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Volume 727: debated on Monday 16 May 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the proposed Palestinian statehood declaration, which is planned to be placed before the United Nations General Assembly in September.

My Lords, we see negotiations towards a two-state solution as the only way to meet the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians and lead to a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a safe and secure Israel and their other neighbours in the region.

The UK is fully committed to supporting the Fayyad plan and helping build the institutions of a future Palestinian state, but a negotiated solution remains the only result that will actually bring peace and justice to the Palestinian people. We call on the parties to return urgently to negotiations.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Does he think that the agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas is a step in the right direction for the attainment of statehood? Does he also feel that the work done by the Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, in building the Palestinian institutions and economy has created the apparatus of a state, and that these achievements need to be recognised?

Of course this step is not yet fully consummated, but we want to see the formation of a Government who reject violence. If Hamas is to be part of that Government, it must reject violence; that is our position. If that were to go forward on the basis of the rejection of violence, we would see that as a good basis for building further hopes and moves towards serious negotiation. The Fayyad plan, as I have said, is something that we support. It takes us in the right direction towards building Palestinian statehood and getting the negotiations going again, which is central and crucial.

Would the Minister not agree that the tragic events of the weekend on the Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan border are just a taster of what we are in for as long as the vacuum in negotiations continues, and that the situation could get very much worse, given the instability in a number of Arab countries and the possibility that new Governments will be very sensitive to the views of radicals? Will he say what steps the Government are taking to urge the US President, who is to make an important speech on this matter in the next few days, to do something serious with the partners in the quartet to revive the peace process?

We are urging our allies and friends, including the United States, at all times. However, perhaps the noble Lord will recognise that a clear development in the region is the increasing determination of the surrounding Arab states to play for once a more forward part in these developments. Obviously we are deeply concerned by the events at the weekend, but if one can stand back from such horrors for a moment, it seems that they reinforce the urgent need for the Israeli Government and authorities to begin to move in a positive direction in a very fluid overall situation in the Middle East.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a premature declaration of a Palestinian state might destabilise the region rather than contribute to the emergence of a stable two-state solution?

The right reverend Prelate is right; it might do so. Of course one understands why there is a desire to move forward in this direction, but our position is that statehood must be built through the pattern of a negotiation that must be resumed, and that pressure should be put on both the Israeli side and on a peace-aiming, violence-rejecting Palestinian Government to move forward on that basis.

Is there any evidence of Hamas rejecting its present declaration about the death of Israel? As long as that continues, is it not a complete response to the present situation? Hamas must withdraw from its present declaration.

I understand what the noble Lord is saying; I think we all do. However, our attitude and approach to Hamas will change when there is proof that Hamas has changed, and that proof is not yet visible.

My Lords, while I welcome the slight change of tone I think I detect in my noble friend’s remarks about Hamas, will he confirm to the House that Britain now does not require Hamas to recognise Israel as a precondition of negotiations, but that it naturally expects that to come before the end of negotiations?

We want it to be part of the negotiations and part of the recognition of the quartet principles. My noble friend talks about a changing tone. We all have to realise that the whole situation throughout the Middle East is changing. The foreign policy of Egypt towards Gaza is changing, and the Syrian situation is highly fluid. All around there is enormous change, and there is tragedy as well, as we have seen over the weekend. In these circumstances, we have to retain a very agile and clear view of where we stand and where we want to go.

My Lords, does the Minister feel that the alliance between the PLO and Hamas, an organisation that is filled with terrorists and that has vowed the destruction of Israel, will help in the acceptance of a Palestinian state or hinder it?

It would help only if it produces a Government dedicated as a partnership for peace to negotiation. We are not there yet. The implication of the noble Lord’s question is quite right: until we move to that point, it will not help; when we are at that point, it will help.