Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report

5  Israel-Palestine

Developments in 2005-06

183. Since the Committee's last Report in this inquiry, events in the Israel-Palestine conflict have continued to move with great speed and sometimes in unexpected directions. However, progress towards peace has been slow and in recent months the prospects for success have receded. In this section of our Report, we chronicle developments since our predecessors last reported on the situation; we evaluate some of the more recent events; and we seek to draw conclusions about how British and international action might yet contribute towards putting the peace process back on course.

184. In previous Reports in this series, the Committee identified the continuing failure to achieve a peace settlement acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinians as a contributory factor in the spread of militancy among sections of Muslim society worldwide. For this reason, we deal with the Israel-Palestine question in the context of a Report on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism.


185. When members of the Committee visited the Palestinian territories just weeks before the January 2006 elections to the legislative assembly, we naturally asked about the likely outcome of those elections. Most of those to whom we spoke suggested that Hamas would win between one fifth and one third of the vote. In the event, in the party list election for half of the 132 seats, Hamas gained 44.45% of the vote, against 41.43% for Fatah, giving them 30 seats to Fatah's 27. In the first-past-the-post constituency elections for the other 66 seats, Hamas candidates won 45 seats and Fatah 17. Thus, in total, Hamas gained 74 seats and Fatah 45.[226]

186. Although Hamas won the elections to the Palestinian legislature, and thus fills the ministerial posts in the Palestinian Authority, much of the executive power remains in the hands of the directly elected President, Mahmoud Abbas. President Abbas is a member of Fatah and remains committed to the peace process. He also exercises control over a significant proportion of the Palestinian security forces. Members of the Quartet (the UN, the EU, the USA and Russia) have continued to deal with him since the elections. More recently, Israel has resumed high-level contact with President Abbas, with an initial meeting between him and Vice-Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Egypt on 21 May. In early June, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that he was ready to meet President Abbas to discuss the stalled peace process.[227] Reflecting the tensions between the positions of the President and Hamas-led authority, at the end of May 2006, President Abbas proposed an 18-point peace plan, based on positions agreed by Fatah and Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails, that implicitly recognises Israel and supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in territory occupied by Israel in 1967. President Abbas has called on Hamas to support the plan, saying that if it fails to do so, he will put the plan to a national referendum.[228]

187. We conclude that the recognition given to the state of Israel in President Abbas's proposed 18-point peace plan is welcome but that the recognition should be explicit rather than implicit. We recommend that the FCO state whether or not it favours the holding of a national referendum in the Palestinian territories on President Abbas's 18-point peace plan.

188. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organisation because of its past attacks on Israeli civilians. The military wing of Hamas is among the organisations proscribed in the United Kingdom and the British Government has no dealings with it.[229] However, Hamas does not operate globally and is not believed to be linked to al Qaeda. Professor Paul Wilkinson told us: "Hamas … are well aware that if they were seen to be getting into bed with al Qaeda and being seen as part of that network, they would lose an enormous amount of potential leverage in terms of the road to peace, so it would be very unwise for them to do that. They have a totally different agenda."[230] Nomi Bar-Yaacov, an independent analyst and the former Research Fellow for Conflict Management and Head of the Middle East Conflict Management Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies agreed with this assessment.[231]

189. Hamas and some other Palestinian armed groups regard the state of Israel as an illegal entity, in occupation of land which is by rights their homeland. Over time, some groups, including the Palestine Liberation Organisation under the late Yasser Arafat, have moved to a position of recognising the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders alongside a Palestinian state. Other groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, refuse to accept the existence of the state of Israel at all. It is this rejectionist stance, together with a refusal to commit to entirely peaceful means or to engage in the peace process, which make it impossible for most democratic states and international institutions to deal with such groups.

