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Middle East

Volume 536: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2011

12. What recent assessment he has made of the status of the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement. (83294)

13. What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Palestine; and if he will make a statement. (83295)

We continue to support the resumption of negotiations on a two-state solution, based on the timetable set out by the Quartet. Political will and leadership are needed from both sides to break the current impasse. We welcome the progress that the Palestinian Authority has made in building the institutions of a functioning state. We continue to call on Israel to revoke its decisions to withhold tax revenues and to accelerate the construction of settlements. We remain concerned about the impact of the restrictions on Gaza.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that it is time that the Palestinians returned to meaningful negotiations with the Israeli Government to ensure that there is a proper peaceful settlement, as we would all wish, rather than pursuing admission to the UN?

It is absolutely time for both sides to return to meaningful negotiations. The framework for that now exists, with the timetable set out by the Quartet at the end of September. Under that timetable, by 26 January both sides are meant to present their own substantive proposals on borders and security. I of course encourage the Palestinians to do that without preconditions, but I also encourage Israel to do so in a decisive and convincing manner.

The humanitarian crisis is still ongoing in Gaza. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to support trade and the banking system, to help the economy grow, and to ensure that ordinary people have the basic services that they need for a decent life?

We are clear that more needs to be done on Gaza. Israel’s decision to move from a list of 120 permitted goods to a list of specific prohibited items was a positive step, but there has been no fundamental change in the crossings regime or in the economic stagnation of Gaza. We are working alongside our colleagues in the European Union to try to achieve some real changes on the ground, and that means helping Israel to meet its target of reaching pre-2007 levels of exports, with resumed access to traditional markets.

It is very hard to see how there can be any confidence in Israel’s proposals while the settlements continue, the settler roads and the wall continue to be built, there is not free movement of Palestinians on the west bank, and the encirclement of Gaza continues. Will the Foreign Secretary put real pressure on the Israeli Government not just to stop settlement building but to remove all the settlements from the west bank?

The Israeli Government are in no doubt about opinion in this country and the opinion of this Government about that. Settlements on occupied land are illegal. We are very clear about that and have condemned recent decisions to accelerate settlement building, and I condemn them again today. That is a mistake by Israel, which does not bring peace any closer or help us arrive at a two-state solution. The right approach for Israel now is to embrace the negotiations of which I have spoken, and to do so in a decisive and generous spirit.

The current situation on negotiations is that the Quartet has asked both sides to put forward proposals on security and borders. The Palestinians have put forward initial proposals, but Israel has failed to do so. If we get to 26 January, the end of that period, and settlements continue to be built and there has been no progress in negotiations, what will the Foreign Secretary’s view be of Palestine’s application for full membership of the United Nations?

There have been initial proposals from Palestinians, but both sides are required to present more substantive proposals by 26 January. If that does not happen and the Quartet process does not succeed, the peace process will be entering a new crisis and a very troubling and concerning phase. I do not want to anticipate now how we will react to that in future at the United Nations. I set out our current position in my statement of 9 November.

In view of the complete lack of trust between Israel and Palestine, we have to dig deep to find common ground between the two sides. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the short term we should focus on confidence-building measures to provide a platform for the resumption of negotiations in the future?

Yes, all confidence-building measures will be welcome; indeed, the Quartet and its representative Tony Blair have often worked on them. We would welcome such measures alongside the Quartet process of which I have been speaking, but we still have not seen any such measures in recent times.

Has the Foreign Secretary ruled out accepting that Hamas can be part of any peace process unless and until it signs up to the Quartet principles?

Hamas rules itself out by its behaviour at the moment, there is no doubt about that. That is the current position. Of course, there is discussion of Palestinian reconciliation. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we talked about that in the House yesterday. We look to a reconciled and new Palestinian Authority to have independent figures in it, to respect non-violence, to be in favour of a two-state solution and to respect previous agreements made by the Palestine Liberation Organisation.