Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
28 FEBRUARY 2007
Q20 Mr. Horam: How do you assess
the state of Israeli public opinion in the light of these developments?
Are things changing or not?
Dr. Gooderham: Simon may want
to say something as a former ambassador in Tel Aviv, but perhaps
I will start off by saying that I think it is fair to say that
the reaction in Israel to the Mecca agreement has been pretty
Q21 Mr. Horam: Pretty negative?
Dr. Gooderham: Yes, pretty negative.
The Government in Israel, like ours and others, are adopting a
wait-and-see approach, but it is fair to say that the reaction
in the Israeli media has been pretty negative.
Q22 Mr. Horam: Why is that?
Dr. Gooderham: Because they feel
that the agreement does not even come close to the three principles,
so in their eyes it is a disappointing outcome. However, our assessment
is that this is a process, and we should not rush to judgment;
we do not think that it would be right to do that. We hope that
there is more to come, and we naturally hope that over time the
Israeli people will come to a similar conclusion.
The Israeli Government are not in a strong
position domestically, largely because of the fall-out from the
Lebanon war last summer, which continues to reverberate in Israeli
politics. Inevitably, that constrains the extent to which the
current Government are able to operate in respect of these issues.
Q23 Mr. Horam: Does it really hog-tie
Dr. Gooderham: Not really, because
Olmert has taken steps. He met President Abbas before Christmas,
and then there was the trilateral meeting with Abbas and Condoleezza
Rice, as a result of which Prime Minister Olmert has committed
to another bilateral meeting with President Abbas, which we welcome.
That is against the backdrop of critical commentary in Israel
over the performance of his Government, which inevitably constrains
his room for manoeuvre somewhat. Simon, do you want to add anything?
Mr. McDonald: I should like to
add a couple of points, if I may. First, I am struck that although,
as Peter says, the Government have little room for manoeuvre,
there is still great popular support for a peaceful, two-state
Q24 Mr. Horam: That remains strong,
Mr. McDonald: That remains strong.
Recent polling put it as high as 74%, so there is interest among
the populace. However, as Peter said, the Government are constrained.
The polls are poor for Mr. Olmert's Government; he has a 65% negative
rating, and his Defence Minister has a 1% approval rating.
Q25 Mr. Horam: So there is a complete
dislocation between the aspirations of the Israeli people, who
still want peace, and their expectation as to whether the Government
can deliver it.
Mr. McDonald: At the moment.
Q26 Chairman: Before we move on,
can I ask you whether support for unilateralism is now completely
off the scaleis it minimal in Israeli politics?
Mr. McDonald: My observation is
that Mr. Olmert's platform last March was the Hitkansutthe
convergence planwhich was unilateral, as the disengagement
from Gaza had been. That plan is parked because of his political
difficulties. However, he is still interested in it personally.
If he could find a way, he would still be interested in making
progress. At the moment, he is just not able to.
Q27 Mr. Horam: Can we come back to
the Mecca agreement. That was a bit of a gamble for Saudi Arabia,
was it not?
Dr. Gooderham: I think that is
putting it a bit too strongly. Earlier on I mentioned the role
of the Quartet. One of the other positives of recent months has
been a much greater commitment by a number of Arab states, including
Saudi Arabia, to trying to find a solution to the Israel problem.
Q28 Mr. Horam: In those Arab states,
would you call Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Emirates a quartet?
Dr. Gooderham: Yes, they are the
so-called quartet. They are not the only countries to be involved.
The Americans have also had a series of meetings with the Gulf
Co-operation Council countries, two of which are members of the
Q29 Mr. Horam: But they are all marching
together, are they?
Dr. Gooderham: They are all clear
about the importance of trying to find a lasting solution to the
Israel and Palestine conflict. The Lebanon conflict last summer
was a wake-up call for all of us, including Arab Governments.
Q30 Mr. Horam: These Governments
are always getting wake-up calls, and they do a little bit then
back off and go to sleep again. Is that what happens?
Dr. Gooderham: Well, I do not
think that they have dozed off yet, considering the Mecca agreement,
which you just mentioned. What really precipitated the Saudi determination
to broker an agreement in Mecca was the sight of Palestinians
fighting each other in Gaza in an ugly way. It looked for a moment
as though the matter could get seriously out of control, and people
were talking about a civil war and so on. That horrified many
around the world, including of course in the Middle East itself.
Q31 Mr. Horam: But what can the Saudis
really do? They have a lot of money, so they can put some money
behind the problem? What do they want? How far are they prepared
to push it?
Dr. Gooderham: They are trying
to push it. As I said earlier, they are trying to get Hamas to
understand the importance of accepting a Government of national
unity with a platform that reflects the three Quartet principles.
That would be in Hamas's own interests as well as those of the
Palestinian people as a whole.
Q32 Mr. Horam: But are the Saudis
prepared to wield the stick as well as offer the carrot?
Dr. Gooderham: They are trying
to use whatever influence they can, and they succeeded in Mecca,
at least to the extent of bringing about a cessation of the violence
between the Palestinian factions, so they are to be applauded
for that. I certainly do not think that they have now given up.
They will want to continue.
Q33 Mr. Horam: They will continue
to make these efforts?
Dr. Gooderham: I believe that
they will, yes.
