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

4  Intra-Palestinian developments and British Government policy

91. As we outlined in paragraphs 8 and 54-60, a central development on the Palestinian side of the conflict in recent years has been the Palestinian Authority's loss of control of Gaza to Hamas, leaving the Palestinians divided politically between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and physically between the West Bank and Gaza.

Quartet strategy

92. After Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, the Quartet set three conditions which it said that all members of any Palestinian Authority government must accept in order for the Quartet to deal with it, and in particular in order for the Quartet members to provide direct aid. These conditions were a commitment to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements made by the PLO.[230] As the Hamas-nominated government between 2006 and 2007 did not accept these principles, the Quartet ceased the direct provision of aid to the Palestinian Authority. The EU established a Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) in order to channel funds to the OPTs while bypassing the Hamas government. After Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government in March 2007 under the Mecca Agreement, the Quartet engaged with non-Hamas members of that government but continued initially with the TIM rather than funding the Palestinian Authority directly. In our August 2007 Report, we criticised this decision, concluding that "the unwillingness of the EU to modify the financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority following the Mecca agreement was very damaging",[231] and that it contributed to the collapse of the national unity government.[232] In its 2008 Report, the International Development Committee similarly charged the international community with withholding support for the national unity government, which it called "an attempt to establish a stable and functioning government in the [Occupied Palestinian] Territories".[233] The Quartet restored direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority after the formation of the emergency non-party government under Prime Minister Fayyad in June 2007.

93. The Quartet's three principles have effectively become conditions for it to deal not only with the Palestinian Authority government but also with Hamas, whether the latter is inside or outside the Palestinian Authority government. In our 2007 Report, we advocated some relaxation of the Quartet's position. We concluded that "the decision not to speak to Hamas in 2007 following the Mecca agreement [was] counterproductive",[234] and we recommended that "given the failure of the boycott to deliver results, […] the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles."[235]

94. The policies which the Quartet has pursued towards Hamas and the Palestinian Authority government since 2006 have reflected its strategy in the face of the intra-Palestinian split, which is, on the one hand, to seek to undermine Hamas and its current political stance, while seeking to entice it to accept the Quartet principles; and, on the other, to help build support for Fatah, President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority government excluding Hamas—that is, for those Palestinian forces which are committed to non-violence and a negotiated two-state solution with Israel. The Quartet seeks to bolster the position of the non-violent, pro-two-state Palestinian forces through progress in the peace process and economic development in the OPTs (which we discuss below). Mr Rammell and Mr Blair made it clear that this remains the Quartet's strategy. Mr Rammell told us that:

if there is real progress through reconstruction and with aid, so that people can vote for statehood in that sense, there is a strong prospect of the moderates, the centre ground, winning. If there has not been that progress, there is always the chance that people will vote for what they see as the resistance.[236]

Mr Blair similarly told us that:

If the people who want peaceful coexistence and who say that peaceful negotiation is the way to deliver their aims are succeeding, people will get behind them. If they are not succeeding, people will ask, 'What is the alternative?' I really think that it is as simple as that.[237]

Policy towards Hamas

95. We asked our witnesses whether, three years into the Quartet's pursuit of its strategy towards the divided Palestinians, they saw any signs of Hamas accepting the Quartet principles. Dr Albasoos told us that "Hamas is committed to a two-state solution [and] […] is not committed to the destruction of the state of Israel".[238] He referred us to a number of sources in support of this statement, while acknowledging that Hamas's position was "implicit".[239] Other witnesses were of the view that Hamas's position was, at most, far from clear. Ms Bar-Yaacov said that views other than those referred to by Dr Albasoos, "including calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, go on being expressed", and she noted that "Hamas is speaking with more than one voice".[240] Mr Rammell told us that "at one moment there is a sense of optimism and then there is a further delay"[241] as regards movement in Hamas's views. For his part, Mr Blair told us that:

At certain […] periods, […] ambiguity is actually really unhelpful. Sometimes people will phone me up and say, 'Look, you should look at what the Hamas leadership has said,' and they point to certain phrases that indicate a movement towards peace. Then there are a whole lot of other phrases that, if you have a PhD in studying these things, you can probably work out what they are trying to say, but if you are just an ordinary person looking at it, you would say, 'Well, I don't know what they are saying.' One of the things that I think Hamas has to realise is that if it wants to become part of this process, it must stop being ambiguous about it.[242]

