My Lords, with permission, I will repeat a Statement made earlier in the Commons. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on the Middle East peace process, following the Annapolis conference which I attended yesterday at the US Naval Academy in Maryland. "For several years there has been neither peace nor a peace process in the Middle East. Insecurity for Israelis and suffering of Palestinians have fed off each other, deepening divides and fomenting mutual distrust. The conference represents a determined attempt by both sides, and by the United States, to break the cycle of violence and discord. Its significance comes as much from the attendance list as from its results: representation from nearly 50 countries showed the degree of concern about the current situation as well as the consensus for action. As I pointed out in my contribution, in 1993, at the signing of the Oslo accords, the late Prime Minister Rabin talked of an atmosphere of hope tinged with apprehension; today in the region there is an atmosphere of apprehension tinged with occasional hope. Yesterday represented one such ray of hope, but the context of extremism, terrorism and the dangers of nuclear proliferation provides a spur to action."All present understood that the Annapolis conference could be a success only if it was the start, not the end, of a new drive for peace based on the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side. There is now a clear and shared goal: to quote from the joint understanding read out at the beginning of the meeting by President Bush, it is,
'to immediately launch good faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements'.
UN Resolutions 242 and 338 provide the agreed foundation for progress."There is also a timetable: today the parties will meet at the White House; a joint steering committee will meet continuously from
'It is a chance that, if lost or wasted, the plotter against it will bear the curse of humanity and the curse of history'.
We all have a duty to do what we can to challenge the sceptics, to prove them wrong, and to help Palestinians and Israelis live out their common humanity".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. We warmly welcome the commitment to a peace treaty by the end of 2008. It is a very steep hill to climb but the commitment has been made. But does the Minister agree that it will take a lot more than a handshake to achieve this? We have to think in terms of a series of meetings and it is good that that seems to be the aim—although in a very compressed timescale—with the quarterly review conferences coming up. Does he accept that the key problems are still there, as they have been over the years? As we know, one of the key problems is the Israeli settlements which, frankly, bisect Palestine. It is not just a question of new construction, as mentioned in the Statement, but of the ugly fact that Israeli settlements virtually cut across the geographical area of what would be Palestine. Until something is changed in that pattern, the viability of the Palestinian state is put in question. The status of refugees and the division of Jerusalem have to be sorted out, but I have no doubt that the settlements issue is the really difficult one for both sides.
Then there is the central problem of Hamas, which has denounced the whole meeting as treachery and has announced that to Mahmoud Abbas. That reminds us that he holds sway only on the West Bank, not in Gaza. Even his sway on the West Bank seems to be somewhat limited by the operation of some of the al-Fatah and al-Aqsa brigades.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few background questions. What about the Arab Saudi-led peace initiative of a year or so ago and the ideas of the so-called Arab quartet—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—which seemed very constructive at the time? What about the involvement of the other great powers of Asia? We have heard that Russia, which is part of the quartet, has offered a site for one of the review conferences. That is good news, but China, India and Japan may have been quiet on recent occasions. These countries have, if anything, a far greater interest in peace and stability in the Middle East and a far greater dependence on oil than we have. They have a part to play and I hope that that came into the conference considerations, or will do in the review conferences.
We note that Tony Blair will call a meeting in Paris for aid donors, and that is all to the good—that is a vital role—but are we making it clear that the key to development of a new and viable Palestine is just as much in allowing enterprise to spring up as it is in infrastructure aid? If enterprise is to spring up, peace and low taxes are needed as much as large subventions from outside. We know that wrongly given aid can stifle development rather than assist it. I will believe that development is under way when all the shops in the old city of East Jerusalem begin to be opened again with their shutters taken down and coffee offered. Then we will know that Palestine and Palestinian Jerusalem is at last recovering after all these miserable years.
Finally, was the question of Lebanon addressed in detail? It is mentioned in the Statement, but does the Minister agree that, although there have been many dramatic stories in the press, a peaceful solution in Lebanon on the presidential issue is still possible and even likely? Given that in the end Syria attended the conference, which is good, was the issue of reducing Syrian interference in Lebanon linked with what might be gained regarding negotiations with Israel on the Golan Heights issue? Is it possible that at least that bit of the jigsaw might now be put in place? Those are my questions for the Minister and I am grateful to him for repeating the Statement.