190. On 15 March 2006, the Prime Minister set out the United Kingdom's policy towards Hamas:

    One thing should be made very clear again: we totally respect the mandate that Hamas secured in the elections. We supported those democratic elections, we support them still. But if it wants our help—both financially and politically—to make progress, it has to be on an understood basis, which means giving up violence, negotiating peacefully and accepting the existence of Israel.[232]

On the same day, the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, told us:

    [T]he more Hamas show themselves willing and able to do what the Quartet has asked, which is to respect existing international agreements and to agree on the non-violent path, the more pressure we can put on the Israelis; the reverse is also true.[233]

On 12 June 2006, the Prime Minister responded to a question whether he advocated talks with Hamas by saying: "You can only negotiate with people who accept your existence and stop violence. A negotiated settlement is easily, manifestly the best thing."[234]

191. We accept that no responsible government can deal directly with groups that engage in acts of terror and that Hamas has been and appears still to be such a group. However, we are also mindful of the way in which progress was eventually made after many years of abortive efforts in Northern Ireland, where mechanisms for dialogue were established, and bore fruit in the 1998 Belfast Agreement. It is possible that such a process might be developed based on informal contact and channels of communication with those who now exercise authority in the Palestinian territories, but at present the prospects for a process leading to a negotiated agreement look bleak.

192. We conclude that the Government is correct to refuse to deal directly with Hamas. We recommend that, until Hamas accepts the existence of Israel and commits itself to both to a two-state solution and exclusively peaceful means of achieving its goals, the Government should continue to refuse to deal with it directly. However, we further recommend that the Government continue to work with President Abbas, work with international organisations and non-governmental organisations in order to assist the Palestinian people, and seek out, where feasible, 'back channels' in order to facilitate movement towards negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.


193. Around one quarter of Palestinian households are directly dependent on a public sector wage-earner and many traders and businesses are indirectly dependent on this income. Thus, Israel's decision to cut off customs revenues due to the Palestinian Authority and the move by international donors to freeze much of their aid following Hamas' election victory created an economic crisis in the Palestinian territories.[235] Many public sector employees, including those in the security forces, were unpaid for weeks or even months, fuelling resentment and contributing to tension. It is perhaps ironic that generous financial aid was given to the Fatah administration, which was widely perceived as corrupt, but that aid has been withheld—for entirely understandable reasons—from Hamas, which has a good reputation for financial propriety.

194. The Government was reluctant to suspend its aid programme. In March 2006, Jack Straw told us: "[W]e do not want to be in a position where aid is suspended to the Palestinian Authority. We talk about this continuously inside the European Union and with the Americans and we want to do everything we can to avoid that."[236] However, the United Kingdom was among those countries that supported the Quartet's January 2006 decision that the continued provision of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority would require it to demonstrate a "commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap."[237]

195. Since the formation of the Hamas-led administration, Russia is the only member of the Quartet to continue to provide direct aid to the Palestinian Authority. Declarations by Iran and some Arab countries that they would make good the shortfall have amounted to little, partly because Palestinian banks are wary of their potential legal liability under US anti-terror legislation if they process such funds.[238] Hamas is alleged to be among those groups that have close links with countries hostile to the peace process, notably Iran.[239] In May 2006, a senior Hamas official was intercepted by Palestinian police backed by EU monitors at the Rafah crossing from Egypt, attempting to smuggle €639,000 in cash, apparently donated by Arab supporters of Hamas in Qatar.[240]

196. Principals of the Quartet met in New York in May to discuss how to maintain their engagement in view of Hamas' victory. In a statement issued after the talks, they announced their "willingness to endorse a temporary international mechanism that is limited in scope and duration, operates with full transparency and accountability, and ensures direct delivery of assistance to the Palestinian people."[241] On 13 June 2006, we asked Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett about the progress that has been made on setting up the temporary mechanism. She told us:

    [W]ork is proceeding with urgency to try to develop this temporary international mechanism… [T]here is a clear agreement that there should be a relatively small number of areas where we seek to put funding. We in the UK are inclined to the view that it would be best to concentrate on support for health care. Some other Member States do not want to restrict it just to health care. That discussion is ongoing. Also, of course, should such a mechanism be successfully set up there is then the issue of whether or not other players would contribute through it… There is anxiety to get this up and running as soon as possible in order to try to stave off the development of substantial humanitarian problems… I do not recall getting a deadline… but they are moving as fast as they can.[242]

On 19 June 2006, the EU External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, announced that emergency aid payments were likely to be released to Palestinians from the beginning of July. Under an agreement reached by the Quartet, the EU will give 100 million euros to provide support for local health services, guarantee fuel supplies and provide for the basic needs of poor Palestinians. This money will bypass the Hamas-led government.[243]

197. We conclude that the Government was right to refuse to channel its aid through a Palestinian administration led by Hamas, and we endorse the Government's support for the policy set out by the Quartet in the London statement of 30 January. However, it is important that the Palestinian people are not punished for exercising their rights as voters and we support the subsequent decision to create a mechanism for channelling aid directly to those who most need it. We recommend that the Government act with all speed to ensure that this mechanism is fully implemented and that it has the desired effect of averting an economic and humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian territories. We further recommend that the Government, in its response to this Report, set out what steps it is taken to avert an economic and humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Territories.