As things stood, Mr Rammell judged that "the jury is still out" regarding Hamas's possible acceptance of the Quartet principles,[243] although in a separate answer he also said that there was "no indication that it [was] willing" to move in that direction.[244] Mr Blair told us that he did not know whether Hamas was prepared to change its position, but that it did "not seem like it" at present.[245]

96. Mr Blair defended the Quartet's continued policy of non-engagement with Hamas. He pointed to the way in which Egypt was doing a "superb job" of talking to Hamas on behalf of the Arab League and, effectively, the Quartet. Mr Blair argued that the situation was "really not a failure of communication […] The problem is not that [Hamas] does not quite know what we are saying."[246]

97. Dr Albasoos suggested that, rather than simply imparting the Quartet's position to Hamas, the value of Quartet engagement with the movement might come in signalling that its grievances were being taken seriously and that they had improved prospects of being addressed in the peace process. Dr Albasoos told us that Hamas fired rockets from Gaza primarily as a means of gaining the attention of the international community, and that "neither Hamas, nor any Palestinian faction, would launch any missiles from Gaza if the European Union and the British Government were to engage in dialogue with them."[247]

98. Although Mr Blair defended the Quartet's policy, on at least three occasions during our evidence session he framed the issue concerning Hamas in terms of whether the organisation committed itself to exclusively peaceful means.[248] This suggested that Mr Blair might prioritise this condition over the Quartet's other two. For example, Mr Blair told us that if Hamas were to commit itself exclusively to peaceful resistance, "everything would be opened up".[249] Mr Blair referred during this part of our discussion to the Mitchell principles used as a framework for the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, which focused exclusively on excluding violence from the process in various ways.[250] It can be argued that the British Government's willingness to engage with Sinn Féin as part of the Northern Ireland peace process offers a potential parallel with Hamas.

99. Mr Rammell may also have implied some flexibility in the Quartet conditions, by referring twice to "movement towards the Quartet principles" being the requirement placed on Hamas, rather than the complete satisfaction of the principles.[251] Mr Rammell acknowledged that while it was participating in the national unity government between March and June 2007, "albeit not perfectly, Hamas went some way towards committing to the principles".[252]

100. The British Government's continuing stance against engagement with Hamas has been thrown into relief by its decision in March 2009 to reverse the similar position which it previously held with respect to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and to open contacts with that organisation's political wing.[253] We had advocated such a reversal with respect to Hezbollah in our 2007 Report on the Middle East.[254] In its response to our Report at that time, the Government said that it would decide whether to open contacts with Hezbollah's political wing partly on the basis of its judgement as to whether "such contacts would encourage them to move away from violence and play a constructive role in Lebanese politics".[255] Accounting for the Government's decision in 2009 to open such contacts, the Foreign Secretary told us that they would allow it to "convey to Hezbollah the need to reject violence" and also "allow […] greater insight into Hezbollah's political objectives, which in turn should lead to clearer policy making for the Middle East as a whole."[256]

101. Giving evidence immediately after the Government had made known its change of policy, Mr Rammell said that he did not think that there was any analogy between Hezbollah and Hamas as regards the possibility of British Government engagement.[257] In a Westminster Hall debate in May, Mr Rammell expanded on the point, saying that British "policies must reflect the specific circumstances of the Lebanese and Palestinian political contexts […] we do not believe that it is productive to talk to [Hamas] directly at the moment". Mr Rammell said that "if and when the Palestinians form a Government of national consensus, we will look carefully at their exact composition and programme before making any decisions on engagement".[258]

102. As we outlined in paragraphs 54-60, as of early July 2009 Hamas and Fatah have been unable to form a new Palestinian national unity government, owing to a great extent to Hamas's continuing unwillingness to subscribe to the Quartet principles. Mr Blair held that the principles were "there for a genuine and specific purpose, which is to ensure that there is the basis for an agreement for people to find a way forward together".[259] He suggested that there would be little point in the formation of a national unity government without "genuine unity", because "if there is no unity, a unity government will not last."[260]

103. We recognise that success in the Quartet's strategy—of encouraging Hamas to reject violence and accept Israel's existence, by bolstering the position of the Palestinian forces which have already done so, and rejecting contact with Hamas itself—could be realised only gradually and over time. However, two years after we advocated a shift to engagement with moderate elements within Hamas, we conclude that there continue to be few signs that the current policy of non-engagement is achieving the Quartet's stated objectives. We further conclude that the credible peace process for which the Quartet hopes, as part of its strategy for undercutting Hamas, is likely to be difficult to achieve without greater co-operation from Hamas itself. We are concerned that the Quartet is continuing to fail to provide Hamas with greater incentives to change its position. We therefore reiterate our recommendation from 2007, that "the Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles." We further recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should set out the specific indicators, if any, that would trigger a shift of British Government policy towards engagement with Hamas. We further recommend that the Government should set out the relevant differences between the cases of Hezbollah and Hamas that lead it to conclude that engagement with moderate elements within Hamas is not currently worth attempting.