My Lords, we all welcome the Annapolis conference, which has taken a long time to get to. We have lost six years without effective negotiations. I noted the sceptical cartoon in this morning's International Herald Tribune which showed two people coming out of the conference and saying, "This is just one of these rituals that American Administrations do towards the end of their time in office". Let us hope that the conference is a great deal more than that.
I echo much of what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has said. First, the Statement says:
"The conference represents a determined effort by both sides"—
I assume, the Israelis and Palestinians—
"and by the United States, to break the cycle of violence and discord".
Where does the United Kingdom come into this, and within what framework? Is the quartet still a significant player? Are we bouncing along behind on the coat tails of the United States or playing an effective role as part of the European Union collectively within the quartet?
Secondly, I again echo what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has said on the need to expand the quartet to include a much more significant role for Arab states in the light of the Saudi initiative and the willingness of the Arab League to play a constructive part in this. That will give the whole process much more legitimacy in the Middle East. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that associating China and India with the process will also help. I note that Chinese peacekeepers are now in the Lebanon. If this process moves a great deal further, there will be a large demand for further peacekeeping forces and they need to come from as wide a range of countries as possible.
Thirdly, I note the very weak reference to,
"an end to settlement construction, the removal of outposts constructed after March 2001".
I think we all recognise that the removal of settlements will have to go a great deal further than that if we are to have two viable states and not just a disconnected Palestine on a very small part of what was originally the broader state of Palestine within the Ottoman Empire. How much pressure will properly be put on the settlement issue?
Fourthly, I turn to the subject of Gaza. I understand that there is rather more on Gaza in this Statement than there was in the communiqué. If we do not deal with the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, civil war will break out within Palestine before we have made much progress on this process. The Gaza situation is unstable and needs to be dealt with.
Next, we have to find some way of keeping lines open to Hamas. The most disturbing element in the reports that have come out of Washington in the past two days has been the set of assertions that for President Bush this is building an alliance of moderates in the Middle East against the radicals—Hamas, Hezbollah and, above all, Iran. American assumptions about the international politics of the Middle East have been grossly mistaken throughout the Bush Administration. This process must not give Hamas greater legitimacy by excluding it.
Lastly, on Syria, I note that according to one report I read the Israelis are still advertising holidays on the Golan Heights as part of a visit to Israel. Apparently, people can go to ranches there and enjoy themselves. Will a negotiation with Syria involving the necessary return of the Golan Heights also be on the agenda? If not, many things will be short in what is a necessary process if we want to see a solution rather than another failure and worsened violence.
My Lords, the noble Lords have asked very important questions. I begin by reminding them of yesterday's primary achievements in Annapolis. They have correctly been described as the beginning of a process, and I agree that one must set one's aspirations accordingly. First, there was a commitment to immediate good-faith negotiations. Those negotiations started today at the White House between the two leaders, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, under American auspices. There was also a commitment that this will not be an open-ended, leisurely negotiation that will go on indefinitely but that every effort will be made to complete it by the end of next year.
Secondly, there is a joint steering committee of the two sides to oversee the negotiating teams and it will meet for the first time on
Obviously the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is right that there are major outstanding issues, such as how big a settlement roll-back is to occur, and those issues that have brought previous peace processes to an end, such as the status of Jerusalem and the return of refugees. These all lie ahead of us in the negotiations to come.
Both noble Lords asked about the broader engagement of other countries. They will have noticed that almost 50 countries attended the negotiation yesterday. We all know that you need to find a balance between a small enough group of countries that in a sense prevents the two parties gaming the different participants in the talk in a way that they can get some concessions out of one set of countries and not another. The origin of the quartet was the need to get a small group of countries and institutions that could move this forward on behalf of the broader international community. In that list of 50 invitees was a recognition on the part of the quartet—the United States particularly—that the engagement in this process of Saudi Arabia and other Arab Governments, and of the international community more broadly, was critical.