198. In 2002, as part of the Ramallah Agreement which ended the Israeli siege of President Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank, the United Kingdom and the USA agreed to provide a number of unarmed officials to monitor the detention of six Palestinian prisoners, including four convicted of involvement in the murder of an Israeli government minister.[244] The prisoners were detained by the Palestinian Authority and held in a prison in Jericho. Palestinian security forces were responsible for the safety of all those involved.

199. As the then Foreign Secretary told the House on 14 March 2006, over a period of a year the Government had become increasingly concerned about the level of security at the prison and the danger that this exposed the monitors to.[245] After a series of representations to the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority failed to improve the situation, the British and US governments decided to withdraw their monitors, for their own safety. In compliance with the terms of the Ramallah Agreement, the governments simultaneously informed both the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities that this was happening. Immediately after the withdrawal, Israeli forces seized the prisoners and removed them for trial in Israel.

200. When we questioned the then Foreign Secretary about this incident, he was robust in defending his actions and in apportioning responsibility:

    [M]y principal concern was the security of the monitors, but the responsibility for their security rested with the Palestinian Authority, and they knew that. They failed to meet the conditions of the Ramallah Agreement and they placed the monitors in circumstances where their security was being compromised. What has happened is tragic, but I am afraid to say the responsibility has to rest with the Palestinian Authority and with the prisoners themselves, who pushed their luck in terms of wilfully breaking the terms of the Ramallah Agreement. They knew, everybody knew, that this arrangement with the prisoners being held in a Jericho prison under international supervision was an alternative to only one thing, namely incarceration in an Israeli jail, and I think they made the wrong choices.[246]

Notwithstanding the former Foreign Secretary's comments, the fact remains that the Jericho incident and the subsequent unrest in the West Bank and Gaza, during which a British Council library was destroyed by a mob, underline the mistrust of the United Kingdom felt among sections of Palestinian society. This is despite the fact that the United Kingdom is the second highest donor to the Palestinian people and organised the London Meeting to encourage and coordinate assistance to the Palestinian Authority.


201. The dramatic developments of the Palestinian elections overshadowed an equally unforeseen change in Israeli politics, with the incapacitation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the emergence of Ehud Olmert as the new leader of the newly-established Kadima party and, following the elections to the Knesset, as Prime Minister of Israel. Mr Olmert has continued the policies of his predecessor and has announced that, although he is willing to negotiate with a Palestinian administration that recognises Israel's right to exist, he will if necessary implement a solution of his own devising. From his policy speeches, it seems likely that Mr Olmert's vision is for the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from outposts and from outlying settlements in the West Bank, the incorporation of other settlements into Israel behind the separation barrier, the incorporation of the whole of Jerusalem and continued Israeli military control beyond the barrier.[247]

202. When we visited Israel and the West Bank in November 2005, we saw how in the two years since the Committee's previous visit the barrier had been extended around and even through Jerusalem. A vast programme of building in the area to the East of Jerusalem called Ma'ale Adumim and the adjacent 'E1' zone was creating new facts on the ground, and the Palestinian population's freedom of movement was increasingly restricted, with consequential damage to the economy. The 'trisection' of the West Bank into North, Central and South zones and the isolation of some towns has caused a significant increase in journey times for Palestinians within the West Bank, in some cases by a factor of three.[248]


203. In mid-June, Hamas resumed rocket fire against Israeli targets for the first time in nearly 18 months. This was in response to an alleged Israeli naval strike on 9 June, in which seven Palestinians were killed on a Gaza beach. Hamas, along with most other Palestinian groupings, had been observing a ceasefire for some time, but other groups such as Islamic Jihad had refused to abandon what they see as their struggle for liberation. Suicide bombings, rocket attacks (many of them launched from the Gaza Strip) and other acts of violence against both the Israeli Defence Forces and Israeli civilians have continued unabated. A suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on 17 April 2006 killed ten; it was swiftly condemned by President Abbas, but the leadership of Hamas referred to the outrage as a "legitimate act of self-defence" and refused to denounce it.[249] The Minister for the Middle East, Kim Howells, rightly described this behaviour as "unacceptable and reprehensible."[250]

