Middle East Peace Process

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 12 March 1997.

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Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon 1:45, 12 March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what new initiatives he is planning to assist the middle east peace process. [18313]

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

We will continue to support the middle east peace process through our close contacts with all the parties involved. The UK played a leading role in the United Nations Security Council debate on 6 March, and on 10 March my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed with the United States Secretary of State how the international community could lend support most effectively to the peace process. With our full backing, the EU special envoy, Miguel Moratinos, has built up a constructive dialogue with both parties.

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whereas Israel is a secure and mature democracy, alongside it, Lebanon is a country with a democratic tradition and a strong desire for a democratic future which is frustrated at the moment by the fact that, unlike Israel, which is secure militarily within its own borders, it has not one, but two, occupying armies in different parts of the country? What further steps does my right hon. Friend believe he, with others, can take to try to unscramble the impossibly complicated situation that exists in the Lebanon, building on the Wye plantation discussions?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

My hon. Friend makes the important point that many countries in the region need a better future—and, indeed, a better present. Young Israelis are losing their lives in southern Lebanon nearly every day—certainly every week. I know that Israel wants a comprehensive peace in the region as much as anyone. Lebanon wants it as well. Prime Minister Hariri told me when I was last in Beirut that, while there is a great desire for peace in Lebanon, they want peace at the same time as the Syrian track is concluded. I hope that there will be an early resumption of talks on the Syrian track, building—as my hon. Friend said—on the progress that was achieved at the Wye plantation.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

The Minister will recall that, while we were discussing the EU-Israel association agreement in the Delegated Legislation Committee, the Israeli Cabinet was meeting to decide to go ahead with the Har Homa settlement. Many of us said at the time that the agreement should include a monitoring capacity or it would lead to nothing. Has the Minister read reports that the Israelis raided the offices of the National Democratic Institute in East Jerusalem, which is affiliated with the Democratic party in the United States of America? That shows that the Israelis cannot tell friend from foe, and emphasises the need for a monitoring capacity. Will he also confirm that our excellent consul general in Jerusalem will attend the discussions in Gaza this weekend called by Yasser Arafat in order to build on the peace process?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

I think that I can take hon. Members on this side of the House with me in paying tribute to the work of the hon. Gentleman and others on the Palestinian cause and the cause of peace generally in that region.

I have talked about Har Homa in forthright terms, but we must make more progress on redeployment in the interim agreement. I believe that we should see more progress on the airport and the port in Gaza, safe passage between Gaza and the west bank, more extensive redeployment in the second and third phases than we have seen so far, and a lifting of barriers to the Palestinians generally. That would improve the economy, which would help Israeli security. As I have said before, I think that Har Homa is a serious problem that must be addressed. It is a danger to peace.