asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they will promote specific initiatives, within the European Union component of the quartet system, to accelerate negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel and the quartet partners on the road map proposals.
My Lords, the road map is the best means to reach a just and lasting settlement to the Middle East conflict. We work with the parties, EU partners and other members of the quartet to seek to move this process forward. When we take over the presidency of the European Union on
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reassuring Answer, but is she aware that more and more people, depressingly, feel that it will be only a pull-out from Gaza, unless the quartet really work together from now on and get Israel to launch negotiations and talks with the Palestinians?
My Lords, the Government, like many other governments in the quartet, believe that the pull-out from Gaza, as the noble Lord states, is the first step in the process towards a peaceful settlement and solution in the Middle East. The key priority for the UK presidency over the next few months will be to support that disengagement. Thereafter, we will be able to move on to encourage both sides to return to the road map.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the quartet are confident that the Israeli Government now accept that the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel not only places obligations and commitments on both sides, but will also require the withdrawal of the substantial majority of the 425,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem?
Yes, my Lords. I can guarantee that that is the case. As I stated earlier, the present withdrawal from Gaza is but the first step forward. The Government are confident that, ultimately, a solution will be found and that the Israelis will withdraw from the other settlements.
My Lords, that said, will my noble friend at least congratulate the Prime Minister of the democratic state of Israel on the determination that he is showing to move out of Gaza and to start withdrawal from parts of the West Bank? It is the only country in the area that suffers from the problems of being a democratic state. Surely, it is important for us also to take steps to help and encourage President Abbas to clamp down on the terrorist organisations that are operating in Palestine.
My Lords, yes, we welcome the Israeli disengagement and congratulate Prime Minister Sharon on his commitment to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank this summer. We hope that that withdrawal will be as full as possible and is a first step towards wider progress. In respect of security, the Government fully support Abu Mazen's commitment to deliver on that. We do that in very practical terms. We have provided police and training for police in Gaza, as well as a communications room in Ramallah.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one initiative that neither Britain nor the rest of the European Union would be wise to take is to talk too freely at official level with the Hamas terrorist group and its representatives? Does she agree that the effect of that is bound to be to undermine Abu Mazen's position and that of the moderates? Is it not time for a rethink in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the decision to let those discussions take place? I cannot believe that they are doing much good.
My Lords, the United Kingdom stands firm in its policy of not dealing with terrorists. The terrorist wings of both Hamas and Hezbollah are proscribed organisations in the UK, and Hamas is subject to an EU asset freeze. That said, in February the Foreign Secretary authorised low-profile working level contacts in the Occupied Territories with Hamas politicians not directly implicated in violence. This was for a very practical reason. If we are working with projects in areas in which local authorities are Hamas-run, it is thought better to ensure that the projects are progressed so that they can contribute to the regeneration of those parts of Palestine. That is a pragmatic and practical reason.
My Lords, while Ariel Sharon obviously deserves credit for the courage he is showing in dealing with the settlers in Gaza—and in that respect the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is completely correct—it is extremely unwise to continue to build new settlements in the West Bank which would simply present Ariel Sharon with another series of extremely difficult problems over the coming decade or so. Is it not high time that Her Majesty's Government made clear that further settlements should now be thoroughly discouraged?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. These settlements must be frozen. The Government have been concerned about reports in March of Israeli plans to build 3,500 more homes between the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem. We have raised those concerns both with the Israeli ambassador and in Israel, as well as within the quartet.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that greater political and economic co-operation between Israel, Palestine and the EU in the context of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and the EU/Israel action plan gives the Union a greater stake in the Middle East peace process and thus further strengthens its role as a member of the quartet?
My Lords, a strong relationship between Israel and the European Union clearly increases the EU's influence. That will enhance our ability to influence Israel on our human rights concerns and other issues, including non-proliferation. However, we should not forget the role of the EU as the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority through the contributions made both by the Commission and through member states. This also boosts its impact on the Middle East peace process.