House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
IN THE OCCUPIED
RT HON TONY BLAIR
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the
Malcolm Bruce, in the Chair
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mr Marsha Singh
Sir Robert Smith
Witness: Rt Hon Tony Blair, Middle East Quartet Representative, gave evidence.
Q109 Chairman: Can I say to you, Mr Blair, thank you very much for coming to give evidence. I know there have been some problems with both our diary and your diary so we very much appreciate the fact we have managed to find a slot that is mutually productive. I appreciate the fact you were able to accommodate this slot as it became available. As you know, we produced a report in January last year on the situation in terms of development support in the Occupied Territories and we decided we should do a follow-up because there have been substantial changes since then: there was the creation and collapse of the Government of National Unity, there was the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the subsequent blockade, there is an increase in the number of roadblocks on the West Bank; on the positive side there has been the Annapolis Conference, the Paris Donors Conference and the Bethlehem Investment Conference. We took the view this was an appropriate moment to update the situation, and also your own appointment which is obviously what we are here to discuss today. Thank you for coming in to answer our questions. I wonder if we could start with the situation in Gaza. You will be aware that the Committee did not entirely agree with the Quartet strategy in our previous report, and in particular we said that we thought the treatment of Hamas was not entirely appropriate. What we said was that it was right to place pressure on Hamas to change its policies but dialogue and engagement were better tools than isolation. Indeed, we expressed concern that we would be driving them to a more extreme position which appears to have been borne out: the economy of Gaza has collapsed and Hamas is excluded from the Annapolis peace process. You said to the European Parliament Middle East Working Group that you felt the current approach to dealing with Gaza is, to use your terms, "not a clever strategy". Can you explain what you mean by that, assuming you stand by it?
Mr Blair: I do stand by
it. The situation in
Q110 Chairman: We had very powerful evidence from John Ging by video-link direct from Gaza. At that time on 13 April he pointed out that 344 people had been killed, six of them children, and 756 injured of whom 175 were children. He also, to put the balance, pointed out that 2,600 rockets had been fired into Israel with three people being killed and 20 injured. He made the point that in spite of the restrictions in Gaza the rocket material apparently was still getting in so the blockade was not stopping the rockets but it was causing what he called a "shocking and shameful situation". In that situation, how are you going to move it on? How do you deal with the fact that the Quartet seems to have different approaches? At the same meeting of the European Parliament the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Gahr StÝre, said "Norway talked to the National Unity Government including to its prime minister. The international community could have done more to give that government a chance". In fact, Oxfam and others said legally one has to engage to some extent with Hamas because they are actually responsible for security in Gaza.
Mr Blair: The big
question is: what is the right attitude to have towards Hamas. I abide by the Quartet principles, and the
Quartet principles are very clear on this point. However, in the particular situation we are
dealing with in Gaza, it is important to realise that the issue is not that
Hamas are not being talked to, because they are being talked to by the
Norwegians, by the Egyptians and by others, the issue is at the moment how do
you get a situation where you have a ceasefire so that the rocket and terror
attacks stop coming out of Gaza and the retaliation stops coming into
Gaza. Without that happening I think it
is very difficult to see how we are going to ease the humanitarian
situation. Here is the essential political
problem. People in Gaza are suffering in
the most terrible way, that is absolutely true, but if you are an Israeli
politician sitting in Israel and there are 2,500 mortars and rockets falling
mostly on one town, Sderot, and where people are in constant danger, where the
people are suffering trauma, where just a few weeks back, when I was on one of
my visits, there was a massive demonstration outside the Israeli prime minister's
office from people from Sderot saying you have to get tougher on the
situation. Even though, as I will go on
to say, there is a lot more Israel could do, and has to do, not only in respect
of Gaza but in respect of the West Bank, it is important to realise that if
these rocket and mortar attacks stopped life would be easier. When, as I was, a few weeks back pressing the
Israelis to let in more fuel into Gaza and they then go and kill two innocent
Israeli civilians who were trying to get fuel into Gaza, it does not create a
very easy situation. The politics of
this, at the moment, are that until you get a period of calm in
Q111 Mr Crabb: Moving on to the peace process, you described the recent Annapolis Conference as the best chance that all sides in the Middle East dispute have to conclude a deal. In fact, you told the working group at the European Parliament that it is possible to get this conflict resolved I think you said by the end of the year. How realistic do you think the peace process envisaged at the Annapolis Conference actually is given the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Fatah?
