Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Palestinian Authority

4. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): What assistance he is offering the Palestinian Authority during President Arafat's absence. [196783]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): In President Arafat's absence during his treatment in Paris, we have been in close touch with members of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied territories and in Paris. We will continue to support them and the Palestinian people through humanitarian aid, support to the World Bank trust fund and bilateral assistance projects on security.

Mr. Thomas: I thank the Foreign Secretary for what he has just said. While we all wish President Arafat and his family a peaceful end to his illness, we need to turn to the future. A time will come when there will be a need for new leadership in Palestine. What steps are being taken to ensure that Palestinians have robust democratic institutions that will ensure they are in control of their leadership and elect their own leader? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that it is the Government's position that the Palestinian people should decide their leadership?

Mr. Straw: If I may correct what I think was a slip of the tongue, I think that the hon. Gentleman was expressing a hope for an immediate recovery for President Arafat rather than what he said. That is the fervent wish of all concerned.

Mr. Thomas indicated assent.

Mr. Straw: So far as the hon. Gentleman's substantial point is concerned, the answer is yes. The organisation of Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority is a matter for them. Their Basic Law lays down a satisfactory process for elections, and it is for them to decide whether to follow that or to change it in an equally satisfactory way.
9 Nov 2004 : Column 692

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What assurance is my right hon. Friend seeking from the Israeli Government that withdrawal from Gaza will be co-ordinated with the Palestinian Authority and that it will be the first step, not the last, to withdrawal from the occupied territories?

Mr. Straw: The Israeli Government have described their withdrawal from Gaza, which we welcome as a necessary but not a sufficient step on the implementation of the road map, as a unilateral act. It is not being done in negotiation with the Palestinians. We have, however, urged the Israelis better to co-ordinate the withdrawal, and we have made clear our readiness to give active support to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that a vacuum is not created by the withdrawal of the Israeli Defence Force and that opportunities for the Palestinians to run their own affairs and their own security are properly taken up.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that assistance to the Palestinian Authority is focused especially on security measures to remove from the authority the excuse that has allowed it tacitly to tolerate the murderous attacks that have continued on Israeli citizens? If the authority wants the Israeli Government's unilateral action in withdrawing from Gaza and some west bank settlements to be extended, an abrupt end to such murderous attacks is absolutely essential.

Mr. Straw: The burden of what the right hon. Gentleman says is absolutely right. The Palestinian Authority has clear responsibilities better to control security and terrorism from within its own borders. A high proportion of our direct assistance from the UK to the Palestinian Authority is designed to strengthen its security and security apparatus.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Last week, I had discussions with senior Palestinian Ministers in Ramallah on a visit organised through Labour Friends of Israel. I saw for myself the value that Palestinians attach to British support. Is the Foreign Secretary concerned that the recent admission by Mr. Peter Hansen, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, that the UN employs members of Hamas, a terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel, will jeopardise the neutrality of the United Nations at this critical time?

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knows, Hamas is a broad organisation whose military wing is banned under the Terrorism Act 2000, although its humanitarian wing is not. I know that that is the subject of great argument, especially in Israel. Constant allegations have been made against UNRWA because of its employment of individuals who claim some association with Hamas, but I have not yet seen any evidence that it has employed people who are involved in the military activities of Hamas. If there were such evidence, we would of course be gravely concerned.
9 Nov 2004 : Column 693

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) (LD): Despite the Foreign Secretary's response to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), he must surely admit that the present situation is a wonderful opportunity for Israel to pursue the peace process in the middle east. Does he agree that Marwan Barghouti, who at present languishes in an Israeli jail, is much respected by Palestinians and, indeed, by many Israelis? Would the Foreign Secretary be prepared to put pressure on the Israeli authorities to release Mr. Barghouti from prison and encourage a free presidential election in Palestine?

Mr. Straw: With respect, the present president of the Palestinian Authority is President Arafat. As far as the Government are concerned, we wish him a speedy recovery from his illness. Any succession is overwhelmingly a matter for the Palestinians.