204. In retaliation, Israel has shelled areas of the Gaza Strip from which rockets are believed to have been fired. It has also carried out 'targeted' assassinations, and has continued to mount military operations in the West Bank, in the course of which many Palestinians have died.[251] Palestinians are also subject to violence from extremist groups of Israeli settlers.[252] Palestinians have also been the victims of violence between different Palestinian factions. In May 2006, fighting broke out between Palestinian security forces under the authority of President Abbas and militias loyal to Hamas. On 22 May, the victims included a Jordanian official accredited to Jordan's diplomatic mission in Gaza. The FCO has rightly condemned this violence.[253]

205. As we have noted already, Israel has continued with construction of the security barrier, which it sees as the most effective means of defence against violent attack by Palestinians.[254] In previous Reports we have made clear our concerns about the security barrier.[255] We accept, as does the Government, that Israel has a sovereign right to erect such a barrier along its internationally recognised border if it wishes, but it does not have a right to construct it on Palestinian land; at present, 80% of the barrier lies on Palestinian land.[256] The route and form of the barrier, as well as the extensive system of checkpoints throughout the Palestinian territories, severely disrupt the daily life of thousands of Palestinians and impair the viability of a Palestinian state.

206. We reiterate the Committee's previous conclusions on the illegality of the current route of the separation barrier and underline our concerns about the impact it is having on the lives of ordinary Palestinians. We recommend that the Government continue to make the strongest representations to the Israeli authorities to align the route of the barrier with the 1967 border and that it raise the question of the present alignment of the barrier in international fora such as the new United Nations Council on Human Rights.


207. The most dramatic development in 2005 was Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the 141 square miles of the Gaza Strip and the return of the whole of that territory to Palestinian administration in August. This move, which was bitterly opposed by some Israelis, marked a significant change in direction by Prime Minister Sharon and led to the break-up of his Likud party. In November 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brokered a deal under which Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Quartet agreed to work together to put in place a series of measures intended to ensure that the people of Gaza could prosper, while addressing the legitimate security concerns of Israelis. The Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) and the associated Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing were described by Dr Rice thus:

    Second, Israel and the Palestinians will upgrade and expand other crossings for people and cargo between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. This is especially important now because Israel has committed itself to allow the urgent export of this season's agricultural produce from Gaza.

    Third, Palestinians will be able to move between Gaza and the West Bank; specifically, bus convoys are to begin about a month from now and truck convoys are to start a month after that.

    Fourth, the parties will reduce obstacles to movement within the West Bank. It has been agreed that by the end of the year the United States and Israel will complete work to lift these obstacles and develop a plan to reduce them.

    Fifth, construction of a Palestinian seaport can begin. The Rafah model will provide a basis for planned operations.

This agreement promised much. More than eight months on, what has been delivered?

208. With the assistance of EU monitors, the Rafah crossing opened for foot passengers only on 25 November 2005. Members of this Committee visited it a few days later and found an efficiently-run, busy border crossing, with Palestinian staff working under the close watch of Italian Carabinieri and other European police officers, including some from Demark and Romania, the whole operation being monitored remotely by Israeli cameras. Although the crossing has since been the scene of violence and from time to time has been closed—for example, when Fatah gunmen barred access to it in January 2006[258]—it is generally regarded as a success.

