§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government what are their proposals for engendering an environment for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the guiding principle of land for peace under the Oslo round has evolved and stalled repeatedly since its inception, with many arguing that, if not dead, it is in a deep coma, hostage to the internal political affairs of Israel.
§ Palestinians from the West Bank and those in Gaza, who are subjected to life in a barricaded ghetto cut off from the rest of the world, are caught in a downward spiral of rapidly falling standards of living, with costs pegged at Israeli levels, with its per capita average annual income of 17,000 US dollars alongside Palestinians whose average income is just 1,000 US dollars per year.
§ In addition, 900,000 Palestinians share the Gaza Strip with just 4,000 Israeli settlers; yet those settlers control and use disproportionate water resources, which, together with lamentable sewerage systems, wild west roads and refugees living in a state of desperation, is anything but conducive to an atmosphere for peace.
§ On the West Bank, provocative settlements, now practically encompassing Jerusalem, with its bypass roads system, suggest that the state of Israel has long decided to make a permanent home of the West Bank.
§ The city of Hebron exists in a state of animosity in a sometimes powder keg charged atmosphere, with extremist Israelis physically living on top of, and totally surrounded by, Palestinians with Israeli security forces protection. It is a non-workable situation.
§ A further example of how the intransigence of the peace process is testing many is illustrated in a disturbing survey published last week in Amman, showing that 80 per cent. of Jordanians have turned their back on the process and now regard Israel as an enemy.
§ While some might say that that is evidence to support the principal concern of Israel—security—it is in my view self-inflicted. However, we must all be on guard to ensure that the frustration manifested by the survey does not turn into any suggestion of violence.
§ So what is the current state of the peace talks? On Tuesday the Israeli cabinet voted to insist on the unilateral implementation of a stringent list of preconditions, citing vital interests, which Palestinians have rejected, before any future negotiations on the West Bank. Yesterday, Israel decided in addition that it intends to keep large parts of the West Bank in any final settlement.
§ The Americans had given Prime Minister Netanyahu extended time to address redeployment issues in order to accommodate the budget process, which cost the coalition an important resignation. They have called for a round of talks in Washington between President Clinton, Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister 1219 Netanyahu suggesting a merciful involvement in not only negotiations but, it is to be hoped, implementation, by the Americans.
§ Concrete progress must be made. Breakdown is not an option. A climate of obligations and responsibilities must prevail.
§ So it is against that backdrop that the Government must respond tonight, with the added dimension of being President of the European Union. This represents a combination of added responsibility but with an opportunity to be constructive and more forward thinking about engendering an environment for peace. We should also see our shared history as a basis for doing more today. Certainly now is not the time for platitudes.
§ I returned at the weekend from Jerusalem, Amman, the West Bank and Gaza and was left in little doubt that hard decision-making must now be addressed. Some on the Israeli side, including moderate high ranking politicians, are adamant that external pressure is unhelpful. Maybe so; I disagree. The outside world has an investment in peace in the Arab-Israeli arena, and there is a great deal of urgency to do something positive right away.
§ I support, however, the premise that the Oslo round is the only game in town and must be built upon. But I have criticisms when the US programme is not being spelt out in more detail. I had the opportunity to be fully briefed by the Americans and left satisfied. Madeleine Albright has said that while she wants accelerated final status talks, it will not be at the cost of not implementing the interim steps. That approach must be right.
§ That said, I wonder whether consideration might not be given to introducing a new face to the process by replacing Dennis Ross with a high powered politician. It might produce a fresh approach and he might even welcome the break. Europe, for example, has, in Ambassador Moratinos, a special representative. While not suggesting that he be that person, what are his remit and objectives? What direction and role are we setting for him during the presidency?
§ So what is the UK approach? In the past we have opted for a posture of quiet diplomacy complementing, not contradicting, the United States, while accepting that there can only ever be one principal in the mediator role. I believe that we in Europe should be more supportive of the process than just in name and be elevated to the position of equal partners with the United States, but with the job of co-pilot being alternated. We are the principal financial backers of the Palestinian economy, having already given 500 million ecu in multilateral aid. It must be relevant to ask how that money is well spent when Israel has blockaded the Palestinian economy. Israel's exports to the European Union measure some 60 per cent., so I submit that together with our investment for peace, our role should not be restricted to purely funding but should include geopolitics.
