Middle East

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 12th March 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 2:53 pm, 12th March 2002

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations have been made to the Government of Israel to cease attacks on the property of the Palestinian Authority, which is essential to its obligation to maintain law and order in its territory.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, we are greatly concerned by Israeli destruction of Palestinian Authority infrastructure and urge Israel to cease this action. It undermines the authority of President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority's efforts to dismantle terrorist networks, and disrupts Palestinian economic, social and humanitarian development. Following discussion by Ministers at the EU General Affairs Council on 28th January, the EU presidency has formally protested to Foreign Minister Peres over Israeli destruction of EU-funded infrastructure.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, in a situation where much of the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority paid for by the European Union has been destroyed—a situation which is sickeningly and terrifyingly getting out of control, with both sides breaking United Nations resolutions and in some cases threatening the whole nature of human values—I suggest to the Minister with great respect that that Answer does not reflect the extreme urgency of the situation. We are looking at a situation becoming so extreme that it could risk a regional world war. In addition, any extension of the war to Iraq could bring about an intensification, and indeed a breach of the anti-terrorist coalition. Will the Minister consider suggesting to the Prime Minister and to others who will be attending the Barcelona summit that the time has come for an EU/United States/friendly Arab power intervention? Sometimes, in situations like this, neither country can move, yet it is desperately necessary for the world, for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority that someone brings this terrible situation to an end.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the Government are profoundly concerned at the continuing violence in the Middle East. At least 92 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed in the past five days alone. We understand the intense political pressures on the Israeli Government to respond to repeated suicide bombings, and our condemnation of terrorism in all its forms is unequivocal. We look to the Palestinian Authority for a 100 per cent effort to deal with the terrorism. However, a strategy aimed at inflicting maximum pain on Palestinian civilians is not acceptable. It is not an effective basis on which to build peace. I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to bring all the pressure to bear that we can. We are doing that through our own efforts through the European Union. The United States is also engaged. But none of us underestimates the gravity of the situation.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, I strongly endorse the wording of the Question. Does the Minister agree that there can be only an extremely negative impact on the international coalition, and on Muslim and Arab opinion generally, as a result of our apparent readiness to engage in discussions on an invasion against Iraq—apparently on the grounds that it has contradicted or ignored Security Council resolutions—when that is in contrast to our apparent inability and unwillingness to apply real and effective pressure to restrain Prime Minister Sharon from his appalling behaviour, his flouting of international law and Security Council resolutions and his disproportionate and provocative retaliation against Palestinian attacks?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I think that I have made it absolutely clear that we are profoundly concerned at the continuing violence and urge both sides to look for a peaceful solution. We are committed to the Tenet plan and the Mitchell plan. We cannot ignore the threat that Iraq poses to the international community, but, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, no decision has been taken to launch military action.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the only hope for the Middle East is if the parties are prepared to return to the negotiating table? Does she accept that attacks by both sides must stop if that is to happen? Has she considered the attacks by suicide bombers and other terrorists, unrestrained by the Palestinian Authority, before the attacks referred to by the noble Baroness? Does she consider that the suicide bombings occurred, and still occur, because the Palestinian Authority cannot prevent them, or could prevent them and does not wish to?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I hope that I have made myself absolutely clear. The British Government consider that the actions taken by the IDF in the past week have been excessive and counter-productive. But we also feel that the Palestinian Authority must make a 100 per cent effort to curb the actions of the armed extremists and prevent ceasefire violations. Both parties should de-escalate the situation, exercise restraint and start the work of consolidating the ceasefire and implementing the Tenet security workplan. There is also some hope in the Saudi initiative that has been proposed.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, while the curtailment of Saddam Hussein and any possible attack on Iraq is—as the Americans have made clear—some considerable time away and calmness and measured responses are needed on that front, I am sure that the Minister agrees, as we all do, that the hideous downward spiral of violence between Israel and Palestine is immediate and horrific, and that we must mobilise every effort to find a way forward. Does she agree that the Saudi Arabian plan seems to have a core of common sense to it? Is it supported by Her Majesty's Government? Does she agree that Ariel Sharon's concession that he will now no longer hold out for seven quiet days before he negotiates is worth building on? Finally, does she agree that in addition to anything that we may do through the European Union, we should use our own prestige, which is not inconsiderable, to build on the possible glimmer of hope that those two developments now provide?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I absolutely agree that we must mobilise every effort. We welcome the Saudi initiative, as I have said before. Crown Prince Abdullah has a vision of full peace between Israel and Arab states before withdrawals. That is a glimmer of hope in the current crisis.