Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


The Israel-Palestine conflict and the war against terrorism

345.  In previous Reports in this inquiry we have discussed the relationship between the Israel-Palestine conflict and the wider war against terrorism.[451] We noted that al Qaeda has sought to link its campaign to the Palestinian cause, but that none of our witnesses had seen evidence of links between al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorist groups.[452] We also found no evidence to support Israel's claims that it is fighting the same war against terrorism as the US and its allies.[453]

346.  Nevertheless, the Israel-Palestine conflict affects the war against terrorism in a number of important ways. Our witnesses agreed that the conflict serves as an "ideological recruitment ground" for terrorists.[454] One important factor is the widespread perception of international bias in favour of Israel, which feeds into anti-Western sentiment. As we stated in July 2003, "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the relationship between the US and Israel, is one of the causes of resentment of the US in the Arab world—and thus one of the factors contributing to the appeal of organisations such as al Qaeda."[455] Although resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict would not bring international terrorism to an end, it would remove an important and highly symbolic motivation.

347.  A further linkage between the Israel-Palestine conflict and the war against terrorism derives from the fact that the conflict is used as an excuse in many countries in the Arab and Islamic world to delay much-needed reform. We examine this issue in more detail in paragraphs 486-97. Our conclusions on the Israel-Palestine conflict are set out in paragraphs 393-99.

Recent developments


348.  In our last Report in this inquiry, we noted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement of plans for 'disengagement' from the Palestinians. We expressed our concern about such unilateral action, especially given the link with acceleration of Israel's construction of a security barrier in the West Bank.[456] In its response the Government said:

    We welcome actions by Israel and the Palestinian Authority which are consistent with the RoadMap, including Israeli withdrawals from the Occupied Territories and the closure of settlements there… Israel's planning for unilateral steps of this kind is taking place against the background of its reiterated commitment to the RoadMap. The Israeli government is aware that we, and the international community, oppose unilateral steps which are not consistent with the RoadMap.[457]

This position was reiterated by the Prime Minister on 16 April, when he welcomed the prospect of 'disengagement' but said:

    We reaffirm that this is part of a process to get us back into the road map, which we continue to believe offers the only realistic route to the two states, Israel and Palestinian, living side-by-side in peace.[458]

The Quartet (Russia, the US, the EU and the UN) has taken a similar position, welcoming the plan as an opportunity for progress towards peace but insisting that it should be carried out in a manner consistent with the Road Map.[459]

349.  After meeting Prime Minister Sharon in April 2004, President Bush welcomed the plan and made the following statement:

    In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.[460]

350.  In May, the Government wrote to us that:

    The Prime Minister has made clear that all final status issues, including borders and refugees, must be agreed in negotiations between the two parties. He also reiterated the need to get back to the roadmap, which offers the best route to the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. We have reiterated this with our EU partners and hope that the forthcoming Quartet meeting will do the same.[461]

The statement issued by the Quartet on 4 May noted that,

    no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues that can only be resolved through negotiation and agreement between the two parties. Any final settlement on issues such as borders and refugees must be mutually agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians.[462]

351.  Despite receiving international support, the plan for 'disengagement' has suffered a number of domestic setbacks. On 2 May, 59.5% of the ruling Likud Party voted against it and Prime Minister Sharon then struggled to gain cabinet support. On 6 June, the cabinet backed the plan but only after Sharon revised it to provide for a delayed and staged withdrawal and sacked two far-right members. The cabinet will need to approve each stage ahead of the 'disengagement'.

352.  The Committee heard from Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi of St Antony's, Oxford, that 'disengagement' is likely to occur, despite political opposition. He attributes this to Prime Minister Sharon's determination to pursue the plan as well as broad popular support for it.[463] However, Dr Nomi Bar Yaacov was more circumspect. Dr Bar Yaacov of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote to us about the precarious state of coalition politics in Israel and the risk that 'disengagement' could be stalled if Prime Minister Sharon is forced to resign or call early elections. "Unfortunately the fate of the Plan is subject to internal Israeli political dynamics, political parties' interests and individuals' Knesset members' aspirations."[464] If progress is to be made a broader Israeli coalition will almost certainly be necessary. On 12 July, Prime Minister Sharon and Labour leader Shimon Peres held preliminary talks on forming a coalition.[465] Labour supports the 'disengagement' policy, although it would like to see more substantial withdrawals from the West Bank and the opening of direct talks with the Palestinians.[466]

The context of 'disengagement'

353.  The key question regarding the plan for 'disengagement' is whether it is part of the Road Map process or a prelude to de facto annexation of occupied territory. We heard a great deal of scepticism about Prime Minister Sharon's willingness to implement meaningful withdrawals from the West Bank. A number of witnesses also highlighted the role played by President Bush's endorsement of Israeli policy. Dr Rosemary Hollis, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, wrote to us that:

    US President George Bush has endorsed Sharon's idea that his initiative involve a simultaneous consolidation of Israeli settlement blocs to the east of the 'Green Line' that marks the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. If Sharon has his way, the area remaining to the Palestinians in the West Bank will not make for a viable, contiguous, independent Palestinian state that any Palestinian leadership could agree to.[467]

Dr Bar Yaacov was similarly bleak in her prognosis:

    Sharon and many of the Plan's supporters within his ruling Likud party view withdrawal from Gaza as a trade off for keeping a number of large West Bank settlement blocks under Israeli control and eventually Israeli sovereignty. This view was supported by statements made by Bush in mid-April after Sharon presented the Plan to him in Washington.[468]

