Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


360.  In our last Report, we detailed the devastating impact that the barrier is having on Palestinians and noted that: "There seem few initiatives more likely to inflame Palestinian opinion."[479] We concluded that "the case for building a security fence along the Green Line would be strong and understandable, but to build it within the West Bank is neither justifiable nor acceptable and gives rise to fears that Israel intends to annex this land."[480] We further concluded that combined with other Israeli policies, the construction of the barrier constitutes "a severe impediment to efforts to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to the creation of a viable Palestinian state."[481]

361.  In its response, the Government said:

    The construction of the security barrier within the Occupied Territories is unlawful. It has further alienated the Palestinian population, so strengthening support for advocates of violence; and has led to the movement of Palestinian families from their homes nearby, contributing both to fears of annexation and to the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Territories. The government has made its views clear to the Israeli government, including during the recent visits to London of the Housing, Defence and Foreign ministers, and the Vice Prime Minister.[482]

362.  Further clarifying this position, on 19 April 2004 Bill Rammell told the House:

    The construction of the barrier in the Occupied Territories is in violation of the Hague Regulation of 1907 and Article 53 of the 4l Geneva Convention, because the confiscation of Palestinian land and destruction of agriculture and buildings is not militarily necessary. The barrier could and should be built on or within the Green Line.[483]

363.  In June, Israel began construction of sections of the barrier around the Israeli settlement of Ariel, about 20 kilometres inside the West Bank. According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israel plans to complete the barrier east of the settlements of Ariel, Immanuel and Kedumim by May 2005. The area earmarked for the barrier is 3.5 kilometres long, and 100 metres wide, and runs between Ariel and the Palestinian town of Salfit.[484]

364.  There is considerable anxiety that if 'disengagement' from the Gaza Strip is not followed by withdrawals from the West Bank, and the barrier is not re-routed to run along the Green Line, there could be a serious deterioration in conditions in the West Bank. We heard from Dr Jeroen Gunning, of the University of Wales, that there is concern about:

    the economic consequences of the unilateral withdrawal. At the moment, it seems that the main issue is security on the Israeli side and building a fence, withdrawing behind the fence and leaving the Palestinians in some ways to their own lot. Because the fence is situated in such a way that a lot of the most arable land of the West Bank is on the Israeli side, it means that you will effectively create a huge social ghetto on the other side which, in the long term, will be destabilising for any peace effort.[485]

We also heard concerns when we visited the UN in March that the major aquifers in the West Bank are now cut off from the Palestinians.

365.  On 30 June, Israel's high court ordered the route of the barrier to be altered around Jerusalem in order to reduce the impact on Palestinians, ruling that: "The current balance between security considerations and humanitarian considerations is disproportionate."[486] In a second ruling, the court on 1 July ordered a temporary halt to construction of the barrier south of Jerusalem. The Israeli government has said that it will abide by the ruling.[487] The cases may set a precedent for other cases against the construction of the barrier (at least twenty further cases are pending). By contrast, the ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 9 July that Israel's construction of the barrier in occupied Palestinian territory is contrary to international law is non-binding.[488] The ICJ called for Israel to cease construction of the barrier in occupied territory, dismantle the barrier in occupied territory and make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the barrier in occupied territory. The ICJ ruling stated that the UN should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the barrier's construction in occupied territory.

366.  In our last Report, we recommended that the Government set out the steps it is taking to dissuade Israel from taking unilateral action in the Occupied Territories.[489] In its response, the Government told us that:

    The Israeli government is aware that we, and the international community, oppose unilateral steps which are not consistent with the RoadMap and, in particular, of our opposition to the construction of the security barrier within the Occupied Territories… The government has made its views clear to the Israeli government, including during the recent visits to London of the Housing, Defence and Foreign ministers, and the Vice Prime Minister.[490]

367.  In May, we again wrote to the FCO asking what steps the Government has taken to dissuade the Israeli government from taking unilateral action in the Occupied Territories. In June, the FCO replied, telling us:

    We have raised our concerns at the highest level about the impact of building the barrier on occupied land. Most recently, the Foreign Secretary raised his concerns with, amongst others, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. We will continue to do so, both bilaterally and as part of the EU, and will continue to press for it to be re-routed away from occupied land. International engagement on this issue does appear to have had some influence on the routing of the barrier. The Foreign Secretary has made clear that the building of the barrier on occupied land is unlawful and is detrimental to the peace process.[491]

These efforts have clearly failed to stop the construction of the barrier in the Occupied Territories.

