Examination of Witness (Questions 260-279)|
3 JULY 2008
Q260 Dr Starkey: Prime Minister,
I want to focus on just one particular aspect of the situation
in Israel/Palestine. I accept and I think we all welcome the fact
that there do seem to be a number of very positive moves across
the region between the Israeli and Palestinian Authority Governments
to move the situation forward and a great deal of international
engagement. Notwithstanding for example the terrorist attack yesterday
in West Jerusalem and some continued violence on both sides, there
is an improvement, but there is one aspect, which is the one on
which I want to concentrate, which is not improving, in fact it
is going in the opposite direction, and it is an aspect that could
sabotage the entire process, and that is the continued construction
in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The
Israeli Government has announced a whole raft of new commissions
for over 2,500 new homes in these settlements. Since Annapolis
the rate of settlement expansion has actually increased. Given
that the UK Government is on record as saying that the settlements
are an obstacle to peace, what can the UK and the EU actually
do to insist that there is no further settlement building?
Mr Brown: As you know, negotiations
between Prime Minister Olmert and Mr Abbas have continued. A lot
of detailed work is being done. The barriers to these being successful
are not only the delicate problems that are raised about the future
of refugees, Jerusalem, the borders, the map and everything else,
but also what you rightly point to as these provocations. One
is of course continued bombings and continued missiles being hurled
into Israeli places and you have, like yesterday, these problems
that arise from what seems to be a terrorist attack, but I agree
with you also that it is not acceptable that at the point that
we are trying to get to a peace settlement we have the problems
with additional settlements being announced or planned. As you
know, there was a report in the middle of June about plans to
build more houses in East Jerusalem. We made it absolutely clear,
as did the Americans, that such activity had the potential to
harm all the negotiations going forward and we said at the time,
and I repeat, that the settlement programme should be stopped
because it is not only causing distress amongst the Palestinians
it is actually preventing people seeing that there is, as I believe
possible, a resolution to the problems that have eluded us for
many, many decades and that there is a two-state solution possible.
Q261 Dr Starkey: Absolutely, Prime
Minister, the two-state solution is the only agreed international
solution and would be in the interests of both Israel and Palestine
if that could be achieved but, on the ground, the facts being
created by the continued expansion of the settlements and indeed
the continued abstraction of Palestinian land for the wall are
foreclosing an eventual solution, even if all the other matters
do get sorted out. Words, Prime Minister, do not seem to be enough.
Important though Britain is, even the words of the Secretary of
State of America does not seem to be having any effect. Why is
the EU for example not considering taking action because there
are levers the EU can use. On that point, can I press you; why
has there been an agreement to deepen the EU-Israel Association
Agreement in the margins of the General Affairs Council? Why was
there no consideration given to using that as a lever to insist
that the Israelis stopped settlement expansion before any such
deepening would be considered? That is an actual lever that we
have got; why do we not use it?
Mr Brown: There are many points
of negotiation and discussion at the moment. We held in Britain
a Palestinian Investment Conference
Q262 Dr Starkey: Prime Minister,
sorry, can I just stop you there. Everybody is in favour of that,
everybody understands the need to expand the Palestinian economy,
but if this settlement expansion continues there cannot be a two-state
solution because there will not be the land to create a contiguous
and viable Palestinian state nor a state in which an economy can
properly function. Why are we not using the levers we have to
at least get a freeze?
Mr Brown: We are taking action
on these settlements by making it absolutely clear that we do
not see that as an acceptable way of moving towards a peaceful
settlement of all the issues.
Q263 Dr Starkey: Prime Minister,
I am really sorry to insist but
Mr Brown: You are insisting but
I need to be able to finish my answers as well. Equally, we have
got to bear in mind that consistent provocation, with bombings
into the Israeli territory, is also making it difficult for these
peace negotiations to go ahead. I think it is good that despite
all these provocations that people are still talking and still
making progress and I would urge them to continue to do so. We
have made our position on the settlements clear to Prime Minister
Olmert when I have talked to him directly and on other occasions
when the Foreign Secretary has visited Israel. We also make it
clear to those people who are conducting violence on the part
of the Palestinians that it is completely unacceptable to try
to disrupt the peace process by persistent bombings or incursions
into Israeli areas.
