Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
28 FEBRUARY 2007
Q1 Chairman: Good afternoon, everybody.
Thank you very much for coming, Dr. Gooderham and Mr. McDonald.
We are very pleased to have you here. As you know, the Committee
is examining the whole issue of global security, but we are focusing
on the Middle East at the moment and we shall visit the region
in a few weeks. Both of you are very experienced in the region
and in your current posts, so we shall be very grateful for your
expertise and insights on the current situation. I shall begin
by asking some questions about the current Palestinian situation
and the internal politics of the Palestinian Authority. How would
you assess the current power balance between Fatah on the one
hand and Hamas on the other?
Dr. Gooderham: Thank you, Chairman.
I am happy to be here this afternoon to answer these questions.
One needs to reflect back to the situation that has developed
over the last year or so since Hamas won the elections to the
Palestinian Legislative Council. Since then, it has attempted
to govern through the Palestinian Authority. On the other hand,
of course, there has been President Abbas, who is a member of
Fatah and who was also elected, through the presidential elections
the previous year. So there has been a rather uncomfortable arrangement
between the President and the Palestinian Authoritythe
Government, if you like, of the Palestinian Territories.
In recent weeks, we have seen an effort
by both sides to forge a Government of national unity. That is
what was brokered by the Saudis in Mecca earlier this month. Under
that arrangement, the Ministries will be shared out between Hamas,
Fatah and some of the other political groupings in the Palestinian
Territories. Under the arrangement, if it is promulgated and the
Government are formed and approved by the Palestinian Legislative
Council, Hamas will still have the largest number of seats in
the Government, but some Fatah members will come in, as well as
some independents. That is the situation today. We are in wait-and-see
mode now, as we see how the agreement brokered in Mecca is taken
Q2 Chairman: How important is the
Mecca agreement? Does it simply reflect the current balance between
Fatah and Hamas, or does it point a way forward for the future?
Dr. Gooderham: We certainly hope
it points the way forward for the future. We have been hoping
that some arrangement of that nature could be brought about for
some time. We have not been happy with the situation that we were
confronted with roundabout this time a year ago, when a Hamas
Government came into office who were not committed to the three
principles that the Quartet had set out. It is not clear yet whether
the agreement brokered in Mecca can be said to reflect those three
principles, but President Abbas has said that it is a good first
step. There is more work to be done between now and the formation
of the Government, and naturally we very much hope that the programme
of that Government will reflect the three principles, which would
enable us to engage with them.
Q3 Chairman: But there was this quote
from the Financial Times, which I would be interested to
know whether you agree with: "Under Mecca, the Islamists
do not, and Hamas will not, recognise Israel."
Dr. Gooderham: I do not think
we can say that definitively, because we do not know what the
full extent of what will follow from Mecca will amount to. This
is a process. We know from discussions with President Abbas that
what he was most anxious to achieve at Mecca was a cessation of
the violence between Hamas and Fatah that had broken out over
the past couple of months and which naturally was of great concern
to not only him, but the international community as a whole. To
that extent, it appears that the Mecca agreement has been a success.
It has resulted in an ending to the intra-Palestinian fighting.
It is still too early to say what that will mean in terms of the
new Government's platform.
Q4 Chairman: But you have an agreement
that was signed not only by the internal Hamas leadership, Ismail
Haniya, but the most important Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal. He
is based in Syria, but he was in Mecca. Is that a constraint on
the future movement of Haniya or does it mean that the external
Hamas people are fully signed up to the process?
Dr. Gooderham: We hope very much
that it is the latter. It is significant that Mashal, as well
as Haniya, were there and that the agreement was brokered by the
Saudis. That is something that the whole international community
applauded. It understood the significance of that. We must wait
to see in the days ahead what that amounts to in terms of a programme
for the new Government. It is significant that Mashal was present
at the Mecca discussions and that he, as you said, put his name
to the agreement.
Q5 Mr. Keetch: Dr. Gooderham, you
were right to say that Mecca is a process and that we are going
down it. We still have to see how it develops and how the words
of Mecca are put into action. However, the process will succeed
only if Israel and the international communitynotably the
United Statesactually accept it. How do you judge their
initial reaction to the agreement? Unless they support it, it
will go nowhere.
Dr. Gooderham: Your analysis is
exactly right. In light of what they said publicly and what they
have said to us privately, our understanding is that they are
also in wait-and-see mode. It would be fair to say that they would
not regard the Mecca agreement as it exists todaythe document
and the letter of designation, which President Abbas sent to Haniya,
the formal process for producing a new Governmentas sufficient
to constitute a programme that reflects the three Quartet principles.