Noble Lords will see that continue. There is an opportunity at the Paris donors' conference called by Tony Blair for that to be effected. Japan, which was mentioned, is supporting an economic zone in Jericho, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Asia both to express political support for this process and to provide economic assistance to it.
I turn to Hamas, which has made troubling threats already, although I fear predictable ones. The case remains that it has ruled itself out of participation in the negotiations through its unwillingness to accept peace talks, let alone recognise the state of Israel or accept an end to hostilities. The fact that it has done that does not remove the need for us to address the humanitarian crisis, which is worsening by the week. If this cycle of suffering is left unchecked, it represents a real risk to the welfare of Palestinians living in Gaza, and more broadly to the stability of the region.
We certainly recognise that the recovery or development of a viable economic entity in the Palestinian territories requires the encouragement of the private sector, and that is indeed much more than just building the infrastructure. It means creating incentives for that wonderful spirit of Palestinian entrepreneurship, which any visitor can see, to allow it to grow and provide jobs and opportunity in the region.
Both noble Lords inquired about the broader Middle East issues of Lebanon and Syria. There was a major debate before the conference started to ensure that they were both reflected on the agenda. The Arab countries pushed hard for reference to those broader issues of a comprehensive peace agreement. Both were spoken to, but again noble Lords will reflect on what was possible in one day with 50 speakers. It is fair to say that no issue was entered into with the depth that noble Lords would have wished.
My Lords, generally speaking, international problems of this kind can be settled only if all the parties concerned want an agreement. The difficulty in this case is that the leaders of the countries cannot deliver a compromise that is acceptable to their opponents because they cannot persuade their own people of the need for it. In the months to come it is very important that everybody who took part in this conference should try to persuade both the Palestinians and the Israelis of the enormous benefit to them if there were a settlement.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an enormously important point. He will have noticed the extraordinarily pessimistic tone of both parties in the run-up to the talks themselves—a reluctance to admit that Annapolis could achieve anything. It made many feel that there was perhaps not the political will for the progress that the noble Lord rightly wants.
However, there is now another argument: President Abbas must demonstrate to his people, both in the West Bank and Gaza, that his approach of moderate engagement can deliver results. Prime Minister Olmert, while noticeably weakened politically inside his country, similarly has an imperative to try to demonstrate that the whole rationale of the Kadima party—a commitment to tough-minded negotiation—remains a viable strategy. We have two leaders committed to talks and, I suspect, a growing number of ordinary citizens in both places who recognise that this cycle of violence must surely finally be broken.
My Lords, does the Minister agree, in repeating this rather hopeful report from the Annapolis conference, that one of the most crucial issues for any future for a Middle East peace process is economic development in the Palestinian territories, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said earlier. Does the Minister agree that, above all, other Arab countries must come in and be counted for the Palestinians, who need their moral, political and material support?
One of the more encouraging points about Annapolis, therefore, was the Arab attendance at this conference. We would all hope that there will be an equally good Arab attendance in the donor conference in Paris in December. In this connection, does the Minister agree that the role of the envoy of the quartet is of the utmost importance? Should we not welcome the four projects which Tony Blair has announced for economic development in the Palestinian territories? Will the Minister convey to the envoy this House's best wishes for his future efforts?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct about the need for economic development and an Arab contribution to it. This weekend I was in Cairo to call on the Secretary-General of the Arab League and the Egyptian Foreign Minister before they left for Annapolis. I had the opportunity to stress to both of them the need for major Arab contributions and to point out that, at this time of high oil prices, there are huge balances that could potentially be recycled into these kinds of economic reconstruction activities.
While acknowledging this, the Secretary-General of the Arab League pointed out that there was a frustration among Arab Governments that previous rounds of economic assistance had been literally turned to dust by renewed violence. He indicated that, to secure these pledges, there must be progress on the political front so that there was assurance that a new round of economic reconstruction would not end as badly as earlier rounds had done.
The role of the envoy of the quartet is critical. The enthusiasm he brings to the role is already demonstrated in the importance that this conference is assuming. I would note only that the British Government, as I reported, pledged some $500 million. That gives us a moral pulpit and voice to be able to encourage Arab Governments and others to show similar generosity.
