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Israeli Prime Minister

Volume 301: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1997

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If he will make a statement about his recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel. [15995]

Prime Minister Netanyahu and I had a two-hour meeting, covering the middle east peace process and other regional issues and bilateral relations. I made clear our support for Israel's security, but also set out our concerns about the current state of the peace process and the urgent need to move forward on issues such as the airport and sea port in Gaza, free passage between Gaza and the west bank, an end to the expansion of settlements and further redeployments of Israeli troops from the Palestinian entity. Britain is committed to a successful outcome of the middle east peace process on the basis of peace with security for Israelis and peace with justice for Palestinians.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will continue to encourage progress towards accelerated final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians? Does he agree that we can make a major contribution to the peace process by promoting the economic development necessary to underpin it?

I entirely agree that progress towards final status talks would be desirable, but there is a lack of confidence on both sides that an offer of accelerated final status talks would be genuine. There must be some interim agreements as a gesture of good will and good faith to make it possible to proceed.

It is vital that economic progress underpins the peace process. One of the problems in the middle east is that the income and standard of living of most Palestinians have declined during the period of peace. That must be reversed. We must show the people on the back streets of Gaza that the peace process will deliver real improvements in their standard of living.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that pressure should be brought to bear on Chairman Arafat, who made certain agreements in Oslo that have not been kept? It is unfair to expect Israel to go beyond the Oslo agreement when that agreement has not been fulfilled.

Nobody is asking the Israeli Government to go beyond the Oslo accord. They are being asked to adhere to an agreement that, although it was entered into by a previous Government, is binding on the successor Government, as any international agreement is. We repeatedly urge on the Palestinian National Authority the need to deliver greater security. To be fair, most international observers agree that there has been an improvement in the authority's efforts on that. However, the authority is not helped in its attempts to improve security if it is denied the money with which to pay its policemen for two months.

As my right hon. Friend knows, 29 November is the 50th anniversary of United Nations Security Council resolution 181, which partitioned Palestine. As we approach that anniversary, has my right hon. Friend been able to impress on the Prime Minister of Israel the need to move towards final status negotiations, to resolve the problems with the Palestinians and to include in those negotiations the right of the Palestinians to a state?

It has long been the position of the British Government that the possibility of statehood for the Palestinian entity should not be excluded from the final status talks. The sooner we make progress on interim agreements, such as opening the Gaza sea port and airport, which would be an immense boost to the local economy, the sooner we can reach the final status talks to consider the larger issues.