Mr Blair: There is a
Hamas/Fatah complication but, in a sense, for the purposes of the negotiation,
it is very clear that President Abbas is charged with the political
negotiation. I think a more complicating
factor is what is happening in Israeli politics at the moment, which is
obviously more uncertain and that can create a difficulty. Here is my take on it, and I have a different
understanding of it than I did when I was Prime Minister even though I used to
spend a lot of time thinking about this and going out to the region. My view very clearly is that most people know
roughly what a final settlement looks like.
That is not to say there are not very tricky issues to resolve:
Q112 Mr Crabb: Is it your view that a sustainable peace deal can be struck which does not include Hamas as a partner?
Mr Blair: If you have a
political process going that started to result in real progress on the ground
and the shape of the political negotiation being clear, then I think Hamas
would have to face a choice. You can
agree or disagree about the Quartet principles, and I totally understand the
point of view of people who say you just talk to everyone. It is not the Quartet position but I can
understand it. However, let us be clear
that to cut a deal that has Hamas in it cannot be done unless Hamas accept the
Q113 Mr Crabb: If I can ask you about the role that Hamas is playing on the ground, specifically with regard to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Are they proving to be a positive agent in terms of helping to facilitate the distribution of aid or are they hindering that? We get frequent reports of rocket attacks on checkpoints when humanitarian aid is trying to be transferred into Gaza? Are Hamas responsible for that?
Mr Blair: People argue
about this but I would say the one thing you cannot dispute is Hamas have a
military grip on
Richard Burden: Before we leave
Q114 Chairman: John Ging told us that people were actually dying waiting to get out for medical treatment because they were not getting timely exits.
Mr Blair: This is
something that is important we raise with the Israelis and get changed. It is tragic when you get students who have
scholarships to come out here and study, and there was some coverage last week
of students who have scholarships to study in
Q115 Jim Sheridan: There are some serious people who question whether or not you are the right man for the job. There is nothing new there.
Mr Blair: I am fairly familiar with those type of questions.
Q116 Jim Sheridan: Given your track record as Prime Minister of the UK and our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and our lack of involvement in the Lebanon, there is a serious question mark about your independence, about your neutrality and whether or not the Arab world have the trust in you to deliver the political and financial support that is needed to help the people in Palestine. What tangible evidence do you have that you are independent, neutral and that the people of the Middle East can trust you to deliver the financial and political support they need?
Mr Blair: The Paris
Conference in December was supposed to raise $5.4 billion in pledges and we
actually raised $7.7 billion so I do not think there is a problem with us
raising the money out there. Sometimes
when people talk about whether you are independent or not what they really mean
is you are too close to
Q117 Jim Sheridan: In response to your question to Richard, you said that you have not had an opportunity to visit Gaza which suggests that the trust element is not there yet because of the difficulties you may cause if you go.
Mr Blair: It is more to
do with the fact that in a situation that is immensely tense and sensitive, at
the moment where these negotiations are going on, frankly it is better to wait
and see how they go before you create a situation which may make it more
difficult for the people trying to do good down there rather than harm. I see people out of
Q118 Sir Robert Smith: On a practical point about your role, how exactly do you report back to the Quartet and how do they relate back to you?
Mr Blair: It is not a
desperately formal reporting mechanism I have to say fortunately. I speak to the UN Secretary General
regularly, to the President of the
Q119 Sir Robert Smith: A lot of what we have talked about so far has been about the peace process. I think you would accept that the peace process and trying to bring prosperity are inextricably and strongly linked, the one does not come without the other that easily, yet your own remit that you have been given by the Quartet does not include the peace process. How do you really get international aid and development on the ground effectively if you are not integrated into the peace process?