Prospects for agreement


368.  In previous Reports in this series we have described the Road Map (the Quartet's plan for a two-state solution), its formulation and prospects.[492] In January 2004 we noted the failures on the part of both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to implement the measures outlined in the Road Map. We concluded that: "reform of the Palestinian security sector is central to the success of the Road Map." We commended the Government for its efforts to ensure that the Palestinian Authority carries out these reforms, but noted our concern at the lack of progress:

    In particular, more should be done by the PA to arrest and bring to justice those responsible for the recruiting, training, equipping and launching of suicide bombers and to prevent the honouring and even encouraging of suicide bombers and their masters by Palestinian media.[493]

369.  In its response to the Report, the Government said:

    We agree on the importance of Palestinian reform efforts in the security sector and are actively working with the PA on these; in particular to secure a new and more effective effort from it to stop attacks on Israelis and better to maintain order in Palestinian controlled areas… We judge that while the Palestinian Authority's capacity to act has been gravely weakened by Israeli attacks on its infrastructure and personnel, it can do more to stop terrorist attacks. The UK, nationally and with EU partners, continues to urge the PA to fulfil its RoadMap commitments on security, and intensify its efforts to tackle groups and individuals engaging in terrorist activity.[494]

370.  In May, the Foreign Office wrote to us about efforts by the United Kingdom to help the Palestinian Authority fight terrorism:

    The UK has encouraged Palestinian action in areas where they could deliver a visible improvement in the security situation. This is in line with Palestinian commitments on security under the roadmap. We have offered practical help where the Palestinian Authority requests it. We are beginning to see encouraging signs, but there is some way to go before we can conclude that the Palestinian Authority is exerting 100% effort on security.[495]

371.  Turning to Israel's failures to implement the Road Map, we noted our deep concern owing to "Israel's maintenance and expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories and its construction of a 'security fence' on Palestinian land." We concluded that these policies "constitute a severe impediment to efforts to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to the creation of a viable Palestinian state." We recommended that the Government "make it absolutely clear in its public statements that Israel's fulfilment of commitments set out in the Road Map—including the dismantling of all settlement outposts erected since March 2001, and the freezing of settlement activity consistent with the Mitchell Report—must proceed immediately".[496] In its response, the Government agreed and accepted our recommendation.[497]

372.  The Government continues to emphasise the Road Map as the means to resolve the conflict. There is no other internationally agreed formula on the table. In its response to our last Report, the Government said: "The RoadMap clearly sets out the path to a two state solution, Israel and Palestine, in the context of a comprehensive regional peace agreement. Our efforts will continue to focus on working with the parties and our international partners on implementation of the RoadMap to this end."[498]

373.  In June, the Foreign Office wrote to us about the EU dimension of efforts to implement the Road Map:

    As part of the Quartet, the EU continues to play a fundamental role in the roadmap process. The EU special representative for the Middle East works both with the parties and with international partners to support implementation of roadmap obligations. Through the Quartet statement of 4 May the EU has set out its commitment to move the peace process forward through continued engagement with both sides and by supporting the Palestinian Authority on security, providing financial support and working with the PA on electoral and institutional reform.[499]

374.  However, we heard from witnesses that not only is the Road Map stalled, but it is increasingly becoming irrelevant, overshadowed by Prime Minister Sharon's 'disengagement' policy.[500]


