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
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aid money was going to be withdrawn?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 yearand we were
participating on that occasion because we held the Presidency
of the European Union and Jack Straw, who was then the Foreign
Secretary, participatedthere 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
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?
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
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
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
Mr Gooderham: But they had not
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
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
Q19 Richard Burden: Could I finish
with this? Do you still agree with what you said in your response
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
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
Ev 87 Back
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