Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:55 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere 4:55 pm, 29th April 2004

I welcome the work of the Committee in drawing attention to the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people. I may not go down the same road as my hon. Friend Tony Baldry in all the conclusions that he has reached, but I respect the work that he has done and I recognise that a great deal of careful and hard work has produced this report.

Whatever one's views on the politics of the middle east—we clearly have different views here today—there is clearly a significant level of humanitarian need among the Palestinians, including high levels of unemployment, poverty and even malnutrition. There is clearly a need for better health care and, importantly, for better education. Whatever one's views on the middle east, we should all look for a way of alleviating the suffering as much as we possibly can. However long we have to wait for a political solution, we should seek to address those humanitarian needs in the interim. Whatever I say in the debate, I will not demur from that proposition and neither will I try to use aid to the Palestinians as a way of putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority.

I think that it is right that first and foremost we should seek to address humanitarian needs, provided—this is a very important provision—that the aid is properly applied for the intended purpose. That is a material consideration in the debate and an important reservation. I welcome the approach taken by the Committee in paragraph 68 of its report, where it states:

"It is in everyone's interest that every penny of international development aid to the Palestinian Authority, whether from DFID or charities, is fully and transparently accounted for."

I would adopt and echo that conclusion.

While the report sets out to establish what aid is possible in the present situation, it implies—as today's debate has implied—that the undoubted plight of the Palestinian people cannot be separated from the political context in which they find themselves. Wherever one's sympathies have been engaged during the long period of this dispute, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a great deal of the suffering could and would have been alleviated if there had been a negotiated political settlement that addressed the aspirations of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples, and that the suffering and deterioration that has undoubtedly taken place since September 2000 could have been avoided if agreement had been reached at Camp David and if the peace process initiated at Oslo had been kept on track. I do not want to go over ground that we have already covered, but it will take a great deal to persuade me that it was not the leadership of the Palestinian Authority—it is still the same leadership today—that manifestly failed to take advantage of what was, I believe, a good offer in prospect for it at the Camp David negotiations in the summer of the year 2000. I have to say that. Of course the Palestinian leadership was not forced to take that offer; it was freely negotiating. However, it was a realistic offer given the domestic constraints on Israel. It sought to address all the old historic issues, including a sovereign state for the Palestinians on the west bank, and the status of Jerusalem. There was even a formula for the return of refugees, to enable some refugees at least, from the 1948 struggle, to return to Israel. All those matters were on the table and open for negotiation, and the plain fact is that it was the Palestinian leadership who walked away from that offer.

We will hear what Richard Burden has to say if he is called, but it will take a lot to persuade me that the then leader of Israel, Ehud Barak, did not have every possible interest in bringing those negotiations to fruition, staking his political future on them, trying to bring peace to the people of Israel and facing an imminent election. It will also take a lot to convince me that President Clinton did not have a sincere and long-term interest in bringing about a peaceful solution in the middle east as the final achievement of his presidency, which was also running out. It will take a lot to persuade me that that decision did not belong to the Palestinian Authority. That decision was taken by the present leadership of the Palestinian Authority and it had the right to take it. However, it will take a lot to persuade me—in the face of what all the evidence suggests—that, having taken that decision, the then leadership of the Palestinian Authority did not decide to leave those peace negotiations and to embark on an intifada as an alternative to seeking a peaceful solution.

I heard the analysis of the situation by Mr. Kaufman. No doubt it did not help at all that Mr. Sharon decided to take his walk on the Temple Mount when he did. However, it will take a lot to persuade me that the decision on the whole intifada—the campaign that we have seen since and the intensification of the suicide bombings that were already taking place—was brought about by a single walk on a religious site. However grave the offence that that may have caused, it will take a lot to persuade me that that decision was not taken by the Palestinian leadership elsewhere, for whatever reasons, as an alternative to peaceful negotiation.