Q34 Mr. Horam: How will Iran see
all this? There is a rivalry between the Saudi and Iranian Governments
and people and so forth. How will they look at the Saudis exercising
their muscle a bit more?
Dr. Gooderham: One would hope
that the Iranian Government will also agree that the sight of
Palestinians fighting each other on the streets of Gaza should
not be allowed to continue. One would hope that they will also
see merit in the effort that the Saudis put into brokering the
Mecca agreement. It is no secret, of course, that Iran is a supporter
of Hamas. It has said from time to time that it would accept any
outcome to which the Palestinian people themselves were committed.
Naturally, we hope that it will abide by that and that, if a Government
of national unity are formed and their platform reflects the three
Quartet principles, Iran will not attempt to undermine that Government
and bring about their collapse.
Q35 Mr. Hamilton: To follow on from
what John Horam has just asked, as the country that feels that
it is the regional power in the Middle East, will Iran not feel
outflanked by the Saudis and quite resentful? Is there any danger
that if Hamas does co-operate or is pushed into some sort of recognition,
however neutral, of the state of Israel, Iran will withdraw its
funding from Hamas?
Dr. Gooderham: I would be surprised
if that were the outcome. You say that Iran sees itself as the
regional power. I do not think that any other country in the region
sees it, or wants to see it, as the regional power. Some of the
activity that we have seen on the part of the Arab Governments,
particularly since the Lebanon war, has clearly reflected that.
There has been a determination to demonstrate that actually there
are other Governments in the region who can play a positive role
and are determined to try to do so. That is why there has been
the emergence of the so-called Arab quartet, which is an informal
grouping. I do not think that those countries themselves would
want to call themselves the Arab quartet, but that is the term
of art that has arisen to describe their coming together and they
are willing to get much more involved, particularly on the security
side in the Palestinian Territories. That is where they have really
put some effort into try to sort it out, rather as we have
been trying to sort out the messy set of arrangements that exists
for the Palestinian security forces.
Q36 Mr. Hamilton: Will Iran withdraw
funding from Hamas if Hamas does not do what Iran thinks is the
right thing to do? If Hamas is persuaded to recognise the state
of Israel in some form, will its funding be cut off by Iran?
Dr. Gooderham: I do not see why
it should be. In our view, we have not seen anything to suggest
that it would be. Clearly, we would prefer to see a Palestinian
Authority getting funding through overt meansthrough the
revenues deriving from customs and through international donations
that are given in an overt fashion. We would much prefer that.
Chairman: Let us move on to some questions
Q37 Mr. Moss: Dr. Gooderham, turning
to the Syrian connection, it seems that the international community
is continually looking for signs that Syria is prepared to become
involved in a more positive way with Hamas, and prepared to use
its influence over Hamas. Brokered talks between Khaled Mashal
and President Abbas were held back in January in Damascus. Do
you see that as a positive sign that Syria is inclined to become
Dr. Gooderham: Our assessment
at the moment is that the jury is still out on that particular
aspect of Syrian behaviour. Simon might want to say a word about
Syria's relationship with Iraq, which is one of the three
Mr. Moss: I am coming to that.
Dr. Gooderham: In which case,
I suggest that Simon hangs fire.
As far as Syria and Hamas are concerned, we
have certainly, along with many others, appealed to the Syrians
to use their influence in a constructive way to bring Hamas to
reconcile itself to the three Quartet principles. I cannot say
that we have got any explicit evidence yet that that is the case,
but we shall keep trying, and we hope very much that Syria will
use its influence in that way.
Q38 Mr. Moss: Thank you. Turning
now to the Syrian and Iranian connection with Iraq, in his statement
to the House on Iraq and the Middle East last week, the Prime
Minister said that there were signs that Syria's role in Iraq
may be changing for the better. What is the evidence for that?
Do you think that Syria will continue down that road?
Mr. McDonald: As you know, on
30 October last year Sir Nigel Sheinwald went to Damascus and
saw President Bashar. As Peter has said, there were three areas
of discussionthree tests, if you like, on how we judge
progressone of which was Iraq. Since that visit, relations
between Syria and Iraq have improved somewhat. The first evidence
of that was that they re-established diplomatic relations. Secondly,
Muallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, visited Baghdad and reopened
the Syrian embassy. Since then, there has been a series of high
level visits between the two capitals. Most importantly, Bulani,
the Iraqi Interior Minister, went to Damascus and they agreed
a memorandum of understanding covering sensitive border issues.
President Talabani has been to Damascus. We see a more positive
rhythm in the relationship between Syria and Iraq. I have to say
that the story is most positive between those two. I do not think
that the Lebanon side and the Palestine side have been as positive.
Q39 Mr. Moss: Turning to Iran and
its involvement or otherwise in Iraq, in the same speech, the
Prime Minister gave support to the evidence provided by the Americans
about Iranian involvement, particularly with regard to the sophisticated
nature of some of the roadside bombs that are now being used.
He said: "No one can be sure of the precise degree to which
those in the senior levels of the Iranian Government are complicit,
but it is certainly very clear that that is the origin of that
Is there any evidence from the work that British diplomats are
doing in, say, south-east Iraq, that we have obtained that supports
that American view?
Mr. McDonald: We share American
concerns. It is because the Prime Minister is reading the material
produced by the military and the diplomats in the south-east that
he made the statement that he did.
2 Official Report, 21 February 2007; Vol. 457,
c. 269 Back