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Israel and the Occupied Territories

– in the House of Lords at 4:50 pm on 29th April 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:50 pm, 29th April 2002

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, I would like to make a Statement on recent developments in Israel and the Occupied Territories, specifically in relation to Hebron, Bethlehem and Jenin, and in respect of the better news involving a UK contribution to ending the siege of President Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

"Since the House last debated this subject on 16th April, the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories has remained very tense. On Saturday, after four Israelis, including a five year-old child, were killed in the West Bank settlement of Adora, the Israel defence forces moved into the nearby town of Hebron. There have been reports that at least seven Palestinians have been killed and 20 injured in the fighting which followed.

"At the same time, the stand-off continues at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem, where 200 Palestinians, some of them armed, have taken refuge from the Israeli forces for the last three weeks. Three of the Palestinians inside the church compound have been shot dead by Israeli forces, including one last night.

"The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has raised his concerns at the situation with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and myself, as have leaders of many other denominations and faiths.

"However, talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are under way in an attempt to resolve the situation. Nine Palestinians have already left the church compound. I understand that several dozen more Palestinian civilians may shortly leave, and that there will be deliveries of food to those who remain inside.

"During the debate on 16th April, many right honourable and honourable Members on both sides of the House expressed their concerns at reports alleging that the Israeli military had used disproportionate force during their action in the refugee camp in Jenin which began on 3rd April. At the UK's instigation, the United Nations Security Council on 19th April agreed Resolution 1405, which welcomed the initiative of the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to send a fact-finding team to Jenin to establish what had happened.

"Following this resolution, the Secretary-General appointed a team led by Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, and including Sadako Ogata, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Cornelio Sommaruga, the former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Bill Nash, a retired American Major-General, and Peter Fitzgerald, a senior Irish police officer. At General Nash's request, Lieutentant-Colonel Miles Wade, a serving officer in the British Army, has been added to the team.

"However, I am sure I speak for the whole House in expressing my serious concern that, 10 days after Israel first agreed to this fact-finding mission, it has yet to be admitted to Jenin. During the meeting of the Israeli Cabinet yesterday, further objections were raised to the arrangements for the team's visit.

"Let me repeat what I said to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres: Israel must co-operate without delay with the UN team in order to establish the facts. The Israeli Government themselves have claimed that their action was necessary and proportionate. If that is so, they have nothing to fear and much to gain from a fact-finding mission composed of such distinguished and internationally respected individuals.

"Potentially the most positive development over the weekend was the acceptance in principle by Israel and the Palestinian Authority of a United States-United Kingdom initiative to allow the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to leave his compound in Ramallah, which has been under siege continuously since 29th March.

"Under the terms of this initiative, Israeli forces would pull back from President Arafat's compound and from Ramallah itself and leave President Arafat free to travel both within the Occupied Territories and elsewhere and free to return.

"At the same time, six Palestinian men would be removed from the compound to a Palestinian facility in a secluded location in the Occupied Territories. Of those six, four have been convicted by the Palestinian Authority for involvement in the murder last October of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze'evi, one is the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group which claimed responsibility for Minister Ze'evi's killing, and one has been detained because of alleged involvement in the Karine A arms shipment affair in January.

"Under the initiative, Britain and the United States have agreed to provide a small number of supervisory wardens to oversee the men's detention. The wardens themselves will be unarmed. Let me make this clear: it is the Palestinian Authority's prime responsibility to ensure the physical security of the facility and the personal security of the US and UK wardens.

"A month ago we sent out a scoping mission. An advance party of experts from the UK will arrive in the region this afternoon to begin to set arrangements in place and to satisfy themselves as to the personal protection of the wardens themselves. The UK wardens all have experience of working in similar situations with the OSCE.

"This proposal was first put to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in early November last year. I drew it to the House's attention again in our last debate 13 days ago.

"At this point, I would like to place on record my appreciation of the work of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, of others in the Bush Administration, and of American and British diplomats in Israel and the Occupied Territories who have helped to make the progress we have.

"But there is still much work to be done to bring this initiative into effect. I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing the hope that no last-minute hitches occur and that these arrangements can be put into place with all dispatch.

