Skip to main content

Israel and Palestine: Middle East Quartet

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What further steps the Middle East quartet plans to take to secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

My Lords, following the quartet’s meeting on 21 March, it agreed to meet in the region soon to review developments and to discuss the way ahead.

My Lords, is not the situation changing a bit, in that the Sunni Arabs are beginning to perceive that there is a growing threat from Iran, as, indeed, does Israel? They are beginning to perceive a common interest. Does it make sense for the quartet to continue to demand capitulation from the Palestinians on the three tough conditions that it has set even before negotiations begin and when the Israelis continue to build settlements?

My Lords, it is not a question of capitulation in any sense or form. The UK and the quartet have made it clear that they will engage with those who are committed to the quartet principles. It would be wrong to expect the Israeli state to have a relationship with a Government who did not recognise its entitlement to exist. We want to work with the Palestinian Government as soon as possible and as soon as they accept those principles. In the mean time, we are working constructively with individuals in that Government who are committed to the quartet principles; for example, we have held meetings with the Foreign Minister, the Interior Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and others.

My Lords, there must be mutual recognition of each others’ right to exist within a fair and equitable two-state solution, but the willingness to do that is lacking on both sides. Is the noble Baroness still convinced that the quartet principle is the central process for moving ahead with Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, given that the Saudi initiative now commands a good deal of support not only within the Arab world but within Israel and that that seems to be a more lively process than the quartet process, which is held back by the Bush Administration and is not moving far in any direction?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to say that there must be balance. In relation to the previous question, I should also have stated that of course we must see an end to settlement building by Israel and an end to the illegal construction of the barrier on Palestinian territories. We believe that the quartet is the right process, but we must ensure that it is a lively one. I believe that it is a lively process and that it should be seen as a political process that must be properly economically underpinned. A lot of work is now being undertaken in that area, which is most important.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House welcomes the fortnightly meetings between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority. Is anything being done to widen the scope and terms of reference of those meetings to deal with the more fundamental issues?

My Lords, I regret that I cannot comment on the scope of those meetings, but I understand that they have had some very practical outcomes. For example, I understand that at the meeting earlier this week it was agreed that the Karni crossing should be opened much more frequently, thus allowing better trade for the Palestinians. I also believe that there was discussion about security.

My Lords, in order to establish a Palestinian state in the future, there will have to be a sustainable economy for the Palestinians. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether, in this awkward period when there is a degree of stand-off for the reason that she has described, the Government can take forward any of the work on helping to build that economy for the future of a Palestinian state?

Yes, my Lords, the UK is working very closely with its EU partners precisely to develop a mechanism to build the capacity of the Palestinian institutions. As my noble friend suggested, that work is crucial if we are going to create a viable Palestinian state. We are working on this closely with our EU partners because we are absolutely determined that the Palestinian state should be properly economically underpinned in order for it to be viable.

My Lords, following the very good question of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, what steps do the Government propose to take to ensure that the new Palestinian unity Government agree as soon as possible with the principles enunciated by the quartet?

My Lords, it is clear from all the statements that the Government have made that they are actively working to try to ensure that the new unity Government are aware of the need to adhere to the quartet principles. If the Government were to do this in a forthright manner, that might make it more difficult for the unity Government adhere to those principles. Therefore, we work behind the scenes with our international partners.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, at a real estate exhibition at Alexandra Palace on 18 March, property was being offered for sale or rent in Har Homa settlement, which is being built on a forested mountain on Palestinian land between Jerusalem and Bethlehem? Can she assure us of what the Government have said many times, which is that settlements built on Palestinian land are illegal and against all international law? Can she also assure us that that land, with or without settlements, will be returned to the Palestinians in the future?

My Lords, I can categorically state that, in the view of this Government, settlements built on Palestinian land are illegal. The Government constantly make that position clear to the Israeli authorities at every level. However, it would be impossible for the Government to give the undertaking that that land could be returned to the Palestinians. Unfortunately, that is not within their remit.