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Backbench Business — Palestine and Israel

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 7:25 pm on 13th October 2014.

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Photo of Hugh Robertson Hugh Robertson Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent 7:25 pm, 13th October 2014

It is a great pleasure, as always, to follow Mr Love, and the many right hon. and hon. Members who have already made excellent speeches.

As the last Minister out of the washing machine on this topic, it is appropriate for me, on behalf of Members from across the House, to pay tribute to the many excellent people at the Foreign Office, both in the Box and in our two excellent missions in the embassy in Tel Aviv and the consulate in East Jerusalem—ably led by Matthew Gould, Sir Vincent Fean and Alastair McPhail—who have done so much, along with their staff from the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and those employed locally, to represent our interests and to help the people of the region. All of us genuinely owe them a great deal.

Over the past year, my time was dominated by the Kerry peace plan. That process initially excited much optimism, but I am afraid that it was ultimately doomed, like many of its predecessors. When I was thinking about what I could usefully say today, my eyes were drawn to a line in Jonathan Powell’s new book—it was reviewed at the weekend—which states:

“A deal depends on personal chemistry and uncommon leadership”.

Having studied this area in detail over the past year, I regret to say that both of those factors were absent during the most recent round of negotiations.

What did we learn from those negotiations about the middle east peace process and the connected issue of recognising the state of Palestine? First, I genuinely believe that there will be no deal unless the international community not only remains engaged in the process, but drives it. The US is the only power in the world that can force the necessary concessions from the Israeli Government and meet their security concerns. The Kerry peace plan remains an excellent basis for restarting negotiations.

The reconstruction of a Palestinian state will require the sort of Gulf money that has been evident, and welcome, in Cairo over the weekend, so keeping the wider Arab world involved is key. Egypt also has a key role to play, and the UK needs a more consistent policy on Egypt. We have unique bilateral relationship with it: we are the largest bilateral investor in the country, and about 1 million British tourists travel there each year. Resolution of the Gaza issue depends as much on the Egyptians as the Israelis. We should deal positively with Cairo for the greater good of the region.

Secondly, having secured proactive international buy-in, we need to freeze the situation on the ground and buy some time for the negotiations. At the moment, every hurdle and obstacle on the way is met with terrorist violence and announcements about more settlements. If there is much more building, particularly on area C, a two-state solution will fast become undeliverable, and we will be left with the one-state option that is in no one’s interests.