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Volume 462: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2007

11. What assessment he has made of the prospects for a viable Palestinian state following the Hamas action in Gaza. (146823)

The middle east peace process is one of our highest priorities. Our objective remains a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two-state solution is the only realistic basis for a just and lasting peace, despite Hamas actions in Gaza. That means a viable state of Palestine living in peace and security alongside the state of Israel. Both parties need to fulfil their obligations in order for that to become a reality. The international community has a key role to play in helping to secure that outcome, and the Government are fully committed to doing whatever they can to help.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but does he not agree that it is a secure economic future for the Palestinians that will make a future Palestinian state viable? Will he tell the House what the Government are doing to help the economic development of the Palestinian people?

I doubt whether there is a politician across the world who has paid more attention than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to trying to find economic solutions to the problems in Gaza and the west bank as part of a peaceful solution to that long-running conflict. We will continue to do so, because we recognise that the lack of jobs and the fact that there is no sense of an economic future are a curse on the region. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will continue to put the resources required into ensuring that we play our part in the rebuilding of the infrastructure of both Gaza and the west bank.

Does the Minister accept that the Israeli Government themselves, however inadvertently, played a not insignificant role in the rise of Hamas, not least by encouraging continued settlement building and continually snubbing President Abbas in the early days? Does he accept that there is no way forward on the two-state solution, which we all desire, unless all the parties with real power in the area, including Hamas itself, are part of the process?

We have never denied that Hamas should play a part, but it must be a constructive part. I would very much like it to play that role, which I believe the Palestinian people elected it to play. However, we cannot treat Hamas in the same way as other players in the region if it supports suicide bombers and if it plays a game of violence, and does not take a peaceful approach to the problem. There is no question but that Hamas was the democratic expression of the majority of the Palestinian people in the elections—that is not disputed—but the hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot deal with a Government with elected representatives who advocate terrorism as a way of achieving some kind of political settlement in such a sensitive area.