"This is a significant step forward. But on its own it is not enough. It is now imperative that the two sides build on this modest measure of agreement, stop the violence and start talking to one another. The Security Council itself, in a series of resolutions in recent months, has laid down clear imperatives on both parties. Both parties are obliged to move to a meaningful cease-fire and to resume security co-operation.

"Israel should withdraw from Palestinian-controlled areas and must heed Security Council demands. Once he has been released from the siege, President Arafat will plainly be able to exercise much enhanced political leadership of the Palestinian Authority. He must take that opportunity and do all in his power to stop the violence and work for peace.

"Ministers and officials have been in constant touch with both sides to the conflict to stress the need for a constructive approach. This Government's commitment to helping to re-start a peace process is absolute. The same unity of purpose exists throughout the international community. But the hopes and expectations of a generation of Israelis and Palestinians rest above all on the shoulders of two men: Prime Minister Sharon and President Arafat.

"Now is the time for them to grasp the opportunity which international efforts have created and to demonstrate that they are truly committed to peace".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:59 pm, 29th April 2002

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I thank her for doing so and I am sure that many of your Lordships will welcome the positive element contained in the Statement, as well as the very important references to other less positive aspects. Personally, I welcome very warmly the evidence of the direct role which the skills of British diplomacy are being allowed to play in relation to the deal which releases Chairman Arafat. Indeed, it is to that third aspect of the noble Baroness's Statement that I want to turn first.

As the Minister said, in theory, this deal should ensure that Chairman Arafat is much better placed than he has been while holed up in Ramallah to begin to reassert some control over his more extremist elements and to gain back some of the authority which has been lacking. It is a very small bridge that we have come to and crossed, and it is positive that the deal has been done—one hopes that that will be the case—but I should like to know a little more about how the supervisory wardens are going to work. Where are they going to be located? How long do they expect to be in this role? It is quite a novel involvement and we should like to have as much information as we can from the Minister on it.

Although Arafat may be better placed in theory, one wonders whether that is going to be the case in practice. Is it not the position that the Palestine Authority has really been destroyed, both physically and in terms of leaders, in the incursions by Israel into the Occupied Territories in recent weeks? Is it not very hard to see how the means of controlling extreme elements, and the reassertion of some kind of law and order by the Palestinian Authority, can really begin until the Palestinians again have the infrastructure, leaders and authority to play a solid part both in ruling their own area and in moving back to negotiations? What proposals are being considered for trying to rebuild the physical infrastructure and for channelling in funds that will not simply be diverted into terrorism and weapons? How can one begin to repair some of the physical damage?

As for the leadership question, can the Government share with us any thoughts on who is going to work alongside Chairman Arafat, who is no longer young? Vast energies are going to be needed. Is not the need for leaders on the Palestinian side who are not so connected with violence? Is not the need for leaders who do not only condemn the Israeli excesses, which have been clear enough, but who are prepared to condemn utterly the suicide bombers and the sickening martyr culture? One would look to the Palestinian side for that condemnation if the hopes for a return to negotiation are to open out.

That deals with the third part of the Statement. I shall, if I may, return to the first part—on the Church of the Nativity, which we discussed in your Lordships' House the other day. Surely the position remains that those who are holed up in the Church of the Nativity should let the non-combatants out. I gather that some have come out, but it must be right that all should now be released. If the Palestinian gunmen and the hardcore of Hamas and Al Fatah terrorists who are in there want sanctuary, that is one thing, I suppose, but if they want to carry their weapons in there and use the Church of the Nativity as a defensive position or as a device for hostage taking, surely that is not acceptable at all. Bearing in mind those facts, can something be done to bring the realties home to people before there are worse tragedies and more killing of more innocent people as well as the destruction of a very holy place?

Finally, Jenin is a very serious matter indeed. I agree totally with the Government that it must be in the interests of the state of Israel to hold an inquiry and bring into the open what happened. There are perhaps four very varied versions of what actually did happen. We have seen with our eyes the evidence of massive physical destruction, but we really do not know who caused it, who died in it, how much booby-trapping there was, or what kind of terrorist activity had to be destroyed within the camp. I totally agree with the Government that an inquiry should certainly produce answers to those questions.