The United States, at least, has put its name to Quartet statements
since the Mecca agreement, which make it clear that we recognise
that it is a process and that we shall wait to see what further
there is to come.
Q6 Mr. Keetch: You mentioned the
Quartet. Are you happy that it remains united, strong and together
on the process? Again, it is surely vital that, if the process
is to succeed, the Quartet should remain united in its previously
Dr. Gooderham: Yes, I agree. It
is easy to have a very gloomy view of the overall prospects for
the Palestinian issue, but there have been some positives in recent
months. One them is most definitely the role of the Quartet and
the United States' willingness to commit to that. The Quartet
is now meeting regularly at the so-called principles level; its
most recent meeting was last week in Berlin. It clearly intends
to meet again in the near future, which is all to the good. We
are not at the moment a member of the Quartet in the sense that
we do not sit at the meetings. The European Union represents us
at the Quartet, but it is clear from the read-outs that there
is a good atmosphere among the four participants and a good understanding
of what needs to happen in respect of the international community.
Q7 Sir John Stanley: Dr. Gooderham,
you have made no mention so far of the utterly dire humanitarian
position in Gaza and on the West Bank, which has been deteriorating
steadily. From any humanitarian standpoint, it is absolutely appalling,
and it continues as we have this meeting today. Do you agree that
the Mecca agreement and the fact that Hamas appears to have gone
at least some way towards the recognition of international agreements
justifies the Quartet starting to make some moves on the lifting
of economic sanctions, particularly when those sanctions are impacting
so harshly on the Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank?
Dr. Gooderham: First, it is important
to say that we would not use the term "economic sanctions".
In fact, what we have done since Hamas came into office is to
find ways to get assistance to the Palestinian people directly,
bypassing the Palestinian Authority. The figures speak for themselves.
Over the past year, the European Union has given about 680
million to the Palestinian people through various mechanisms,
including, of course, the temporary international mechanism. That
is a record figurethe most money that the EU has ever given
to the Palestinian people in any one yearand it is a reflection
of the concern about the worsening humanitarian situation in the
territories, which you rightly draw attention to.
That situation is getting worse for a number
of reasons, but not because the international community, for its
part, is not providing assistance to the Palestinian people. On
the contrary, our assistance over the last year has reached record
levels and the UK, for its part, is one of the biggest donors
among the EU member states. Our contribution bilaterally last
year was £30 million. If you add the contribution that we
give on a pro rata basis to the European Commission's funds, we
gave over £70 million last year.
Q8 Sir John Stanley: Whether you
want to characterise them as economic sanctions or not, the reality
is that desperately needy people, both in Gaza and on the West
Bank, are dependent on outside help for the basic necessities
of lifefood, medicine, and so on. In many cases, they are
unable to work and earn their own livelihood. Do you not agree
that that is an unacceptable situation from a humanitarian standpoint?
Also, could you reflect on what I said earlier: does the Mecca
agreement not justify at least some modification of the policy
and, coupled with that, some greater determination by the Quartet
to make it clear to the Israeli Government that, although they
are fully entitled to protect and defend themselves and to deal
with acts of terrorism, that simply cannot continue at the expense
of the basic human rights and humanitarian needs of the people
of Palestine, in Gaza and on the West Bank?
Dr. Gooderham: Again, I agree
very much with you. We hope very much that it would be possible
to work with the new Government, once formed, and once we have
clarity on the extent to which their programme reflects the three
Quartet principles. It is not only the international community
that will need to be satisfied of that; Israel will also need
to be satisfied. About 50% of the revenues that come into the
Palestinian Authority are customs revenues that Israel collects
on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. However, since the elections
for the PLC, Israel has not been prepared to transfer those revenues
to the Palestinian Authority, with the exception of $100 million
that was transferred as a result of the bilateral meeting that
President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert held just before Christmas
We hope very much that all concerned, including
Israel, will be able to conclude matters, once we have further
clarification that this is a Government with whom we can do business
and with whom we can resume direct assistance. In the meantime,
we will continue to use mechanisms such as the temporary international
mechanism to continue doing everything that we can to alleviate
the plight of the Palestinian peoplewe completely agree
that their plight is awful, and getting worse.
Q9 Chairman: Before I bring in my
colleagues, I would like to clarify what your assessment is of
the total revenues now going into the Palestinian Authority. You
said that the Israelis were responsible for payment of about 50%
of those revenues and that they have paid some of that, in the
form of the $100 million that you have just referred to, but presumably
several hundred million dollars are still being held. Has the
increase in the total EU contributionreaching, as you said,
a record levelin effect been a substitution for the money
that the Israelis have held back, or is it not as simple as that?
