Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. The Foreign Affairs Committee has taken a consistent interest in the Middle East, and has visited and reported on the region regularly, in this and previous Parliaments. In 2007, we published a Report on Global Security: The Middle East.[1] This was the first in our ongoing series of Reports under the "Global Security" heading.[2] In early 2009 we decided to conduct a follow-up inquiry, focused on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). We were prompted to do this primarily by the conflict in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009, and also by the advent of new governments in Israel and the United States. (In what follows we refer to our previous Report on the region as "our 2007 Report".)

2. As this was an exercise of limited scope, we did not issue detailed terms of reference or a call for evidence. We nevertheless received a number of written submissions, which we print with this Report. We held three oral evidence sessions. Two of these, with academics and analysts in February, and with the then FCO Minister of State Bill Rammell MP in early March, were held soon after the end of the Gaza conflict and before we made a visit to the region. After our visit, we decided to take evidence from the Representative of the Middle East Quartet, Rt Hon Tony Blair, and did so at the beginning of June. We would like to thank all those who gave evidence. A list of our witnesses is provided at the end of this Report.

3. Our visit to Israel and the OPTs was made in mid-March 2009, exactly two years after our previous visit to the region. Some Members were able to visit Gaza, as the Committee had last been able to do in late 2005, and also visited Sderot in southern Israel. Another sub-group of the Committee spent a day in the West Bank, meeting Palestinians and Israeli settlers; and another toured Israel's Lebanese and Syrian borders (including the Golan Heights) and the Jordanian border in northern Israel and the West Bank. We held meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv, at a time when the new Israeli government was being formed and negotiations continued between Fatah and Hamas on the possible formation of a new Palestinian national unity government. Our interlocutors included Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Foreign Minister Riad Malki. We would like to thank all our interlocutors, and staff at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv and Consulate-General in Jerusalem, for facilitating our visit.[3]

4. Our responsibility is to examine the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In considering foreign policy issues, our focus must be on matters for which the UK, and therefore the FCO, has direct responsibility or over which it can exercise some degree of influence. In relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UK plays a role not only through its bilateral relationships with key actors in the region, but also through its participation, as an EU member state, in the Middle East Quartet. We reflect this in our Report, in which we consider not only direct UK actions but also the policies which the Quartet has pursued towards Israel and the OPTs. The Middle East Quartet comprises the EU, Russia, the UN and the US, and was established in 2002 to support the Middle East peace process. The Quartet's Representative, Tony Blair, told us that the UK "plays a part in two ways: on its own account and through the EU".[4]

5. The Quartet supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—that is, the creation of a Palestinian state from Gaza and the West Bank, the current OPTs, which would exist alongside Israel "in peace and security".[5] Mr Blair told us that that a two-state solution was "the only solution that works", and that he did not know of any alternative.[6] However, in February, the Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon David Miliband MP, said that the world was having "to peer into the abyss of the idea of a two-state solution disappearing".[7] In assessing recent developments and policies in this Report, our underlying concern was to do so in terms of their implications for the achievability of the Government's stated two-state objective.

6. The structure of this Report is as follows. In our first substantive chapter, Chapter 2, we discuss the December 2008/January 2009 conflict in Gaza, including its diplomatic and humanitarian aftermath and the issue of possible violations of the laws of war. In Chapter 3, we consider the question of British arms exports to Israel. In Chapters 4 and 5 we discuss developments on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, respectively, and relevant Quartet, EU and British Government policies. In Chapter 6 we briefly consider the roles of some further Middle Eastern states. Finally, in Chapter 7 we consider the prospects for the two-state solution.

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Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

1   Foreign Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2006-07, Global Security: The Middle East, HC 363 Back

2   We have subsequently reported on Global Security: Russia (Second Report of Session 2007-08, HC 51), Global Security: Iran (Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 142), Global Security: Japan and Korea (Tenth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 449), and Global Security: Non-Proliferation (Fourth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 222). We are completing a Report on Global Security: Afghanistan and PakistanBack

3   We list our March 2009 meetings and visits in Israel and the OPTs in the Annex.  Back

4   Q 167 Back

5   Quartet Statement, Trieste, 26 June 2009, via Back

6   Q 181 Back

7   HC Deb, 24 February 2009, col 134 Back

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Prepared 26 July 2009