EU: Middle East Peace Process — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 9th March 2009.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:45 pm, 9th March 2009

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they support the objective of the Czech presidency of the European Union that President Obama's visit to Europe in April should include talks with European Union Ministers on the Middle East peace process.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we believe that the United States is integral in helping to resolve the Middle East peace process. The European Council issued a declaration in December confirming that the Middle East peace process remains a priority in 2009 and the importance of the US in taking this forward. We welcome the United States' prioritisation of peace in the Middle East and any opportunities for discussion between the European Union Ministers and the United States Administration on this issue.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the European Union has given solid support to Israel in recent years, repeatedly insisting on preconditions with Hamas while not stopping the settlement expansion that Israel still is carrying on? Is it not high time for Israel to return that support by negotiating a proper deal for a full Palestinian state, which, on all understanding and from what we gather from the press and public statements, President Obama, the Secretary of State, Senator Mitchell, the chief of staff and the entire Middle Eastern team of the President so urgently now desire?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we all recognise the strength of that pressure and the importance now accorded to this issue by the United States, as evidenced by the speech made by Hillary Clinton to the conference on 2 March. At that conference on future developments, it was clear that the European Union and others, including the UK, were very concerned to produce support for reconstruction in Gaza, but we also recognise the wider context in which this reconstruction has to be viewed. The noble Lord is right that we look forward to progress with the new Israeli Government, once they have been formed, towards a more effective relationship between Palestine and Israel.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that President Obama's forthcoming visit, nevertheless—

Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Where does the greatest resistance to a two-stage solution of the conflict lie? Is it with the Israelis or among the Palestinians?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I do not think that the issue is about apportioning responsibility for the difficulties of the past. It is to see how we can be constructive with regard to the future. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will take delight, as will the whole House, in the more progressive, constructive position which is now being taken up by the international community, and the increase in demands on the Palestinians and the new Israeli Government to recognise their responsibilities for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Clearly, what has been continuing in recent years has led to untold disasters, such as that we have witnessed in recent months.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, does the Minister agree that President Obama's forthcoming visit presents European Ministers with a welcome opportunity to try to convince him that the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and reports of the further destruction of Palestinian homes and settlement in East Jerusalem are far worse than unhelpful, to quote his Secretary of State? They present a fatal possibility of killing the peace process with dire implications for the future security of Israel and for the future creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the House is always eager to hear the noble Lord on these issues and the constructive approach he adopts. It is clear that the European Union is eager for progress. Noble Lords will recognise the great opportunities that will exist during the G20 summit and the President's subsequent visits to Europe for pressure to be brought to bear on the world's outstanding difficult issues, of which this is one of the more obviously calamitous. We expect the United States to find that any constructive initiative and stance that it proposes to take on the issues identified by the noble Lord are those that the European Union is likely to raise with the President.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, is it not reassuring that, contrary to predictions and the presidency of the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration have given priority to the peace process from the start? Is the Minister confident that the European Union will respond accordingly, in action and not words—for example, in naval and border patrols—to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza strip and generally to provide potential support for any eventual settlement?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, it is important that Europe is constructive in these circumstances and seizes the opportunity to align itself with what my noble friend has identified as a difference of perspective between President Obama's Administration and that of their predecessor, and recognise that it has its role to play. However, others have their role to play. We should also recognise the importance of the recent conference chaired by Egypt and the importance of the Arab world's role with regard to a long-lasting solution to these issues.