Dr. Gooderham: It is not quite
as simple as that because, as I said, the money that the European
Unionboth the Commission and individual member stateshas
given has bypassed the Palestinian Authority, so we have not actually
given any money to it over the last 12 months or so.
My recollection is that before Hamas came
to office, the revenue of the Palestinian Authority was about
$120 million a month, of which about halfsome $60 millioncame
from customs revenue, which Israel collected on behalf of the
Palestinian Authority. An additional $30 million came from international
support and contributions from the European Union and other donors.
The remainder came from funds generated within the territories.
As far as I am aware, that last figure has remained more or less
stable over the last 12 months. It might have fluctuated a bit,
but not dramatically.
That is pretty much all that the Palestinian
Authority has been able to draw on for its funding, which has
obviously precipitated the difficulties experienced by Palestinian
Authority employees, of which there are about 88,000 in the non-security
sector. As a result, they have not been getting their salaries.
The temporary international mechanism was designed to overcome
that. About 88% of all those employees are now getting some assistance
through that mechanism. It is not a full salary; I am not pretending
that they are as well off as they were before Hamas came to office.
That would be incorrect, but they are getting some relief.
Q10 Chairman: Has there been an assessment
of the amount of money coming from the Arab and Muslim worlds
to the Palestinians? Are there any data on that? Has that figure
gone up since Hamas came to power, or has it gone down?
Dr. Gooderham: There are certainly
no official figures of which we are aware. Some support has been
given by some Arab states to President Abbas and his office, particularly
in recent months. It is clear that Hamas has received funding,
notably from Iran, and possibly from Syria as well. However, as
far as we can determine, most of the funding went directly into
Hamas's pockets, and not to the ministries of the Palestinian
Q11 Chairman: Thank you. If you have
more detailed information, it would be helpful if you could send
us a note.
Dr. Gooderham: Happily.
Q12 Mr. Hamilton: We have discussed
the role of the Quartet in the region and how it has been trying
to help the Palestinian Authority to manage, or at least play
a role in bringing both sides together. However, do the British
Government have a separate role and how are they viewed by the
peoples of Israel and the Palestinian territories?
Dr. Gooderham: There is definitely
a role for us. We would not describe it as a separate one, but
as a complementary one to that of the Quartet. I think that we
are seen by the Israelis, Palestinians, most others in the region,
our European partners and the US as a Government who over a good
many years have demonstrated a commitment to, and expertise in
this issue. I think that it is fair to say, therefore, that we
are in the inner circle, as it were, of key international players.
The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have devoted a lot of
time and attention to the issue in order to see what role we can
play. We have tried to forge ahead in many areas in order to identify
a distinct role for ourselves.
We have been very active in helping the
Palestinians to rationalise and improve their security sector,
which certainly the Israeli Government have welcomed and see as
a positive stepas do the Palestinians, of course. We have
been working with the US security co-ordinator, General Dayton,
to achieve that end. We have also been trying, particularly through
the Department for International Development, to improve the governance
arrangements in the Palestinian territories. You may recall that
we hosted a conference in London about two years ago. It was designed
to address that set of issues. It did not have the lasting impact
that we would have liked, but we certainly have not given up.
We see it as an essential prerequisite to what we hope will be
the eventual formation of a Palestinian state.
Q13 Mr. Hamilton: You do not believe
that we are viewed with suspicion by the Palestinian population
because of our close alliance with the United States and their
friendship with Israel? I take it that that does not come into
Dr. Gooderham: I think we are
viewed by both the Palestinians and the Israelis as a country
with influence and one that is trying to find a way to resolve
the conflict. I think that, by our actions and by our words, we
have a good track record in that respect.
Q14 Mr. Hamilton: Do other European
countries split their diplomatic representation in the way that
we do, with an ambassador in Tel Aviv to deal with Israel and
a consulate general in East Jerusalem to deal with the Arab and
Palestinian populations? Are we unique or does everyone do that?
Dr. Gooderham: Everyone does that,
Q15 Mr. Hamilton: Let me move on
to the issue of Hamas. You have explained to us in great detail
what the Mecca agreement means and how we hope that a Government
of national unity can be created with Fatah and Hamas working
together for the benefit of the Palestinian people, but have we
had any informal contact with Hamas ourselves as a Government?
Dr. Gooderham: No, we have not
had contact since early 2005.
Q16 Mr. Hamilton: In spite of the
fact that Hamas continued to say that it was devoted to the destruction
of the state Israel, will we be prepared to talk to this new unity
Government once it is formed, even though Hamas is part of it?