§ I believe that Europe should, in the event of a breakdown or stalemate after the Washington round, consider carefully its position. If the Israelis or Palestinians fail to agree on a common approach in 1220 Washington, the Americans and Europeans as equal partners should say enough is enough, and signal their dissatisfaction through quick impact measures. In any event, the Americans do not have a monopoly on ideas. It might possibly be easier for us to be more forthright. Europe should stand ready to show its teeth and be prepared to use its cards. By that I can think of our economic card particularly which, combined with the United States overall official and unofficial aid of 5 billion US dollars to the Israelis, would be useful bargaining power.
§ There are many confidence-building measures that could be taken in Washington. The signing of the reasoned and balanced MOU on security seems essential and falls within the Hebron note calling for reciprocity. The granting by Israel of the Gaza seaport, airport and safe passage issues would seem beneficial also to the Israelis, as economic development and general wellbeing is fundamental and the best deterrent against terrorism.
§ Two points present themselves. First, Israel stands accused of double standards in its state-sponsored terrorist act in Amman. It is Prime Minister Netanyahu who is holding up the implementation of the MOU. The second point is that the Palestinians really have little left to bring to negotiations.
§ On the Palestinian side, the redrafting of the covenant which particularly calls for the destruction of Israel is outdated and cannot be further delayed. The Palestinians say that they have sufficiently addressed this, but not to the satisfaction of the Israelis for whom this remains a major stumbling block. Robust remarks in Arabic by Chairman Arafat on anti-Semitic propaganda and to have generally toned down Palestinian rhetoric, would also undoubtedly help the process.
§ The United Kingdom can also play its part. The Government have come close to endorsing the call for a Palestinian state. Why not make a statement tonight unequivocally supporting that? I can remind the Minister that 81 Members of Parliament have signed an early day Motion to that effect.
§ I left the region last week with the sense that a regrettable ignorance exists of Jew by Arab and vice versa in, for example, family-related matters, religious customs and the functioning of civil society. Oslo did not address that serious deficiency and this must be overcome if there is to be a real, sustainable peace. There must be, I believe, more inter-faith dialogue, most particularly on such vexing questions as Jerusalem. Another example is the regional quandary of shared and limited water resources. That must be taken as an opportunity to unite in a common endeavour, rather than turning it into a divisive issue. Further delay of consideration rather than negotiation of final status issues is not helpful. I believe that mechanisms must be found to start serious debate of these matters in the spirit of assisting decision-makers in their search for common ground. We should make this an objective of our presidency.
§ True peace will only come from taking the hearts and minds of the people of the region with it. A question I asked Crown Prince Hassan in Amman is, to me, of the 1221 essence: what is the role of Israel in the Arab world? The objective must be for a regional, pluralistic society, economically intertwined with respect for differing cultures, including Syria and Lebanon. That has to be the best guarantee for Israel's security. To help achieve that underlying challenge, to be underpinned by the international community, must be to assist the state of Israel solidify its aspirations and feel at peace with itself, and its neighbours, both near and far.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Lord Janner of Braunstone
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising the issue, and am glad he went to the Middle East. I too have just returned. However, with respect, I feel that he does not fully understand the sensibilities and complexities of the issues which have divided those two peoples for so long.
Perhaps I may take one example. The noble Lord mentioned the covenant, and he was quite right. But that itself is a difficult issue. Prime Minister Netanyahu informed a conference of parliamentarians which I attended that the covenant had not been repealed. Nabeel Shaath, who is another friend of mine, a distinguished Palestinian negotiator, said that it had been repealed. I went to the Israel Foreign Office and said: "Well, one must be right and the other wrong". The representative said:"No, they may both be right because if they have repealed it, they have given no indication as to which articles of the covenant they have repealed".