Overall, it must be the aim—slowly, by these small moves, one of which we have heard about today—to move forward towards negotiation again, and towards settling the matters, deep and historical as they are, not by endless bloodshed and killing but by sensible and civilised dialogue and discussion.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 5:05 pm, 29th April 2002

My Lords, we on these Benches also welcome the Government's Statement on this extremely grave international problem. It is good news on Ramallah, and we congratulate the Government on the contribution that they have made to progress in that area. We also thank the Government for their continuing efforts in Bethlehem. Is not a similar agreement for the removal of the terrorists from the Church of the Nativity also possible there? I am very happy to hear that food has now been taken in. We know that there are wounded within the church and gather that some of the wounds are gangrenous. It would seem possible to allow a greater degree of flexibility in letting people out.

We note the British contribution to what is proposed. It would be interesting to know a little more about Colonel Wade's background and experience. We note that there will be further British contributions in terms of the proposed wardens. We also note, in the various discussions going on in the media, suggestions that, if there were to be substantial moves towards a settlement between Israel and Palestine, there might well be further calls on British and other European forces to police a settlement. Are contingency discussions going on not only with overstretched British forces, but, as we now know, with overstretched German and French forces as to how contributions will be found for such a force if progress is made?

We agree strongly with the Government's remark that the United Nations inquiry team should by now have been accepted into Jenin. I understand that, yesterday, having been to Jenin, the noble Lord, Lord Janner, was on television and said that he did not find evidence of allegations of disproportionate force. I look forward to hearing his support for the proposition that the Israeli Government should by now have accepted that that team should be allowed into Jenin. If there is nothing to hide, then they do not need to hide anything.

We cannot have a situation in which the international community, led by the United States, is claiming the right for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq, as is currently being discussed in Washington, justified on the grounds that Iraq refuses to accept inspectors except on very restrictive terms and that Iraq is in defiance of a number of UN resolutions, when we accept that the Israeli Government, on whatever grounds, are behaving in a relatively similar way.

I welcome also the news that those who are charged with the murder of the tourism minister are now to be dealt with in what appears to be a satisfactory manner that is acceptable to both sides. I think that we are entitled to ask for the Israeli Government, and for Mr Sharon as prime minister, explicitly to disclaim the views expressed by the tourism minister and others within the government that Israel is entitled to the whole of Judea and Sumeria and entitled to expel the Palestinians from that territory. That is, after all, part of the problem.

On Saturday, I read in an American newspaper that, so far, Mr Sharon has refused to accept that any settlements should be withdrawn. Clearly, a great many of the settlements will have to be withdrawn if there is to be a resolution. The basis for a settlement, as the Saudis have now proposed, is that there must be two states—one Israeli, the other Palestinian—on this territory. I think that we are entitled to ask both Mr Sharon and Mr Arafat explicitly to accept that that is the principle on which we should go forward.

Our support for Israel has rested on the quality of its government, its respect for law, and the restraint of its behaviour in the use of force even when at war with its neighbours. It seems to many of us that the destruction of the Palestinian economy, its infrastructure, even its government records and the entire apparatus of authority and of daily life has been disproportionate in its impact. Much of that has, after all, been paid for by European assistance over the past 10 years. Moreover, if we are to rebuild, European governments will undoubtedly be asked to pay again.

Israel's behaviour undermines the case for intervention in Iraq which is currently being presented in Washington. We must ask the American Government—and I hope the Minister can reassure us that the British Government are making this point to our American allies—to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli Government to accept this basis for a settlement, as well as on what remains of the Palestinian Authority.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 5:10 pm, 29th April 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his contribution, and in particular for the welcome he gave to the role played by the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord asked a number of specific questions about the work of the supervisory wardens, where they would be located, and how long their role would continue. I am unable to answer all those questions. As the Statement indicated, the supervisory wardens would be unarmed. The physical security of the facility would be the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. The location would be remote, and it is not clear at this point how long the process would take. We undertake to keep the House informed of progress on this. It is important to state that the supervisory wardens from the United Kingdom have worked with the OSCE and have experience in the Balkans, in Bosnia and in Kosovo, so they are well experienced in working in difficult and sensitive circumstances.

