Middle East

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 15th June 2004.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The Israeli Cabinet decided on 6 June to approve in principle the removal of all settlements from Gaza, and of four from the west bank, as a first step towards implementation of the road map. The Palestinian Authority also need to deliver on their road map commitments, particularly on security. I fully support the statement made by G8 leaders on 10 June on the next steps for Quartet-led international engagement.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous PPS To Shadow Foreign Secretary, International Affairs, Opposition Whip (Commons)

What steps are being taken to help the Israeli Government secure a complete withdrawal from Gaza? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that delivering at least one definite part of the road map is absolutely key to ensuring peace throughout the middle east?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Withdrawal from Gaza itself is obviously in the hands of the Israeli Government. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the problems that Prime Minister Sharon has encountered in his Cabinet in gaining full agreement for the withdrawal plan. However, the road map, which sets out the requirement for withdrawal, was agreed by the Israeli Government as well as by the Palestinian Authority, the neighbours and the Quartet. We look to all parties to the road map to implement their part of its obligations.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

My understanding is that the Sharon peace plan intends that the Israelis, after withdrawing from Gaza, should keep control of the Gaza-Egypt border. Is my right hon. Friend making representations to the Israelis that withdrawal from Gaza should be as full as possible?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Active discussions are taking place with the Egyptian Government about the control of that border area, which is known as Philadelphi road. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions, but there is full understanding in the international community that that border has to be secure. That, too, is as much in Egypt's interests as it is in the interests of the other parties in the area.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

Given that the disengagement plan has the support of the Quartet—as well as the "in principle" support of both Jordan and Egypt and support from this country—what measures is the Foreign Secretary taking to persuade the Palestinian Authority to accept and support it?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The Palestinian Authority do accept the disengagement plan. They can hardly do otherwise as they have called for withdrawal from the occupied territories for a very long time, but, of course, they have legitimate concerns about the conditions in which the withdrawal takes place. We are in active contact with Palestinian leaders to ensure that any security vacuum left by the withdrawal of the IDF can be filled by Palestinian security forces with the active support of the international community, including the UK.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick PPS (Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday that he told the G8 summit that a specific set of actions to restore momentum on the road map should be implemented. Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and the Prime Minister, impress on Israel through the Quartet the need to refrain from unilateral decision making, especially about Palestinian territory in Gaza or building a wall on Palestinian territory in the west bank?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We continue to impress that point on the Israelis, and we do so repeatedly. The Israelis reply that they have responded to the security situation. The sooner we can get an improvement in the security situation on both sides of the green line, and of the wall, the easier it will be to relax conditions in the occupied territories.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State for International Affairs, Shadow Foreign Secretary & Deputy Leader, International Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the two-state solution cannot be imposed, and that it must be reached by mutual consensus emerging from negotiations? Does it not follow, therefore, that any return to the road map must begin with the ending of terrorist violence and the start of the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory, but also with the resumption of the dialogue between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority that was derailed by violence last July? What practical steps can the Quartet take to help to create a favourable environment for restarting those negotiations, in terms of helping to underpin security in the region and of producing an economic package that can genuinely address the economic deprivations among Palestinians that make them such ready recruits for terrorism?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I simply say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that while in practice it is not possible for the international community to impose the necessary changes on the ground, it must also be acknowledged by both sides that the policy that they are following is not voluntary but has been decided by the international community in resolutions 242, 338 and 1393. Those are UN Security Council obligations on all parties in the region.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the importance of the resumption of dialogue, and that is why a director-level delegation from the leaders of the Quartet will visit the region shortly. We agree on the need for an economic package, and although much of the aid that has been put into the occupied territories in the past has sadly not borne fruit because some of it has been destroyed by actions by the IDF and in other ways, I am clear that the international community will be ready to continue funding any recovery within the occupied territories.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State for International Affairs, Shadow Foreign Secretary & Deputy Leader, International Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

Would the Foreign Secretary also agree that a resolution of the conflict in the middle east would be more easily achieved with the involvement of the Islamic nations in the region? Would it help if—as well as assuring the security and integrity of the state of Israel—the Arab nations were also persuaded to work alongside the Quartet as enablers, facilitators and confidence builders on the Palestinian side? Have there been discussions between the Quartet and the Arab nations about becoming more formally involved in that way?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Yes, there are continual discussions with the Arab League and with individual nations. Some of the near nations—Jordan and Egypt especially—have played an important and constructive role in very difficult circumstances. We also look to all the Arab nations in the region to understand one of their obligations under the road map and Security Council resolutions, which is to recognise the state of Israel, its right to exist and its right to exist in safety within borders set down by the Security Council.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday that the Quartet will meet shortly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Prime Minister of Israel can persuade the settlers to leave Gaza, the properties should be handed over to the Palestinian Authority in part-compensation for all the destruction that the Israeli defence force has caused there?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I understand the force of my hon. Friend's point. There are already some complicated issues of compensation that will have to be resolved, both in respect of the occupied territories and damage in Israel.