We continue to monitor the protests in the west bank as well as reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas. We are particularly concerned about the impact on the Palestinian Authority of Israel’s withholding of revenues. We call on Israel to release those revenues in accordance with its obligations under the Paris protocol.
Last month, the Foreign Secretary told the House that he would discuss the diplomatic options with his European Union partners if recent settlement activity was not reversed. Given the likely outcome of the Israeli general election, that looks more distant now than ever. He recently said that he would discuss the
“incentives and disincentives for both sides to return to negotiations.”—[Hansard, 4 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 709.]
What discussions has he had with his EU partners about those?
We have many such discussions. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, I made my remarks in the context of the support we can give for what I hope will be a major effort by the United States on the middle east peace process—the greatest effort since the Oslo peace accords, as I have put it. Of course that awaits the outcome of the Israeli elections and the transition of personnel in the re-elected Obama Administration. I will be discussing this with the United States in Washington next week.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a significant barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the continued supply of weapons and funding to Hamas in Gaza? What action are the Government taking to try to stop that funding and weapons supply?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The behaviour of Hamas and the continued supply of weaponry to Hamas are a major problem in bringing about a two-state solution and peace in the middle east. We call on all states through which such weapons might pass to interdict such weapons and prevent their passage.
If, as the Foreign Secretary has said, 2013 is to be the year of peace for Palestinians and Israelis, we urgently need both sides to begin meaningful peace talks. On his recent visit to the UK, did the secretary-general of the Arab League give any indication that its members would host urgent peace talks?
I discussed that with Nabil al-Arabi, the secretary-general of the Arab League, when he was here two weeks ago. The Arab League, like us, looks to the United States to launch a major initiative and looks to be able to give its support to it in the same way that we in the European Union will be able to contribute, as I have said before, and as has been quoted, with “incentives and disincentives”. When the Israeli elections are completed and a new Israeli Government have taken office, it is important that that Israeli Government should be ready to enter such negotiations. It is also important that Palestinians should be ready to do so without preconditions and that the United States should be ready to launch a major new initiative.
My right hon. Friend will recall that it has been the policy of successive British Governments for decades that there should be a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. In the light of the political situation in Israel and the potential situation after the election, will he give the House his objective assessment of the possibility of ever achieving a solution based on two states and the 1967 boundaries?
My right hon. and learned Friend accurately describes the position of successive Governments. I have said before in this House that changing facts on the ground, principally the construction of settlements on occupied land, mean that the two-state solution is slipping away. The chances of bringing it about are not yet at an end, but it is very urgent. I do not want to speculate, of course, about the outcome of the election taking place at the moment in Israel, but I hope that whatever Israeli Government emerge will recognise that we are approaching the last chance of bringing about such a solution.
Let me pick up where the last question left off. In a speech to the House in November, the Foreign Secretary said:
“If progress on negotiations is not made next year, the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.”—[Hansard, 28 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 227.]
Today, he talked again of the greatest efforts since Oslo. In the light of today’s Israeli elections and yesterday’s US presidential inauguration, can he offer the House a little more detail on the substance of the major American initiative of which he has spoken? What other initiatives will be possible in the course of 2013 if we are not to see the end of the two-state solution, as he puts it?
The short answer on the details of the initiative is no, because it requires the United States to take the lead. That is not because other countries like us are not willing to play our own active part, but because the United States is in a unique position in the world to help bring Israel into a two-state solution. I will be going to Washington next week and discussing the question with the United States. The Secretary of State has changed and there have been many other changes of personnel in the US Administration, and I have put it to them that this should be the single highest priority for new momentum in American foreign policy, even with all the other challenges we face in the world today.
For five and a half years now, the Quartet has followed a largely economic policy in the west bank, personified by the work of Tony Blair, presumably to try to help lay better conditions for a political settlement. That strategy has comprehensively failed as the possibility of a political settlement is much further away now than it was then. Is it not now time for the Quartet to focus heavily on the politics rather than the economics?
It is very important that the Quartet does everything that it can to recognise the urgency of what we are speaking about on both sides of the House. At the same time it is very important that we do everything we can to support a Palestinian economy that is in a serious condition. As my hon. Friend knows, we provide £30 million a year in budget support to the Palestinian Authority, and the Department for International Development has provided £349 million in support of Palestinian development in the current four-year spending programme. However, the conditions are difficult, and other nations need to do more. It is important that the Israelis release the revenues that are owed to the Palestinians.