The noble Lord asked about the destruction of infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority. The European Union has played a key role, and has expressed concern about the destruction of infrastructure. We recognise that it is important that the infrastructure is restored. I am aware that there are discussions within the European Union on the matter.

The noble Lord asked also about leadership. This is an issue on which it would be wrong for me to speculate in terms of next stages in the leadership with respect to the Palestinian Authority.

The noble Lord asked about the importance of condemnation coming from the Palestinian side of the continuation of violence, and in particular of the suicide bombing. President Arafat has made that condemnation. We have called for it to be made in both English and Arabic because it is important that it is understood.

With regard to Jenin—raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—there are various versions of what happened. That is why we believe that the fact-finding mission needs to go in, to give us the information. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said last week during Prime Minister's Questions, for example, that it would help Israel's reputation, given that Israel has said that the force that was used in Jenin was proportionate. Therefore, we continue to call for the UN fact-finding mission to go in, and to do so as quickly as possible. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that it is important that sensible dialogue and discussion continue to take place. It is absolutely clear that there will be no military solution to the conflict.

On the issue of what is happening in Bethlehem, we believe that both sides have to compromise. The situation remains extremely serious. Since noble Lords discussed this matter, there have been a couple of positive events. Two bodies have been taken away, and nine teenagers were let out before the weekend. As was indicated in the Statement, we understand that food is going in. Talks must continue to secure a reasonable outcome for the release of those who want to leave the church. We have made that clear to both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, and we shall continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about possible discussions with regard to a contingency situation: if we needed to find contributions not only from ourselves but from our European partners in terms of finding resources for some kind of peacekeeping force. There are continuing discussions on the matter. Noble Lords will be aware that there was a discussion within the UN, and we continue to keep in touch with our European Union partners on the matter. When there is more to say, we shall make that clear to the House.

With regard to UN Security Council resolutions, it is important to remember that UN Security Council resolutions on the Middle East place different responsibilities on both sides. They call on the Palestinian Authority not to engage in terrorism, and there have been calls on the Israelis to make a number of movements. It is important for us to remember that. The comparison with the situation in Iraq is not one that I agree with. The situation in Iraq has gone on for 12 years. It is substantially different from the situation that we are discussing today.

Our policy is clear. We want to see a secure State of Israel; we want to see a viable Palestinian state; we want an end to physical settlements; and we want the issue of the refugees to be resolved. We continue to work with the United States Government and others, including Saudi Arabia, and we shall continue to work in a positive way with our partners. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, suggested that we put pressure on the United States Government. The work that we have been doing and the outcomes that we have seen today are a good example of the way in which we have worked together.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 5:17 pm, 29th April 2002

My Lords, is it the intention that the UK/US initiative should subsequently be endorsed by the UN? Is this initiative taking place under the authority of the UN?

I have two specific questions. The term "supervisory wardens" is used. I take it that those undertaking this responsibility are not members of the Royal Military Police but that they are civilians. Is it intended that this will be a permanent UK/US responsibility; or will other nations subsequently take over this responsibility in what may well be quite a protracted assignment?

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

My Lords, the initiative does not come under the UN. This was suggested by the United Kingdom some time ago. It was re-discussed recently and agreed by ourselves and by the United States. We needed to move very quickly, which is why the United Kingdom and the United States have agreed to take this forward. It is not intended as a permanent UK/US initiative. We see it very much as a first step in terms of taking matters forward and as a bridge, as it were—a term used by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. As I said, the wardens will not be armed; they will not come under the umbrella of the Royal Military Police.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

My Lords, I thank Her Majesty's Government for their involvement in efforts to find a way to help to achieve peace so that both sides and their families and their children will not walk in fear, as they do today.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is correct. I was in Jenin on Saturday. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend two or three questions arising from that visit. First, is she aware that the Israeli Government are concerned about the terms of reference of the committee and its membership, as various leaders of that government told me, but that if that is settled, as they hope it will be, they indeed welcome the inquiry. They all say, without exception—they and the soldiers who were there, whom I met, and their leaders whom I met—that they have absolutely nothing to hide, and that it is a very complex situation.

