Israel and Palestine

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 20th June 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 3:08 pm, 20th June 2002

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their current policies regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government condemn unequivocally the most recent suicide bombings, which have resulted in the deaths of 26 Israeli civilians. The loss of life and suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians must end.

The priority is to break the cycle of violence through a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops and negotiations based on the vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognised borders. We call for implementation of recent United Nations Security Council resolutions and support an international conference and the renewal of a political process leading to a comprehensive settlement.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Does she agree that all noble Lords will wish to express their horror at the terrible tragedies suffered by both sides in recent days and weeks? Is it not becoming clear that the policies of the Israeli Government are not reducing, but rather increasing, the number of suicide bombers? Is not the new Israeli Government policy of occupying land likely to work to the disadvantage of Israel? Finally, is it not clear that it is probable that peace will not come to that area unless and until an American Administration prepared to be firm not only with the Palestinians but with the Israeli Government and the Israeli lobby in the United States?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I support entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said about our horror at the casualties on both sides. It is the position of Her Majesty's Government that Israel has, of course, the right to security. Unilateral acts, however, do not provide lasting security. The right way forward is to restart a political process, and Her Majesty's Government will remain engaged in all attempts to do so. I agree with the noble Lord that the United States has an important part to play in that and in persuading both sides to engage seriously in the process.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if the purpose of Mr Sharon's present policies is to improve and protect the security of Israel, they are failing? If his policies are designed to isolate and humiliate President Arafat and undermine the Palestinian Authority, leading to a reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it is all the more urgent that Her Majesty's Government, in co-operation with our European partners and, especially, with the United States Administration, should take steps towards the comprehensive peace settlement to which the Minister referred. That must include the urgent withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the policies of both sides are failing. The use of suicide bombers does nothing to bring peace, nor, sadly, will the Israeli Government's attempts to increase security, without serious engagement in a political process. The United Kingdom Government have been intensively engaged to that end. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has met President Mubarak, US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Hariri and in recent days has spoken to Crown Prince Abdullah and President Bush. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has, similarly, been heavily engaged.

We will continue to do everything that we can to take forward the process, despite the appalling events in the region.

Photo of Lord Clarke of Hampstead Lord Clarke of Hampstead Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the latest suicide bombing was carried out by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the political wing of Fatah, the organisation controlled by Yasser Arafat? Will my noble friend take into account, when assisting with the so-called peace process, the contradiction between Yasser Arafat's condemnation and the fact that a wing of his movement is carrying out the atrocities?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, one of the problems is the degree of control that can be exercised in the circumstances. We call on Yasser Arafat to make a 100 per cent effort to prevent terrorist attacks. We do that constantly in all our interchanges with the Palestinian Authority.

I should point out that President Arafat has condemned the bombings this week. He said that attacks on Israeli citizens did not relate in any way to the Palestinians' legitimate right to resist the Israeli occupation. He said that in Arabic, so I hope that there will be no equivocation among his supporters about his condemnation.

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

My Lords, it is right that Ariel Sharon's policies will not produce any kind of solution and are self-defeating. Does the Minister accept, however—I am sure that she does—that the calculated and targeted suicide bombing of civilian men, women, children and babies is an unqualified evil, with no "ifs" or "buts" attached? Does she welcome, as I do, the statement by 55 leading Palestinian thinkers to that effect? It was welcome, as were the comments of Chairman Arafat to the same effect. Will the Minister give us the Government's view of the new proposal to build a fence and trench through West Bank territory? Is that a plus or a minus?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord heard how I began my initial Answer. I said that Her Majesty's Government condemn unequivocally the suicide bombings. The noble Lord is, of course, right to emphasise the point, and Her Majesty's Government welcome all such statements, from whatever side. We hope that, when the statements are made by those on the Arab side, those who are carrying out the atrocities will listen carefully.

I understand that a 110-kilometre stretch of fence is being built along the northern green line, although it may extend further than that. I understand the wish to try to secure the Israeli population, but I fear that fences alone will not achieve that objective. Israel will be secured only by negotiations in which both sides have taken part realistically and sincerely.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some of the prime sponsors of terrorism in the West Bank are in Syria and Iran? They use the Palestinians cynically as their means of destroying the state of Israel, their prime purpose, and have little interest in the well-being of the unfortunate Palestinians. Is there anything that our Government can do to bring pressure to bear on those states?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, without in any way indicating intelligence sources, I can assure your Lordships that, if Her Majesty's Government have reason to believe that such activities are encouraged by states overseas, we make representations to those governments. If we are looking around to find those who are really trying to help the Palestinian people, I would point to the donors of aid. The major contributor has been the European Commission. That aid helps the Palestinians and will be of more importance and benefit to them than encouragement for any form of terrorism.