So I went to see Chairman Arafat last Friday and asked him whether he would be good enough to provide a list of the articles because there were enough real problems without having unreal ones. I asked whether he would provide it to me or someone else, and he said: "Yes, I will provide you with it and I will do so soon". I thanked him very much and gave that information to the Minister of State, Derek Fatchett, who is in Israel now, he will be seeing Chairman Arafat and I hope that he will get the list. So in that way, between us we can at least help. With respect, it does not help to slam either side, to attack the prime ministers or chairmen of either side. It does not help to say: "Get rid of Dennis Ross". They will not listen to us if we approach matters in that way. If we want to be of help, we have to show some understanding.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, I was asking whether the question could be raised as regards Dennis Ross. That is rather different from the suggestion that the noble Lord just made.
§ Lord Janner of Braunstone
My Lords, I can understand a subtle hint from the noble Lord or anyone else, and I hope that Dennis Ross does not take the hint that he dropped. Let him have a fighting chance of obtaining results. I asked Chairman Arafat what he thought of the American position and his answer was that he believed they were being fair-handed and should have a chance. If it is good enough for Chairman Arafat, for those like Afif Sofieh and others like them. I am sure it should be good enough for the noble Lord and me.
1222 There are plenty of other examples of this. For example, the anti-Semitic content of the media in the Palestinian areas. Again, Chairman Arafat said, "Give me the details and I will do my best to deal with it". That could remove another unpleasant and distasteful block to understanding between the peoples.
Finally, it would be a good idea for us to understand that Israel is a democracy. Democracy is rather like some of the health-giving drugs that we take; it has side effects. The side effect of democracy is that too often a government is elected for which we ourselves would never vote. For 18 years I tried to get rid of the government of this country and only recently succeeded in that meritorious objective.
In Israel I would not dream of voting for Netanyahu, but the Israelis elected him and, if we want to be of help in achieving peace in the Middle East, we must understand that he has been elected by the people. The kind of attacks that the noble Viscount made on him, particularly at the beginning of his speech, will not help to achieve understanding between the parties, nor will they get Prime Minister Netanyahu and his troops to take any notice of what we say. If we follow that line they will merely regard us as opponents who do not understand the complexities and sensibilities of the situation.
I have listened to both sides very carefully and met most of the leaders on both sides during last week. I suggest that we can serve a useful role; it is the role of catalyst, not the role of people coming along and saying, "If you do not behave, we will take away your trade. We will not provide you with help in what you are doing". It is the role of people who say, "We have experience. We have understanding". We understand, by the way, from our Irish experience how difficult it is to deal with terrorism and security. We understand the sensibilities and concerns of both sides and wish to help. Only in that way can we help, and we certainly should.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, although I appreciate the motives of the noble Viscount in bringing this Motion before us, I profoundly disagree with it. It is neither appropriate nor useful for Her Majesty's Government to intervene in these matters, still less to do so in association with other members of the European Union.
I have been involved in these matters for some time, although not with the same intimacy as noble Lords who have spoken so far. I believe that agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is reachable. But that is not the main issue. The main problem and the reason why many people regard Prime Minister Netanyahu as going over the top in some respects—I can see why they think that—is that the threat to Middle East peace and, above all, to the survival of the state of Israel does not come from Mr. Arafat and his followers; it comes from two major powers.
The threat comes from Iraq, which is developing weapons of mass destruction and has again today refused to allow the inspection of biological weapons which are openly declared to be there for the annihilation of the population of Israel. It comes also 1223 from Iran which is not only preparing for the same purpose weapons of mass destruction but is assisting other countries—notably Libya—in the same direction. On top of that, it maintains a network of terrorist organisations throughout the region.
To my mind it is extraordinary that the Israeli population is not even more exasperated by the situation than it is. It is not right that countries which are remote from existential threat of this kind should think that there is a way of dealing with it except directly. Yet, when the United States thinks that something may at least be done about Iraq—it is the nearest and most immediately threatening of those countries—we find members of the European Union and other members of the Security Council who, for wholly selfish reasons, prefer to put up obstacles rather than any kind of action.
