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Middle East

Volume 482: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2008

1. What recent assessment he has made of the prospects for peace in the middle east; and if he will make a statement. (234527)

The Annapolis process has been a first step in restoring trust between the parties. We should try to build on it to create a process that can deliver a broader peace, in which all exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities. That would be a true settlement between Israel and all Arab states. I hope that it will be given new momentum from the beginning of the new Administration in the United States.

Following the Syrian Foreign Minister’s recent visit to London, how will the Foreign Secretary develop that specific relationship, especially in encouraging the Syria-Israel dialogue, which Turkey brokered?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. First, we will seek to continue to say to the Syrians that they have important responsibilities in the middle east, notably in respect of relations with Iraq and with Lebanon, as well as with Israel, but that they also have much to gain from a comprehensive settlement—the Arab peace initiative provides an important basis for that.

Secondly, I met the Turkish Foreign Minister last Friday. Turkey has brokered the four rounds of peace talks between Syria and Israel, and I urged him to continue his important work. When I am in Israel next week, I shall also urge the Israelis to continue that important track in the peace process.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, today, at a rally in Ramallah, President Abbas told the thousands of people gathered there:

“The ways of the shahids”—

the martyrs—

“Arafat, Abu Jihad, George Habash and even Sheikh Ahmed Yasin—are the ways we recognise. These are the ways in which we are meant to preserve the national interest of the Palestinian people.”

I have not seen that quotation. As soon as Question Time is over, I will try to find out the details. I believe that hon. Members of all parties have felt that President Abbas is, in the words of the Israeli Prime Minister, “a soldier in the army of peace.” My hon. Friend has given a striking quotation, and I will investigate it as soon as I am back in the office.

Does the Foreign Secretary genuinely believe that, in the two-state solution, it is possible to negotiate a viable and autonomous Palestine, without involving all the representative elements of the Palestinian people, including Hamas, which has recently said that it envisages a Palestinian state existing alongside an Israel based on the 1967 borders?

The Palestinian people need to be represented by a single authority and a single elected leader, and that is President Abbas, about whom we have just been talking. Hamas has the opportunity to join reconciliation talks under Egyptian auspices. The position that President Abbas outlined is an important signal, but it needs to be followed through. That is the basis on which the Palestinians will get the state that they deserve and need, and that the whole region needs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to get a satisfactory outcome in the middle east, we must engage our European colleagues more energetically? The new Minister for Europe is an energetic colleague. Could not she be sent around Europe banging heads together to get greater involvement on the issue that we are considering and other issues?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is many things, but a head banger is not the first phrase that comes to mind. I assure my hon. Friend that she has already toured the capitals of Europe, notably, Prague, Sofia and Paris, and I am sure that the middle east was on her agenda. My hon. Friend is right that the European Union has an important role to play. It already supports humanitarian efforts for the Palestinians and plays an important role in training Palestinian security forces, which are vital if a Palestinian state is to come into being alongside a secure Israel.

May I say to the Foreign Secretary that it would be helpful if he could impress on his Israeli counterparts that the behaviour of the Israeli military courts in Gaza is damaging Israel’s reputation and makes the prospect of a peace settlement yet more remote?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point. I will certainly discuss the situation in Gaza with the Israeli Government. We have discussed the situation of the Gazan MPs in the House before, and I will certainly raise that, too. We have discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which will also be on the agenda. I will take up and look into the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises.

Has my right hon. Friend had any talks with the Israelis about the huge number of children who are held without charge in Israeli jails, against the Geneva convention and outside the occupied territories?

I have not had such talks, but I am happy to take them up when I meet my Israeli counterpart next week.

Given that only last night the Prime Minister described Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the greatest challenge to non-proliferation in the middle east and indeed the world, could the Foreign Secretary say why, a year after the Prime Minister promised further European sanctions, those sanctions are still not in place and why Iran is not even on the agenda for the EU Foreign Ministers meeting due on 11 and 12 December?

There certainly are further sanctions than there were a year ago, notably those exercised through Security Council resolution 1803, which has been put into practice by the European Union, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman was referring to oil and gas sanctions, which are important. He and I agree that we need to ensure that financial measures in the oil and gas sector are taken forward, and we continue to have that dialogue. We are trying to achieve unanimity across the E3 plus 3, because it is the basis on which to confront Iran. However, I assure him that the European Union is fulfilling its responsibilities. I do not know which forthcoming meeting the hon. Gentleman was referring to. The General Affairs Council met this week and I am happy to tell him that Iran is a regular topic of discussion. Indeed, I can assure him that it is certainly not suffering from a lack of focus.