Q264 Dr Starkey: I absolutely agree
with all of that about the violence, but the settlement issue
is a separate issue. There can be no security argument on the
part of the Israelis for expanding settlements. It is purely and
simply establishing facts on the grounds which will be very, very
difficult to undo, and it has the potential to sabotage the eventual
solution. I just press this: was there any consideration in the
discussions at the recent council on the deepening of the Association
Agreement on making further movement conditional on a settlement
Mr Brown: When I have discussed
it with my colleagues in the European Union, there has been a
very big desire to see the bigger picture, that although there
are provocations at the moment on both sides that it is very important
that people see that despite the attempts, sometimes by people
who are loosely associated with those people who are doing the
negotiations or not at all, to either do settlements or alternatively
to have these bombings in the Israeli territories, that we must
continue with the negotiations and we must also continue looking
at these bigger issues about the future of Jerusalem, about the
return of refugees, about the territories and the mapping of them;
it is very important that these discussions should continue. Nobody
wants to see the settlements or the outposts; nobody wants to
see the incursions through violence, but it is very important
to see the bigger picture as well, and my colleagues in the European
Union want to see that bigger picture and see it enacted in practice.
Q265 Dr Starkey: Turning to that
bigger picture, do you actually think that if settlement expansion
continues there will be the possibility of establishing a viable
Palestinian state on what is left.
Mr Brown: I think everybody knows
that this is one of the barriers to the final success of any peace
talks. There are many barriers to that that have got to be removed
and I think it is our responsibility to work in all these areas
to see if we can get the two sides to the talks working more closely
together, with the prospect, and I believe there is a real prospect
that most of these problems are soluble, of these problems being
solved in the next few months.
Mike Gapes: We will move on to the difficult
and appalling situation in Zimbabwe. Phil Willis?
Q266 Mr Willis: Prime Minister, undoubtedly
you inherited foreign policy in terms of Iraq, Afghanistan and
the Middle East from your predecessor and you were dealt a very
difficult hand. As far as Africa is concerned, as Chancellor of
the Exchequer I think all of us around this table would accept
that your efforts in terms of the call for action on immunisation
and debt relief in Africa were really quite outstanding, and I
am quite prepared to put that on the record.
Mr Brown: Thank you.
Q267 Mr Willis: Do you not feel therefore
incredibly disappointed with regards to Zimbabwe that your efforts
so far have been regarded as little more than ineffectual grand-standing
whilst Robert Mugabe simply cocks a snoot at you and the rest
of the international community; and why is that?
Mr Brown: I do not think you are
right in your analysis about that. I think what has changedand
it is a huge change from where we were a few years agois
that most of the major African leaders now recognise that they
cannot associate themselves with the Mugabe regime that tries
to intimidate people during elections, that practises violence
against its citizens, and that of course has either arrested or
intimidated some of the leaders of the opposition. I think you
will see from the announcements of the African Union in a statement
two days ago that African leaders will not again be happy with
a situation where they can tolerate the status quo in Zimbabwe,
so there is movement. The question is how quickly that movement
of opinion, working perhaps with the United Nations, the African
Union and SADC, can influence the change that needs to take place
in Zimbabwe itself. I do not think it is us versus the Africans
as you are presenting it. I think everybody, with very few exceptions,
now recognises the need for the status quo in Zimbabwe to change
Q268 Mr Willis: Can we look at something
that you can influence directly, Prime Minister. You have made
very, very strong comments in your condemnation of the Mugabe
regime, particularly on the loss of life in Zimbabwe and the torture
and abuse of human rights and the Foreign Secretary has made exactly
the same comments. How therefore can you argue that the 13,000
Zimbabweans currently seeking refuge and asylum in the UK are
anything other than refugees entitled to full protection under
the UN constitution? Are you not a little bit embarrassed at least,
if not ashamed, that at the one time you are denouncing Mugabe's
criminal cabal and at the other time you are sanctioning the mass
deportation of people back to Zimbabwe?
Mr Brown: I just say to you, we
continue to look at that situation.
Q269 Mr Willis: Is that the only
answer you can give?
Mr Brown: Yes, we will continue
to look at that situation.
Q270 Mr Willis: While South Africa
has got over a million refugees on its border and we are trying
to get Mbeki to do more all we can say is, "We will look
at the situation".
Mr Brown: Each case where someone
is seeking asylum has got to be looked at individually but we
continue to look at the general situation. We have to bear in
mind many factors operating in Zimbabwe where we must make sure
that we protect people who may be at risk.
Q271 Mr Willis: So you do not regard
these as legitimate refugees in the UN Convention sense?
Mr Brown: I did not say that.
I said that each application is treated on its merits but we continue
to look at the general situation.
Q272 Mr Willis: You know that if
the current Zimbabweans in the UK agree that they will go back
to Zimbabwe at some future date they get aid and support cut off
from them. How is that an example of Britain using its humanitarian
muscle to support people in the most enormous distress?
Mr Brown: I think I am telling
you that we look at the individual case on its merits and see
what we can actually do to help.
Q273 Mr Willis: Back in December
2006 your predecessor, Tony Blair, together with President Bush
and President Putin and 138 other leaders, attended the UN World
Summit. At that, and you mentioned this earlier in your remarks
to Mike Gapes, a resolution was passed which was to condemn the
use of torture and terror in situations across the world and,
indeed, to give protection to nations as an international community.