West Bank development

104. A central element in the Quartet's strategy for bolstering President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority government has been to support Palestinian economic and institutional development under their authority. Effectively, this means support for the economy and Palestinian Authority institutions on the West Bank. The Quartet has given significant weight to this aspect of its strategy since mid-2007, when it appointed Mr Blair as its Representative, with a mandate to "mobilize international assistance to the Palestinians […]; help to identify and secure appropriate international support in addressing the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian state, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law; [and] develop plans to promote Palestinian economic development".[261] The emphasis of the Quartet and Mr Blair on Palestinian economic development builds on work carried out by the British Government before Mr Blair left domestic office, subsequently reflected in particular in the report "Economic Aspects of Peace in the Middle East" published by HM Treasury in September 2007.[262]

105. In addition to its potential impact in undercutting Hamas and encouraging support for President Abbas and other non-violent, pro-two-state Palestinian forces, Mr Blair argued that more effective Palestinian Authority institutions would also aid the Israeli-Palestinian track of the peace process. Mr Blair's argument applied primarily to the development of civilian security forces and institutions. He told us that:

you have to have a properly functioning security capacity on the part of the Palestinians, to provide the Israelis with justification for stepping back. The basic idea is that as the Palestinians do more and the Israelis do less, eventually you have the Palestinians back in charge of their territory.[263]

The US and the EU are both engaged in assisting the development of Palestinian Authority security forces. Since 2006, the EU has been operating a police mission to this end, known as EUPOL COPPS, which is under the leadership of British Chief Constable Paul Robert Kernaghan and which Mr Blair said was doing an "excellent job".[264]

106. Mr Blair's support for the development of Palestinian Authority security institutions formed part of his broader approach to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, which he said was designed to address the "on-the-ground reality" of both sides as a way of building a credible peace process. For the Israelis, he said, the fundamental problem was about security: "their on-the-ground reality is [that] […] they will not agree to a Palestinian state unless they are sure that such a state is a stable and secure partner for peace", and that agreeing to the establishment of such a state would not therefore jeopardise Israeli security. For the Palestinians, Mr Blair said, their "on-the-ground" problem was that they could "not see that a state is possible with [the] network of restrictions" that Israel operates as a result of its own security concerns.[265] Mr Blair said that his strategy was therefore:

to try to create the circumstances in which we build Palestinian security capability, particularly on the West Bank, so that the Israelis can move out. The Palestinians can then have the run of their territory and the access and movement restrictions and so on can be eased.[266]

107. In our 2007 Report on Global Security: The Middle East, we welcomed Mr Blair's appointment, and the Government's focus on developing an economic track to the peace process.[267] In his evidence to us two years on, Mr Blair pointed to a number of indicators of progress. He told us that the Palestinian Authority had received its largest-ever sums of international financial support in 2008, that the West Bank economy grew "not insignificantly" in that year, and that he had been able to make "some progress" on "a whole set of specific issues around housing, industrial parks, tourism and mobile telephony".[268]

108. On security and movement and access issues, Mr Blair told us that the Palestinian Authority security forces were "making a substantial difference" in the areas of the West Bank where they had been deployed. For example, he pointed to developments around Jenin, where US-trained Palestinian Authority security forces were now deployed and the number of Israeli roadblocks had been reduced as a result.[269] He also stated that Israel had removed some restrictions on movement and access around Nablus and Hebron. Mr Blair also told us that there was now a plan for the development of the whole judicial and penal system on the West Bank, probably to be implemented in partnership with the EU, and that if it could be implemented, "that is the way that we will get the weight of occupation removed from the Palestinian territories".[270]

109. As regards Palestinian Authority finances, the FCO's Director for the Middle East, Dr John Jenkins, told us that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad had, for example, recovered around $1.2 billion which it was alleged had been diverted from its proper use by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Dr Jenkins said that "donors have absolute confidence in a government headed by Salaam Fayyad".[271]