Mr Blair: I would say it is pretty integrated. It is true that in my terms of reference I do not handle the political negotiation. Again, to be blunt, when you are out there I am talking to everyone all the time about all the issues. The particular part that I am focused on, and that is within my remit, is, in my view, central to this for the reasons I have given. One of the things, for example, that we have agreed with the Israelis in this package which will be, in my view, of really quite profound significance in whether we can move this process forward is for a new way of working around the Jenin area up in the north of the Palestinian Territory. Without going into the detail now, the point is that when you then come to look at a negotiation like that everything comes into it: the politics, the economics, the security. The central thing is if we cannot build Palestinian security capability then the reality is we will not get the Israelis to lift the weight of the occupation. You have to do both of those things simultaneously. Those are the things that, if you can get them done, support this political negotiation.
Q120 Sir Robert Smith: Although the peace process is not part of your remit you have links to those involved in the peace process?
Mr Blair: Yes, and I discuss it with them the whole time. That is not to say I am handling it because I am not; do not misunderstand me. Obviously if I am seeing the Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Defence Minister and the Palestinian President and Prime Minister and so on, you do not have a conversation where some things are excluded from it. In any event, as I think I said to people right at the outset when I was appointed, if I have to start going through my terms of reference like a contract and say I can do this and I cannot do that, it probably means that something has gone amiss.
Q121 Mr Singh: A couple of weeks ago you co-hosted the Palestinian Investment Conference which I believe was very well attended by over 2,000 people. Given that attendance, what were the actual outcomes of that conference?
Mr Blair: There were a
series of investment projects announced: housing and others as well. It led on from the package that we agreed
with the Israelis which include things like a new mobile telephony licence,
industrial parks and so on. The most
important thing about the Palestinian Investment Conference was that it
happened, that people came to it and that the Israelis facilitated it. What I have been trying to say is how we
worked, because we were intimately connected with that conference, in setting
that up and implementing it is not a bad lesson in how the thing could work if
people had the right attitude and goodwill.
People came and it was a very well attended conference. Take
Q122 Mr Singh: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. What percentage of the projects which were on the table received a firm financial commitment?
Mr Blair: For those projects that were announced at the conference, there was firm money put there. For example, one of the things I was involved in just a few weeks back was putting together the mortgage facility for this housing finance idea which is to offer support for mortgages so that there can be low cost and affordable housing for Palestinians. Our Department for International Development played a very helpful role in that and were a major part of putting that together. That is a $500 million facility which is now there and will probably bring in about $1.5 billion worth of housing investment.
Q123 Mr Singh: On mortgages, could you do the same for the UK?
Mr Blair: That is definitely not my remit!
Q124 Mr Singh: You mentioned a number of projects which received firm financial commitments. Were any of those commitments for the region of Gaza?
Mr Blair: In respect of
the package we put together with the Israelis, some were infrastructure
Q125 Mr Singh: Do not Hamas see the need for development in Gaza to benefit their own people?
Mr Blair: They do but it is at one level. They have a strong ideology, there is no point in getting away from it, and it is one of the complicating factors.
Q126 Mr Singh: Prospects in Gaza for economic development are very dismal at the moment.
Mr Blair: They are
dismal until you get a ceasefire and some normality and calm. If you get some normality and calm, everything
becomes possible. For example, if you go
back to the Irish situation for a moment, and there are real parallels there,
if there had not been a ceasefire and there had not been an agreement that this
thing was to be pursued essentially through peaceful means, even with the fact
there were still acts of violence, if you had not that basic agreement there
and created the space within which the politics, the economics and the social
development can work you would never have got a peace deal. That is the problem: whatever criticisms can
be made of Israeli policy, and I share the criticism in terms of getting more
things in, humanitarian aid, the students, things that Richard was talking
about, nonetheless the fact is Hamas are using the situation in
Q127 Chairman: Can I put a comment we had from John Ging about Hamas's involvement in Gaza? We asked him what co-operation or what engagement they had with Hamas and he said "The de facto reality here is that Hamas are in control of the security situation in Gaza. Therefore, it is their responsibility as long as they chose to be the de facto power here to ensure an environment where the humanitarian agencies can freely operate and in the case of ourselves"-that is UNRWA-"they are discharging that responsibility." Could the same be said of the Israeli government?
