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Middle East

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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8.

If he will make a statement on the road map for peace between Israel and Palestine. [117945]

We welcome the commencement by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel of the road map and also the personal engagement of President Bush in its implementation. President Bush, Arab leaders and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, met at Sharm el Sheikh on 3 June. There the Arab leaders made clear their commitment to a negotiated solution and their determination to work for that, including by preventing support from reaching terrorist groups.

President Bush, the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers and King Abdullah of Jordan met the next day, 4 June, at Aqaba. There Prime Minister Sharon reiterated his commitment to a contiguous Palestinian state, saying that it was not in Israel's interest to govern the Palestinians, and he undertook to remove settlement outposts. Prime Minister Abbas undertook to work to end the armed intifada and to act against incitement and violence.

In that connection, I know that the House will wish to condemn the actions of those in groups—such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Brigades—who claimed responsibility for the serious attacks and killings at the Erez crossing on Sunday and who are, by those actions, actively seeking to destroy the peace process and the men of peace in the Palestinian Authority.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his answer. In the light of the actions that he mentions that took place at the weekend, and the rejection by Hamas and others of Abu Mazen's best efforts to achieve peace through the road map, does not the Foreign Secretary recognise the problems faced by the Israeli Government in trying to introduce further concessions, with a backdrop of that violence and the rejection of peaceful methods by Hamas and others?

I recognise indeed the very significant problems faced by the Government of Israel, and I applaud the stand that Prime Minister Sharon is now taking, against a lot of opposition, not least from within his own party. At the same time, I greatly applaud the statesmanship shown by the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and the simple fact is that neither side—nor indeed the international community—can any longer allow the agenda for peace to be disrupted and undermined by the men of violence. If we had allowed that in Northern Ireland, we would never have had a peace process. We must not allow that in respect of this much worse conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

I am sure that we all wish the road map well, and I condemn those who are obstructing the process. It is clearly still a very dangerous place and, in that context, I wonder whether I might be allowed to raise the case of my constituent Mr. Tahseen Chaudhry, a fourth-year medical student at Birmingham university, who appears to be have been arrested by the Israeli authorities on or about 20 May, then apparently released on 4 June, but re-arrested by the Jordanian authorities. The family are naturally extremely anxious to know what has happened to that young man. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to make contact with the Jordanian authorities to find out whether they are holding my constituent? Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether British officials will be given access to him? If the Jordanian authorities have any plan to charge him with any offence, can we know what that offence is; and, if not, should he not be released?

I fully understand my hon. Friend's great concern about the fate of the two men involved in the case to which he refers. My understanding is that they were initially arrested by the Israelis, then handed over and taken into custody by the Jordanians. We have been in touch today with the Jordanian authorities, and they have confirmed to our embassy in Amman this morning that both men should be released very soon.

May I join the Foreign Secretary in his condemnation of those in terrorist groups who seek to undermine the process established by the road map? As one who has been critical of Mr. Sharon and his Government in the past, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the symbolism of the dismantling of a number of settler outposts, even though they are relatively minor and, in some cases, uninhabited? Does the Foreign Secretary agree, however, that more than symbolism will be required to meet the full requirements of international law in so far as that relates to settlements? Can he tell us what mechanisms, in his judgment, will be available to the Quartet to ensure that that objective is achieved?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his opening remarks, as the simple truth is that the leaders on both sides, Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon, are showing great courage, including personal courage, in the face of intense and potentially violent opposition from within their own areas. We need to do all that we can to support such statesmen, who are taking such risks to secure a wider peace. Yes, of course there must be more than simply symbolism, but in such a theatre of conflict we should not underestimate the power of symbols, and a start is now being made to remove some of those symbols and shibboleths. Of course, that must be followed by further and tangible action on the ground, which is why the Quartet are not static but are continually in contact to monitor progress and to ensure that that takes place.

We know that, as part of the road map, the American Administration have identified an individual who will stay and work on the road map. Who else will be involved in the road map process? Who is the EU representative? Who will be the United Nations representative? Who will be the Russian representative? What will be their role in helping to take forward the road map?

It is an indication of the high priority that President Bush has given the implementation of this peace plan that he has appointed his own National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to be directly responsible for its implementation. Others will work under Condoleezza Rice in the region. The United Nations representative Ls Terje Roed-Larsen, and a change is currently taking place in terms of the EU representative, because the existing representative has just retired. Active consideration is being given to a replacement for that individual, but the fact that there is currently a vacancy in no sense indicates a lack of determination by all European Union Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers to play our active part in pushing forward the peace process in the middle east.

The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right when he says that we need to support Prime Minister Abbas in the courageous steps that he has taken. He will have seen the seriously unhelpful comments from President Arafat. What do the Quartet propose to do with President Arafat? How do they propose to get round Arafat, who is once again proving to be an obstacle to peace in the middle east?

One of the contributions that the United Kingdom made earlier this year was actively to encourage the reform process within the Palestinian Authority through two sets of meetings held in London in January and February, so that the Palestinians reformed themselves with a new constitution that established a Prime Minister who could be an active and reliable interlocutor for the Israelis and for the international community. Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, that is perhaps one of the most important contributions that we could have made to the peace process.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is easy to be cynical about peace? Does he recall those voices in the media who said that the road map would never be published and never be implemented, and that Britain and America would never give it their full backing? Does he agree that the terrorists will defeat the peacemakers every time, and that the key is to encourage the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab neighbours to work together to dismantle the organisations of terror that are trying to break the road map at the moment?

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. In particular, there was a high level of cynicism, which I always thought was completely misplaced, about whether President Bush was committed to this exercise. He has shown not only by his words but by his deeds that he regards it as his highest foreign policy priority.