Finally, has my noble friend been told by the United Nations and UNRWA, who were my hosts, what they told me, namely: that they have interviewed some 1,500 people from the camp; that they are satisfied that the number of deaths is 54 with some 18 people missing—most of them are probably either in hospitals or in prisons; and that 23 Israelis were killed in what was a fierce battle in Jenin? Jenin is regarded by the Israelis as a terrorist centre and a base for the suicide bombers, the results of whose operations I also saw. In view of that and of what the United Nations has said, does the Minister accept that the alleged massacre is a total myth, propagated by Palestinians and their allies and by the media, and that it certainly is untrue?

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

My Lords, I am aware that the Israeli Government have expressed concerns about the terms of reference of the committee and its membership. As I understand it, they are engaged in discussions with the UN Secretary-General. Our view remains that a fact-finding mission in Jenin is the best way of dealing with the differing reports coming out of the town. My noble friend mentioned figures that he was given when in Jenin. We have been given a number of different facts and figures from different people, and that is why we want the fact-finding mission to go in as quickly as possible. We continue to believe that the membership that has been announced for that mission represents a distinguished group of internationally recognised and well-respected individuals, as I said in the Statement.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I found it not only a positive Statement, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, but also a balanced one. I am afraid that balance as a commodity is in short supply in many of the debates on the Middle East, especially in some quarters of our media.

I speak as someone who has spent a great part of his professional life fighting terrorism. I confess to a prejudice: I loathe terrorism in any form. I loathe it in the form that it is taking in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict at the moment, in which innocent civilians, including five year-old children, are the subject of targeted violence and murder. It seems to me that those who speak of the brutality of the Israelis—as one noble Lord spoke the other day in your Lordships' House—have to answer why they use that kind of expression. Do they believe that Israel has the right to exist within secure borders? If they do, surely Israel has the right to mount operations in its self-defence.

We all know—I will be the first to admit—that there have been excesses in the Israeli response. Of course, as noble Lords have said, there have been such policies as the settlement policy, which clearly is unacceptable and provocative and must be reversed as soon as possible. If people believe that Israel has a right to self-defence, the kind of unbalanced attitude that many people have expressed to the conflict must be reconsidered.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, perhaps I can respectfully remind the noble Lord that many noble Lords want to ask questions and only 20 minutes is allowed for Back-Benchers' questions.

Photo of Lord Chalfont Lord Chalfont Crossbench

My Lords, I am aware of the 20-minute rule and I shall be as brief as I can. I shall bring my remarks to a close. Israel perceives that it is under threat. This House has a deserved reputation for reasoned debate, objective judgments and analysis of international problems. Although this may sound like the worst of all clichés, there are two sides to this terrible conflict. No service is done to truth or to peace to pretend that there is only one.

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

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in that a balanced approach is absolutely critical. We all know that discussions and debate about what is happening in the Middle East brings out deep emotions on both sides. There are differences that are deep-rooted and historical. That is why we believe that it is so important to find the means and mechanisms to continue dialogue and discussion. As I said earlier, it is the only way in which we can reach any kind of peaceful solution. A military solution is not the way, so we shall continue to listen to both sides. We shall continue to work with both sides and to bring pressure to bear on them and we shall tell each side when we believe that it is acting in a way that is disproportionate and excessive.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that it is vitally important to recognise that time is of the essence in starting meaningful talks? There is a great temptation to allocate blame in the interests of achieving a meaningful dialogue. I believe it is absurd to talk about achieving a solution to the issue of settlements now. It should be discussed but not as a precondition for the dialogue that my noble friend and the Government have initiated. Would my noble friend also accept that it is important to avoid the temptation that exists of allocating blame straightaway, whether to Israeli or Arab? The dialogue should be started from a clear basis.

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

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Time is of the essence. We have been careful not to allocate blame when there has not been the evidence to support it. We have sought to be robust in our engagement with both sides and to try to ensure that UN Security Council resolutions that have been passed are adhered to. But I recognise that there is also frustration on both sides because we shall not start with a blank sheet of paper. We are dealing with a complex set of issues about which there has been dialogue and discussion over many years. Part of the reason that frustration is felt by many is because there are times when we seem to come extremely close to an agreement, and then it fades. Therefore, I agree with my noble friend that it is important not to allocate blame, but to seek to work together in a way which is meaningful and positive.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the Statement and support the decision taken by the Government. However, will the noble Baroness redouble the efforts of our Government to persuade the Israeli Government that this unseemly haggling over the fact-finding mission to Jenin is doing nobody damage but themselves? Will she also remind them that Israel's reputation never sank lower than in 1990 when it declined to admit a fact-finding mission after the killing of a number of unarmed Palestinians on the Temple Mount?