Mr Blair: Again, if you
ended up in a situation where there was a ceasefire there would be absolutely
no reason why you should not then be reopening the crossings and allowing the
goods and services to come in, and indeed the people and goods to come
out. As I say, at the moment some of
those attacks are happening on Israelis at the crossings. I have discussed this at length with John as
well, as I was indicating earlier, and people like him feel the same frustration. You cannot agree with the effect the blockade
has on the people of
Q128 John Bercow: You are keen to combine large-scale investment and enhanced security with the proposed industrial park in Jenin, potentially, I suppose, acting as a trail-blazer for this purpose. Can you tell us, what is the timescale envisaged for that particular industrial park?
Mr Blair: In Jenin there are a whole series of small-scale projects that we are getting underway now and then there is one large-scale project, which is the industrial park around the Jalameh crossing. There is basically an agreement for this now. The German Government is providing the money for the infrastructure. I was up at the crossing just a few weeks back. I think they think this can be got underway very quickly, within months, and the interesting thing in this-it gives you a slightly different picture of the situation and what is possible-is that when I then crossed into the village on the Israeli side, where you have got Israelis and Arabs living in the same village, you have got an Israeli mayor, an Arab deputy mayor, and I conducted the conversation with the Israeli mayor with the interpretation being done in Hebrew by the Arab deputy. Here is a situation where, basically, they live completely peacefully with each other. They both support this industrial park at Jalameh. The actual border has been open more so that Arab Israelis can go into Jenin, and this is going to make a difference in Jenin. The Jalameh industrial park could be underway within months.
Q129 John Bercow: I think we all want to be optimistic about it, and it might well be justified to be, and what you have just said is potentially quite encouraging, but I think we could not allow a discussion on this point to conclude without some reference to the fact there are sceptics, and there are sceptics numbered amongst those who have already given evidence to us, to whose scepticism and doubts I would be pleased to hear your response. Specifically, the Portland Trust has said these projects of themselves, though potentially valuable, are not novel; there is some track record of such initiatives being tried and they have tended to founder on precisely the issue of strategic checkpoints, roadblocks, et cetera. I note what you have just said about the border, but with reference to the four strategic checkpoints in particular, do you detect, and can you report to us, progress in removing them on a permanent basis?
Mr Blair: First of all, the sceptics
outnumber the optimists very considerably in this situation, as I have discovered. On the other hand, to be blunt about it,
there is not much point in just sitting and moaning about the situation; we
have got to try and change it. We have
actually chosen the industrial parks carefully in order to minimise the
potential problems around either checkpoints or security. So at Jalame there is not really a problem,
at Tarqumiya, down in the south near Hebron, where we are still debating the
precise site, but that will be situated in or around the border there, the
Jericho agro-industrial park, I think, once the feasibility study is completed,
should go ahead and actually some of the housing projects that Portland Trust
and others are working on, there is now no reason why they should not go ahead
and they can go ahead. The four checkpoints
that we have asked the Israelis to remove, one of them has been removed-that is
the Kvasim one which is down in the south near
Q130 John Bercow: Are guarantees being offered to reassure investors specifically on the subject of the security and speed of access to, and egress from, those industrial parks for the purposes of delivering supplies?
Mr Blair: Yes, absolutely, and that is
the critical thing. For example, up in
Jalameh, there is no real security problem in and around where the industrial
site is. Obviously they can go straight
Q131 Richard Burden: You have emphasised, on a number of occasions, the importance of maintaining and building on relations with both sides-that if both sides do not trust you it is difficult to move forward-but if I have understood you right, you have also indicated that there are some bottom lines that are important. A bottom line that you have particularly emphasised to the Palestinians has been the importance of maintaining, in practice, the rule of law. Would that be reasonable?
Mr Blair: Yes, absolutely.
Q132 Richard Burden: Does it apply to both sides as a bottom line?
Mr Blair: Yes, it does. I have agreed a package with the Palestinians and with the Israelis. The one on security, we will probably go through a lot of the detail of that and how it is going to be properly funded over the timetable at the Berlin Conference at the end of this month, but the Israelis and I have agreed a package of measures. If that package is implemented over the next few months, that will make a significant difference on the ground. If it is not implemented, then that will be a breach of the undertakings that were given.
