with the US Administration in respect of the middle east, as well as other foreign policy issues. The US is the most influential power on the Government of Israel, but I have to say to my hon. Friend that the Government of Israel are nonetheless a sovereign Government and many people in the US Administration will say that it is not they in Washington who take decisions for the Government of Israel, but the Government of Israel in Jerusalem. That is true.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Is it not sadly unrealistic for us to expect any bold new initiative from the Americans on getting the two sides back together in the run-up to the presidential election? Is there not therefore a dangerous vacuum in the middle east peace process, which Britain should be seeking to fill? Can the Foreign Secretary tell us exactly what the British Government are doing to try to get the two sides back around the table together? Is there not now a strong case for shuttle diplomacy on the part of the British Foreign Secretary to try to put the road map back on track?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. If I felt that all that lay between the current terrible conflict and a peace settlement was my shuttling back and forth between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, I would be there and would stay there until a settlement was achieved. Sadly, I do not take that view, and it is unrealistic to believe that any outside interlocutor—be it the British Foreign Secretary, the American Secretary of State or heads of state and government—can achieve that because the divide is so great and the hatred and fears on both sides so profound.

The United States Government remain engaged and committed, notwithstanding the fact that an election is coming up. We are working with the Palestinians above all and especially on their own security, because unless and until the Palestinian Authority can demonstrate that they can take control of security in their own territory in Gaza and the west bank, they will be unable to convince Israel or the international community that they can be an effective interlocutor. That is what we are doing, and we are making considerable progress. We continue to provide substantial aid to the Palestinian

30 Mar 2004 : Column 1413

Authority and the Palestinian people, and we are working through the European Union and the Quartet, and with the Government of Israel.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of us who happen to be of Jewish origin by birth totally condemn Israeli policy in the occupied territories, consider that there is no justification for what is happening, and equally condemn murderous suicide bombings, which, as he says, are counter-productive? Is it not true that the only country that can make any impression on Israel and put any pressure on it is the United States? And has not the United States a duty and a responsibility to act in accordance with the wishes of the international community and to pressure Israel into observing international law?

Mr. Straw: As I have said, the United States has the greatest external influence, but it is only an external influence; decisions are for the sovereign Government of Israel, who jealously guard their own power and autonomy. We need to acknowledge the significant progress that the Bush Administration have made in the past three years in respect of Israel and Palestine. It was President Bush who pushed for the adoption of what became resolution 1393, which for the first time recognised a two-state solution: a secure state of Israel, side by side with a viable state of Palestine. That has been supplemented by resolutions confirming the road map, in which the United States played a leading part, along with the European Union and ourselves. The United States is engaged, but external actors can be as engaged as they like: that will have no effect unless and until the parties directly involved in the conflict are willing to negotiate.


6. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): What action is being taken by the Government to assist in the restoration of freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe. [164125]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): The Government are providing practical and political support to civil society, human rights organisations and all those in Zimbabwe who want an early return to democratically accountable government that respects human rights and the rule of law. We have played a leading part in the European Union's decision to extend its sanctions against leading members of the regime.

Simon Hughes : Yesterday in this House, the Prime Minister made it clear that he raised the issue of Zimbabwe with Colonel Gaddafi last week, and he also made clear the British Government's opposition to what the Libyan Government have been saying. What proactive initiatives will Her Majesty's Government take to make sure that the Libyan Government in particular, and other African Governments more generally, change their view and withdraw the help, encouragement and support that they have been giving Mr. Mugabe?

Mr. Mullin: A lot of African Governments take the same view that we do of what goes on in Zimbabwe, but

30 Mar 2004 : Column 1414

we maintain constant dialogue with them—no doubt we will do so with Libya—in order to make our view clear. Many are under the illusion that it has something to do with our failure to support land reform. Mr. Mugabe has spread that falsehood rather effectively, but we rebut it at every opportunity. We are ready to support land reform, provided that it is carried out in an honest and democratic fashion, rather than by Mugabe's thugs.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that I have raised with him the question of political activists in the Zimbabwean Opposition whose lives are in danger. In view of the fact that a political activist was killed this week, will he consider giving more sympathy to activists who want temporary refuge in Britain until such time as Mugabe is finished?

Mr. Mullin: That is not within my gift. There are many Zimbabwean refugees in this country, and we consider carefully their applications for asylum. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the recent murder of a political activist in the course of a by-election in Harare. He may have seen the report "Playing with Fire", which was published recently by a South African non-governmental organisation. It says that 24 per cent. of Opposition Members of Parliament in Zimbabwe have been the subject of assassination attempts—a truly astonishing figure—and 16 per cent. have been tortured and three murdered. That in a nutshell tells us all we need to know about life in Zimbabwe under Mr. Mugabe's regime.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): May I gently ask the Minister when he will do more than just wring his hands about Zimbabwe? When will the Government take action? When will they start freezing the assets of the wealthy businessmen, some of them in this country, who bankroll Mugabe? When will he extend and tighten the European Union's targeted sanctions to bring real and effective pressure on Mugabe and his henchmen? When will the Government formally ask the United Nations to deploy staff to monitor the distribution of food in Zimbabwe? Those are three practical suggestions. When will the Government show some moral courage and stop walking by on the other side?

Mr. Mullin: We are not wringing hands. Indeed, some Conservative Members shook hands with Mr. Mugabe in the not-too-distant past. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that we played a leading part in extending the European sanctions. No day passes without the issue of Zimbabwe crossing my desk in some form or another. We take it very seriously indeed. We have been extremely proactive, and the Zimbabweans are well aware of that. So is the Movement for Democratic Change, which regularly thanks us for the assistance that we give and our attempts to draw attention to what is going on in Zimbabwe. I utterly reject the nonsense that comes from those on the Conservative Benches.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): What message does my hon. Friend have for the England cricket team, which is due to tour Zimbabwe later this year? The team does not want to go, but under international cricket

30 Mar 2004 : Column 1415

rules it can withdraw only if the Government instruct it not to go. I understand my hon. Friend's unwillingness to instruct an independent sporting body, but what can be done to break the impasse? Surely the will of the British people should prevail. I am sure that it is their will that the team should not tour Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mullin: We have made it clear from the outset that we disapprove of the proposed tour of Zimbabwe, but we do not have the power to instruct the team not to go.

Next Section

IndexHome Page