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It is relevant to look at the history of the period between 1988 and 1993. The Palestine Liberation Organisation went through the same debate that is going on in Gaza at the moment, about whether it was worth engaging in a peaceful process. After 1993, when the PLO decided to recognise Israel and to engage in peaceful and productive relations, we had the most intense period of peacemaking that had been seen since 1967. So, of course we must not turn our eyes away
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from the humanitarian situation, but equally we have to be clear about the real basis on which the humanitarian situation can be addressed.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend refers to an end to settlement construction, does that include huge settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim on the outskirts of Jerusalem? What is being done about an end to the building of the illegal wall and an end to the 500 checkpoints? When he talks about Gaza, will he remember that—as I was told at a UN conference in New York, which I participated in last week—80 per cent. of the inhabitants of Gaza subsist solely on UN funds? Does he accept that, however odious Hamas is, there will be no peace until Hamas is involved?

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend speaks with real experience and authority on this issue. I am grateful for his correction. I said that 60 or 70 per cent. of Gazans were dependent on UN aid; he said that it was 80 per cent. I understand the depth of his feeling on the matter. On his last point, I certainly believe that we can get a solution only if we engage the hearts and minds of the people who voted for Hamas in the election in June. It is vital that a new Palestinian state carries legitimacy and support from all the Palestinian people.

On borders, and the settlements, which I saw when I drove from Jerusalem to Jericho, there is a critical issue about the so-called E1 part of the settlement plan. It is clear that expansion there would deal a very deep blow to the prospects of a viable Palestinian state. I believe that the basis of a deal will be around the 1967 borders and will include land swaps to deal with small items around the edge. The deal will have to be on that basis; otherwise the Palestinian state is not going to be the viable entity that we all want to see. That raises profound questions for settlement activity and for the outposts that have been have constructed since March 2001, as I said in my statement. The announcements from the Government of Israel are an important step forward in that respect. There was the statement from Prime Minister Olmert that he was determined to fulfil all the obligations under the road map. However, it is important that that is followed through.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The concession by both the Israelis and the Palestinians at Annapolis that the United States, not themselves, would in future be the judge of the implementation of the road map on security and settlements could be a historic breakthrough. However, that will obviously depend on whether President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority can deliver the security requirements in Gaza, which at the moment he cannot. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore accept that the single most important contribution that the international community—and perhaps, in particular, the Arab states of the region—could make over the next few months would be to show unambiguous support for President Abbas and to put pressure on Hamas in order to deliver the ability for progress to be made?

David Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman alights on a very significant point in the statement yesterday. It is a point that I think was still being discussed late into the day and night before the Annapolis
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conference. It is a significant position: the United States will be the honest broker in terms of road map commitments. He is right that there is a chicken-and-egg quality to the debate. Security is the basis for progress, but political progress can enhance the efforts towards security. I completely agree that the Arab states have a critical role to play. That is why the Arab peace initiative is important. I do not know, but my impression is that, in the year 2000, when the then President Arafat was trying to decide whether to support the plan that had been brokered by President Clinton, the lack of wholehearted support from the Arab world certainly weighed in his decision—let me put it no stronger than that. If the Arab world—the 22 states from the Arab League—is now determined to recognise that a two-state solution is the best bulwark against extremism, and getting that state and building it up is the best way forward, that would be a significant change. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, in all my discussions with Arab partners, I am trying to emphasise not just the goal, but the political strategy that is needed to get there.

Mr. Winnick: I accept entirely the genuine commitment of my right hon. Friend, but does he accept that, time and again in recent years, the Palestinians have been promised the sort of outline programme that he has described today, and yet there has been no real improvement in the lives of Palestinians, let alone a sovereign independent Palestinian state? If we were Palestinians and had suffered as they have suffered over the last nearly 60 years, would we really believe that what happened at a conference would make any difference?

David Miliband: I would go further than my hon. Friend: things have got worse for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian suffering and Israeli insecurity are two sides of the same coin. Things are worse now than they were seven years ago. If one looks back to 1967, one can see that the divides are deep and growing—not least because of the bloodshed that has happened since then. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has had a chance to look at yesterday’s speech by Prime Minister Olmert, in which he graphically described the suffering of the Palestinians. That was a striking part of the discussions.