Q133 Richard Burden: Perhaps we can come on in a minute to talk about the package, but I am just trying to establish the bottom lines on which the packages are built. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, you said that the rule of law, both domestic and, I guess, international is a bottom line. For example, we tell Hamas the bottom line is, "You should not fire rockets over the border at someone else's people". In relation to Hamas it even stops a discussion with them, let alone an agreement with them, unless they abide by international law. My question is, does that apply as a bottom line to the Israelis as well as to the Palestinians?
Mr Blair: The Israelis should abide by the law too, of course.
Q134 Richard Burden: Is the occupation legal or illegal?
Mr Blair: The problem with looking at
it in that way is here is the difficulty the Israelis have, and it is important
to realise this. We can talk about the
illegality of the occupation, and so on and so forth, but we do not actually
get to where the hard politics of this is.
Everybody wants to see the occupation lifted. It has got to happen. However, and this is the brutal reality from
the Israeli point of view, no Israeli politician is going to depart from this
view whoever, in any subsequent election, is elected Israeli Prime Minister
unless it is clear that on the West Bank there will be the rule of law by a
Palestinian Authority with whom they have got an agreement for peace. One of the things about this situation which
if we are going to solve it we have got to do, is to recognise this
problem. Again, as I say, I do not sit
here as the person speaking for the Israelis, but it is important to recognise
it from their point of view. They think
they got out of
Q135 Richard Burden: I put that question to you not to make an academic or debating point but to lead on to some issues of practicality, the first of which would be that, if there is going to be trust, then do you not feel that sometimes on the Palestinian side there may be a perception of double standards. It is not that practicality is not important on both sides, but we seem to require adherence to international law as a bottom line for the Palestinians, whereas with the Israelis it is a bottom line that it depends on the political situation at the time. Might that not actually undermine confidence too? I suppose the second thing is, if actually there are certain things going on in the West Bank that are illegal under international law-settlement building, the wall where it is built on Palestinian territory rather than down the green line-and you are intending to negotiate ways often around those problems, it could be said that in some circumstances there is a balance to be struck. At what point are you actually easing restrictions on the ground to enable economic development, furthering the peace process and lifting the weight of occupation on the Palestinians? But at what point does that transfer through to a situation where the Palestinians in Nablus, may have a road that can get them down to Ramallah-so you can have some trade going on there and you have got the transport continuity between areas-but if you have also still got the settlements, and you have still got the West Bank divided up into different cantons and are you moving away from the idea of a contiguous Palestinian state towards transportation continuity? Is that a problem? Is it a problem for a villager who does not live on an arterial route who still has to get through one of those little checkpoints in order to get there?
Mr Blair: Yes.
Q136 Richard Burden: And if it is a problem, what mechanism have you got for dealing with that and assessing what you are doing?
Mr Blair: Yes, it is a problem. Since I have tried to be fair to the Israeli
side, let me be fair to the Palestinian side.
If Prime Minister Fayyad was sitting here, and he is a totally good guy,
a really sound person, someone who wants a two-state solution, is as tough on
terrorism as any of us, he would say to you, "Look, the fact is the Israelis
could and should be doing much more", and I think it is necessary for Israel to
do more and to go further. And the answer to your point is, yes, if all you do
is some economic and social development and it is not put alongside lifting the
occupation and making a political final settlement, the deals, with also the
settlements issue and the outposts, some of which are illegal under Israeli
law, never mind international law, of course, that will not work. That is why I say you have got to integrate
these things together. You have got to
have the politics, the security capability of the Palestinians and what happens
on the ground in an economic and social sense moving in the same
direction. But, no, of course, what
Palestinians feel is that there is a genuine double standard on the part of the
West. They feel that-there is no doubt
about that-but what I am trying to do is to say: how do we work our way out of
it, and where I think it is important to try and change the reality on the
ground is that that is the only way you are going to get a political deal in
the end. It is quite a hard thing to say
this, but I think it is my sense of the political reality. Unless
Q137 Richard Burden: It has been suggested that there should be a mechanism on a project-by-project basis for just determining whether a project is taking things forward or whether it is getting round international law. Some kind of mechanism for assessment should be in place. Is there one, would you consider one and, if so, who would do it?
