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The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander):
The Government remain committed to working with the Governments of south-east Asia to combat all forms of terrorism. We have regular discussions with the Government of Australia on the terrorist threat in south-east Asia. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary wrote to their Australian counterparts to offer our support and assistance to the Australian Government and people following the attack on the Australian embassy
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in Jakarta on 9 September in which nine people were killed. On this, the second anniversary of the Bali bombing, our thoughts remain with the victims and their families.
Ms Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He rightly points out that today is the second anniversary of the Bali bombing, which killed not only many young Australians, but several British citizens, including one of my constituents. Is the Foreign Office satisfied with the work that is being done in that area between Australia and Indonesia? Given our interests in the area, is every effort being made to support that?
Mr. Alexander: Of course we condemn utterly the bombing of the Australian embassy on 9 September. As I made clear, both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have communicated directly with the Australian Government, offering what assistance we can in the continuing efforts to combat terrorism. It is clear not just from that incident but from other terrorist incidents that the need for countries to work collaboratively across borders has never been greater in terms of the challenge of global terrorism. In that regard, Britain continues to play a leading role, not just in south-east Asia but right around the world.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): It took the British Government more than 18 months to implement some of the security lessons that Australia was so brutally taught by the Bali bomb. It is clear that the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta would have resulted in many more casualties had the Australians not pre-empted the problem and reacted with great skill. May I ask that the British Government react with much more speed to this incident than they did to the Bali bombing?
Mr. Alexander: I am sure that the House recognises that we do not discuss the security of individual embassies, but I can confirm that I met the Indonesian ambassador recently. It is only fair to point out that we passed counter-terrorism legislation expeditiously after the events of 9/11 and we continue to take whatever measures necessary to safeguard the security of the British people.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): A great many representations have been made calling on Israel to freeze all settlement activity. We have raised our concerns with Prime Minister Sharon's office and the Israeli ambassador in London. The Prime Minister and I raised settlement expansion with Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Olmert on 8 September. In my discussions with Israel, I specifically pressed my concerns about the proposed expansion of Ma'ale Adumim.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making representations to the Israeli Prime Minister
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and the Vice-Prime Minister. Does he share the pessimistic assessment of Israeli Labour party MPs who believe that the expansion of settlements such as Ma'ale Adumim, deep in Palestinian territory, shows that disengagement is just a cover for assimilation, that the road map is all but dead and that if he is allowed to continue in this way, Ariel Sharon will be laughing all the way to the west bank?
Mr. Straw: I do not take such a pessimistic view. Our position on the settlements in the west bank, as in Gaza, is clear: they are not lawful and it is not in Israel's long-term interests to pursue them. The road map is not dead. I am aware that one or two comments have been made off-message in Israel about the road map, but they have been confounded by official spokesmen, and there was a good meeting of the Quartet, which supervises the road map, in New York on 25 September.
The situation is very difficult. The crucial thing is that we first see a withdrawal from Gaza by the Israelis as they promised. We need the removal of all the settlements there, which, as my hon. Friend will know, is very controversial in Israel, and strong international support for the Palestinian Authority to ensure that it can run the territory once Israel has removed itself from it. We must then ensure that similar withdrawals take place on the west bank.
Does the Foreign Secretary understand that in Arab countries, where the particular nature of resolutions under chapter VII of the United Nations charter may not be fully appreciated, there is none the less an overwhelming sense of double standards when Security Council resolutions are sought to be used to justify military action against Iraq, but resolutions directed against the occupation of the west bank go unimplemented?
Mr. Straw: There are a range of resolutions in respect of Israel/Palestine, including 242, 338 and 1397. They place obligations not only on Israel, but on the Palestinians in respect of terrorism, and on the international community. It is lamentable that they have not been implemented. The road map seeks to ensure that they are implemented. There are clear obligations on Israel to stop the settlement building, to stop targeted assassinations and to move the route of the barrier, but there are also clear obligations on the Palestinians to ensure that they really doI have been saying this for three and a half years without a great deal of effecttake proper control of the rejectionist terrorist organisations operating within their territory. In addition, countries outside the occupied territoriestheir neighboursmust cease supporting the rejectionist terrorist groups.
