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Middle East Peace Process

Volume 561: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2013

13. What recent assessment he has made of the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement. (152358)

Progress towards achieving a lasting two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians remains a top foreign policy priority. I welcome the efforts that Secretary Kerry has put into the middle east peace process since taking office. The UK will make every effort to mobilise the European Union and Arab states behind decisive US-led moves for peace.

With the US Secretary of State rightly attempting to encourage both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships back to the negotiating table, does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern at the resignation of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad? Has he conveyed to the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, the need for Mr Fayyad’s economic reforms to continue?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that we are concerned about the resignation of Salam Fayyad, who has done a great job of building institutions for Palestinians. He is remaining in office for an interim period of several weeks as consideration is given to a successor. We are certainly always in touch with the Palestinian leadership, and they know that we strongly believe that the economic programme that Salam Fayyad has pursued must be continued.

My right hon. Friend may be aware that Prime Minister Netanyahu has emphasised his new Government’s commitment to an independent Palestinian state through direct negotiations. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of reports of Palestinian Authority-sanctioned incitement, which remains an obstacle to a genuine peace settlement?

President Obama’s commitment is very important, and his visit to the region last month was successful. He argued in Jerusalem that peace is necessary, just and possible, and we should strongly welcome the involvement of the United States. There will be many obstacles in the path on both sides, and many forms of behaviour and many things that are said will make the process more difficult. We have to overcome those and work with the leaderships of the Israelis and the Palestinians on the basis that they are willing to come to a negotiated peace.

20. In recent days, rockets have fallen on the Israeli town of Eilat and the Egyptian authorities have intercepted a ship containing arms destined for Gaza and Sinai. In view of that, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the implementation of United Nations resolution 1860, which deals with international arms smuggling, must be an integral part of any peace settlement? (152366)

Yes, the hon. Lady is right. On 17 April at least two rockets hit Eilat, in southern Israel, reportedly fired from Sinai, and militants have fired a number of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel since 26 February. All of that makes pursuing a peace process and securing a two-state solution more difficult. It is very important that every country fulfils its international responsibilities under UN resolutions to intercept arms shipments.

Can the Foreign Secretary say why Palestinians should trust Britain when there is not a level playing field—literally—because the Government are supporting a European international football tournament taking place in Israel?

The fact is that both sides have a level of trust first in the United States, and then in many other countries in the world, including the UK, to take forward the process. I will visit the region in the coming weeks to reinforce that and to try to accelerate everything that we are talking about. In general in world affairs, I do not believe that sporting fixtures should be an obstacle to political progress of any form, and I do not think they will be in this case.

Does the Foreign Secretary not realise that any progress between Israel and Palestine is very unlikely to move on at all while the settlement building, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza continue? Until Israel radically modifies its behaviour towards the Palestinian people, how can there be any progress?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware of our condemnation of settlement activity on occupied land, and I am happy to reiterate that today. It is one reason why carrying the process forward is such an urgent matter. Settlement activity means that within a foreseeable time, a two-state solution will no longer be practical. Secretary Kerry has put that case, and the United States Administration accept it. We have to try to make a success of the process, including by coming to a conclusion on all final status issues.

Does the Foreign Secretary think it would be helpful or unhelpful for there to be elections in the west bank and Gaza strip this year?

As believers in democracy we are always in favour of people having their voices heard, and we would be reluctant ever to regard elections as unhelpful. We hope, of course, that in any elections, people who are ready to make peace will be successful so that this long-running conflict can be resolved.