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Volume 458: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2007

5. What recent assessment she has made of the political situation between Israel and the Palestinian territories; and if she will make a statement. (128292)

We welcome the latest bilateral meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas on 11 March and hope those meetings continue. We also hope that the national unity Government will support President Abbas in taking the process forward. The peace process will move forward only through constructive dialogue.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for her answer. I hope she agrees that everything needs to be done to support and sustain the unity Government and to encourage the surrounding countries, including Israel, to see that Government as a sign of progress, not a backward step. Will she assure the House that we as a Government are working as closely as possible with the Palestinian Authority to make sure that Corporal Shalit, the Israeli soldier, and Alan Johnston, the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, are released as soon as possible? That will be seen as a test of the credibility of the Palestinian authorities in working for peace for all the people in the region, and not just one faction.

We continue to work closely with the Palestinian authorities and I spoke to President Abbas only yesterday, I think. We welcome the formation of the Government of national unity and we hope to see them move clearly in the direction of respect for the Quartet principles. We will judge not only their platform, but their actions in that respect. I accept entirely the burden of the remarks that the hon. Gentleman made. Few things could do more to breathe fresh life into the middle east peace process than the early release of Corporal Shalit and of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston.

What pressure are the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office putting on the Israeli Government in respect of the continued policy of illegal settlements throughout the west bank by Israel and the continued construction of the wall on Palestinian land, which encroaches on Palestinian villages and prevents the legal and free movement of ordinary Palestinian people? That is a major cause of some of the problems between the two communities.

We continue to have dialogue with the Israeli Government to press them on the issue of settlements, which, of course, we oppose and on the war. Our approach on these matters has been consistent for a considerable period, but certainly we continue to press the Government of Israel on these issues, not least because we believe that they are counter-productive from the point of view of moving the peace process forward.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Hamas should agree the principles enunciated by the Quartet? What steps does she propose to take to make sure that the new unity Government do that as soon as possible?

As I said a moment ago, we continue to have dialogue with those who have been negotiating the formation of the new unity Government. We strongly share the view that this is a moment of considerable potential and that it is important that the new unity Government are seen to move in the direction of the Quartet principles. We also, of course, share the anxiety to maintain international support for the people of Palestine, because their humanitarian and economic situation continues to be grave and needs attention.

What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Palestinian unity Government about the fate of the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who has been missing, presumed kidnapped, for more than eight days, with no word on what has happened to him? Will she use all diplomatic resources and channels at her disposal to ensure Mr. Johnston’s safe return? He is a brave journalist who has done much to illuminate the plight and the suffering of the people of Gaza to the British people.

I assure my hon. Friend that when I spoke to President Abbas we discussed the case of Alan Johnston. For our part, we—the British Government—are using every channel and opportunity that we can to try to secure his release. I am assured by President Abbas that that is also very much a goal of the Palestinian Government and authorities. It is extremely important that we try to secure his release. I saw the tail-end of an interview yesterday with Mr. Johnston’s father. It is particularly sad when someone who has been a long-standing friend of the people of Palestine suffers in this way, and it does nothing to help.