Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:29 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip 5:29 pm, 29th April 2004

There have been many well informed speeches in the debate, and at least one very distinctive contribution. The speech made by Mr. Kaufman was the most passionate contribution, but I suggest that he should not be put in charge of negotiations, as his diplomatic skills need honing.

The Select Committee report is excellent; the recommendations are sound and I wish there were more time to dwell on them. In opening the debate, Tony Baldry referred to three reports under consideration: the Select Committee report, the Government's response and the country assistance plan. Although he mentioned it subsequently, he could also have mentioned the letter from the 52 ex-diplomats, because it has informed this debate almost as much as the other three documents.

Although concerns have been expressed about whether all the 52 diplomats are as unbiased as one would hope them to be, hon. Members should consider the different posts that they held, which include high commissioner to Australia and ambassador to Hungary, Norway and Israel. No one could argue that all the letter's signatories served their full term in Arab states and have therefore been unduly influenced by their contacts.

I hope that the Minister responds to the question whether he believes that the road map is still alive. We received some assurances yesterday from the Israeli ambassador that the road map, although clearly not active, is not dead and could be resurrected. Regrettably, a report from Agence France-Presse on Wednesday quoted Ariel Sharon as saying:

"I would have preferred to negotiate an agreement"— with the Palestinians—

"but several months ago I realised that it is not possible to move the roadmap forward because the Palestinians do not respect their commitments".

He went on to say that he would expect Israel's responses to violence to be much harsher after the withdrawal. Will the Minister say what prospects he sees for future developments if the road map is dead, as Ariel Sharon seems to be saying? What does he think a harsher military response from Israel would constitute, and what would be the British Government's response?

In the time available, it would be difficult to go through the individual Government responses to the Select Committee report. However, I want to draw attention to a couple. At several points, the Government agree with the Committee, such as in answer 8 on a maximum waiting time of 30 minutes for ambulances at checkpoints. In answer 10, the Government agree that, in theory, pharmaceuticals should be classified as humanitarian, but:

"In practice it is not uniformly implemented."

It would be useful to hear from the Minister what follow-up there has been on those Government answers. Has there been any monitoring of whether progress has been made in ambulances getting through checkpoints and in ensuring that drugs are available as they should be from a humanitarian point of view?

I had a meeting earlier today with someone representing the Palestinian delegation, and I thought that it would be worth passing on the concerns that they wanted to be represented, specifically the issue of EU trade sanctions. Although the report suggests that, in the balance of trade, not much leverage could be exerted on the Israelis, the impact beyond the specific measure—in particular, on confidence in the Israeli economy—would be much more profound. The Palestinian representative is concerned that the focus is not lost on the issue of international development, because they clearly anticipate that the peace process will not be resolved for many decades. Therefore, to lose sight of the international development needs would be extremely regrettable.

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister about the Government's red lines on the Gaza withdrawal. The Palestinian representative's view, my view and, I think, the Select Committee's view is that it has the potential to be a positive development, but only if it is part of a package of measures, including Palestinian access to the sea and the airspace. Are the Government therefore arguing that there should be some red lines?

Regrettably, I do not have time to comment on the visit that my hon. Friend Mr. Keetch and I made, although I should mention that it was paid for by Friends of Israel and has been registered.

Yesterday, I sent a letter to the Prime Minister noting that there is clearly lots of good will towards the UK on both sides. Given that the UK provides bilateral aid, as well as multilateral aid through the EU, it can use its leverage to encourage the Palestinians to tackle security issues and the Israelis to address the expansion of settlements and human rights issues. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the Government will use that leverage; if they do not, they will, in the words of the 52 ex-diplomats, be backing a policy that is "doomed to failure".