David Winnick (Walsall, North)
(Lab): Should not the international community be far more robust in opposing what Sharon and his cronies are doing on Palestinian land? Should there not be far stronger condemnation of the way in which, day in and day out, the Israeli armed forces act against Palestinians, causing immense harm, death and destruction? Should we not
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condemn that in the same way as we rightly condemn suicide bombings, which are, of course, totally unacceptable?
Mr. Straw: I do condemn it. I have made that clear. Targeted assassinations and the untargeted killings of innocent Palestinians in pursuit of military operations are unlawful and unacceptable to the whole international community. We have made that as clear as we have our condemnation of suicide bombing.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the attitude and actions of the democratically elected Government of Israel constitute perhaps the greatest single obstacle to peace in the middle east?
Mr. Straw: I do not believe that. Israel's voting system has complicated Israeli politics to an incredible extent, as any sensible Israeli politician, left, right or centre, would be the first to say. Those who wish to adopt national list proportional representation need to bear in mind the political chaos that it producesI mention that parenthetically, Mr. Speaker.
Israel is a proud democracy and we should salute it for that. It must be borne in mind that one of the reasons why the present Government are facing a collapse of their coalition as they seek withdrawal from Gaza and the removal of the settlements is that, unlike the Governments of some of the other states in the region, they have to get those proposals through the democratically elected, and rather difficult, Knesset.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that those who seek peace should welcome the Israeli Government's intention to withdraw from all settlements in Gaza as a first step? Does he also agree with the statement of Yasser Arafat's Prime Minister that the Palestinians should cease to support and incite terrorism, and thereby fulfil their promise in the road map?
Mr. Straw: I agree with both those statements. Although it is hardly a secret that Prime Minister Sharon is not the favourite politician of every Member of this House, we should judge all politicians on their proposals, and Prime Minister Sharon's proposals on withdrawal from Gaza and the removal of the settlements there are fully consistent with the road map and courageous and they ought to be welcomed.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I commend the Foreign Secretary for the balance that he is trying to strike between the Israeli Government's sometimes rather inappropriate behaviour and the Palestinian Authority's inability to bear down on rejectionist terrorists. He mentioned the importance of security in the Gaza strip post-withdrawal, but what specifically will the British Government do to bring about a state of security?
We are already doing a good deal to support security in the Palestinian Authority areafor security reasons, mainly in the west bank rather than in Gaza. I am giving active consideration to what further
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steps we can take to ensure that the Palestinian Authority can operate effectively within Gaza after withdrawal has taken place.
Mr. Streeter: It was interesting to hear during the recent Labour party conference that the Prime Minister will make revival of the middle east peace process a personal priority after November. Have we not heard that before? When did this crucial peace process stop being a priority for the Prime Minister, and why?
Mr. Straw: The peace process has never stopped being a priority for the Prime Minister, and he remains wholly committed to it. My right hon. Friend was simply drawing attention to a fact of life over which we have as little control as we have over the fact that the sun rises in the east, which is that the United States presidential election takes place on 2 November.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Is not the Israelis' intention merely to transfer settlers from the Gaza strip to the west bank, and does not the recent statement by Mr. Sharon's chief of staff that disengagement in Gaza will effectively derail the peace process give the lie to the Israelis' real intentions?
Mr. Straw: I do not think that my hon. Friend's first point is correct. In any case, if we are to get full withdrawal from Gaza and the west bank, it has to start somewhere. The Israelis have committed themselves to full withdrawal from Gaza and we should welcome that. As for what I gather was said by Mr. Sharon's adviser, Mr. Dov Weissglass, it has been disavowed by official Israeli Government spokesmen.
I refer my hon. Friend also to an important interview which Vice-Prime Minister Olmert gave in The New York Times in the middle of Augustwhich I readin which he spelt out the importance of Israel sticking to the two-state solution. He drew attention to the fact that if Israel did not do that, it would either become undemocratic or it would cease to be Jewish. There are arguments, which intelligent Israelis fully understand, that are in favour of the road map and a two-state solution broadly within the boundaries set out in 1967 for the Israelis as well as the Palestinians.
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