Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


24 OCTOBER 2006

  Q1 Chairman: Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you for coming. This is our first evidence session on the situation in Palestine. You will know that the Committee is visiting Palestine the week after next, and so obviously this will be a very useful opportunity really to get your views and update on what is happening. Mr Dinham, perhaps you could introduce yourself and your colleagues.

  Mr Dinham: Thank you for inviting us to give evidence today. I am Martin Dinham, Director for Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, which is rather a diverse portfolio, which is shortly to be added to by China and South-East Asia, but a lot of my time is spent on Middle East issues. Michael Anderson is the Head of the Middle East and North Africa Department, which is one of the busiest in DFID. David Hallam is the Head of our office in Jerusalem. Since the Committee's last report[1] and in part guided by it, we have delegated more resources and responsibility and staffing to that office. Peter Gooderham, is the Director responsible for the Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with whom we have a very close relationship, particularly close on these Middle East issues.

  Q2 Chairman: Thank you for that introduction. Can I explain that the Committee obviously undertook to carry out this inquiry earlier in the year before the summer recess. We asked for evidence after the election of Hamas had taken place but before the events that took place in August. On the basis of a wide variety of submissions we have received, a situation that was not good before has clearly become an awful lot worse. One thing that immediately comes through is the fact that the international community, the Quartet, suspended payments to the Palestinian Authority (PA) because Hamas did not meet the conditions that were asked of them. As far as I can gather, nobody expected Hamas to win, including Hamas themselves, so you could argue that maybe they did not make any contingency plans for winning, but the question is: did you and did anybody tell the Palestinian people when they went out to vote democratically that the consequence of electing Hamas was that a very substantial amount of essential aid money was going to be withdrawn?

  Mr Dinham: I think that it was something of an unexpected occurrence for Hamas to win an overall majority and the general thinking at the time was that they would not. Having said that, we obviously thought about what the implications would be for ourselves in terms of what our reaction would be. Peter Gooderham may have something to add to what we might have said about this.

  Mr Gooderham: If one tracks back about a year to the Quartet meeting that took place in New York a year ago last September, by that stage it was becoming clear that there were going to be elections and that there was a good prospect that Hamas were going to do rather well, because there had already been several rounds of municipal level elections where Hamas had performed well. So I think it was already clear to the international community by then that when the elections for the Legislative Council took place in January of this year there would be a good performance by Hamas. I think it is certainly true to say that nobody expected them, including Hamas themselves, to do quite as well as they did. In the debate that took place in the Quartet on that day in September last year—and we were participating on that occasion because we held the Presidency of the European Union and Jack Straw, who was then the Foreign Secretary, participated—there was a great deal of discussion about whether the Quartet should say things publicly about the consequences or the implications of a Hamas victory. The consensus view was that we should not, that it would be inappropriate for the international community to attempt to influence the democratic choice of the Palestinian people. So, although there were references in the statement that was issued subsequently at that meeting to the need to ensure that any government that was formed from these elections was a government with which the international community could work, which subsequently evolved into the three principles which the Quartet established at the beginning of this year as the ones that we as the international community would expect any Palestinian government to sign up to and commit itself to, we were careful not to go beyond that. As I say, that was precisely because we thought it could easily be counter-productive and inappropriate for the international community to be attempting, as it were, to influence the outcome of these elections.

  Q3  Chairman: Are we not left with a problem? Again, reading the submissions we have had from a number of Palestinian sources, they said, "We went to the polls in good faith. We conducted ourselves through the democratic process that the Quartet and others claim that they think is important, and we have elected a government for a variety of reasons. It is the choice of the Palestinian people and the immediate consequence of that is a decline in our living standards, which were poor before, has turned into a near collapse as a consequence of the withholding of the payments". Is that not likely to have a rather negative effect on the perception within the Palestinian community of the kind of support that they get from the international community?

  Mr Dinham: Just to clarify, although part of the international community is not putting its assistance through the Hamas government, that is not one of the principal causes of the deterioration in the economic situation or the hardship that is being faced by the Palestinians. The key issues to do with that really are the clearance revenues which are not being transferred to the Palestinian Territories by Israel, which is something of the order of about $55-65 million per month, and also the very restrictive movement and access which is preventing the movement of goods and people within the Territories and between the Territories and through the borders with Israel and Egypt. Those are the principal problems with that. In fact, the amount of aid going into the Palestinian Territories has not gone down. Indeed, in the sense of the European Commission's contribution, it has gone up and it is likely to be quite significantly more this year than last year: €350 million, it is estimated, compared to €240 million last year. Although we are not putting our resources through the Hamas government, there has not actually been a suspension of aid as such.

  Q4  John Barrett: May I first ask if the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) was envisaged prior to the election or was that something that was set up once it was apparent that Hamas had actually won overall?

  Mr Dinham: The thinking on the Temporary International Mechanism as such took place really after it became clear that the Hamas government was not going to sign up to the three Quartet principles, and we realised then it would not be possible to work directly through the government and so we needed an immediate response, which we decided as being the Temporary International Mechanism.

  Joan Ruddock: I wonder if we could check this for the record. We have just heard that it would not be possible to deal with the Hamas government, but is it not the case that the UK Government does deal, and indeed many other EU states do deal, with countries that are engaged in violence in one form or another, and indeed that aid is given to some countries that do not recognise Israel?

  Q5  Chairman: Is it not the case that Norway has said that they would not anticipate the same problem in dealing with Hamas?

  Mr Dinham: The particular case of the Palestinian Territories is that the three principles are applying, which are: first, renouncing violence, and remember the Hamas government is committed to the destruction of Israel; second, not being prepared to keep to the previous agreements which have been signed; and third, the recognition of Israel.