My Lords, I am delighted that so much is being done for economic development, both by the British Government and the envoy of the quartet. One must of course hope that that bears fruit. However, I strongly endorse everything that the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wallace, said about settlements. It has always struck me as curious—perhaps it is explained by realpolitik, as a friend of mine recently reminded me—that the British Government, who have consistently described Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, do not go further than calling for a freeze. The fact is that a majority of settlements are going to have to be removed if the Palestinians are to have any hope of living in a viable state. It is not only settlements, but freedom of movement with the wall and the number of checkpoints. Of course, these all depend on better security, and I am delighted to hear that we are also contributing towards that.
Finally, can the Minister clarify an obscurity in today's press? President Bush is quoted as saying that he did not intend to become personally involved in the problem. Prince Saud al-Faisal is quoted as saying that it was precisely on the understanding that President Bush was going to be involved that the Saudis and others agreed to go to Annapolis. Can the Minister throw any light on that?
My Lords, I shall first address the noble Lord's point about settlements, which were also raised by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wallace. We now have a negotiation process in which, building on the road map commitment to no new settlements from 2001 onwards, there is the possibility of addressing this issue in a root-and-branch way. That is the good news of Annapolis: talks have begun again, these issues are on the table and there is a possibility of negotiating them out, not just exchanging words about them indirectly and at second hand. I have no doubt that the Palestinian delegation to the talks will press for exactly the point the noble Lord makes.
On the second issue, I can speculate only that there is engagement and engagement and that President Bush perhaps had in mind his predecessor, President Clinton, and President Clinton's predecessor, President Carter, who took engagement to be an intense personal retreat with the leaders of all sides to a compound from which they did not emerge until they hoped they had an agreement. Perhaps President Bush is guarding against that kind of engagement. However, the fact that he hosted the talks today and that his Secretary of State, Secretary Rice, has been so engaged reflects the fact that we now, once more, have the very good news of real American leadership from the White House in this process.
My Lords, I return to a question raised by my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. Are we right in seeing in this Statement a reduction in the political role of the quartet and therefore of the European Union in the peace process? As far I could see, the role of monitoring progress on the road map has now been reserved exclusively to the United States.
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. This role being assigned to the United States has been welcomed. It is important that the United States be unequivocally engaged in the implementation of a road map which, at certain points, it had appeared sceptical about and distanced itself from. The task is clear: it is to monitor the implementation the road map. I do not think that that task undermines or limits the role of the quartet or the European Union in many other aspects of this process as it goes forward. I look at this as good news and a plus, not as a zero-sum game where this US role reduces Europe's role.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while we must all hope that an irreversible process has now begun, history—quite recent history—demonstrates repeatedly that for peace to endure it has to be built rather than simply managed and imposed and that building involves as inclusive an approach as possible? My noble friend said that Hamas has ruled itself out, and we cannot possibly do other than depreciate the statements that it has made that have ruled it out. However, is this an absolute position or at some stage is it possible that any diversity in the leadership of Hamas can be encouraged by enabling it to see that if it is able to evolve its own position there will be a place for it rather than simply suggesting that there is no possibility of that and driving the leadership into the hands of the irresolute extremists?
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct when he states that in the Middle East, more than most places, nothing is for ever. It is enormously important that we keep an eye on the political evolution of Gaza; at some point, Gaza must be part of the negotiation. However, at this stage, the United States has taken advantage of the opportunity of the moderate leadership of President Abbas to begin a process centred on President Abbas. At this stage, it is very much up to him to declare when there is a possibility of broadening his delegation to include representatives of Gaza. I have said before in this House that, although Hamas has ruled itself out, we obviously have to keep an eye on the situation, because the voice of Gaza must ultimately be heard in the negotiation.
