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Middle East Peace Process

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

7. What assessment he made of progress in the middle east peace process during his visit to the region in November 2008. (246481)

Recent events in Gaza have highlighted more than ever the importance of a two-state solution for any decent vision of the future. The Israelis and the Palestinians must continue to negotiate in 2009. We must make the case, too, for a comprehensive approach to resolving the conflicts in the middle east. The Arab peace initiative is an important basis for progress. Real peace will come only when Israel and the whole Arab world are at peace. That means making progress at the same time on establishing a Palestinian state and on other sources of conflict, notably the Golan heights and stability in Lebanon.

In commending the Foreign Secretary for his key role in drafting the United Nations Security Council resolution seeking to end the devastating violence in Gaza and southern Israel, may I ask what assurances my hon. Friend can give that any new ceasefire agreement will be long-lasting and will serve as a real basis for peace talks in 2009?

My hon. Friend’s question hits on a very important issue. We will certainly do everything that we possibly can to get that durable and sustainable ceasefire, but we do not have the power to mandate it. We are using every ounce of political and diplomatic capital at our disposal, but ultimately to get that sustainable ceasefire we need words to be translated into action—and that means action on the part of Hamas and the Government of Israel.

At the last count, there were more than 600 checkpoints, barriers and fences in the west bank, which undermine human rights, freedom and the economy in that part of the world. What pressure are the Government putting on the Israeli Government to reduce dramatically the number of those barriers?

We are constantly pressing that issue with the Government of Israel. I visited Hebron during my visit just before Christmas and highlighted those concerns. The crossings and the settlements that are illegal on occupied territory are among the components that must be addressed in any lasting peace resolution in the middle east.

Last week, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar broadcast that Hamas was entitled to kill Jewish children anywhere they could be found, anywhere in the world, echoing the messages of hate in Hamas’s charter. Does the Minister believe that those people who challenge Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas’s rockets understand the true nature of Hamas as set down in its charter and as shown by its actions?

I agree with the underlying thrust of my hon. Friend’s question; Hamas is not a benign organisation. It is committed to the obliteration of the state of Israel and to acts of terror. The statement that was made last week saying that it was now legitimate to attack Jewish children anywhere in the world was utterly chilling and utterly wrong.

If it is the case that Iran is using Hamas as its proxy to attack Israel by supplying rockets, what further representations are the British Government making to Egypt to try to control the flow of rockets into Gaza through the tunnels and via the Rafah crossing?

I said earlier that to get a durable, sustainable and immediate ceasefire, one of the critical issues that must be addressed is the flow and the smuggling of weapons across the border, particularly at Rafah. That is why we have constant dialogue with all the parties, and critical discussions are taking place in Egypt at the moment.

Will the Minister assure us that, rather than being diverted by Gaza, more attention will be given to the west bank? Should we not redouble our efforts to get some sort of move forward in the west bank, so that it can be used as an example to show Israelis and Palestinians that it is far easier to make progress through negotiation than through conflict?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Over the past year, genuine progress has been made on building and bolstering the authority of the Palestinian Authority in the west bank. Above all, we need to make progress on all fronts, because until we resolve the conflict in the middle east, we will not resolve many other conflicts in the world.