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Middle East Peace Process

Volume 593: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2015

I have to be candid with my hon. Friend: progress has stalled pending the Israeli general election on 17 March. The British Government strongly supported US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to reach a final status agreement and were disappointed that the parties did not make more progress in 2014. I have discussed many times with Secretary Kerry, most recently when we met in London on 21 February, what the next steps will be. We will press the US to revive the initiative and all the parties to resume serious negotiations as soon as possible after the Israeli elections, and I urge them to be ready then to step up and show the bold political leadership that will be necessary to achieve peace.

I am glad to hear that my right hon. Friend will join me in asking for renewed international pressure on Hamas to disarm and renounce violence. Does he agree that unless that happens it is difficult to envisage a unified and prosperous Palestinian state existing alongside Israel?

My hon. Friend is right that for an enduring solution Hamas must disarm and be prepared to accept Israel’s right to live in peace, but Israel must also stop making illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We need to keep up the pressure on both sides if we are to get a sustainable solution.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most positive possibilities for advancing peace in the middle east would be the success of the international negotiations with Iran on its nuclear projects? Will he take this opportunity to make it clear that any attempt to disrupt those talks by the Israeli Prime Minister when he addresses the United States Congress later today would be bad for the whole of the middle east and bad for Israel too?

My reading of the US Congress is that it probably does not need much encouragement to instinctively be very sceptical about the process of dialogue with Iran on the nuclear dossier. However, some small progress is being made there, and I would very much regret any attempts to destabilise or derail that process. On the wider question, settling the Israel-Palestine issue is the big roadblock to a more enduring peace in the middle east.

Does the Foreign Secretary think that peace will not be forthcoming until Hamas renounces violence and can speak with a single voice? In Israel, we have seen the emergence of a moderate centre ground. Does he think that either condition is going to happen?

I am going to be slightly careful about the second part of my right hon. Friend’s question because Israel is two weeks away from a general election, so I do not want to speculate about different parts of the political spectrum. What is clear is that there needs to be a broad-based movement within Israel that seeks peace, understands that trade-offs are required in order to achieve peace, and places the greatest premium on getting an acknowledgement of Israel’s right to live inside peaceful pre-’67 borders in perpetuity.

Is it true that Tony Blair is still a so-called middle east peace envoy? What progress has he secured on the ground, and do the UK Government still have confidence in his efforts?

It is true that Tony Blair remains the Quad envoy to the middle east. Mr Blair has made a large number of visits to the region; most recently he has been in Gaza. He continues to engage, and I have no doubt that his role will be kept under constant review.

May I take my right hon. Friend back to the question of settlements, which it is accepted throughout this House are wholly contrary to international law? More to the point, the continual encroachment by the Israeli Government makes it impossible for East Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state. Can he conceive of any circumstances where a leader of the Palestinians would be able to accept a peace arrangement based on giving up East Jerusalem?

I think that is highly unlikely. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, the Government’s position is that that should not be the case. I have said in this House before and I will say again that settlements are just buildings. Buildings can be built and buildings can be removed, and we must not allow illegal building to stand in the way of a sustainable solution if it can otherwise be found.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary agrees that the middle east peace process will be more difficult to restart if reconstruction in Gaza continues to proceed as slowly as it is currently. What further efforts, if any, will Ministers be making to speed up the delivery of aid, including British aid, that was promised by the international community at the Cairo conference, before they hand over the challenge to this Front Bench on 8 May?

If I may say so, I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting a little bit ahead of himself there.

We have a good track record on the delivery of our aid pledges in respect of Gaza. A number of other countries have made very forward-leaning aid pledges but they have not yet been followed through. So there is a problem with money, but there is also a physical problem of being able to get materials into Gaza and get works progressed. That is caused partly by the security situation in Sinai and the Egyptian response to that, and partly by the situation between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. I do not think, honestly, that we are going to get much progress before the Israeli general election, but as soon as that election is out of the way, this has to be a major priority.