375.  Commenting on how close the two parties were to reaching an agreement in 2000 and 2001, Dr Ottolenghi told us that he believes an agreement is now unlikely because: "it is hard to imagine that the cumulative pain the two sides have inflicted on one another might have narrowed the gap, strengthened mutual trust, or created incentives for cooperation. If anything, the gap is wider."[501] In particular, he believes that the:

    collapse of Israeli trust in the Palestinian partner and Israel's perception of the conflict as existential in nature has disqualified at present the existing Palestinian partner in Israeli eyes and destroyed any credibility of those political forces willing to engage the Palestinian leadership in a diplomatic process similar to the one that collapsed in late 2000.[502]

376.  However, he also believes that:

    very slowly and very painfully the Israeli body politic has changed… Today, with the exception of the extreme right, from the centre right all the way to the far left, there is an agreement that the Palestinians have a legitimate, moral claim. The question is the extent in practical, material concessions. How much they get and to what extent would Israel withdraw, not whether or not they do. There is a recognition of the legitimacy of the claim.[503]

Taking this one step on, Dr Ottolenghi wrote to us that:

    If a similar process were to occur on the Palestinian side, with recognition of the futility of violence against Israeli civilian targets, an effective cease-fire and a willingness to drop demands for Israel's granting of a right of return to refugees, then the possibility of an agreement would again materialise.[504]

377.  Crucially, Dr Jeroen Gunning told us that while the Palestinian stance referred to by Dr Ottolenghi is partly ideological, it is also:

    a function of the radical situation in which people live. If you look at other conflicts elsewhere, once the situation gets deradicalised, more moderate views tend to be more acceptable and the more radical views become more costly. You can also argue that if there is a deradicalisation and a normalisation the radical rhetoric that you hear now will slowly disappear.[505]

378.  Moreover, Dr Gunning believes that there has been a shift within the political leadership of Hamas that could make a negotiated settlement feasible.

    [I]f you look at the kind of proposals that both the Palestinian Authority and the main opposition group, Hamas, have made… they are very close to what was discussed at Taba, within a boundary where you can negotiate, barter and trade, in terms of the boundaries that were agreed on east Jerusalem and the type of shared sovereignty… there is a sign that they are interested in some kind of a settlement where they have a post-conflict presence, where they are responding to popular moods. They realise that there is not the will to liberate the whole of Palestine. There is the will for violence as long as it leads to a two state solution but not beyond that… Because they are largely dependent on popular support for their power base, they cannot afford to alienate [their] … constituency.[506]

379.  In our last Report in this Inquiry, we noted "alarming evidence about the impact on Palestinian communities of the current levels of poverty (which are exacerbated by the high birth rate), the lack of economic opportunities, and the perpetual threat and presence of violence".[507] We concluded that "the conditions under which many Palestinians currently live contribute to their radicalisation, and undermine support for moderate Palestinian leaders".[508]


380.  Violence has repeatedly derailed progress towards a negotiated settlement. More generally, both Israelis and Palestinians continue to be exposed to an appalling level of violence. From 18-24 May, Israeli incursions in Rafah in the Gaza Strip resulted in the death of over 40 Palestinians. 167 homes were demolished or made uninhabitable; these buildings had housed 379 families, or 2,066 individuals.[509] The incursions were part of 'Operation Rainbow', part of preparations for the planned 'disengagement'.

381.  Israel has also continued its policy of assassination. On 22 March, Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. Seven other people were killed in the missile strike. The move prompted anger across the Middle East as well as international condemnation.[510] On 5 May, the FCO wrote to us about Israel's policy of assassination:

    The UK believes that the assassinations of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi have had a negative impact. They have intensified anger and may make progress more difficult… we understand Israel's need to defend itself. But it must act in accordance with international law. Assassinations are illegal, unjustified and counter-productive. We have repeatedly called for an end to the use of force by both sides.[511]

382.  Meanwhile, Israelis continue to be terrorised by the threat of suicide bombings. On 29 January and 22 February, nineteen people were killed and over 110 wounded in two suicide attacks on Jerusalem buses. On 14 March, ten people were killed and 16 wounded in a double suicide attack at Ashdod Port, in northern Israel, and on 11 July, a bomb in Tel Aviv killed one person and injured around 19. However, most of the Palestinian attacks since then have been small scale and within the occupied Palestinian territories. Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Sharon, has attributed the "major decrease" in suicide attacks to the barrier and policy of assassination.[512]

