Middle East Peace Process

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 6 April 2010.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee, Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee 2:30, 6 April 2010

What his most recent assessment is of progress in the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We welcome the Quartet's determination to move swiftly to proximity talks addressing issues of substance. We continue to press both sides to show the courage, commitment and compromise needed to make real progress. The UK remains determined to do everything possible to achieve comprehensive peace in the middle east.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee, Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee

You will know, Mr. Speaker, that although all hon. Members in this place spend most of their time taking up issues at home, issues that arise abroad affect us all. Does my hon. Friend share my concern at the escalating violence in Gaza, and will the UK Government make it clear to the Israeli authorities that we will oppose any repeat of Operation Cast Lead and that no UK arms or equipment should be used in any such operation?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to our concerns about the escalation of violence over the weekend. We want to see an immediate end to all violence in Gaza. The rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel must stop, and we also urge restraint from the Israelis. More fundamentally, we want to see Israel remove all obstacles to humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza, and we want to see the release of Gilad Shalit. Both steps would be important confidence building measures in support of the peace process.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

Will the Minister give his most recent assessment of progress in the middle east peace process in relation to the former Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair? Will he give us one concrete thing that Mr. Blair has achieved?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I was going to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his contribution to this House over a number of years-I still do-but I can give more than one example. One of the most important sources of progress in the middle east in recent times has been the improvement in economic development and enhanced security in the west bank. The former Prime Minister has played a crucial role in making that progress possible alongside President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

Will the Minister tell us how many Foreign Office resources have gone into supporting Mr. Blair's role? How many diplomats and how many security people have been involved? Should not that money have been diverted to the Foreign Office team on the ground? Is not that the best way for British foreign policy money to be spent?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the former Prime Minister was appointed by the Quartet. He is the Quartet's representative in the region, and an appropriate level of resource is deployed by the United Kingdom to support his efforts in that role. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that it is disingenuous to ask questions to which he has already received the answers in writing.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

What role is Iran, with its opposition to Israel's very existence, playing in Gaza in escalating violence and supporting Hamas?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend is right to raise concerns about the interference of Iran in Gaza and elsewhere in the middle east. There is no doubt that Iran poses a threat not only because of the development of its nuclear weapons but because of its continued support for a variety of terrorist organisations in the middle east that destabilise sovereign states. We need to be clear. If there is to be stability and progress, it is important that we take the role and threat of Iran seriously.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

First, I agree with both Richard Burden and the Minister about the priority that needs to be given to trying find a peaceful way forward in Gaza at the moment. Does the Minister agree that it would help us in trying to persuade the Israeli authorities to reopen the border crossings if they could be given the assurance that effective measures are in place to stop the smuggling of arms and explosives into the Gaza strip? In that context, can he say why, more than 12 months after our Prime Minister said that he was looking for ways to use British naval resources to stop such smuggling, no action seems to have been taken?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

UN resolution 1860 makes the importance of stopping smuggling very clear, which is the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Surely he is aware of the significant development in relation to Egypt creating a security strategy, which means that there is a serious reduction in the capacity of those who seek to smuggle those weapons, goods and services. As he is aware, that is vital not only for security, but because Hamas collects taxes and benefits from the smuggling of goods and services.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton

Has the Minister seen the article in the 29 March edition of The New Yorker by its editor, David Remnick, who is a staunch supporter of the state of Israel? Mr. Remnick writes:

"Without the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state...it is impossible to imagine a Jewish and democratic future for Israel."

When are the Israeli Government going to be persuaded not only that the oppression of Palestinians is wrong in itself, but that it jeopardises the future of the Jewish state?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The article to which my right hon. Friend refers is entirely consistent with statements that have recently been made by President Peres of Israel. It is very clear to us that there is urgency in terms of progress in the peace process, which relates to the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside an Israel that is free from the threat of terrorist attack, the final status issues being dealt with as quickly as possible, borders being consistent with 1967, the status of Jerusalem, refugees and the offer from the Arab League to normalise its relations with Israel. The only recent glimmer of hope has been the Arab League summit at which Arab League leaders expressed their support once again for proximity talks and reiterated their offer, in return for two states, to normalise relations with the state of Israel.