Skip to main content

Middle East

Volume 538: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2012

7. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the Palestinian National Authority on rocket attacks on Israel. (89811)

I met the President of the Palestinian Authority yesterday. We are extremely concerned about the recent escalations of violence, including Israeli air strikes on Gaza and rocket attacks by Palestinian groups on Israel. We condemn any actions in which civilians are hurt or killed and have called on all sides to show restraint and avoid a spiral of retaliation.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that response. In order to move to a two-state solution in the region, did he stress in his conversations yesterday the importance for Palestinian unity of recognising the Israeli state and bringing an end to the rocket attacks?

Of course, that is extremely important, particularly when one considers the number of rocket attacks—it is reported that 758 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel in 2011. We certainly discussed Palestinian reconciliation and the fact that any Palestinian Authority constituted as a result must be able to work with Israel towards a two-state solution. I strongly welcomed the initiative of His Majesty the King of Jordan in bringing Palestinians and Israelis together in recent weeks for discussions. That is a positive development that we want to see continue.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s reply to the previous question. With Hamas raining many hundreds of missiles upon Israel, can the Government do more to try to stop weaponry being smuggled through tunnels into Gaza, and does he agree that the more missiles come over, the harder it is to make peace?

My hon. Friend is absolutely and very evidently right that that does not help peace or the two-state solution that we all so urgently want to see. We call again for such rocket attacks on Israel to end.

I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary met the Palestinian President yesterday. In my later discussions with the President, he was at pains to emphasise the urgent need to make substantive progress in the coming days in the negotiations that the Foreign Secretary mentioned are taking place in Jordan. In the light of this urgency, when did the Foreign Secretary last speak with his Israeli counterpart and what steps are the British Government taking to ensure that ongoing Israeli settlement expansion is not allowed to be a reason for these crucial talks to be derailed?

I also spoke yesterday to the Israeli Government, to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Meridor—I speak sometimes to him and sometimes to my counterpart, Mr Lieberman. On this occasion I called Mr Meridor to stress the need for Israel to respond positively in the negotiations and put forward its own proposals, and I made the case, as I have often done in this House, that Israel needs to make a more decisive and generous offer than we have seen for some years in order to be able to make progress. The Israeli Government are in no doubt about our views and we urge both sides to continue with these talks and not to be so wedded to the 26 January deadline that the opportunity to continue the talks is lost.

I welcome the tenor of yesterday’s conversation with Deputy Prime Minister Meridor. In an earlier answer the Foreign Secretary mentioned the reconciliation process within the Palestinian community. Alongside the immediate prospects for the latest round of talks, will he give the Government’s assessment of the possible implications of a deal reached between Hamas and Fatah? Given Hamas’s stated position on Israel and the peace process, will he also give an undertaking that any internal political agreement reached within the Palestinian community needs to be assessed in terms of the external political implications on the prospects for peace in the wider region?

I agree with that. As I said in answer to an earlier question, it is very important that the Palestinian Authority are constituted in a way that allows them to conduct negotiations with Israel. That includes, importantly, recognising the previous agreements entered into by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and that is a key point, so we hope that that will be continue to be the position of the Palestinian Authority. Of course, reconciliation is meant to pave the way for elections among Palestinians, and we cannot at this stage pre-judge or predict the outcome of those elections.

The Foreign Secretary is right to call for temperance on all sides, but does he agree that it is unacceptable for senior officials and members of the Palestinian Authority to continue to attend cultural events at which individuals call for the end of the state of Israel, and that it is wrong for those officials to support sporting events named after “martyrs”—people who have murdered innocent Israeli citizens?

We do not support any delegitimisation of the state of Israel. We are friends of Israel, and we support the right of Israel to exist in peace and security, but we believe that that peace and security is best served by urgent moves towards a two-state solution, and that always guides our policy.