383.  President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority appear to be unable or unwilling to fight Palestinian terrorism. The Palestinian Authority is under increasing international pressure to reform its security forces. On 19 July, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the Palestinian Authority is facing a serious crisis and must reform its security apparatus. This followed remarks by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen that the Palestinian Authority had made no progress on taking action to end violence and terrorism.[513]

384.  The high level of violence suffered by both peoples makes a resolution of the conflict urgent. This urgency is compounded by the deterioration of the situation in the Palestinian territories. In January 2004, we concluded that "conditions in the occupied West Bank are changing rapidly, and that the continuation of Israel's current settlement policies, and its construction of the 'security fence', will make the eventual establishment of a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state increasingly difficult, if not impossible."[514] We further concluded that "if, over the next year to eighteen months, progress towards implementation of the RoadMap is further delayed, the two-state solution which is the current objective of international efforts to resolve the conflict will become increasingly difficult to achieve."[515] In its response to our Report, the Government agreed with this prognosis.[516]

385.  This situation was confirmed by evidence from Dr Rosemary Hollis, who told us that:

    Israeli policy and facts on the ground are fast eroding any prospect of a Palestinian state in anything other than a virtual sense. Repeated endorsements of and commitments to the road map are no more than pious words that avoid recognition that the two-state solution is fast disappearing as a realistic prospect. If not addressed, the consequences of this trend will be further radicalisation of Palestinian and Arab opinion and Europe will not escape the violent consequences.[517]

International involvement

386.  We have already discussed the role of the international community with regard to the plan for 'disengagement'. Looking more broadly at what the international community should be seeking to achieve, our witnesses had rather different ideas.

387.  Dr Ottolenghi told us:

Instead of conflict resolution, Dr Ottolenghi recommends that the international community should lower its expectations and seek to manage the conflict.[519]

388.  However, Dr Rosemary Hollis takes a rather different approach. Dr Hollis told us that Europe is underestimating its ability to influence the parties in the conflict. While recognising the "prevailing Israeli suspicion that Europe is congenitally biased in favour of the Palestinians and prone to anti-Semitism",[520] Dr Hollis is critical of the belief that European and United Kingdom policy can achieve little unless it "can galvanise Washington to follow through on its commitment to a 'two-state' solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and bring the Israelis to the table."[521] Instead, Dr Hollis recommends that Europe should capitalise on Israel's preference for separation.

    European (and British) policy makers visualise how Israeli security and economic development can be enhanced under the envisaged two-state solution. Simply demanding that the Israelis understand the European logic (that a viable Palestinian state is in their long-term interests) is not enough, because of the distrust, not to say hatred, that prevails in the two communities and suspicions of European motives. What would potentially change the Israeli thinking would be a set of proposals from Europe that capitalises on the Israeli preference for disengagement and separation from the Palestinians manifest in the Israeli construction of the barrier between them and Palestinian population centres in the West Bank.[522]

389.  Dr Hollis proposes that:

    Framed within the context of the EU's new Neighbourhood Policy this set of proposals could re-orientate Israeli thinking to view Europe rather than the Arab world as their strategic depth and economic space. Europe already is their economic space, not the Arab world. Yet European (and British) policy has tended to emphasise the need for Israel and the Arabs to get along and find a common future. A re-orientation would enable Israel to spend the coming decade or so, concentrating on developing closer links to Europe and literally putting its relations with the Arab world, including the Palestinians, in cold storage, until tempers cool.[523]

390.  Dr Hollis argues that such an approach could help overcome Israel's deep suspicion of European intentions. The quid pro quo for such a policy would be Israeli disengagement from the Palestinians to enable them to construct a viable state by re-routing the barrier along the Green Line or providing acceptable land swaps. "Palestinians and their homes, left in limbo on the western side of the barrier, cannot remain in their current stateless condition and they and their land need to be re-attached to the rest of the West Bank and the Palestinian state in the making."[524] The recent decisions of Israel's high court offer some encouragement in this regard.