209. The agreement also made provisions for crossings for the movement of people and goods between Gaza and Israel. When some of us visited in November 2005 we saw two of these crossings in action. At the Erez crossing, which is the main point of access for travellers, we spent three hours waiting to get through owing to the 'loss' of our entry permission by the Israeli authorities. Once in Gaza, we visited the Palestinian side of the 'back-to-back' freight crossing at Karni. There, we saw how trucks unload their cargo on one side of a high concrete wall. The goods are then transferred to a concrete pen and scanned, pallet by pallet or even item by item. The steel doors on one side of the pen are closed, those on the other side are opened and the goods are loaded onto another truck for the next stage of the journey. This process, which is in place primarily to protect Israel from arms or explosives that could otherwise be smuggled with the cargoes, may take several hours. Frequently, the crossing is closed for hours or even days at a time. For example, in 2005 the crossing was closed on 18 percent of days. From 1 January to 26 April 2006, the crossing was closed for 47 percent of days and even when it was open for goods crossing from Israel into Gaza, exports from Gaza to Israel and beyond were severely limited.[259]

210. According to a report by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in April 2006:

    Between 1 January and 20 April, more than 8,400 tonnes of produce had been harvested in the [Gaza] greenhouses. Of this, only 1,500 tonnes has been exported. The remainder has been distributed to PEDC's [Palestine Economic Development Council] 4,100 employees, donated to local hospitals and societies or else been destroyed. 'Dumping' produce on the local market has not been a serious option for fear of further deflating prices for other producers. Total losses incurred by the PEDC now exceed US$ 8.5 million.[260]

This is clearly at variance from both the spirit and the letter of the AMA, which states that:

    [B]y December 31 [2005] … the number of export trucks per day to be processed through Karni will reach 150, and 400 by end-2006. … In addition to the number of trucks above, Israel will permit export of agricultural produce from Gaza and will facilitate its speedy exit and onward movement so that quality and freshness can be maintained. Israel will ensure the continued opportunity to export.[261]

211. Israeli concerns about the possibility of weapons or explosives being smuggled from Gaza were underlined when on 26 April 2006 Palestinian police reportedly intercepted a truck carrying explosives heading for Karni; the crossing was closed for four days as a result of this.[262] However, those of us who visited Karni in 2005 were told that most closures are unrelated to incidents in the vicinity and that the crossing is frequently shut in response to violence in the West Bank, or for no reason at all.

212. The third element of the AMA referred to by Dr Rice was the institution of vehicle convoys between Gaza and the West Bank. With Israel increasingly inclined to isolate its economy from that of the Palestinians, trade and movement between the two Palestinian territories is essential to their economic survival.[263] Under the AMA, bus convoys should have begun by mid-December 2005, and truck convoys by mid-January 2006. This did not happen. When we raised this issue during our visit to the region, we were told that Israel was insisting that the convoys run in a tunnel or deep ditch. This would obviously involve a huge construction project and would take considerable time. Israel pulled out of discussions on implementation of this aspect of the Agreement on 15 December, following a suicide bombing attack in the coastal town of Natanya. As of June 2006, there had been no convoys, although limited vehicle movements have been permitted by the Israelis. Minister of State for Europe Geoff Hoon wrote to us about this issue.

    Secure and reliable links between Gaza and the West Bank are crucial for the success of the Palestinian economy. Dr Howells has taken a close interest in this. Sir John Stanley is right that there is a strong case for constructing a road link between Gaza and the West Bank. The European Commission, USAID and the World Bank are scoping the prospects for doing this, along with the various alternatives, such as a rail link and/or tunnel. A safe and permanent connection between Gaza and the West Bank will make a lasting impact on the prospects for a viable Palestinian state. We are concerned that the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported an increase in the number of obstacles to movement in the West Bank and that the deadlines for the introduction of bus convoys by 15 December 2005 and truck convoys by 15 January 2006 were missed.

    We continue to urge Israel and President Abbas, bilaterally and through the Quartet, to work on the Gaza-West Bank link and other issues as set out in the 15 November Movement and Access Agreement relating to the Gaza Strip. This includes Gaza/Israel crossing points; freedom of movement in the West Bank; and the construction of an airport and seaport in Gaza.[264]

213. We conclude that satisfactory road and rail links between Gaza and the West Bank are essential for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. We recommend that the Government intensify the international efforts being made to achieve progress with these projects and provide the Committee with a full statement of the latest position in its response to this Report.

214. Obstacles to movement within the West Bank remain in place. As those of us who visited the region saw for ourselves, these obstacles include fences, road blocks and earth or rubble mounds. According to the Twelfth Report on the Implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access, compiled by OCHA in May 2006, the number of obstacles in the West Bank has actually increased since the Agreement: to over 500, from under 400 in November 2005.[265]

215. There has been no progress on construction of a new seaport for Gaza, or on reconstruction of the airport, which has been closed since 2000. All goods and people wishing to enter or exit Gaza continue to have to pass through an Israeli-controlled crossing, or the Rafah crossing to Egypt.

