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Middle East

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West 11:30 am, 5th April 2005

If he will make a statement on the middle east peace process.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Securing peace in the middle east through the implementation of the road map, leading to the establishment of a viable independent state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel, is a top priority for this Government. The London meeting that we hosted on 1 March was a successful example of our commitment to working with the international community and the parties concerned to achieve a negotiated settlement.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

I thank my right hon. Friend and wish him every success in the ongoing dialogue that will be required. May I remind him, however, that while we recognise that the core of the middle east problem is the Israel-Palestine question, if there is to be peace in the middle east, Israel must live in peace with all its neighbours? People in Israel—Israeli Jews, Israeli Christians, Israeli Muslims—need to feel that they are living in a democratic state that recognises their rights as well. May I ask my right hon. Friend to continue to press, in the months ahead, to ensure that there is a comprehensive peace plan so that all peoples in the middle east can live in peace together?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend and I entered the House on the same day in 1979. He, too, has been a very fine parliamentarian, but he has also been extremely active—indeed, I can think of no one more active—on the issue of peace in the middle east and justice for the Palestinian people, as well as security for the Israelis. He has been Chairman of our party's foreign affairs committee for many years, and I am extremely grateful to him for supporting it. I am sure that the whole House wishes him well in his retirement.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that after years of frustration, not least for him personally, he can now see some light in the middle east. The prospects are better than they have been at any time in the past four years, and the London meeting called by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and attended by representatives of the Palestinian Authority, many Arab leaders and members of the Security Council set out tangible steps that we in the international community are taking better to support the creation of that Palestinian state.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is clearly in everyone's interests in the middle east today—in the interests of both the security of Israel and the settlement of the problems from the Palestinian point of view—for all possible support to be given to the moderate Palestinian leadership that has emerged? Does he also agree that one way of doing that is to give more material support, particularly for economic development of the infrastructure of the Palestinian people, and that more careful account should be taken of the way in which such aid has been used than has been taken in the past?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said. There have been defects, to say the least, in the way in which aid has been used in the past. That has changed in the past two years under Mr. Fayyad, the Finance Minister: indeed, it is now changing rapidly.

One of the many good things to emerge from the meeting on 1 March was a clear international commitment—and the involvement of the World Bank—to achieving precisely what the hon. Gentleman seeks and what is wanted in the Palestinian area, namely, an active programme of economic reconstruction.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn PPS (Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Israeli Government on the progress made so far on the implementation of the Gaza withdrawal plan and on beginning the handover of Palestinian towns? What more can the Government do to support the Palestinian leadership in dealing with the terrorism sponsored by external agents?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am glad that my hon. Friend put on the record her support for the action taken by the Israeli Government, because the truth is that Prime Minister Sharon and his Government and the majority in the Knesset have shown enormous courage in the decisions that they have taken to secure long-term peace and a degree of stability never enjoyed before in the whole of the region. On support for the Palestinians as the Gaza withdrawal takes place, we are giving the Palestinians active support in rebuilding their security forces, reforming their political institutions and reconstructing their economy.