391.  Dr Hollis also recommends that Europe should help rebuild the Palestinian state. In June, the FCO wrote to us about the assistance the EU is giving the Palestinians:

    On security, the EU is developing proposals to work with the Palestinian Authority to improve civil policing. The EU provides continued financial support to the Palestinian Authority. In 2003, the EU contributed 192m euros to the Palestinian Authority, and a further 82m euros to UNRWA. It is now seriously considering a substantial contribution to the World Bank Trust Fund. The EU and Member States' actions on preparations for elections and on institutional reform are co-ordinated through the Reform Support Groups.[525]

392.  In our last Report, we noted that "the US is by far the strongest external influence on the parties to the conflict and that the RoadMap can only be restarted by the presence in the region of a very senior US representative willing and able to pressurise both sides into taking the necessary actions to make progress".[526] We recommended that the Government "do its utmost to promote greater US engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".[527] We further recommended that the Government "seek to convince the US of the importance of sending a high-level emissary to the region". In June, the FCO told us that:

    Since the publication of the roadmap, the US has played a fundamental role in the roadmap process. We welcome its continued commitment to roadmap implementation and to the shared vision of a viable two-state solution, as the Prime Minister and President Bush stated in their joint press conference in Washington on 16 April. The US, like the UK, and like its Quartet partners, has been actively engaged with the parties and international partners over recent weeks. Its role remains crucial in helping to shape the international community's response to recent events and working to restart the political process.

    As the Prime Minister said on 16 April, the UK government believes that the international community role should be led by the Quartet. The Quartet statement of 4 May set out a balanced and constructive role for the international community in moving the peace process forward, and making a success of withdrawal from settlements in Gaza Strip. We will not be making representations about a high-level US emissary to the Middle East. The fact of US engagement is more important than how it is delivered. However, we are pressing for a Quartet meeting in the region at the end of the month, as called for by the G8 in their statement of 10 June. This should help maintain the focus of the Quartet on practical engagement on the way forward.[528]


393.  We conclude that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict must remain a United Kingdom foreign policy priority. We reiterate our previous conclusion that resolution of this conflict is an essential component in the wider US-led campaign to defeat Islamist terrorism and to promote reform in the Middle East region.

394.  We support the position taken by the Government in welcoming Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza while insisting that all aspects of the final settlement remain open for negotiation. However, we conclude that it is important that the withdrawal from Gaza should be followed by withdrawals from the West Bank.

395.  We recommend that the Government work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Quartet to facilitate Israel's 'disengagement' from Gaza, to encourage Israel to make further withdrawals, to bring an end to Palestinian suicide attacks, and to aid reconstruction and security efforts in the Palestinian territories. We further recommend that the Government, in its response to this Report, set out in detail what steps it is taking to ensure that Israel's plan for 'disengagement' from Gaza is fully consistent with a durable solution to the wider Israel-Palestine problem, including details of any steps being taken with regard to post-withdrawal peace keeping.

396.  We reiterate our previous conclusion that the case for building a barrier along the Green Line would be strong and understandable, but to build it within the West Bank is neither justifiable nor acceptable and gives rise to fears that Israel intends to annex this land. We recommend that the Government make it clear to Israel that efforts unilaterally to change facts on the ground in occupied territory are illegal under international law. We are encouraged by the recent decisions by the Israeli high court halting construction of the barrier, but reiterate our previous conclusion that Israeli maintenance and expansion of illegal settlements combined with the construction of the barrier on Palestinian land constitute a severe impediment to efforts to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. We recommend that the Government make this position absolutely and unequivocally clear in its public pronouncements, as well as in its diplomatic exchanges with the United States and Israel. We conclude that actions taken so far have failed to stop Israel's construction of the barrier in occupied territory. We further conclude that the United Nations General Assembly Resolution ES-10/15 of 20 July 2004, passed overwhelmingly and with the support of the British Government and all EU Member states, regarding the barrier, is to be welcomed. We recommend that the Government set out in its response to this Report what it is doing bilaterally and with the EU, the US and the Quartet to stop construction of the barrier in occupied territory.