My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Statement, especially the commitment to try to conclude the discussions by the end of next year. I only wish that I had been able to say anything half as optimistic when I stood at the Dispatch Box. I should like to press the Minister a little further. Is there still a commitment not only to a viable but to a contiguous state of Palestine implicit in what he has been able to tell us today? On the question of political engagement, we all understand that the economic and security engagement of this country is vital, and we all support and applaud that, but politically the roles of the European Union and of the Arab League are still unclear to me. I suggest that the role of the Arab League is vital, perhaps not in the main negotiations, but certainly on the sidelines, with Hezbollah and Hamas, in keeping some sense of Arab engagement with extremism over the issues. I believe that the role of the European Union is also politically important and I would not want it to be completely set on one side. I fear that that is implicit in the Statement and I would welcome the Minister's comments.
My Lords, I suspect that the noble Baroness, who is very well informed on these issues, has applied a greater textual analysis to the Statement than it perhaps merits, because we are in very early days here. To address her last point first, I should say that there was great relief at and welcome for the high-level Arab attendance at Annapolis. Let us recall that the Saudi Foreign Minister, who went to Annapolis yesterday, was not, along with the Saudis, represented at Madrid in 1991. A lot of work was done in the run-up to the conference to ensure not only Saudi participation but that of other Arab Governments, and not only the allies of peace, such as Jordan; it was also important to secure the attendance of Syria and others. Everybody understands that this process requires steady Arab support on the political as much as the economic track if we are to succeed during 2008.
On the issue of the Palestinian state, there is absolutely no change in the commitment by President Bush or by the United Kingdom to a two-state solution, which has always assumed a viable Palestinian state. Nor is there any suggestion that there would be a diminution of the political role of Europe; far from it. This is the moment for Europe to engage. It was extremely well represented in Annapolis. A number of Governments attended in their own right, as well as through the European Union.
My Lords, did I understand the Minister to indicate that Her Majesty's Government would talk to Hamas, as the de facto authority, about freedom of access both for humanitarian supplies and relief and for trade and commerce? Secondly, will there be a tripartite working group to examine these issues, particularly in relation to Gaza?
My Lords, the noble Lord did not hear the Minister correctly. The humanitarian contacts with Hamas are principally through the United Nations and the Red Cross, not directly through the British Government. I acknowledged in a previous debate that there have been some limited consular contacts in the past—for example, about Alan Johnston. Although I take under advisement his suggestion of a tripartite meeting on the commercial issues, I must remind him that at this moment Hamas remains isolated from contacts with most of the international community, so these kinds of proposals are likely to remain on hold until that situation improves.
My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that Hamas ruled itself out of the negotiations? One cannot conceive how peace in Northern Ireland could ever have come about without the participation of the IRA, which in those days was described in similar terms to those in which Hamas is described today. Does the Minister therefore not recognise that probably America ruled Hamas out, no doubt supported by Israel? It is anticipated that they can make a peace agreement without including Hamas. Does the Minister really believe that that is possible?
My Lords, the noble Lord should remember that in some ways the position of Hamas as a party to this is even more extreme than that of the IRA in its most difficult times, because, for example, the IRA, for all its appalling violence, never denied the UK's right to exist. Secondly, only today, as has already been said in the Chamber, Hamas condemned the peace process and the meeting in Annapolis and threatened continued violence. Indeed, every time it fires a rocket into Israel or turns its fire on the Palestinian security forces, it makes it harder to talk to it. On the noble Lord's fundamental point, however, I certainly agree that all political voices need to be heard at some point. The issue is finding a moment when those political voices have returned to legitimate peaceful discussion.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the fact that the conference has taken place. I suggest, however, that a time limit might not be helpful in the long run. Is not the key to securing the co-operation of Hamas getting better relationships going with Iran? Iran needs to be brought in from the cold if we are to get a long-term Palestinian and Middle East settlement. Does the Minister have any indication that the United States in particular is prepared to make some moves towards getting Iran on board in a complete Middle East settlement?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an even bigger issue than peace in the Middle East. The many dimensions of Iran's role in the region, which brings alarm to many moderate Governments and many not-so-moderate Governments in the region, are an indication that ultimately Iran's position—not just its nuclear programme but its broader interests and ambitions—has to be put on the table and discussed with its neighbours, as well as with the United States and others. It is perhaps not part of this negotiation, which already carries burdens enough without adding the broader issue of Iran.