Mr Blair: To be honest, I do not really
think that is where it is. I think the
single thing that people would ask me if I was in
Q138 Daniel Kawczynski: Mr Blair, could I ask you about the Quartet's development proposals for the Jordan Valley and, in particular, these agro-industrial zones. What sort of standing do they have under international law?
Mr Blair: In what sense exactly?
Q139 Daniel Kawczynski: In the sense that obviously this is a disputed area, a disputed territory, and you are allowing Israeli firms to set up there. It could be perceived that this is a way in which the Israelis are getting a strangle-hold on the area and legitimising their presence there by creating these industrial zones.
Mr Blair: The idea of an agro-industrial
Q140 Daniel Kawczynski: So you envisage that these industrial zones will be primarily populated with Palestinian businesses?
Mr Blair: I think around the
Q141 Chairman: Should it not be exclusively Palestinian business, in the sense that if these are filled up with Israeli companies that actually will be at the expense of Palestinian business opportunity?
Mr Blair: I do not think that is the anticipation at all. What I would say to you about that is it is probably for the Palestinians to decide themselves, because sometimes they may want to do some joint ventures, but my understanding is, basically, for the vast bulk of these industrial projects there will be international investors, there will be Palestinian investors. There may from time to time be Israeli investment as well, but that will be on the basis that the Palestinians want it and agree, and sometimes you will get a situation where they do genuinely want it. The other thing that is quite interesting is that there are Israeli business people who are very much on the same line as we would be talking about and who themselves want greater access of movement in order to be able to do business.
Q142 John Battle: Our committee is International Development, which is different from Foreign Affairs, and I mention that because the first reason that this committee took an interest in Palestine in 2002, and why we went there, was because of the poverty indicators for the Palestinian people being lower than some of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. For example, on water and sanitation, to take a very practical point, the Palestinian people are further behind in access to clean water and sanitation than the people of Sierra Leone. I wondered if I could pass on a practical possibility. The Quartet did a report on projects and referred to water treatment, but when we met with the Negotiation Support Unit, they said the real focus, particularly in the Jordan Valley, should be access to ground water resources. Do you know, is there any movement on that? Secondly, and I know that you have done some work on waste water management to get equipment for waste water processing, sanitation, into Gaza, for example, apparently the equipment is stuck at the checkpoints. Is there any progress on that very primary, basic access to water? I fail to understand how you can have agriculture without water, but you cannot have living without it either.
Mr Blair: No, and this is where you get
into the short-term versus long-term that Richard was talking about
earlier. We have now agreed with the
Israelis for provision for about 12 of these infrastructure projects to go on-water
and sanitation projects-and the Palestinian Water Authority are now taking
those forward, but there is a longer-term question, which is what is going to
be the agreement about the use of water, particularly along the Jordan Valley,
and that is in this Area C territory which is part of the final status
negotiation. In the meantime, again,
there is much more that could be done there.
That is why I would say that
Q143 Ann McKechin: You have spoken a great deal this morning about changing the reality on the ground. About 18 months ago when the committee visited the West Bank we attended a border cross point at Hawarrah, which was, frankly, a chaotic crossing for Palestinian goods vehicles, was highly inefficient and was actually, frankly, insecure for the Israeli soldiers who were trying to man it. Yet Israel is one of the most sophisticated defence electronic engineering manufacturers in the world, and there is no lack of capacity in Israel to put in very sophisticated border points of the type that existed in Northern Ireland before the troubles ended. What is really happening, seriously, in the negotiations, and do you believe the Israelis are doing enough to improve the technology at the border crossings which they say are vital for their security?
