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Middle East

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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3.

If he will make a statement on progress with the road map for peace between Israel and Palestine. [111596]

5.

What progress has been achieved with the road map for the middle east; and if he will make a statement. [111598]

11.

If he will make a statement on progress on the middle east road map. [111604]

The publication of the Quartet's road map on 30 April is a major opportunity for both sides to work with international support to achieve a just and lasting settlement to this terrible conflict. All in the international community have worked hard over recent months to reach this point. We expect both sides to respond positively and to start implementation without delay. We shall continue to do all we can to help the parties to reach a settlement.

For the convenience of the House, I should like to announce here the appointment of our outgoing ambassador to Cairo, John Sawers, as the British Government special representative to Iraq. Mr. Sawers will work alongside Chris Segar, head of the newly opened British office in Baghdad, particularly in relation to the political process and our work in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but will he outline to the House what role, if any, Yasser Arafat has to play in this process? Secondly, is he convinced that President Bush and Ariel Sharon are genuine in seeking some sort of settlement with the Palestinians?

Yasser Arafat remains Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, but under reforms that we were happy to support, encourage and indeed facilitate in two sets of meetings in London earlier this year, there have been constitutional changes under which a Prime Minister has been chosen, his appointment endorsed by the representative Palestinian Legislative Council and a Cabinet appointed. Abu Mazen and his Cabinet will undertake most of the detailed work on the implementation of the road map, and we welcome that development.

We believe that the Israeli Government are indeed committed to the process. As for President Bush, I am in no doubt personally of his profound commitment to implement the road map and to see implementation of resolutions 242 and 338, as well as resolution 1397, which for the first time laid down the commitment of the Security Council, with full United States backing, to a two-state solution—a secure state of Israel alongside a viable state of Palestine.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only basis for a lasting settlement in the middle east will involve a secure state of Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state? Does he agree that that requires the Quartet to deliver commitment, courage and determination to make that vision a reality: and, if so, will he encourage it to do so?

Yes, I would. The process requires courage and determination on all sides—not only from the Palestinians and the Israelis, but from the Arab states, which have clear responsibilities to end their support and financing of terrorism and, in due course, fully to recognise the state of Israel.

Will my right hon. Friend make clear the Government's position on Israel's continued activity and settlement in the occupied territories, and does he agree that it is illegal under international law and an absolute obstacle to peace?

It is a matter of legal fact that the settlements are unlawful under international law. Under the road map, we look first to an end to further settlement activity, then, as part of the progress that is mapped out in that document, to a progressive withdrawal by Israel from those settlements.

Do our Government take the position that our US allies are right to continue to include Syria in their list of states that are sponsors of terrorism?

Syria is one of the states in the region that supports rejectionist terrorist organisations operating in Israel and the occupied territories, and we look to Syria to recognise the new realities on the ground and to end such support.

We all welcome the road map. I particularly welcome the Foreign Secretary's reference to the neighbouring states. Does he agree that they could act as a road block, causing detours, if they do not recognise Israel's right to exist in the area?

Let me make it clear that I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but that some of the neighbouring states have played a profoundly constructive role in getting to this point. I would particularly mention—this is not an exclusive list—the work of Jordan, the work of Saudi Arabia and the initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah, and the work of Egypt, especially that of President Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, the head of intelligence, in sponsoring and facilitating the process. The hon. Gentleman is of course right that every Arab and Islamic state has a responsibility to support the process, which will lead to what they say they want—namely, peace in the middle east.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the information that the British-born terrorists who last week committed the Tel Aviv nightclub outrage received support from Damascus reinforces the need for Syria to remove itself from supporting terrorism? What specific actions are the Government taking to ensure that that end is achieved in order to give the road map to peace a chance?

I refer my hon. Friend to my answer to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). The President of Syria and his colleagues have recently had many conversations on the matter, including with my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who is the Foreign Office Minister responsible, and with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visited Damascus last week and delivered, as did my hon. Friend, very firm messages to the Syrian Government about their need to take fully into account the changed circumstances in the region.