110. Addressing the House on the Gaza crisis on 19 January, the Foreign Secretary noted that there had not been major unrest on the West Bank during the Gaza conflict. He linked this to the fact that, in his view, Prime Minister Fayyad's government "showed clearly in its management—political, economic, security—that given half a chance Palestinian government can be hugely effective and provide a real partner for peace".[272]

111. We conclude that some progress has been made on Palestinian economic and institutional development on the West Bank, and that this is to be welcomed. We conclude that the Palestinian Authority government under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has shown improved capacity to deliver increased security and manage the Authority's economy and public finances. We further conclude that international assistance to the Palestinian security sector, including the EU police mission, is fulfilling an important role.

112. Despite its achievements, the work on Palestinian economic development which is underway on the West Bank under Quartet auspices is open to a number of criticisms which we encountered during our inquiry. First, there is the risk that the focus on economic development and improvements on the ground in the West Bank may reduce pressure for progress on the political track, partly by accommodating the political status quo. In its 2008 Report, the International Development Committee warned that "the international community must take care that it does not end up legitimising the occupation".[273] Mr Blair acknowledged this argument in a discussion of whether "to improve the checkpoints […] is, in a sense, to endorse them". He implied that this argument should not override the benefits that could flow from improving the situation on the ground, saying that some of the checkpoints would be there "for a time" and that "if they were carried out in a proper way with some account taken of the dignity of the people, that would be very helpful".[274]

113. The potential concern that economic development might enjoy priority over the political track has been heightened because the new Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has couched his approach to the West Bank in terms of an "economic peace", while initially declining to state explicitly his commitment to a two-state solution. During his election campaign in 2008, Mr Netanyahu said that the peace process had previously focused only on intractable political issues, and that this had "led to failure and [was] likely to lead to failure again". Instead, Mr Netanyahu argued, it was necessary to:

weave an economic peace alongside a political process. That means that we have to strengthen the moderate parts of the Palestinian economy by […] rapid growth in those area[s], rapid economic growth that gives a stake for peace for the ordinary Palestinians. […] economic peace will support and bolster the achievement of political settlements down the line.[275]

Since taking office, Mr Netanyahu has established a ministerial committee—which he is to chair himself—to take forward his economic agenda for the West Bank. Mr Blair welcomed this development.[276] The committee met for the first time in late May, and reportedly expects to be presented with a large number of potential investment projects.[277]

114. Giving evidence in February, Nomi Bar-Yaacov characterised Mr Netanyahu's notion of "economic peace" as "basically no peace process, but giving some economic incentives to Palestinians on the West Bank".[278] However, in March, Mr Rammell told us that there had already "been movement beyond" Mr Netanyahu's exclusively economic focus.[279] Mr Blair said that the economic and the political could "work together", as long as "economic peace" was not a substitute for a political one, and the two instead went together.[280] In his major speech on Israeli-Palestinian issues at Bar-Ilan University on 14 June, Mr Netanyahu said explicitly that "an economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace, but an important element to achieving it".[281]

115. Mr Blair's discussion of the "economic peace" idea suggested that he was seeking to use Prime Minister Netanyahu's desire for economic development on the West Bank as a lever to press for the relaxation of Israel's movement, access and administrative regime there. Mr Blair said that he had pointed out to Mr Netanyahu "on many occasions, you cannot make economic progress on the West Bank unless you deal with these issues of access, movement and other sets of restrictions".[282]

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA-oPt)

116. A second difficulty for Mr Blair's work on West Bank economic development is precisely the obstacle represented by the administrative regime which Israel operates in the territory and the continuing restrictions on Palestinian movement and access across it. In our 2007 Report, we concluded that "the expansion of Israeli roadblocks and the growth of illegal settlements in the West Bank are among the factors that have had a very damaging impact on the economic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories".[283] The International Development Committee reached a similar conclusion in 2008, calling "the continued restrictions on movement and access" "one of the major barriers to the development of a viable Palestinian economy".[284] In addition to the physical obstacles to Palestinian economic life in the West Bank, Mr Blair drew our attention to the administrative ones—for example, pointing to the way in which the need for Israeli permits blocked potential Palestinian development projects.[285] He told us that "if you do not deal with the access and movement issues, the ability to revive the economy quickly will be limited".[286]

117. We conclude that Quartet Representative Tony Blair is making an important contribution to Palestinian economic and institutional development which will be helpful to a future Palestinian state. However, we further conclude that movement, access and administrative restrictions on the West Bank continue to represent a major obstacle to further Palestinian economic development. We recommend that the Quartet Representative should seek to use the Israeli government's stated wish to further economic development on the West Bank as a lever to press for further and significant relaxation in the administrative and security regime which it operates there.