Mr Blair: In respect of those checkpoints that we agree the Israelis should upgrade significantly, Hawarrah was one of those checkpoints. You are absolutely right, there is a lot more that could be done, and that is what should happen. There is a package that has now been agreed with the Israeli Finance Minister as well in order to fund proper equipment. When you visit some of those checkpoints, it is a small but significant investment and it could make a huge difference. I know people say that is not really what should be happening, they should be lifted, but I think the reality is that with some of them they are going to stay for a time, at least, and what is important is that they are significantly improved; but, yes, we could do that, and that is precisely one of the things that was in our package.
Q144 Ann McKechin: You mentioned earlier improvements in the tourist industry in Bethlehem. Could you tell me which checkpoint is going to be used for tourists, and why would this be a different one and a better one than that for the ordinary Palestinians who have to try and get in and out of Bethlehem every day?
Mr Blair: Again, that is a good point. Why should it be different? The reality is that at the moment when the wall is there and you have got a situation where there are long queues of people to get in and out, it actually matters to have a fast-track for tourists, so that is what we are doing, because it helps, but in time to come, obviously, we want that to apply to ordinary Palestinians too.
Q145 Ann McKechin: Should you not be applying humanitarian standards that if you are sick, if you are ill and disabled or elderly, you should have first access rather than someone who is fit and healthy and can stand for two or three hours in the sunshine when it is 95 degrees?
Mr Blair: Of course. Again, one of the things that we are in
discussion with the Israelis about-and this is part of how we change the
situation-is to start discriminating and differentiating between your ordinary
person and the person who is in chronic need.
Again, the reality is that for the moment you will not stop there being
a checkpoint on that part of Bethlehem going into Jerusalem-that is not going
to happen-but certainly people should be allowed swifter access for
humanitarian reasons and, in any event, it is important for the tourist
industry because, as a result, as I say, of what has happened in Bethlehem over
the last few months, the tourist industry is significantly revived there and
that is important. Overall, what is
happening to the West Bank economy-and, again, I say all this against the
background of the fact that Gaza is in an extremely difficult situation for all
the reasons we have just been through and not enough is being done to help the
West Bank economy-it has gone from a contraction but it is now growing. In fact, the overall World Bank projection
Q146 Chairman: We are close to the end of our session, but I hope it is acceptable to you if we take a quick supplementary from Stephen Crabb and some questions from Hugh Bayley.
Mr Blair: Yes.
Q147 Mr Crabb: It concerns an issue we have not touched on this morning. The Israeli Government, I understand, recently announced they would increase by 40 per cent the number of Palestinian workers allowed to come and work back in Israel. How quickly do you envisage that becoming a reality on the ground and, longer-term, seeing the return of really significant numbers of Palestinians working back inside Israel, as they used to, and the rebuilding of some shared economic interest there?
Mr Blair: One, it is important, because it helps the Palestinian people; two, I think it is important and, again, this is part of our agreement with them, that some of those people should be able to overnight there, and so on, because it is important for their work, and three, yes, in time, I hope that then improves and increases. That is where, again, Jenin is important, because there are now people coming across the border and into Jenin for the first time in several years. So that is important to do for sure.
Q148 Hugh Bayley: What security outcomes would you expect to see from the Berlin Conference later this month?
Mr Blair: I think
Q149 Hugh Bayley: What particularly would you expect the Palestinian Authority to agree to in order to create the sort of situation which, as you described earlier, would enable Israel to lift the occupation or take steps in that direction?
Mr Blair: They need, and I think they will, to be fair, to agree to the reform of those security forces as well as their proper funding and equipping and training, and they need to be in a position where in a few months time, building out from what is happening in Jenin now, we can then take another area and start to do the same, and this is the purpose of the strategy we have outlined. This is very difficult for the Palestinians, because sometimes they are taking on people that they have been alongside in previous times, but the fact is a state is not just a geographical territory, you have to have one rule of law, you have got to have one authority, you have got to have one proper system of law enforcement, and for the Palestinians this is where the work that President Abbas, who is also very committed to this, and Prime Minister Fayyad are doing is so important. It has got to happen. This has really got to happen.
