My Lords, the UK’s policy in the Middle East remains clear following the recent election in Israel. We look forward to good relations with the new Israeli Government, when formed, and to working closely together to address the vitally important task of building peace and stability between Israel and the Palestinians and the wider Middle East. Making progress towards the two-state solution remains a foreign policy priority for the United Kingdom.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but could she tell the House whether or not the Government will be developing a strategy to build a broad alliance of allies committed to persuading the Israeli Government that it is in their interests and the interests of the Israeli people to take more seriously the need for a two-state solution? Can she further tell us whether the Government propose to ensure that Mr Netanyahu takes that commitment more seriously?
My Lords, I welcome the narrative that the noble Baroness has set out. We are in close consultation with international partners, including the US, EU and Arab states, on how we should encourage both parties to make progress towards peace. The UK has already led EU efforts to set out a package of unprecedented support that Europe would offer both parties in the event of a final status agreement. That offer is still on the table. Through the Arab peace initiative, Arab states have offered Israel the normalisation of relations in the event of a comprehensive peace agreement. That signals the benefits that peace would bring to the entire region. It is important that both Netanyahu and the Palestinians understand the serious proposals on offer and take them up.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that now may be the time to bring the United Nations back in? What discussions have the Government had with other EU Governments about a framework resolution on a peace settlement through the UN Security Council now that the United States is recalibrating its position?
My Lords, I am sure these matters will continue to be discussed within the United Nations. In particular, of course, we are still awaiting the opportunity to see what the commission of inquiry into Israel produces in its report. We are disappointed that Israel did not allow the commission access to specific places. As to EU co-operation, currently discussions are going ahead in the EU about what further sanctions might be required if progress on the peace initiative is not made.
My Lords, on the subject of our involvement in the Middle East, does my noble friend share the concerns expressed by the UN political affairs chief, Jeffrey Feltman? He has cited evidence of Hamas testing missiles and attempting to smuggle in materials that could be used for missile production. Does she share my concerns that Hamas might be preparing for another conflict against civilians?
My Lords, we have assessed that Hamas is seeking to rebuild infrastructure, including the tunnel network in Gaza, and we are indeed deeply concerned about the reports to which my noble friend has referred of militant groups rearming. Hamas faces a fundamental decision about whether it is prepared to accept the quartet principles and join in with the efforts for peace or whether it will continue to use violence and terror, with all the terrible consequences for the people of Gaza. Hamas needs to make that choice.
My Lords, the election results in Israel show a clear concern for internal security and for the surrounding borders. Does the Minister agree that any future discussions about policy should take into account the developing nuclear programme in Iran, which poses a constant threat to the peace of the whole region? I hope that we will continue the work to stop Iran producing a nuclear bomb.
My Lords, discussions are currently under way with Iran about producing a political framework to resolve the issue of the potential development of its nuclear capability. As I say, those negotiations are currently under way and I would not wish to compromise them, but clearly a huge amount of effort has been put into them. We are of course aware of the implications for the whole region of getting that settlement right. We need a good deal and the right deal, and all our efforts are bent towards that. It is important not only for Israel and Palestine; it is important for the whole region and for us.
My Lords, there are of course many impediments to peace in the Middle East, but is not the greatest of these Israel’s flagrantly illegal occupation of Palestinian territory?
My Lords, I assume that my noble friend is referring to the way in which Israel has extended settlements against the original agreements rather than simply where Israel has its own territory as such under international law. Our position on settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law, they present an obstacle to peace and they take us further away from a two-state solution. We strongly urge the Government of Israel to reverse their policy on illegal settlements.
My Lords, the House will be pleased to hear that Her Majesty’s Government’s support for a two-state solution remains strong, and I should say that Her Majesty’s Opposition continue to support a two-state solution as the best way to end this tragic impasse. My question is this: will Her Majesty’s Government make it clear in the strongest possible terms to the new Israeli Government, when formed, that any move away from this principle will leave Israel more isolated from the international community and will make it more difficult for its friends around the world?
My Lords, I welcome the support of the Opposition which the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has just evinced, and I agree with every single word of his analysis.