I welcome the appointment of John Sawers as the special representative in Iraq. I am sure that he will be a great asset in bringing the process to a sensible resolution.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must be wary not to vest in the road map an element of magic, and that it will ultimately depend on the political will of the Israeli Government and the Palestinians to march along it and successfully to negotiate the details within it? Does he agree that the key is reciprocity—the confidence on each side that the steps laid out are being matched on the other side? What mechanisms will ensure that the reciprocal steps that are made are publicised, thus helping to build and sustain that confidence? Is it not essential that the Quartet, whatever their previous views, are now seen to he completely even-handed in their approach?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his agreement and acceptance regarding the importance of the appointment of John Sawers. I should explain that Mr. Sawers will come to work for me as the new political director of the Foreign Office in the summer, and that his leaving Cairo provides a useful opportunity to make use of his talents in the intervening period.

The right hon. Gentleman is also correct that the road map is no magic solution. Its steps have been well set out in the past in a series of documents, including the Tenet and Mitchell reports. The difference now is that there appears to be an international consensus on those steps, especially full backing for the process from President Bush.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that the arrangement is reciprocal, but each side has a responsibility to take steps immediately and not wait for the other because unless there is good will and an initiative towards it, we will not get the final status settlement that we want in 2005. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the need for the Quartet to monitor progress, publicise that monitoring or its failure and act together.

From the experiences of other peace processes, is not it, sadly, odds on that extreme interests on both sides will try to undermine the progress in the road map through terrorist attacks in Israel and provocation against Palestinians in the occupied territories? What measures can the Quartet and neighbouring Arab states introduce to ensure that such incidents are prevented as far as possible and not allowed to destroy confidence, without which the initiative cannot succeed? In particular, what assurances has the Foreign Secretary been able to give his Israeli counterpart about potential terrorist attacks from this country?

It is an appalling truth that the extremist rejectionist terrorist organisations will try to prevent any democratic progress towards peace by both sides by resorting to bombing, shootings and especially the facility of suicide terrorism. That was apparent in a suicide bombing that was by no means accidentally timed as the Quartet's road map was being published. It is a matter of great regret that the two suicide bombers were British citizens.

Last week, I spoke to Foreign Minister Shalom to express the British Government's—and, I believe, the British people's—condolences on the death of the Israeli citizens. I also said that we would do everything that we could to ensure that the suicide bombers' backgrounds were fully investigated and that such incidents were prevented in future.

I welcome all that my right hon. Friend said, but may I remind him that, if the road map is to succeed, much responsibility will fall on the elected Government in Israel? They have the power to make changes in the area. If they do not allow Abu Mazen and his new Cabinet and Administration the room to exercise power, and simply demand that something happen but simultaneously frustrate it by continuing the occupations, road closures, targeted killing and house demolitions, it will be impossible for any new Administration to gain credence. It will also make it appear that the Palestinians do not want peace. Israel says that it is the only democracy in the area, so surely a greater responsibility falls on the elected Israeli Government to make a bigger gesture, even in the face of adversity.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. However, I believe that the responsibilities lie evenly on the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the states in the region. Israel is indeed a vibrant democracy; that is one of its great strengths. However, we must all acknowledge that the peace party has been undermined in Israel as a direct result of the suicide bombers who have operated so viciously in the months since the intifada was declared.

Am I right that phase 1, which seeks to end terrorism, is designed to be accomplished by this month? More important, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that phase 2—the creation of an independent Palestine—depends on the achievement of phase 1?

I am afraid that I do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question. I think that he is right, but in any event I shall make that clear in due course. I read the whole of the road map over the weekend, but this just goes to show how other things can crowd it out. The answer is certainly very shortly.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who tells me that it will be by the end of May. The time scales for the initial steps to be taken are certainly very swift. What we need to see is an indication of good will from both sides.