Q150 Hugh Bayley: In any negotiation-and you know this from Northern Ireland-a step taken, a statement made by one side, needs to be reciprocated. You have already said that the Israeli security apparatus has a devastating effect on the quality of life for Palestinians and, rightly or wrongly, tends to fuel feeling of desperation and anger. So how can Israel be persuaded to make specific changes to their security apparatus in order to improve the lives of Palestinians and create conditions for progress with the peace negotiation?
Mr Blair: I think that they can be
persuaded to do that because I believe that, as I say, the majority of sensible
Israelis know that there is no alternative to a two-state solution but a big
fight continuing over a long period of time and throughout the whole
region. So I think that most sensible
Israelis know that a two-state solution is there. Again, the impact of the Intifada and the
breakdown of the negotiations between President Clinton, Prime Minister Barak
and President Arafat a few years back has been to leave the peace camp in
Q151 Hugh Bayley: I agree, from my visits to the region, that a majority on both sides want peace, and the only prospect for that is to have a two-state solution, but the majority who want peace are marginalised time and again by acts of violence, whether it is a missile being fired over the border into Israel or the use of violence by the Israeli security forces. You can take the parallels with Northern Ireland too far, but it was undoubtedly the case in Northern Ireland that community groups on both sides-the Falls Road and the Shankhill-started saying, "We want peace", and they reduced the political space within which the terrorists operated. You have talked about a series of high-level talks you are involved with, but I think there is a need to nurture and strengthen community organisations of moderate Palestinians and moderate Israelis to try and nurture that space for discussing a future of co-existence. To what extent would you like to see DFID and other donors working in this area and what should they be doing?
Mr Blair: I think it is a very worthwhile exercise for them to work on. If you take an organisation, for example, like One Voice, which is for the young people, who are lovely young people, if that is the future on both sides it would be bright. I think it is very important to encourage a sort of civil society exchange at the same time, and I think that those are things that are easy to do and very worthwhile.
Q152 Chairman: Thank you. Can I perhaps draw two threads together and conclude this session. I think as far as Gaza is concerned, the comments that you and others have made, for the people of Gaza, they are looking to the international community for their humanitarian rights, not for the consent of Israel or Hamas or anybody else. So what is left on the ground is what more will we be able to do to actually deliver what the people of Gaza have a right to expect from the international community? In relation to your project, particularly in the West Bank, it has been expressed to us that there is a danger of legitimising the facts on the ground. Nobody is questioning the intention, but actually, effectively, creating almost two parallel universes: a network of Israeli settlements with their own communications, and a new network of new Palestinian developments with their own parallel communications, neither of which meets, which I think many people would feel was taking us further away from a two-state solution. In that context, in terms of the agreements you have negotiated, do you think that they have more chance than previous access and movement agreements which have not actually been fulfilled? We sat in probably the same hotel as you did in Bethlehem just before Christmas, the year before last, with two per cent occupancy and I think many of us reflected on the fact that the first Christmas there was no room in the inn; here we were in Bethlehem with an inn full of rooms and nobody in them. You say you are going to unlock that but it has to be in ways that benefit the people of Bethlehem and not just the people of Jerusalem.
Mr Blair: In that hotel
where I was two or three weeks ago, the hotel occupancy is now over 40 per cent
so it has changed. There are changes that
are there. You know this issue about
legitimising the occupation, to be absolutely frank nobody on the Palestinian
side has ever put this to me as a serious point because I think they understand
very well. Yes, of course, in the end
they want the settlements out and the outposts away, and so on and so forth,
but they do not ignore the fact that if you can get economic projects going and
open up some of the access within the Palestinian side that is obviously of
enormous importance and help to Palestinians.
I would go back to the central point about all this. A strategy for resolving this has all the
different bits of it operating in an integrated way. In other words, if you take the politics but
do not take the security, it will not work.
If you take the politics and the security but there is nothing happening
to give the Palestinians hope on the ground, it will not work. If you leave
Q153 Chairman: As an
Mr Blair: That is what the Palestinians would want too.
If you have any reflections on the exchanges
we have had, we will be producing the report before the summer recess so I hope
you will feel free to comment because sometimes things occur afterwards. Thank you again for enabling us to have this
session, and particularly for accommodating this particular date given that the
Committee were due to be in
 The Director of Operations in
 EU Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support