Middle East Peace Talks

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 2016.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 12:00 am, 12th July 2016

What steps the Government are taking to support the French initiative to start peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

What steps the Government are taking to support the French initiative to start peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As I mentioned earlier, I attended the French ministerial conference on the middle east peace process in Paris on 3 June. We are in close contact with the French Government and will consider how the UK might contribute as their plans develop.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

It is a pity that the Foreign Secretary could not attend that conference. Will he be attending or advising his successor to attend the main conference later this year, and will he join France and other European countries in recognising Palestine if Israel refuses to co-operate with the French initiative and continues building settlements?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

To make it clear, the summit was moved at short notice to accommodate the US Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was in Africa at the time, which was why I was able to attend. I hope the hon. Gentleman does not feel short-changed by the fact that I was there instead of the Foreign Secretary. It was an important meeting, as it registered the need for the international community to play its part and we look forward to moving ahead with the process. Discussions will take place in the next few months to bring the parties together.

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

In the light of recent moves by the Egyptian Foreign Minister, does the Minister believe that the chances for successful peace talks are improving? What efforts will the Government make to ensure that both Israel and Palestine are sufficiently incentivised to come to the table to talks?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Lady is right to say that both parties need to be sufficiently incentivised. The worry that I have had when visiting both the Palestinian areas and Israel is that the leaders on both sides are not necessarily speaking for the people, who generally want something different. My concern is that unless we see the affirmative steps taking place to reverse the trends that we have been seeing, we will drift towards an entrenched position of a one-state reality, with perpetual occupation and conflict.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Will the Minister assure us that the Foreign Secretary or his successor will attend the peace conference that the French are planning later this year?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

On the day before a reshuffle is to take place, let me say that I will heed the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and we will do our best. The implication seems to be that the Foreign Secretary is somehow not engaged in these matters. We have those set conferences and summits, but an awful lot of bilaterals also take place, not least at the NATO summit in Warsaw, where my right hon. Friend had bilateral meetings with his relevant counterparts. These very important issues are raised there as well.