What Her Majesty's Government can best do is to persuade her fellow members of the European Union that there is no peace in the Middle East when it is being threatened by weapons of even greater horror than nuclear weapons.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, will the noble Lord be kind enough to allow me to ask whether he accepts or rejects the evidence which has appeared over the past 20 years that Israel holds a stock of nuclear weapons?
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, no, of course not. Thank God for Israel's nuclear weapons; otherwise that country would have been exterminated long ago. They are the one safeguard against a major war in the Middle East. They are no threat. No Iraqi pretends that Israel intends to exterminate the population of Iraq; no Iranian pretends that it intends to exterminate the population of Iran. Those are weapons of deterrence, as are our own nuclear weapons, and long may they continue to be so.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Lord Smith of Clifton
My Lords, I rise for the first time to address your Lordships' House with the usual trepidation that befalls maiden speakers. I thank your Lordships for the kindly reception I have received since my introduction and I thank the staff of the House most warmly for their patience and assistance; I find the labyrinthine architecture of the Palace of Westminster most bewildering and I wonder whether I may prevail upon the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to include me in the Home Office's pilot experiment in electronically tagging convicted criminals. I am sure such a device could be adapted so that I, at least, could discover where exactly I am without having to pester the staff of the House!
I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing the debate this evening. My interest in the Middle East and its problems was greatly increased from the time when I served as a governor of the University of Haifa—a university which in its research and scholarship and geographical location in northern Galilee enables it to analyse and unfortunately simultaneously to experience the problems that arise in that area; and I am happy to note that my noble friend Lord Jacobs is now chairman of its governors.
1224 This debate calls for,proposals for engendering an environment for peace",which indicates a medium to long-term view; such environments are rarely quickly established, and yet we must somehow move history along. Recent history, particularly since the ending of the Cold War, reveals that there has been a mushroom growth in armed conflicts, noticeably of an intra-state character, that is now reaching pandemic proportions. Research from the University of Uppsala shows that in the period 1989-96 the world witnessed 110 armed conflicts, of which 36 were still active in 1996.
Against this awful tally, however, one can perceive some encouraging straws in the wind. The Uppsala researchers also record that in the same eight-year period some 19 peace agreements were enacted. Again, last week saw the publication of the conclusions of two important commissions chaired by distinguished Members of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, co-chaired the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, which calls for a United Nations rapid reaction force to be on hand to move in quickly to pre-empt the possibility of further conflagration. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, chaired a task force set up by the United Nations Association of the United States, which proposes an enlargement of the Security Council, along with a revamped military staff committee, and for the provision of better informed analysts to assist the council's work.
While it is true that these two expert reports disagree about the practicality of immediately implementing a standing UN rapid reaction force, they do not disagree about its desirability. What is important to stress is that both studies are seriously seeking to enhance the role of the United Nations in peace-keeping operations. The international community is thus being pressured by the sheer force of events to improve the United Nations capacity for preventive action, peace making, peace-keeping and peace building, all of which were the main themes of Dr. Boutros Ghali's Agenda for Peace.
There remains, of course, much more to be done. The enormous size of the task was sketched out some years ago in a powerful lecture given by my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf, who said:The historic task of creating, civil society will be complete only once there are citizenship rights for all human beings. We need a world civil society … The study of international relations has yet to become a serious subject, and there are only rudiments of genuine international law".If those words were true in 1988, they are even truer today.
The present situation calls for a new-mind set. In the past, nation states prepared and planned for war. In the future they should prepare and plan for peace. First, the role of the defence forces in the liberal democracies needs to prepare to assist in peace keeping wherever peace is threatened; and it is to be hoped that the forthcoming defence review will address this important remodelling of our own armed forces. Secondly, the expertise of policy analysts and researchers needs to be systematically utilised by decision-makers. It is 1225 alarming to note that the United Nations itself has insufficient means to devote to the considered analysis of its own operations.
