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Middle East

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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What plans he has to meet the new Palestinian Prime Minister to discuss the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement. [111605]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

:Both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I regularly discuss the road map with our Arab colleagues. It was one of the subjects raised during our recent, separate visits to the region. I regularly brief Arab ambassadors in London on UK policy towards the middle east, including the peace process. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has invited the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, to visit London.

:Does the Minister understand that what seems to be lacking from his reply and that of the Foreign Secretary is a sense of urgency? The new conditions that pertain in the world post-Iraq, with the President of the United States fully supporting the new process, demand a new sense of urgency from the world. When he next meets representatives of Arab Governments or the Israeli Government, will he remember the word of Brutus in "Julius Caesar"?

"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life.
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures."
Does he agree that we are on such a full sea, that we must take that current, which is flowing strongly in the direction of peace, and that, if we fail, future generations of Palestinians and Israelis will never forgive us?

Et tu, Brute. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been discussing this matter with the American President over a number of months, with more than a little success. The Government have shown throughout that we are aware of the urgency of creating an Israel that is free from terrorism, and a Palestinian state that is viable. In that way, there will be an end to the injustice that has been done to the Palestinian people. The Government are committed to supporting that peace process, and we are working with the Americans and others to ensure that there is full backing for the quartet's road map.

May I add my welcome to the road map? I should also like to echo the comments made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who said that the obligations on the parties were immediate and simultaneous, and not sequential, as some members of the Israeli Government have suggested. However, I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about a related issue—the fact that a number of foreign nationals were shot recently as they attempted either to report what is going on over there, or to promote peace. What representations are being made to the Israeli Government, especially about the case of Tom Hurndall, who was recently shot, and is now in a coma? Yesterday, Israeli forces fired shots over a convoy carrying Mr. Hurndall, even though the convoy bore diplomatic flags and was accompanied by British embassy staff.

:My hon. Friend is right to say that we have serious concerns about the incident to which he refers. I spoke to the Israeli ambassador on Saturday and expressed our deep concerns about the matter. I also asked for a full report to be made after a proper inquiry into the incidents has been held. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also spoken to some of the families concerned. We will pursue these matters with the utmost vigour. They are very serious, and my hon. Friend need be in no doubt that the Government will treat them seriously, as consular matters. We will give as much support as we can to the families concerned, and we will make sure also that the Israeli Government are in no doubt about a problem that seems to occur all too often—the lack of discipline among Israeli defence force soldiers. That issue of discipline needs to be dealt with by the Israeli Government.

Even if the Minister cannot aspire to a Shakespearean vocabulary, will he at least use a jargon-free vocabulary? Can we discard "road maps" and "quartets" and talk about the peace process instead, and then get on with the job?