216. It is clear that the goals of the AMA have not yet been achieved and are unlikely to be achieved for some time to come. Further international engagement, particularly by the USA, will be required if progress is to be made on any of the elements of the Agreement.

International engagement

217. The AMA represented the high point of efforts to move Israel and the Palestinians closer towards peace over the past year. The Agreement was the result of a renewed engagement by the US administration, working closely with the Quartet and its Special Envoy, James Wolfensohn. In previous Reports in this series, the Committee identified US engagement as being among the most critical requirements for progress on the Middle East peace process. In 2004, we called on the Government to "do its utmost to promote greater US engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict"[266] and "to seek to convince the US of the importance of sending a high-level emissary to the region."[267] The visits paid to the region by Dr Rice, the appointment of James Wolfensohn as the Quartet's Special Envoy and the appointment of General William Ward (later replaced by General Keith Dayton) as US Security Coordinator (USSC) were all positive signs of a renewed US interest and determination.

218. Therefore, it is particularly unfortunate that the election of a new Palestinian Assembly dominated by Hamas has caused difficulties for the USA and the rest of the international community in its dealings with the Palestinian Authority. In announcing his decision to resign as the Quartet's Special Envoy, James Wolfensohn cited the election of a Hamas administration as the main reason he could no longer play a useful role.[268] Mr Wolfensohn has not been replaced. The central dilemma for the USA and other countries seeking to play a role in the peace process following the Palestinian elections was succinctly described by General Dayton in his March 2006 evidence to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

    The future is obviously an open question. But a few things are not. First and foremost is … strict adherence to the US policy of no contact with and no support of any kind for Hamas. Second is the recognition that Palestinian security sector reform and performance is an important element for progress in accordance with the Roadmap, and is essential for a viable two state solution. And third, it remains in America's national interests to stay engaged in the Palestinian-Israeli situation, a fact that has been made even more critical by the Hamas victory. The question, I think, is how.[269]

General Dayton concluded his remarks as follows:

    I want to emphasize one final point. Let's remember why the United States, through the agent of the USSC, is so visibly involved in the region. It is not altruism, and it is not because we have nothing else to do. We are here because it remains profoundly in the US national security interest for us to be involved in the search for peace and progress towards the two-state vision. The Hamas victory has not changed that.[270]


219. At the time of preparing this Report (June 2006), the prospects for the Road Map—the Quartet's phased plan for a two-state solution—do not look good.[271] There is no expectation that Hamas will recognise Israel, and thus little prospect of a resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Without negotiations based on the Road Map, Israel is likely to seek to impose its own solution. Prime Minister Olmert and his government appear determined to proceed with enclosure of the majority of Israeli settlers behind the separation barrier and with the annexation of the land on which their homes are built, and East Jerusalem. The suicide bombers and terrorist groups show no sign of ceasing their deadly campaigns, and while such indiscriminate attacks continue the Israelis will retaliate and target those whom they believe to be responsible. The effects of this retaliation can often be indiscriminate, killing innocent people and reinforcing the cycle of violence. For as long as this state of affairs prevails, ordinary people on both sides will continue to suffer.

220. Speaking about the seemingly unstoppable construction of new Israeli settlements, the building of the separation barrier and the way this is changing the facts on the ground, Jack Straw said "What do we do? We keep up the pressure and keep talking to international partners, particularly the Americans, as I have done pretty continuously, and to the Israelis."[272] He might have said much the same in respect of the Palestinians. We asked Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett what the Government is doing to impress upon the Israeli government the need for a negotiated settlement. She told us:

    We have made it extremely clear to the Israeli Government, and the Prime Minister did to the Israeli Prime Minister yesterday, that we are looking for negotiations and for a negotiated settlement and that we would view any unilateral action by the Israeli Government as—I was going to say very much second best, but we would be reluctant to see such unilateral action because we believe that negotiation is the right way forward.[273]

Asked whether this position was too weak, the Foreign Secretary replied

    I certainly do not intend the view of the British Government to sound weak… [A]lthough there were strong reservations about moves that were made unilaterally on Gaza there was nevertheless a rather grudging recognition in the end that some of these were moves in the right direction although there was obviously much preference for there to be negotiation… We have made and will continue to make it extremely clear that there has to be a serious attempt to return to the process of negotiation and that that in the long term is the only sound basis for a way forward.[274]

221. In our view, the USA remains the key to achieving peace in the Middle East; in the absence of a willingness by either of the directly-involved parties to make concessions or even to talk, only the intervention of the USA can facilitate progress. This was true before and it is even more true now.