As a result of that, Resolution 1738 was passed in December 2006.
Why have you not, Prime Minister, under the auspices of that resolution,
actually called for the naming of Mugabe and indeed his henchmen,
who you have proof have conducted themselves in a way which was
totally against Resolution 1738, so that they can, when they leave
Zimbabwe, be arrested and brought before the International Criminal
Mr Brown: We are imposing sanctions
on individual members of the regime and we are considering at
the moment and will extend those sanctions, both financial sanctions
and travel sanctions. It is not a question of us failing to take
action against individual members of the regime, in terms of both
sanctions about their financial affairs and their families' financial
affairs and the travel sanctions, that is what we are doing at
the moment. I would not like to comment on anything further.
Q274 Mr Willis: One of the means
by which Mugabe is able to maintain his presence, and indeed cock
a snook at the international community, is because he is still
being funded. He is still being funded, partly through the UK
with our $70 million worth of aid. We are the largest supporter
of Zimbabwe, and that is to our credit, Prime Minister, that is
not a criticism
Mr Brown: You do know that
Q275 Mr Willis: Can I just finish
my question and say, is there not an opportunity now for you as
the British Prime Minister and Britain as the largest donor to
get all the donors together, to withdraw that aid and agree a
new package which will be entirely commensurate with a new political
regime in Zimbabwe? Can you not use your financial muscle to do
Mr Brown: First of all, the aid
is going directly to people in Zimbabwe, it is not being channelled
through the regime.
Q276 Mr Willis: They are not taking
any of it for themselves?
Mr Brown: We would try to avoid
that at all costs, but the aid is going directly to people in
Zimbabwe through humanitarian agencies. Of course, one of the
problems has been at certain points the government stopping the
work of non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe. Look, the
major pressure at the moment, and I think we have to put this
in its proper context, is we have had an election, first of all,
that was won by the MDC where the Zanu PF came well behind the
MDC, we have had an attempt at a second election that is a travesty
of justice, during the election the regime has blood on its hands
for what has happened, and we now have the pressure that is growing,
I think, from the African Union countries and from the community
of the United Nations that the status quo cannot be held, that
action has got to be taken. There are discussions about what form
of transition there could be. There is enormous pressure for that
to happen. I hope that a UN envoy will go very soon to Zimbabwe,
to Harare, to put that pressure on, but I think virtually the
whole international community is saying the status quo cannot
continue, the MDC has got to be recognised for the electoral support
it had. There will be no support for this regime until democracy
is restored. We will intensify the sanctions unless action is
taken to change the status quo. I do not believe that President
Mugabe could take any comfort from most of the African Union members
who have walked away from him and are refusing to support the
status quo in Zimbabwe.
Q277 Mr Willis: Prime Minister, do
you believe by the time this Committee next meets you that Mugabe
will have gone?
Mr Brown: I hope the transition
can be quick. I think when a regime loses an election, as it did
in the first election, and then tries to intimidate and claims
a hollow victory from a second election where they have intimidated
their opponents out of participating in the campaign, they can
have no legitimacy at all.
Mike Gapes: Can I bring in Sir Patrick
Cormack on the same issue.
Q278 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister,
nobody can doubt your good intentions and good faith on this one,
and I would like to echo what Phil Willis said about your record
in Africa, but really we have got to be tougher with this man.
I am glad you arranged to strip him of his knighthood. I suggest
in all your public utterances you strip him of the title of "President"
and just refer to him as "Mugabe". Could I ask you again
though, on the point that Phil Willis raised, surely we can have
a more positive response from you on the refugees? If we had had
responses like that before the war, what would have happened to
many of those Jews who fled from Hitler's Germany, and Mugabe's
Zimbabwe, although much smaller as a problem, is not a million
miles from Hitler's Germany?
Mr Brown: We are trying to change
this regime at the moment working with other countries to do so
because we do not recognise that the Mugabe regime has legitimacy.
I have said I will look at the issues which have been raised.
We have dealt with these cases on an individual basis.
Q279 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister,
can you not, before this Committee, just say that there will be
a presumption of being a refugee as far as anyone from Zimbabwe
is concerned if they ask for political asylum?
Mr Brown: I will look at what
you say. I am more interested, if I may say so, in getting quicker
action in dealing with the transition in Zimbabwe itself and I
think that would be your first priority as well. I do not believe
the African Union decisions are preventing the action that is
necessary. There is an acceptance now that there was not a few
months ago that the status quo is completely unacceptable. African
leaders one-by-one are walking away from the Mugabe regime and
I think it is important over the next few days to build on that
recognition, that with United Nations and African Union pressure
the status quo can be changed.