Do I understand the scepticism that people around the world will have about this process? Yes. Do I share the caution that is important in this process? Absolutely. The worst thing we can do is to say that one conference, and the agreement to a follow-up mechanism, is going to bring peace tomorrow. It is not. We have a long road ahead, and caution is the only way in which we can approach this. However, engagement is the only way in which we are going to make this work. Although our role is not as central as those of the main players—the decisions are going to have to be made by Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and the future Palestinian state—we can try to support the process, without illusions and certainly without making false promises to people who feel that they have been betrayed for too long.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On behalf of my party and the SNP, I commend the right hon. Gentleman for the work that he has been doing in the past few weeks and wish him well in this arduous process. To be credible, the Annapolis process
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will have to overcome two remaining taboos: first, that the Palestinians can deliver ongoing security to Israeli under conditions of occupation, and, secondly, that a divided Palestine can bring forth a sustainable peace. I welcome what Prime Minister Olmert said the other day about no further building, but does that mean no further settlements, or no further extension of the current 149 settlements? When will the 500 road blocks start to be removed from the west bank? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his work thus far and I hope that he keeps up the pressure, because, despite the scepticism, there is a glimmer of hope, and we all hope it will come through.

David Miliband: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. On the 500 checkpoints, a shift in relation to the first 21 was announced by Defence Minister Barak last week. That was associated with the four economic projects that Tony Blair is taking forward.

In respect of the freeze on settlements, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that one person’s freeze is another person’s continuation of the settlements that have already been given planning permission. There is considerable detailed work to be done. Given the great percentages—96 or 97 per cent.—that will decide on the future of a Palestinian state, the matter may seem small, but for the people concerned, it is a big thing whether they are on the Palestinian or Israeli side. That is exactly what the detailed negotiations will have to address.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his constructive efforts to try to bring justice to both Israelis and Palestinians. Does he feel confident that enough measures can be put in place to prevent a renewal of the terrorism that sabotaged previous attempts to find a negotiated two-state solution?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend has a distinguished record of highlighting such issues. The precise answer to her question of whether measures can be taken to provide security is yes; as to whether they will be taken, that is what we have to work towards. I am in no doubt about the commitment of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad to leading the development of a Palestinian security infrastructure in which people have confidence, but we are engaged in a race against time.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): May I join in the welcome extended to the Foreign Secretary for his remarks today, including his remark that Hamas must face up to responsibility for the rocket attacks on Israel? Nothing should prevent humanitarian aid from going to those who need it in Gaza, but is it not absolutely clear that rocket attacks do absolutely nothing to assist the people there in their suffering? Is it not time that people stopped making excuses for Hamas, and that it faced up to its responsibilities?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the rocket attacks do nothing for the interests of the Palestinian people. In fact, they undermine those interests. It is urgent that the whole international community, including in the Arab world, does as much as possible to prevent that. The discussions that I had in Egypt last week about the smuggling through its crossings is obviously an important part of the solution.

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Is the Foreign Secretary confident that the talks have shown sufficient respect for the democratic process in Palestine? Apparently, Hamas is not represented at the talks, and there have not been any direct representations from or to it. Whatever one thinks of Hamas, clearly it is a factor. It also has a large number of elected parliamentarians, many of whom are currently in prison in Israel. Is it acceptable for an occupying power—that is, Israel—to imprison a large number of elected parliamentarians and then pretend that it is undertaking negotiations to bring about peace? Is he confident that the parliamentarians will be released soon?

David Miliband: In respect of the arrested parliamentarians, I am happy to say that I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation is not acceptable. As I made clear in the House in July, we have serious concerns about the issue. The parliamentarians need to be either charged or released—and some of them have been. I will get the precise figures on what has happened to the 44 who were originally arrested. I do not have in my head the precise number who have been released or charged, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend about the matter. On whether I am confident that President Abbas represents the aspirations of the Palestinian people, the answer is yes. On whether I recognise that there is deep division within the Palestinian community, the answer is yes. On whether it is the job of political leadership to overcome that division, the answer is also yes.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Foreign Secretary spoke hopefully about the weakening of Hamas in Gaza, following the isolation of Hamas and the blockade of Gaza, and about conditions there. Is it not an irony that although there is a significant difference between Hamas and Salafist movements such as al-Qaeda, recent polls indicate that the ambition of 71 per cent. of Palestinian children in Gaza is to become a martyr, so we are in danger of driving people from supporting Hamas to supporting something a whole lot worse?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is right that there are grave dangers. One of the important points that I discussed with Israeli counterparts in the past 10 days is the fact that the alternative to President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad is a very dangerous one. That is why we need to make progress with the current Palestinian leadership. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the battle for the hearts and minds of young Palestinians—Palestine has a very young population, along with many other Muslim countries—is key. First, the way forward on the issue has got to be through addressing conditions on the ground. An immiseration strategy is no strategy for winning hearts and minds. That is why the humanitarian concerns are important. Secondly, the political horizon is important, too. There has to be a combination of change on the ground and a political horizon in which people can believe, with leaders who can deliver; that, in the end, is the way to win them back.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary has re-expressed the British Government’s view that all the settlements—not just those that Israel regards as illegal under its law—are an obstacle to peace, in that they preclude the two-state solution. Thus far, in its agreements with Israel, the European Union has always maintained its position on which parts of the territory are Israel, and which are
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not. Can the Foreign Secretary assure me that that line will be maintained until there is an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which may slightly alter the position?