118. A particular element in the economic regime facing Palestinians is the Interim Association Agreement (IAA) between the EU and the PLO (acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority). The Agreement was signed and came into force in 1997, in the framework of the EU's "Euro-Med" process, which is now folded into the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Agreement was intended to enable the progressive liberalisation of trade between the EU and the OPTs, as well as to establish institutionalised political relations. However, Israel does not recognise the Agreement, and obstructs Palestinians' access to the EU's preferential trade regime through its control of administrative procedures and physical access into and out of the West Bank—such that Palestinian businesspeople there are reported sometimes to use "Israel" rather than "West Bank" designations for customs purposes and to request their EU partners to do likewise. The Centre for European Policy Studies has noted that "Palestinian trade with the EU has not taken off, hindered by Israel's non-recognition of the EU-PLO Interim Association Agreement".[287] Although it did not give a breakdown of figures between the West Bank and Gaza, the European Commission has reported that total Palestinian exports to the EU in 2008 fell by 49.1%.[288]

119. Bill Rammell told us that "the UK continues to call, both unilaterally and through the EU, on the Israeli Government to fully recognise, and facilitate the implementation of, the EU-PLO Interim Association Agreement".[289] We also asked the European Trade Commissioner, Baroness Ashton, about the Agreement when she gave evidence to our separate inquiry into "Developments in the EU" in March. In follow-up correspondence, she told us that "current Israeli obstacles to the full implementation of the Agreement need to be removed. We are working on this by making any upgrading of EU/Israel relations conditional upon progress on this issue".[290]

120. We conclude that Israel's failure to allow the full implementation of the EU-PLO Interim Association Agreement is placing significant obstacles in the way of EU-Palestinian trade and thereby damaging both Palestinian and EU businesses. We further conclude that the EU is correct to make the future nature of its relations with Israel, under the terms of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, partly conditional on Israel's cooperation with implementation of the EU-PLO Interim Association Agreement. We recommend that the Quartet Representative should also press Israel on implementation of the EU-PLO Interim Association Agreement as part of his work on Palestinian economic development.

121. A third potential weakness of the Quartet-sponsored work on Palestinian economic and institutional development is that the evidence that it is achieving its stated political objectives remains less than convincing so far. As we have set out above, restrictions on access and movement in the West Bank remain a significant obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian track of the peace process, and—as of early July 2009—serious negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state had yet to be re-launched. As regards the intra-Palestinian balance, we have also outlined the way in which Hamas continues to reject the Quartet conditions and remains in control of Gaza, estranged from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

122. A fourth objection to which the Quartet's policy remains vulnerable is that it is a 'West Bank first' policy, which at most could deliver progress in relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which applied only to the West Bank, given the continued situation regarding Gaza. In our 2007 Report, we concluded that "any attempts to pursue a 'West Bank first' policy would risk further jeopardising the peace process".[291] Nomi Bar-Yaacov reminded us that she had argued against a 'West Bank first' strategy at that time, and she reiterated her position in her evidence to our current inquiry. She called the 'West Bank first' policy "part of the problem".[292]

123. Mr Blair told us that setting Gaza aside had "always been a mistake that we have made in the past". He warned that if the Quartet were to repeat it, it would "find that Gaza will refuse to be left to one side".[293]

124. An issue related to the split between Gaza and the West Bank to which we have previously drawn attention is the development of a transport link between the two territories. The establishment of bus and truck convoys between Gaza and the West Bank was part of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) between Israel and the PLO, but this has not been implemented. When we were in the region in 2005, we met staff of the then Quartet Representative, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who was working on this issue.[294] In his evidence to our current inquiry, Mr Blair told us that the proposals developed by Mr Wolfensohn remained ready to be activated, and that a solution to the issue could be found as part of any process towards a final settlement.[295] However, he warned that, at present, the issue was not "very live" for people in the region and that raising it would be seen as "somewhat rhetorical until other issues are dealt with".[296]

125. We recommend that the Government should continue to do all it can to further the development of plans for a fixed transport link including a road element between Gaza and the West Bank.