222. We conclude that there is little prospect of the Israelis and Palestinians reaching any agreement on the way forward without substantial commitment and engagement by the Quartet, by regional players and above all by the USA. We recommend that the Government do everything possible both bilaterally and through international mechanisms to encourage both parties to implement their Road Map obligations.

226   For the full results, see and Back

227   "Israel's PM seeks Abbas meeting", BBC News Online, 4 June 2006, Back

228   "Palestinian stand-off over Abbas ultimatum", Financial Times, 6 June 2006 Back

229   For the complete list, see: Back

230   Q 17 Back

231   Q 24 Back

232   HC Deb, 15 March 2006, cols 1448-1449 Back

233   Q 191 Back

234   "Israel puts border plan to Blair", BBC News Online, 12 June 2006, Back

235   United Nations, Assessment of the future humanitarian risks in the occupied Palestinian territory, 11 April 2006, available at: Back

236   Q 197 Back

237   Quartet Statement, London, 30 January 2006, available at: Back

238   World Bank, The Impending Palestinian Fiscal Crisis, Potential Remedies, 7 May 2006, available at: Back

239   Ev 181-184 Back

240   "Hamas official caught smuggling cash into Gaza Strip", Financial Times, 19 May 2006 Back

241   Quartet Statement, 9 May 2006, available at: Back

242   Evidence from Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett to the Inquiry into Developments in the European Union, to be published as HC 768-iv Back

243   "EU set to release Palestinian aid", BBC News Online, 19 June 2006, Back

244   HC Deb, 29 April 2002, col 668 Back

245   HC Deb, 14 March 2006, col 1295 Back

246   Q 187 Back

247   "Israel 'has to withdraw further'", BBC News Online, 24 January 2006,; and "What Does Olmert Want?", The New York Review of Books, June 2006 Back

248   "West Bank closure count and analysis", United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), January 2006, available at: Back

249   "United States Deplores Hamas' Defense of Tel Aviv Terror Attack", US State Department, 17 April 2006 Back

250   HC Deb, 3 May 2006, col 512-513WH Back

251   Letter to the UN General Assembly from the Permanent Observer of Palestine, dated 5 April 2006 Back

252   "Protection of Civilians", weekly briefing notes by UN OCHA, available at: Back

253   "Howell's reaction to unrest in Gaza", FCO News Release, 23 May 2006 Back

254   Q 36 Back

255   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2003-04, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 81, para 157; HC (2003-04) 441-I, para 396; and HC (2004-05) 36-I, para 316 Back

256   HC Deb, 9 May 2006, col 192W Back

257   See Back

258   "Gaza chaos escalates as Egypt border blocked", Agence France-Presse, 4 January 2006 Back

259   "Gaza Strip Situation Report 26 Apr 2006", UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Back

260   Ibid Back

261   "Agreement on Movement and Access", 15 November 2005, available at: Back

262   "Gaza Strip Situation Report 3 May 2006", UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Back

263   Q 30 Back

264   Evidence received in the Inquiry into Developments in the European Union, to be published as HC 768 Back

265   First and Twelfth Reports on the Implementation of the Agreement on Access and Movement, available at: Back

266   HC (2003-04) 81, para 181 Back

267   HC (2003-04) 441, para 399 Back

268   Remarks After Meeting With Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement James Wolfensohn, 1 May 2006, Back

269   Statement by United States Security Coordinator Lieutenant General Keith W. Dayton before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, March 15, 2006, available at: Back

270   Ibid Back

271   For a summary of the process that led to the Road Map proposals and the role of the Quartet, see HC (2003-04) 81 and HC (2003-04) 441-Back

272   Q 136 Back

273   Evidence from Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett to the Inquiry into Developments in the European Union, to be published as HC 768-iv Back

274   Evidence from Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett to the Inquiry into Developments in the European Union, to be published as HC 768-iv Back

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