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Middle East

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

My right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the middle east and north Africa last discussed the matter with Israel’s chief negotiator on the middle east peace process, Tzipi Livni, on 12 June. We have been clear that reuniting Gaza and the west bank under a Government committed to peace is a necessary condition for resolving the conflict.

The Foreign Secretary has said that the United Kingdom’s continued support for the new Palestinian Government depends on their commitment to the principle of non-violence and acceptance of Israel’s legitimate right to exist. Does the UK’s continuing support for Israel also rest on the commitment to non-violence and the Palestinians’ right to a home of their own?

Long-standing recognition of Israel and support for its right to exist is evident in this country, but we want to see all sides in the middle east come together to agree a two-state solution that brings lasting security and peace to Israel and a sovereign, viable state for Palestinians. We will continue to press both sides to resume the negotiations, which are going through a pause at the moment, because time is running out to bring about that solution.

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that Hamas can currently be peace negotiators when only a month ago its Prime Minister called for the bombing of Tel Aviv?

Of course, our policy on Hamas is what it has been for a long time. We look to Hamas to renounce violence, to recognise Israel and to accept previously signed agreements. We call on all those in the region with influence over Hamas to encourage it to take these steps. It has not done so; it should do so. The new Government of the Palestinian Authority do not contain Hamas members. They have signed up to the Quartet principles, which we welcome.

The all-party group on Egypt was in Cairo over the weekend. We heard from the Foreign Minister the reassurance of Egypt maintaining its support for the long-standing peace agreement with Israel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an essential pillar for going forward? Does he also agree with the view that, with all that is going on in the region, both the Israelis and the Palestinians would be unwise to miss the opportunity they have now? Unless they seek a proper negotiation and solution, the outlook for both is bleak if we cannot rekindle the middle east peace process.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said a moment ago, time is running out. Secretary Kerry, through his tireless work in the past year and a half, has created an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to succeed in negotiations on final status issues and on arriving at a two-state solution. Unless that opportunity, which is still open, is seized by both sides, the outlook will be very, very bleak within the next few years.

Will the Foreign Secretary elaborate on discussions he has had with the Israeli Government on the kidnapping of Israeli civilians?

We deplore the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. I discussed this on Sunday with the Israeli security Minister, Mr Steinitz. I will be talking to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman, later today. We again appeal for the safe return of the three teenagers.

I welcome the EU Foreign Minister’s statement, which condemned all extremism and all violence against civilians but welcomed Palestinian reconciliation. Is there any way in which the considerable economic ties between the EU and both Palestine and Israel can be used to encourage both parties back to the negotiating table?

For Israelis and Palestinians, the outlook for economic ties with the whole of the European Union would be very bright indeed if a two-state solution could be agreed. We have been clear that an unprecedented offer of close economic ties is available for Israelis and Palestinians. That is part of the great prize of settling these issues and a further incentive to do so.