126. Finally, in remarks to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) after the Israeli elections in February, Professor Yezid Sayigh of King's College London highlighted two further potential risks arising from the current situation.[297] First, he warned that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had "no political base" and that his government was "totally dependent on continued massive international assistance". Although Professor Sayigh was speaking before the formation of Mr Fayyad's second government in May, there may be a risk that the premier and his immediate officials come to function as an 'island', with a closer relationship with international partners than with local actors. Second, Professor Sayigh warned that:

The Fayyad model of governance, of security, of policing […] is evolving along a path that diverges every single day further and further from the model that Hamas has developed to deal with daily issues […] in Gaza. […] With every month that passes we have two fundamentally different models of government and of security evolving in these two bits. How these may be reintegrated in future is going to pose an immense challenge.

127. We conclude that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must now be understood as essentially a three-way situation, comprising Israel, the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority, and Gaza and Hamas. We further conclude that the continued split in political authority between the West Bank and Gaza represents a central obstacle to progress towards a two-state solution—because of the way in which it weakens the willingness and ability of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides to make deliverable commitments in peace negotiations, and because of the divergent paths of institutional and economic development on which it sets Gaza and the West Bank. We therefore recommend that the UK Government and the Quartet should reject any idea of a 'West Bank first' approach, and make the ending of the West Bank-Gaza split an explicit and urgent objective and work more actively to achieve it.

Palestinian elections

128. The ongoing split between Hamas and Fatah is taking on heightened significance because of the approach of Palestinian elections, to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the post of Palestinian Authority President, which are due by early 2010. As of early July 2009, the timing and conditions of the elections remained unclear, owing to the complex and contested constitutional situation within the OPTs. The European Commission summarised the situation in its April 2009 "Progress Report" on the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in the OPTs:

Although Hamas has insisted that the Basic Law states that the Presidential term is four years, and therefore questioned the authority of President Abbas as of January 2009, the PA [Palestinian Authority] Government and the Palestinian Legislative Council Secretariat consider that the applicable legal basis is the Election Law as amended in 2007, which provides for legislative and presidential elections to be held simultaneously. In this context, and aiming at overcoming the political deadlock in Gaza, the President announced at the end of 2008 that he will call for Presidential and Parliamentary elections as soon as possible and in any case before January 2010 when the term of the PLC ends. Since the President cannot dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council, agreement is needed between Fatah and Hamas for elections to be called.[298]

As we noted in paragraph 57 in Chapter 2, as of early July 2009 Fatah and Hamas have been unable to reach agreement on the holding of elections.

129. The Foreign Secretary told the UN Security Council on 7 January 2009 that "the unity of Palestine is essential to any decent vision of the future. It is also a precondition of a democratic politics of consent in which there is one legitimate authority and in which every Palestinian has a voice in the only process that counts—the peace process".[299]

130. We referred in paragraph 18 above to opinion polling among Palestinians taken immediately after the Gaza conflict which appeared to show Hamas and its leaders gaining ground in comparison with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Such trends have given rise to speculation that Hamas could win any Palestinian elections held soon, just as it won the PLC elections in 2006. However, Mr Blair told us that he did not think that a Hamas victory in the next election was inevitable. Other, more recent, opinion polling by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research suggests that Fatah continues to hold its own. According to a poll taken in the third week of May, President Abbas would win by 49% to 44% in a presidential contest with Mr Haniyeh (53%-42% in Gaza alone). In putative legislative elections, according to this poll, Fatah would receive 41% and Hamas 33%, unchanged from a poll in February. The Fatah-Hamas balance was 46%-35% in Gaza and 37%-31% in the West Bank.[300]

131. Mr Blair suggested that the Quartet's policy in the run-up to any elections would be to continue to focus on ensuring a credible peace process, in order to create a "better chance for people who want the peaceful solution to succeed". Mr Blair said that he did not think that the Quartet was likely to "insert" itself into the electoral process by making a statement in advance about its post-election policy towards Hamas or a Palestinian Authority government including it.[301] For her part, Nomi Bar-Yaacov told us that she "hope[d] that international actors would learn from past mistakes and respect the results [of the elections], no matter which party wins".[302]

132. We conclude that the current contested constitutional situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories creates an obstacle to the development there of a united and democratic state. We therefore conclude that the holding of free and fair elections according to procedures accepted by all parties presents an important potential opportunity for Palestinian state-building, with the possible prospect of bringing the West Bank and Gaza back under a single political authority. However, the elections could also become a source of further political division and institutional break-up. We recommend that the Quartet should do everything possible to facilitate the holding of polls which are accepted by all parties, and should make careful preparations for them so that its stance in light of the results furthers its stated two-state goal.

