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Middle East

Volume 559: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2013

2. What recent steps the Government have taken to improve the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. (145875)

5. What recent steps the Government have taken to improve the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. (145878)

7. What recent discussions he has had with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts to encourage the resumption of negotiations. (145880)

13. What recent assessment he has made of the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. (145886)

There is a clear need for the United States to lead an effort to revive the peace process. This was top of the agenda of my recent discussions with Secretary Kerry, and I welcome the focus that he has brought to bear on the issue since his appointment. We will make every effort to mobilise European and Arab states behind decisive moves for peace.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the starting point for negotiations should be the legal status quo—that is, that the whole of the west bank and east Jerusalem, within the 1967 borders, is Palestinian land, as agreed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in resolution 242—and not the facts on the ground created by illegal settlement building?

Across the House, all of us have commented clearly about illegal settlement building on occupied land, but I think the starting point for negotiations has to be a common political will. That needs to be there in Israel, where a new Government are being formed, and among Palestinians, who continue to discuss reconciliation among each other. The true starting point is a common willingness to enter again into negotiations and to develop the middle east peace process, with the leadership of the United States but with the support of us all.

The Foreign Secretary seems to expect the Palestinians to have the patience of Job. He might be aware that, in the coming months, Israel is set to demolish hundreds of homes in the Palestinian town of Silwan to make way for a tourist attraction. Is he also aware that that is the single largest proposed demolition of Palestinian homes since 1967? What will he do to try to instil a sense of reality among the Israeli authorities to stop this unlawful theft of Palestinian land, which can only hinder the search for a two-state solution?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that such actions hinder the search for a two-state solution. Our condemnation of illegal settlement building and of demolitions on occupied land has been very clear across the House, as I have said. The important thing in the coming months is to move beyond that and to get into successful negotiations. The only answer, in the end, will be an agreed two-state solution, and the time for that is slipping away. The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned patience. The world has been patient, but the time in which a two-state solution can be agreed is now slipping away, partly because of changing facts on the ground. That demonstrates the urgency, and I believe, in the light of all the discussions I have had with Secretary Kerry so far, that he is fully seized of the importance and urgency of the issue.

I know that the Foreign Secretary is very much of the view that time is not on our side, and he has just reiterated that this morning. With that in mind, will he update Members on the situation in Lebanon, which I know he visited last week.

I visited Lebanon the week before last, and it is a country whose stability we want to support. While I was there, I announced additional support for the Lebanese armed forces as well as for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. We do our best to contribute to the stability of the Lebanese state, but that is often fragile—not least because of what is happening in Syria at the moment. I believe that we have many friends in Lebanon and that our announcements were strongly welcomed there.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Israeli Prime Minister has recently given Tzipi Livni Cabinet responsibility for negotiations with the Palestinians. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the appointment of a known vocal campaigner for a two-state solution is a welcome development? When will he or his Ministers meet Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterparts to see how Her Majesty’s Government could extend support for negotiations?

Of course we should and do welcome the appointment of Mrs Livni, although I stress that the final composition and make-up of the Israeli coalition has not yet been agreed—these things have not been finalised. Mrs Livni has worked hard in the past to try to bring about negotiations on a two-state solution. We are indeed in regular touch with her and have been even when she was out of government. The negotiations, which failed to reach a conclusion by 1 March now have a further 14 days to produce an Israeli Government by 15 March. We hope that, whatever the composition of that Government, they will be committed to serious negotiations and have the same sense of urgency that we in this House have just expressed.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that a freeze on settlement building is not a precondition imposed by the Palestinians, but a requirement imposed by international law?

From what I have said many times about the illegality of settlement building on occupied land it will be clear to the hon. Gentleman where we stand on matters of international law. Now, however, we have to find a solution to all of this, and that will come only from a successful negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. I do not know anyone who thinks that there will be any other way of bringing about an end to building on occupied land and peace both for Israelis and Palestinians. That is what we want to promote: settlements are obviously a major issue in any such negotiation.

My right hon. Friend said a moment or two ago that the possibility of a two-state solution was slipping away. Does he understand that a large number of people, including well-informed commentators and analysts, believe that that time has now gone. If the position now is that the two-state solution is incapable of achievement, what are the prospects for any stability in Israel in the future?

If, indeed, that possibility has gone, the prospects for stability in the whole region—for Israel and others—would be greatly worsened. We should be clear about that, as it is part of the argument to Israeli leaders to get them to use the time remaining for a two-state solution to be brought about. On that, I differ from my right hon. and learned Friend in that while I think this may be the last chance for a two-state solution and that the time is slipping away, I do not think that the time for it has yet gone. That is why it was at the top of the agenda in all our discussions with the United States at the beginning of this year. We will do everything we can to support American efforts as President Obama arrives in Israel in three weeks’ time.

When the Israelis unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, the result was 7,000 missiles from Hamas on to Israeli towns and cities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any negotiation on the administered territory on the west bank should be accompanied by a guarantee from Hamas of an end to its terrorism?

It is very important that rocket fire comes to an end. I am very concerned at reports of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel last week, which was the first such incident since the ceasefire agreement in November. We call on all parties to respect in full the November ceasefire. We have consistently condemned the firing of rockets into Israel, which is not, of course, a helpful backdrop to peace negotiations.

I share the Foreign Secretary’s view that this is the last chance for a decisive move for peace. Is it not time to make it clear to the Israeli authorities that if it does not work on this occasion—if this move for peace ends as all the others have—the flagrant breach of international law that is represented by illegal settlements over 46 years, since 1967, will finally have to be met by some serious consequences, from the European Union and from ourselves?

It will be important for EU nations, including us, and for Arab nations to give careful and well-calibrated support to the American efforts. I have already been discussing that with Secretary Kerry. We need to allow time and space for this American effort to develop as President Obama visits the region later in the month, but I believe that it will important for us to be able to say in concrete terms, at crucial stages of any negotiations that may develop, what we will do to support the process and to incentivise the parties involved. Of course, it may also be open to us to disincentivise—if I may use that word—those parties at crucial moments.

In the context of conditions for peace, the right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that last Saturday, in Palestine, I visited the mothers and surviving family members—for some have been killed by the Israelis—of Ayman Ismail, who is being held in administrative detention and has been on hunger strike for 246 days, and of Samer Issawi, who is being held on trumped-up charges after being tried twice, once by a civil court which said that he should be released tomorrow and once by a military court which is holding him for 20 years, He has been on hunger strike for 223 days, and is in a critical condition. Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear to Netanyahu that if these men die, their blood will be on his hands?

I think we can be absolutely clear that it is important for justice to be properly done and human rights to be observed on all occasions, for a justice system to be properly upheld, and for problems that have arisen in relation to hunger strikes—of which we have seen many in recent times—to be dealt with through successful talks between the Israeli authorities and those concerned whenever possible. We have urged that. There have been such successful talks in the past, and I hope that the same can happen in this case.