David Miliband: I am happy to confirm that there is no change in our positions. The key is detailed negotiations between the parties. There are dangers in saying that it is up to the parties to take the issue forward on a bilateral basis, but in the end the compromises and the leadership will have to come from the leaders of Israel and the leaders of a future Palestinian state. As was pointed out by the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), the role of the United States as an honest broker is a shift—it has never played that role before—and the facilitation, encouragement and drive that will have to come from the international community will have to be subtle and careful. Detailed discussions about settlements and land swaps, given the basic parameters that were set out in 2000-01, remain to be held.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): If it was right in principle for successive Governments to talk directly to the political representatives of terrorist groups in order to achieve peace in Northern Ireland, why is it not right in principle for the international community to talk to the political representatives of Hamas?

David Miliband: There are many lessons from Northern Ireland that it is worth trying to apply around the world, not least as regards policing, but one distinction that the hon. Gentleman might want to think about when answering his own question is the distinction between the Provisional IRA and the Real IRA; that distinction emerged as an important part of the peace process in the past 10 years. The deep debate within the Palestine Liberation Organisation between 1988 and 1993 led it and its supporters to conclude that a peaceful process was the only way forward. Hamas has not yet made that move, so the hon. Gentleman should be careful about suggesting that there is an exact parallel between Northern Ireland and Palestine to support his case. However, I am happy to continue this discussion with him.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): My right hon. Friend was correct to draw attention to the hundreds of rocket attacks from Gaza, including one on a primary school in Sderot on 11 September. Hamas also used a UN school as a launch pad in Beit Hanoun in October. Will he confirm that if Hamas is to be involved in the process, the three previous preconditions must stick, including the requirement that it ceases violence and terrorism against Israel?

David Miliband: Yes, but I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that we do not want to get into a position in which Hamas’s deliberations become a veto or a block on the political dialogue. An agreement hammered out by President Abbas and put to all the Palestinian people can trump the Hamas card, because in the end the Hamas argument is either, “No one will deliver a Palestinian state to you,” or “We’re the only people who can deliver a Palestinian state to you.” If President Abbas is able to do that, that is the best way to undercut Hamas.

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Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The International Development Committee visited a soap factory in Ramallah piled high with simple olive oil soaps. It simply could not get those soaps out of the west bank because of the security checks and so on. No one should kid themselves that getting trade and jobs going in the west bank will not require someone with authority to broker a deal. Is that Tony Blair’s task? If so, that is very welcome, because if the United Nations Relief and Works Agency cannot deliver it, no one else will be able to do so. It will require someone with a capacity for mediation to kick-start the west bank economy.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It was notable that yesterday, the European commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, talked about the release of some cut flowers and dried fruits. Perhaps I can refer to her the question of the soap factory that the hon. Gentleman raised. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has focused on new economic projects, but I am sure that he has included in his discussions existing economic projects that are blocked. I am certainly happy to draw to the attention of the relevant authorities the case that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): The whole House will appreciate the Foreign Secretary’s cautious realism. May I ask him a specific question about the role of the Arab states? It is obvious that they have influence even on Hamas, and can be influential in making sure that Lebanon is contained, which would be helpful. How much did public opinion in those Arab states feature in those discussions because, in the end, it is important that Arab public opinion plays a role to make sure that Arab states have the freedom to act progressively and constructively?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a very profound point. The position of Arab public opinion featured more in the informal discussions than in the formal ones. There is growing recognition of it in the leadership that Saudi Arabia has provided, for example, in the Arab peace initiative, and in the determination of the Egyptian Foreign Minister, who happened to be on the same overnight plane as me, so I had a chance to have a further discussion with him following my meeting with him last week. There is recognition of the fact that public opinion needs to know that the delivery of a Palestinian state is a viable prospect, because without that there is a threat to the stability of the whole region, which is extremely dangerous for all the countries concerned.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): While I personally perceive the meeting between Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas and President George W. Bush as tremendously encouraging, does the Foreign Secretary not agree that the major responsibility—security and Hamas are clearly critical, and that is President Abbas’s responsibility—is the decisions made by the Israelis, which will make or break any future peace agreement? The settlements, the wall and the Palestinians’ freedom to trade are critical to progress.

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