230   "Quartet Statement on the Situation in the Middle East", 30 January 2006, via Back

231   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 25 Back

232   Ibid., para 50 Back

233   International Development Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2007-08, The Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, HC 522-I, para 7 Back

234   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 36 Back

235   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 60 Back

236   Q 146 Back

237   Q 197; see also Q 182. Back

238   Q 24 Back

239   Q 25; Ev 53; we refer to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal's 25 June 2009 speech in our final chapter, at paragraph 204. Back

240   Q 26 Back

241   Q 135 Back

242   Q 238 Back

243   Q 135 Back

244   Q 137 Back

245   Q 237 Back

246   Q 212; in a Parliamentary answer in March 2009, Mr Rammell said that "Turkey, Syria, Qatar and others" were talking to Hamas, besides Egypt; HC Deb, 2 March 2009, col 1243W; Russia, a Quartet member, has also had contact with Hamas.  Back

247   Q 42 Back

248   Qq 212, 237, 238 Back

249   Q 212 Back

250   "Six Mitchell principles", Irish Times, 27 January 1996 Back

251   Qq 96, 134 Back

252   Q 135; on this point, see Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, paras 26-60. Back

253   Ev 50-51; we briefly consider recent developments in Lebanon in paragraphs 175-180 in Chapter 6. Back

254   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 120 Back

255   FCO, Eighth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, Global Security: The Middle East, Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 7212, October 2007, para 71 Back

256   Ev 51 Back

257   Q 96 Back

258   HC Deb, 12 May 2009, col 211-5WH Back

259   Q 224 Back

260   Q 212 Back

261   Statement by Middle East Quartet, 27 June 2007, via archive of Quartet statements at Back

262; see Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, paras 80-81. Back

263   Q 233 Back

264   Q 190 Back

265   Q 181 Back

266   Q 181 Back

267   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, paras 67, 83 Back

268   Q 179 Back

269   Qq 190, 230 Back

270   Q 190 Back

271   Q 140 Back

272   HC Deb, 19 January 2009, col 501-3 Back

273   International Development Committee, The Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, para 68 Back

274   Q 190 Back

275   "Netanyahu: Economics, not politics, is the key to peace", Haaretz, 21 November 2008 Back

276   Q 192 Back

277   "PM Netanyahu convenes Ministerial Committee on improving situation of the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria", statement by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser, 27 May 2009, via Back

278   Q 48 Back

279   Q 147 Back

280   Q 225 Back

281   Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University, 14 June 2009, via Back

282   Q 192 Back

283   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 83 Back

284   International Development Committee, The Humanitarian and Development Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, para 47 Back

285   Q 198 Back

286   Q 226 Back

287   Michael Emerson, Natalie Tocci and Richard Youngs, "Gaza's hell: Why the EU must change its policy", Centre for European Policy Studies, 13 January 2009 Back

288   European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, "Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2008: Progress Report: The Occupied Palestinian Territory", SEC(2009) 519/2, 23 April 2009, p 10 Back

289   Ev 53 Back

290   Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from Baroness Catherine Ashton, European Trade Commissioner: Follow-up to the oral evidence session on 11 March 2009, written evidence submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee's inquiry into Developments in the EU, 8 April 2009, published online at; we consider the "upgrading" of EU-Israel relations further in paragraphs 148-151 in Chapter 5. Back

291   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: The Middle East, para 60 Back

292   Q 39 Back

293   Q 196 Back

294   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2005-06, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 573, paras 212-213 Back

295   Qq 221-222 Back

296   Qq 218, 220 Back

297   Remarks to the discussion meeting "The Gaza War and the Israeli Elections: What Next?", 13 February 2009, recording available on the IISS website, Back

298   European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, "Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2008: Progress Report: The Occupied Palestinian Territory", SEC(2009) 519/2, 23 April 2009, p 4 Back

299   "Statement to the United Nations on Gaza (07/01/2009)", via Back

300   Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, PSR - Survey Research Unit Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No. 32, 21-23 May 2009, via Back

301   Q 239 Back

302   Q 46 Back

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