Lessons are not always learnt, nor is experience built upon in a systematic way. We need to use our own resources much better. Governments generally make less use of academic expertise in international policy-making than they do in the domestic sphere. In the United Kingdom there are considerable untapped resources available to government reposing in the universities. I can speak best for my own university, the University of Ulster. We are drawing on the experience of its Centre for the Study of Conflict which deals with the situation in Northern Ireland. We have established, in conjunction with the United Nations University, a centre for the worldwide study of ethnic conflict and its resolution, known by the acronym INCORE. We have collaborated with many bodies, particularly with the Academy for Leadership set up by the United Nations University in Jordan with the encouragement of the Crown Prince. We have collaborated recently with Professor Naomi Chazan, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and shared her mediation experiences. We must hope that academic activity will be drawn upon by governments in the future, the better to improve our policy. We must hope that the proposals outlined in the reports from the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Carrington, and the work of the universities in Britain and elsewhere will lead to more purposeful action in the future.
There is no easy quick-fix to bring about peace settlements. The problems of the Middle East have been at the forefront of the United Nations agenda during its entire existence. To these have been added the more recent conflicts in Africa and the former Yugoslavia. We cannot wait for a further half century to elapse for these and similar conflicts to be resolved.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Bradford
My Lords, even in view of the time limit for speeches, brevity must in no way detract from a sense of gratitude in your Lordships' House for the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Smith of Clifton. He has spoken with clarity, conviction and from experience and that is always appreciated in your Lordships' House. I warmly congratulate him on his speech, given under some pressure. That takes some doing. He has had a notable career in education and politics and is a trustee of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the author of a book enticingly entitled Anti-politics, and we look forward to hearing from him many times and on many subjects in your Lordships' House.
Again, I wish to approach this debate from a different angle.Jerusalem is a city holy for the people of three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Its unique nature of sanctity endows it with a special vocation: calling for reconciliation and harmony among people, whether citizens, pilgrims or visitors".Thus said the heads of the Christian community in Jerusalem on 14th November 1994. Whatever else the European Union's official delegation to the peace process does, I very much hope that it will be 1226 encouraged to give its fullest support to proposals to draw religious communities more fully into dialogue and the process of reconciliation. I shall be grateful if the Minister will give an undertaking that in their period of presidency the Government will strongly support this move. It is important to recognise the enormous significance of religious communities in this fragile situation.
On 5th March 1996 the Patriarchs and heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem, issued a press release, which in itself is a highly significant step. In it they said:All the various Religious Authorities in the Land have a responsibility and a role in the creation and the facilitation of a new atmosphere of peace. This can only he done through meetings and dialogue between the leading Religious Authorities".I do not recommend international interference. I do plead for international support by Christians, Jews and Moslems for initiatives, inter-faith dialogue and reconciliation being taken by people in Jerusalem. That is a very different matter from undue and improper interference. From a recent visit to Pakistan with a Moslem leader from Bradford, I am well aware that inter-faith dialogue is not easy to set up, but it is possible and it can bear fruit.
A word about the Christians in Jerusalem. Support for the churches is crucial. Migration continues apace. The tense political situation, the poor economic prospects and limited job opportunities for a highly educated community have added to the pressure to emigrate. This has had a devastating effect on the church communities.
In 1974 Paul VI said:The shrines would be without the warmth of the living witness of the Holy Places of Jerusalem, and the Holy Land would become like a museum".It is not to overstate the case to point out that the plight of the Christian churches in Jerusalem is of very great anxiety indeed.
Support for them, and also for those who are seeking reconciliation in every way, is crucial. There have indeed been Arab-Christians in Jerusalem since the day of Pentecost. A millennium visit to the Holy Land by the Pope and other Christian leaders may seem a little remote as a prospect at the moment, but I hope that the Government will work to create an atmosphere which will make such a visit possible.
Those who proclaim a gospel of reconciliation, as opposed to those who preach a message of violence, have so much to contribute and such a visit could be a major step forward.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing this Question tonight. There have been some answers to the Question that he has tabled to the Government. They have been partly provided by recent statements from the European Council meeting held last December. The Council had been greatly concerned, as indeed have many of your Lordships, at the lack of progress in implementing inter alia commitments undertaken under the interim agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
1227 Perhaps I may list a few of the issues. They are avoiding counter-productive action such as on the question of settlements; the importance of security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinians, and counter-terrorism programmes of assistance to the Palestinian authorities.
