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Middle East Peace Process

Volume 522: debated on Tuesday 1 February 2011

2. What recent assessment he has made of progress in the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement. (37141)

3. What recent representations he has received on the UK’s involvement in the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement. (37142)

Negotiations are the only way to achieve the national aspirations of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. We are deeply concerned about the breakdown in talks, and we are working closely with the United States and the European Union to see a return to direct negotiations. I hope that the Quartet meeting on 5 February will be clear that negotiations must resume quickly. The entire international community, including the United States, should support 1967 borders as being the basis for resumed negotiations. The result should be two states, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both, and a fair settlement for refugees.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. I hope he shares the excitement of many people in this country at seeing people stand up to one-party rule in Tunisia and Egypt. Will he explain what steps the Government are taking to encourage the spread of democracy—not just in the middle east, but in north Africa?

Focusing on the middle east, one thing that would help democracy across that area is a successful outcome to the middle east peace process—a two-state solution with a viable, contiguous and democratic Palestinian state alongside a secure and democratic Israel. The middle east peace process is fundamental, but our constant message more broadly across the middle east is how important it is to move in the direction of more open and flexible political systems—with each country finding its own way to achieve that—as well as towards sound economic development. The spending I have announced in a written statement today includes £5 million for an Arab human development programme, which is intended to assist civil society and democratic development in the Arab world, so this will become part of the important issue my hon. Friend raises.

Since signing the peace accord with Israel in 1979, Egypt has been a key figure in trying to broker peace and stability in the middle east. Recent events in Egypt obviously raise concerns about the future direction of its foreign policy. Will the Secretary of State tell us what role the UK Government will play in ensuring that, in the likely event of regime change, Egypt will continue to play a constructive role in the middle east?

The hon. Lady raises a vital issue. Over a period of more than 30 years, as she says, Egypt has played a positive and moderating role in the middle east—a positive role towards achieving a wider peace in the middle east. We regard it as of paramount importance that Egypt continues to do that in the future. We are engaging with politicians of many different views in Egypt. I spoke to the Foreign Minister on Sunday night and I hope to speak to Vice President Suleiman shortly after this Question Time to encourage Egypt to have the broad-based Government and real and visible change that will allow an orderly transition, which will not only help to achieve the domestic aspirations of the Egyptian people, but allow the country to continue to play the role in foreign policy that it has played in recent decades.

The Foreign Secretary will recall that it was the vision of Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat and King Hussein that led to the agreements on behalf of Israel, Egypt and Jordan respectively. It would be a tragedy if either of these agreements were to be casualties of the unrest in Egypt and the apparent unrest in Jordan. Will the Foreign Secretary undertake to bend every possible effort to ensure that these agreements, which are, after all, the only success in the middle east peace process, are maintained?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. This is one reason why we do not want Egypt to fall into the hands of extremism or, indeed, into prolonged disorder. That is why we have called—European Foreign Ministers joined together in doing so yesterday at our meeting in Brussels—for an orderly transition to a broadly based Government, with free and fair elections in prospect in Egypt, because we think it will help the country to continue to play that role. I also visited Syria last week to encourage that country to reconsider and approach again the subject of a permanent peace between Israel and Syria.

Two years after the Israeli assault on Gaza, which slaughtered 1,400 Palestinians, including 300 children, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the situation of destitution, dereliction and malnutrition in Gaza is still appalling because of the blockade? The UN representative, the admirable John Ging, is giving up his post and moving to New York. Will the Government take every possible action to require the Israelis to lift this dreadful blockade?

We remain very concerned about the situation in Gaza and disappointed overall by Israel’s easing of restrictions there. There has been some welcome progress—the move from a white list to a black list and the increased volume of imports are welcome—but a fundamental change is needed to achieve pre-2007 levels of exports as soon as possible and an improvement in co-operation with the UN and non-governmental organisations. We say again that the blockade of Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable.

Is there not at least one piece of good news from the middle east, in the shape of the very encouraging economic growth that has taken place on the west bank? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an indication of what could be achieved through compromise on the outstanding issues and movement towards a genuine, mutually agreed two-state solution?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I visited Ramallah in November, I saw a dramatic contrast with what I had seen on a previous visit a few years earlier in terms of economic development. However, such development has not been as dramatic throughout the west bank, and much more could be achieved. What my hon. Friend has identified is part of the dream of peace in the middle east and a viable two-state solution.

I agree with the Foreign Secretary that events that are currently unfolding in the middle east and north Africa render the need for a search for a durable peace in the middle east more, not less, urgent. However, the Palestine papers have proved pretty conclusively that it is not the Palestinians who have not been prepared to compromise. What pressure can we put on Israel to ensure that it understands that the requirement for compromise applies to it as well, not just to everyone else?

Clearly all sides would have to make compromises to arrive at a two-state solution, and we have conveyed that message strongly to Israel in recent weeks. We have clearly expressed our disappointment that the settlement moratorium was not continued, and have made plain that we regard settlements as illegal. When Foreign Minister Lieberman of Israel visited London on Monday last week, I argued strongly that Israel needed to make the necessary compromises to allow direct talks to resume and to pave the way for a two-state solution. We will continue to convey that message.