  Mr Gooderham: They are: the recognition of Israel, the renunciation of violence, and the recognition of previous agreements. Those are the three principles. May I emphasise that the President of the Palestinian Authority himself, President Abbas, also abides by and is committed to these three principles. He himself wants the government, the Palestinian Authority, to sign up to these three principles. These are not principles which we have come up with to raise the bar or make it more difficult or in any sense make the task of the government impossible but quite the opposite. They are actually quite a low base from which one could reasonably expect to work.

  Q6  Joan Ruddock: I wonder, Chairman, if I might have an answer to my question.

  Mr Dinham: Which is whether there is any aid given to countries that have not renounced violence?

  Q7  Joan Ruddock: My question was: is it not the case that the UK Government does deal with countries that are involved in violence in one way or another, and indeed that the UK Government gives assistance to some countries which do not recognise Israel?

  Mr Dinham: Can I come back to you having checked on that point, on the latter point particularly[2]?

  Q8 Richard Burden: I am interested to know and to focus a little more on what you think the problem is. Is the problem that Hamas were elected without abiding by those principles; is the problem that they have not adopted those principles in theory subsequent to the election; or is the problem that they act and were acting at the time you withdrew the assistance in contravention of those principles?

  Mr Dinham: I think the problem for us is, if we are talking about development, is that the point of our development programme is focused on the promotion of a peaceful resolution of the problem in the Middle East. If you have a government which is elected that refuses to renounce violence and refuses to recognise its neighbour and is committed to the destruction of Israel, it is difficult for us to be able to meet—

  Q9  Richard Burden: Are we talking in theory or in practice here? Are we talking about Hamas in government and standing for election, their theoretical position, or what they were actually doing in practice?

  Mr Dinham: I think it is the fact that, having got into government, they have actually reconfirmed that those are their positions, and so we are faced with the situation of whether we can operate and we can promote peace, and therefore through poverty reduction, which is what our purpose is, with a government which is not prepared to renounce violence. It is very difficult to see how we can square that.

  Q10  Richard Burden: Has Israel renounced violence?

  Mr Dinham: Yes, I think Israel is not committed to violence.

  Q11  Richard Burden: Where do Hamas say they are committed to violence? You were talking about renouncing it. I am just asking where does Israel renounce violence?

  Mr Gooderham: The very first line of the Quartet's Roadmap calls on the Palestinians to renounce violence. It is in that context that we talk about this in regard to the three principles. Of course, we certainly do not approve of the actions which Israel has taken from time to time; quite the opposite. We have taken opportunities to criticise or condemn, but the purpose of this particular principle, in the context of what we are talking about, is the fact that Hamas has itself been a terrorist organisation in the past. All right, it has signed up to a ceasefire for a period of time.

  Q12  Richard Burden: When did it do that?

  Mr Gooderham: They committed to that about 18 months ago.

  Q13  Richard Burden: How long did they hold that for?

  Mr Gooderham: Formally speaking, they have not renounced that.

  Q14  Richard Burden: At the time that the aid was withdrawn, they were on a ceasefire and had been for several months.

  Mr Gooderham: But they had not renounced violence.

  Q15  Richard Burden: So the theory is more important than the practice. That is what you are saying?

  Mr Gooderham: I think it is, yes. I think so long as you have an organisation that is committed to violent means to achieve its political ends, then, yes,

  Mr Dinham: And that is the view of the UN, the Russians, the whole of the EU and the US as well as ourselves.

  Q16  Richard Burden: If you look on the other side of the coin, Israel signs up theoretically to the Roadmap, so theoretically they are fine. Have they abided by the principles of the Roadmap and have they implemented their obligations on the Roadmap in practice?

  Mr Dinham: I think it is clear to say that the performance against the Roadmap principles has been disappointing on all sides.

  Q17  Richard Burden: So you withdraw aid to the Palestinians because theoretically Hamas is committed to violence, even though they are not actually committing violence, but you do not do anything to Israel if they are theoretically in favour of the Roadmap, even if they are not abiding by their obligations under it?

  Mr Dinham: You mentioned, I think, that we were suspending aid to the Palestinians. We are not actually.

  Q18  Richard Burden: To the PA, to the government; you are not having relations with the government?

  Mr Dinham: Yes, but the important point of our assistance is that we are seeking not to punish or affect ordinary Palestinians by not putting our money through the Palestinian Authority but putting it to ordinary Palestinians direct.

  Q19  Richard Burden: Could I finish with this? Do you still agree with what you said in your response[3] to our last report where there was some concern. The argument put forward in that report was that maybe aid was not that good an idea because of Israel's actions in the occupation that were causing such difficulties for the Palestinians. Aid was a kind of sticking plaster. What you said at that stage was: "We agree that humanitarian assistance can alleviate, but not resolve Palestinian poverty under conditions of occupation. Conventional development assistance under these circumstances is problematic, but still has a major role to play, including in supporting the Palestinian Authority (PA) to meet its peace process commitments and to build the institutions of a viable Palestinian state. The case for this kind of assistance is arguably even stronger when the peace process is not going well." Have you departed from that position, given the fact that when you think the peace process is not going well, your response now is to cut aid rather than maintain it?

  Mr Dinham: Our response is not to cut aid; it is not putting aid through the government.

1   International Development Committee, Second Report of Session 2003-04, Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, HC 230, February 2004. Back

2   Ev 87 Back

3   International Development Committee, Third Special Report of Session 2003-04, Government Response to the Committee's Second Report: Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, HC 487, March 2004. Back

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