354.  We asked witnesses for their analyses of how 'disengagement' relates to the Road Map and the broader political process. Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi and Dr Rosemary Hollis told us that Israel's plan for 'disengagement' emerges from the Israeli belief that a political process is unfeasible at the present time.[469] Nevertheless, some of our witnesses believe that the plan offers an opportunity for progress towards a peace settlement. Dr Ottolenghi suggested that in time, 'disengagement' could lead to the resumption of a political process:

    Israel relinquishing territory, dismantling and evacuating settlements, removing troops from Gaza, are all steps that can help de-escalate the tension, reduce the pressure on the civilian populations and might create conditions for something to open up once the process is over.[470]

355.  Dr Bar Yaacov also wrote to us that although 'disengagement' is not part of the Roadmap, it,

    can be viewed as consistent with the principles of the Road Map… [and] If carried out intelligently, the Disengagement Plan could lead to a two State solution, as envisaged in the Road Map, but much will depend on what happens in Israel, Palestine, and on the nature and scope of the Third Party role.[471]

Dr Ottolenghi agreed about the importance of the international community:

    active engagement, fostered by coordination between the two sides on smooth implementation of each stage of the process and support from outside players could turn a unilateral measure into an opportunity to change the status quo.[472]

Indeed, Dr Bar Yaacov told us that Israel is showing an unprecedented degree of interest in international involvement in the context of its planned 'disengagement' from the Gaza Strip:

    This openness creates a rare window of opportunity for the international community to help move the peace process forward, to ensure continuity of withdrawals from the West Bank and to create the conditions for the conclusion of a permanent status agreement and the establishment of a viable sovereign Palestinian state.[473]

356.  To take advantage of this opportunity, Dr Bar Yaacov recommends that the international community should consider:

    how to support the withdrawal from Gaza and to ensure stability, economic prosperity and continuity of the Plan in accordance with the principles of the Road Map. It should start addressing the question of the day after the withdrawal.[474]

In particular, Dr Bar Yaacov highlights the need to:

  • work closely with the Quartet to implement the plan;
  • support reconstruction and Palestinian reform;
  • consider what kind of peacekeeping operation would be most appropriate; and
  • support Egypt's efforts in the region.

357.  Egypt has offered to play a role co-ordinating the handover in Gaza, proposing to send military experts to the Gaza Strip to assist the Palestinian Authority with maintaining security.[475] The status of the border with Egypt will be a key question; international assistance may be required to ensure the security of this border in order to allay Israel's fears about infiltration and Palestinian concerns about further incursions.

358.  In May, the FCO wrote to us that:

    We have encouraged Israel to make withdrawal from Gaza as full as possible and will continue to do so. Currently it appears that Prime Minister Sharon is not planning to withdraw from the Gaza/Egypt border. We hope the plan will develop further to include this. We will discuss with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt ways the international community can help achieve this.[476]

The recent deterioration in the situation in the Gaza Strip has also highlighted the risk of instability following 'disengagement.' The Government is offering to provide assistance to the Palestinian Authority to facilitate a smooth handover.[477]


359.  In our last Report in this inquiry we noted and described Israel's construction of what it describes as a 'security fence.' According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of July 2004 the total planned length of the barrier (including East Jerusalem) was 622 kilometres—at the time of preparing this Report, 255 kilometres are completed or under construction and work has yet to start on a further 367 kilometres. Some 15 per cent of the barrier follows the Green Line.[478]

451   HC (2003-04) 81, paras 124-25; HC (2002-03) 405, paras 210-16; HC (2002-03) 196, paras 211-20; and HC (2001-02) 384, para 161. Back

452   HC (2002-03) 405, para 211; HC (2001-02) 384, paras 155-56. Back

453   HC (2001-02) 384, para 158. Back

454   Q180 [Gohel], Q176 Back

455   HC (2002-03) 405, para 211. In July 2002, we also stated that "a linkage between the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict … and the war against terrorism is widely perceived among populations and governments in the region … While the conflict in the Middle East requires swift and fair resolution on its own merits, this perceived linkage lends added urgency to the search for peace.." HC (2001-02) 384, para 161. Back

456   HC (2003-04) 81, para 175. Back

457   Cm 6162 Back

458   Remarks by the Prime Minister, the Rose Garden, 16 April 2004, available at: Back

459   UN press release, SG/SM/9292, 4 May 2004, available at: Back

460   Remarks by President George Bush, 14 April 2004, available at: Back

461   Ev 69 Back

462   UN press release, SG/SM/9292, 4 May 2004, available at: Back

463   Q258 [Ottolenghi] Back

464   Ev 190 Back

465   'More troubles ahead for Sharon', BBC, 15 June 2004; and 'Israeli rivals move towards unity', BBC, 12 July 2004. Back

466   'Sharon threatens opponents with Labour links', Financial Times, 13 July 2004. Back

467   Ev 185 Back

468   Ev 190 Back

469   Q259 [Ottolenghi]. See also Ev 185. Back

470   Q259 [Ottolenghi] Back

471   Ev 189 Back

472   Ev 87 Back

473   Ev 190 Back

474   Ev 191 Back

475   'Israel and Egypt Conferring On the Gaza Pullout Plan', New York Times, 8 June 2004. Back

476   Ev 69 Back

477   'Bush rejects UK calls for Israel 'monitors'', The Times, 27 March 2004. Back

478   'West Bank Barrier: Projections of land and population located between the Barrier and Green Line', OCHA, July 2004, available at: Back

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