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Ceasefire (Gaza)

Volume 454: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2006

We welcome the mutual ceasefire in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israel. Like everyone else, we were concerned that in the early part of the ceasefire Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, but we welcome the public commitments of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to make it work. All sides need to use this opportunity to take measures to restore confidence and return to the road map. A great deal of energy, commitment and continued effort is required from the international community to help to facilitate that.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but does he not think that it is time that pressure was put on the American Government to make a concerted effort to sort out the middle east question, particularly the road map to peace?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited the region from 9 to 11 September and met key leaders. He believed that it was important to visit the region to exchange ideas and to start to identify a way forward for the parties, as that can lead to genuine dialogue through negotiations and a way back to the road map. I do not doubt that he will urge our American allies to devote more energy to that re-engagement in his impending visit to Washington.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) recently visited Sri Lanka, and he put his finger on an important issue in peace building and efforts to reinvigorate the procedure. He noted that it is not enough for the parties to be brought together once every six months in Geneva—it is something that must be worked at day and night, as was the case under Prime Minister Major. People must construct back channels, and explore ways to bring the sides together. It is about peace building, and those are not easy techniques to evolve. We should not assume that it is enough to hold the occasional grand meeting at which the great and the good are brought together and various resolutions are arrived at. We have to do much more, as it is about building peace from the bottom up.

May I reinforce what the Minister has just said about peace building? It is essential that both sides get rapid benefit. In the absence of rapid benefit, there is never support for the process.

I agree entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. As he knows as well as any of us, it should not be rocket science. I have met people who said that Egyptian contractors could be used to build 200,000 new houses in Gaza. Imagine what that would do for employment in the area. There are plenty of people with good intentions. There is no shortage of resources, but there is a shortage of political leadership and will to get on with it—and to get on with it quickly.