I hope that the efforts of persuasion can be successful because I am afraid that the Government of Israel are doing nobody harm but themselves. Does the noble Baroness agree that it is a priority to get an overall peace negotiation under way and that it will be necessary, if that process is to be sustainable, that it is not interrupted every time a terrorist atrocity is committed; otherwise we are simply handing the agenda over to the men of violence? That is what has happened for the past year. They will not desist if they think that each time they create an atrocity they can stop the peace process in its tracks, and they believe that worst is best.

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

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the fact-finding mission must go in, and go in quickly. That point was made by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others to the Israeli Government.

I agree with the noble Lord also that it is important not only to get the peace negotiations under way, but also to ensure that they are sustained over a period of time and not interrupted. It is a matter of both sides being brave in taking that step. We know from our experience in Northern Ireland that taking that step and being brave is probably the single most important factor in terms of obtaining a longer-term peace. We all hope that that will happen in the Middle East.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwark The Bishop of Southwark Bishop

My Lords, I too welcome the Government's Statement. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has taken a personal interest in the situation. Indeed, he met regional faith leaders earlier in the year. His personal envoy, Canon Andrew White, has been extremely active in trying to find a solution to the Church of the Nativity siege. We continue to be willing to play a constructive part if we can be helpful.

We in the Church receive many painful stories, as do others; in our case, from Palestinian Christians. We urge the Government and our Jewish friends in this country to encourage the Israeli Government to allow the UN fact-finding team to be admitted swiftly to Jenin. It is difficult to see how there can be progress until that takes place.

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

My Lords, I welcome that statement from the right reverend Prelate. It is important that a constructive role is played by all faiths in this conflict. A number of different initiatives are being taken behind the scenes in that respect. I commend those and thank the right reverend Prelate for his comments.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, I begin by apologising to the House for rising straight after my noble friend Lord Janner sat down. It was because, not perhaps for the first time in our 40 or 50 years' acquaintance, what he said provoked me to the extent that I wished to respond immediately.

Is my noble friend aware that the last two sentences of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Janner prove beyond peradventure the need for an objective assessment of what actually went on in Jenin? For my noble friend to say that the Palestinian story is a myth is, with respect, not helpful. I do not know whether it is—and he does not know whether it is, although he thinks that he has more evidence than I have.

Perhaps I may ask one question which I hope is practical. If the Israeli Government continue to deny access to the UN fact-finding team, what are the Government proposing that the UN should do, that the US should do and that we should do?

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

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Richard that we need an objective assessment. We have all agreed that the fact-finding mission would be a way to deliver that, and we need that regardless of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Janner. This House and the Government are of the view that that fact-finding mission is necessary.

In terms of "What next?", we need to keep talking. In addition, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, will make recommendations to the UN Security Council if the fact-finding mission continues to be refused entry.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, last week I asked the noble Baroness what representations we were making to remove the restrictions on the movement of President Arafat. I warmly congratulate the Government on the steps that they have taken which we hope will end those restrictions.

Unlike most Members of this House, I listened to the debate in the other place this afternoon. I commend to the noble Lord, Lord Janner, two horrific accounts from his honourable friends who recently visited Jenin. Does the Minister agree that it will be extremely difficult to find a more objective and distinguished team than Mr Sommaruga, Mrs Ogata and Mr Ahtisaari?

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for recognising that we worked hard to end the restrictions on President Arafat. I am aware that at times in this House the noble Lord did not feel that we were working hard enough or fast enough.

We realise that there are conflicting accounts. I am aware, for example, that my honourable friend Ann Clwyd returned from her visit to Jenin with her own view of what had happened. That is why we are supporting the UN fact-finding mission. We need an objective assessment as quickly as possible to enable the whole international community to take a view.