397.  The high level of violence suffered by both peoples makes a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict urgent. This urgency is increased by the serious deterioration in living conditions in the Palestinian territories. It is critical that, as well as putting pressure on the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to do more to stop the violence, efforts are made to 'de-radicalise' the Palestinian population, by addressing the conditions of extreme poverty in which many of them live.

398.  We conclude with regret that the Road Map is stalled, possibly fatally. We further conclude that there is little likelihood of the two parties reaching a negotiated settlement of their own accord in the short term, and that time is fast running out for a viable two-state solution to be achieved. Nevertheless, we believe that a resolution of the conflict along the lines discussed at Taba in January 2001 is not unattainable.

399.  We once again recommend that the Government work to encourage the US to send a high-level emissary to the Middle East with the dedicated aim of resolving this long-standing conflict. While recognising Israel's mistrust of European policy in the region, we also conclude that Europe, including the United Kingdom, could be playing a more influential role. In order to overcome this mistrust, we recommend that the Government consider how to engage Israel more positively, both bilaterally and through the EU.

479   HC (2003-04) 81, paras 150-61. Back

480   HC (2003-04) 81, para 157. Back

481   HC (2003-04) 81, para 161. Back

482   Cm 6162 Back

483   HC Deb, 18 April 2004, col 334W Back

484   'Despite US deal, Israel starts Ariel fence', Haaretz, 14 June 2004. Back

485   Q259 [Gunning] Back

486   'Israeli court orders government to reroute West Bank barrier', Financial Times, 1 July 2004. Back

487   'Court delivers second blow to Israeli security fence', Financial Times, 2 July 2004. Back

488   'Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion', International Court of Justice, 9 July 2004, available at: Back

489   HC (2003-04) 81, paras 157 & 175. Back

490   Cm 6162 Back

491   Ev 159 Back

492   HC (2003-04) 81, paras 136-57; and HC (2002-03) 405, para 214. Back

493   HC (2003-04) 81, para 147. Back

494   Cm 6162 Back

495   Ev 69 Back

496   HC (2003-04) 81, para 161. Back

497   Cm 6162 Back

498   ibid Back

499   Ev 158 Back

500   Ev 189 & Ev 87 Back

501   Ev 85 Back

502   Ev 86 Back

503   Q262 [Ottolenghi] Back

504   Ev 86 Back

505   Q262 [Gunning] Back

506   Q261 [Gunning] Back

507   HC (2003-04) 81, para 180. Back

508   HC (2003-04) 81, para 181. Back

509   'UNRWA completes its demolition assessment of operation rainbow', UNRWA press briefing, HQ/G/16/2004, 26 May 2004; and 'May 29 04 Situation Update in Rafah & PRCS Response', Palestinian Red Crescent Society press release, 29 May 2004. Back

510   For example, EU leaders expressed "deep concern" over the killing, which they said had worsened the Middle East conflict. See'EU criticises killing of Yassin', BBC, 26 March 2004. Back

511   Ev 69 Back

512   'How Israel defused suicide bombers', WorldNetDaily, 13 May 2004. Back

513   Remarks by Kofi Annan, New York, 19 July, available at: and Statement by Middle East Special Coordinator Terje Roed-Larsen to the UN Security Council, 13 July 2004, UN Press Release SC/8146 Back

514   HC (2003-04) 81, para 164 Back

515   HC (2003-04) 81, para 166 Back

516   Cm 6162 Back

517   Ev 186 Back

518   Q262 [Ottolenghi] Back

519   Ev 87 Back

520   Ev 186 Back

521   Ev 185 Back

522   Ev 186 Back

523   ibid Back

524   Ev 186 Back

525   Ev 158 Back

526   HC (2003-04) 81, para 176. Back

527   HC (2003-04) 81, para 181. Back

528   Ev 159 Back

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