Dr. Gooderham: I come back to
what I said earlier. We have to wait and see. I am sorry that
I cannot be more forthcoming than that, but it really is a case
of needing a little bit of time. President Abbas himself has drawn
attention to that and has explained that this is the first stephe
describes it as a good first stepand we obviously hope
that he is right in that assessment, but we are not there yet.
We need more time. I think that I am right in saying that Prime
Minister Haniya has another three weeks before he has to present
his Government to President Abbas for approval and then it goes
to the PLC for ratification. There is still some time for the
process that was launched at Mecca to evolve in what we hope will
be a positive direction.
Q17 Mr. Hamilton: I have one final
question on this. In the light of what my colleague Sir John Stanley
has just said, have we made any representations to the Israeli
Government about releasing the rest of the money and resuming
full payments to the Palestinian Authority? There clearly is a
great deal of suffering not only by those who work for the Government
of the Palestinian Authoritythey are not getting their
full salarybut by the very poorest people as well. Perhaps
we could help if Israel is prepared to release those funds.
Dr. Gooderham: We have made representations.
Naturally, we welcome the $100 million that Prime Minister Olmert
agreed to release as a result of his meeting President Abbas just
before Christmas. We would like to see a transfer of the remainder
of the funds, which Israel is collecting on behalf of the Palestinians.
We take note of its view that the money should not be transferred
to the PA itself as long as the PA is governed by a movement that
is not yet committed to the three Quartet principles. There are
other mechanisms, however, such as the temporary international
mechanism, which is one that we have used ourselves to provide
money to the Palestinian people, and one that we have encouraged
the Israelis to use as well.
Q18 Mr. Purchase: I would like to
continue on the same theme, which is in regard to the continual
and greater suffering of the Palestinian people whom I support.
In the words of John Stanley, "We were there together".
Since then, the situation has got worse, which is a tragedy for
ordinary people. We saw support for Hamas grow simply because
the ruling party Fatah was not delivering. Therefore, they voted
and decided on Hamas, which I like no more than the Quartet does,
but, for me, that is not a reason to stop speaking to it. Yet
the Quartet laid down its three conditions: renouncing violence,
recognising Israel and agreeing to past commitments.
The first thing that a new Government do
is not necessarily agree to past commitmentsthey are a
new Government. It seems a bit thin to make that a condition.
Recognising Israel? Well, there are many countries in the world
that do not recognise other countries; China and Formosa come
to mind, but that never stopped us talking to themagain,
it is a very thin reason. Renouncing violence? There are so many
states in the world that actively engage in violence, but we still
talk to them. The conditions that we are imposing are superficial
at best and malevolent in other circumstances, when we know that,
ultimately, the whole of diplomatic history is littered with examples
of not talking to someone, but really talking to them and then
having to talk to them in order to make progress. You know better
than me that the poor people of Palestine in these circumstances
are suffering massively for exercising their democratic right.
As diplomats, you must respond to this in a human way.
Dr. Gooderham: We certainly do.
On your point about the three Quartet principles, they do not
set the bar very high at all. They are principles that the previous
Palestinian Authority had no difficulty in signing up to and that
President Abbas himself has proclaimed as his own platform and
starting point. It would be an enormously retrograde step if the
international community as a whole was to accept or conclude that
this is, as it were, the best that we can achieve with the new
Government. It would take us years, if not decades, backwards
from where we had got to. Admittedly, if you recognise that the
high point was 2000, we have been clearly sliding back from that
since, with the intifada and so on. However, it is quite clear
that if the international community was to abandon the three principles
and simply forget about them, we would be going even further in
a downward direction, away from the ultimate goal, to which the
whole international communityvirtually without exceptionis
committed: the two-state solution.
Q19 Mr. Purchase: Very often, when
you have minimum goalsif that is the right phrasethere
is still a need to talk, to have a discourse, to interact, in
order just to reach what you regard as a very low hurdle. It may
well be a low hurdle. Why can we not talk now to put forward these
ideas, views and conditions? They would be pre-talks, before the
conditions are met. At least we would see some progress. At least,
we would have some comfort knowing that progress was in prospect,
if not actually being made.
Dr. Gooderham: The answer to that
is that it has been our judgmentand that of the Quartet
and of the international community more broadlythat the
approach that is more likely to bring us to a position where we
can talk to an organisation such Hamas is to make clear to them
what the basic framework and principles have to be for dialogue.
If we do not establish that and, if we simply start from ground
zero, there will be no pressure on the organisation to move or
to evolve into the sort of movement that we would like it to evolve
into, which is to say one that is committed to the three principles.
That is why we have adopted the policy that we have.
Chairman: Thank you. We will move on
to Israeli politics.
1 See Ev19. Back