Middle East

5. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What initiatives are being taken to give new impetus to the middle east road map. [196784]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With the US elections over, and with Prime Minister Sharon's plan for disengagement from Gaza, there is a powerful opportunity to give fresh and much needed impetus to the peace plan laid out in the road map. Mr. Sharon's proposals represent a necessary, though not sufficient, step towards the goal endorsed by the whole international community in Security Council resolution 1397: two states, a secure Israel and a viable state of Palestine.My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will discuss reviving the peace process with President Bush in Washington later this week. I hope to visit the region shortly.

Mr. David: I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's comments, especially his endorsement of the Sharon plan for disengagement. Does he agree that, alongside that agenda, it is important to consider the economic situation faced by many Palestinian people?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I do. Security and economic recovery and development must go side by side. My hon. Friend will know that the European Union has already put some millions of euros into development in the Palestinian areas, and we are ready to do much more once there is a more secure environment.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): For the middle east road map to work, the Palestinian Authority will require substantial amounts of bilateral and other aid. Does he agree that it is vital that all the aid that has gone missing under Arafat's tenure is recovered?

Mr. Straw: There have been repeated allegations of mismanagement of funds by the Palestinian Authority, but Commissioner Chris Patten, who has been responsible for the disbursement of EU funds to the Palestinians in the occupied territories for the past five years, has said repeatedly that he is satisfied about the destination of funds.
9 Nov 2004 : Column 694

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend be part of the process of reminding the re-elected US Administration that this President is the first to declare formally that the US is in favour of a Palestinian state? We did not see any real progress on this agenda in the last term, but now there is a real opportunity for progress. If the President can be reminded of his obligations, he could make a real difference in his second term.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend makes an important point. President Bush is the first US president to go to the United Nations to commit himself to a two-state solution and to sponsor a Security Council resolution laying that solution down as the policy of the UN. There is a great opportunity, and that is underlined by the courageous decision taken by Prime Minister Sharon, and followed through in the teeth of substantial opposition in his own party, to disengage from Gaza. We should commend Prime Minister Sharon for that. It is an important step on the road to full statehood for the Palestinians. We have to ensure that that works successfully and that there then is an equivalent process in respect of the west bank.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend does not mind, I will stop short of supporting him in his view of Prime Minister Sharon. I know Prime Minister Sharon slightly better than my right hon. Friend does, and I know of his activities in the past. However, it is very important that the road map gets back on track and that the Prime Minister takes with him the best wishes of the House. The whole of the middle east is looking to that meeting; the Prime Minister has staked a lot on it, and we hope that he comes back with something more than just promises: we need action on the road map. If the road map does not start, the whole middle east situation will become much more difficult.

Mr. Straw: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister fully understands the expectations on both sides of the House. I do not ask my hon. Friend for a general reference in respect of Prime Minister Sharon—he might be reluctant to provide one—but we should judge people by their actions. Whatever reservations there may be about other aspects of Prime Minister Sharon's very long career, I believe that he has shown considerable courage and statesmanship, and he should be commended for it. The only way to get a full state of Palestine is by withdrawal, and that can happen only on a phased basis, but to have the Israeli defence forces withdraw from 40 per cent. by population of the occupied territories is a very important start.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): When the Prime Minister goes to Washington, will he make it clear that another conference on the middle east, although welcome, is not enough and that it is time, once the Palestinian leadership issues are resolved, to seek constructive action on the ground to bring the parties back to the road map, just as the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has said? Should that not include the appointment by the Quartet of a very senior international figure to stay in place in Jerusalem to oversee negotiations, backed by the presence of
9 Nov 2004 : Column 695
international monitoring and observer forces, and to help to foster a climate of trust? Is there not a unique opportunity for action now, and should we not seize it?

Mr. Straw: I commend what the hon. Gentleman says. There is a case for the appointment of a high-level representative, but that representative must have something to do and all sides—the Palestinians, the Israelis and the neighbours who have a direct interest in the peace process and the road map—must have a clear willingness to engage.

Next Section IndexHome Page