There is a need to conclude negotiations on such issues as the Gaza airport and port and safe passage for Palestinians. A substantial financial contribution from the European Union, which is the largest donor of such assistance, has been made to the Palestinian authorities.
The European Union has stated that it will enhance its support to Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem. The European Council has also stressed its readiness to assist in the negotiations on permanent status for Palestine. including on such issues as Palestinian statehood; border/security arrangements; settlements; refugees; the question of Jerusalem and in particular of eastern Jerusalem; and other matters such as water provision.
These issues will provide major opportunities for the UK presidency to play a positive role in the Middle East peace process which, as the Foreign Secretary has said, will have top priority during the British presidency. It is hoped that the meetings arranged for next week between the United States president and both Mr. Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat will yield a major contribution to keep, as one might say, "the show on the road".
To make it even remotely possible to achieve those objectives, first, Chairman Arafat must ensure tighter control of Islamic terrorists—there is no question about that—and not permit their early release to enable them to continue their devastating toll of Israeli personnel. The Israelis should cease their construction of new settlements on Palestinian territory, which is intolerable and contrary to previous agreements. I refer particularly to the West Bank and to East Jerusalem. In a recent speech on this issue, the Minister accepted that East Jerusalem was being illegally occupied by the Israelis.
Finally, the United Kingdom presidency offers major opportunities as well as responsibilities, given Britain's long concern over Palestine, to contribute to a positive advance in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. We should recall the recent words of the Foreign Secretary when he said that what we are seeking is security for Israel, but also justice for the Palestinians.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, a day or two ago Palestinian radio reported that Lord Wisely had entered Israel and Palestine in order to facilitate the visit of Mr. Derek Fatchett and to bring peace to the Middle East. I wondered what had happened and who that Member of your Lordships' House could be. It turned out to be our old friend, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, by a corruption of the sound of his name. In my opinion, the noble Viscount has indeed made a wise speech, so the Palestinians have shown good judgment on that matter.
1228 We must not forget the terribly unfavourable circumstances of the birth of the state of Israel. This was not a land without people into which a people without land could come and expect to be welcomed. In 1947, 13 Moslem countries voted against the UN Resolution to partition Palestine, including every one of the neighbouring states. The transplant was not locally acceptable at the time, and neither external subsidy nor domestic weaponry have made it so.
The United Kingdom, bound by its own even-handed Balfour Declaration, but powerless after the war to protect those we had committed ourselves to protect, abstained. We had been defeated by terrorism.
The trust in terror, and the fear of it, remain vivid with today's Israeli Government: not, I firmly believe. with most Israelis, who increasingly fear their own ultra-orthodox extremists as much as they fear the Islamist ones. Indeed, an opinion poll published last week showed thatmost of the Israeli publicsee the Netanyahu Government asthe number one obstacle to the peace process".But United States Governments believe that Israel's "military edge" is at all costs to be maintained; its nuclear weapons and threats, and its state terrorism, are never to be criticised; and the unlawful 1981 attack on Iraq is always to be justified. A similar attack on Iran today might get US support. The nuclear and other non-conventional weapons, a relatively huge arms industry, special services often out of control, and vast subsidies and support from the United States: none has produced anything but bitterness.
Inevitably, the threatening military capabilities in one country call up excessive military capabilities among those who see themselves threatened. Here be arms races, reinforcing one another. UNSCOM's failure to find, let alone destroy, what Iraq hides is proof—if it were needed—that even outright military defeat does not de-fang hatred and fear.
Would we today be so rash as to attempt such a transplant as was attempted in 1948? It was fair neither to the Palestinian nor to the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine to attempt to create two brand new 19th century nation states, utopias complete with constitutions and democracy, in an area so dense with utterly different histories, hopes and fears.
The Oslo process, the fruit of Norwegian patience, reflected Mr. Rabin's understanding that terror could not bring peace: and son of Oslo is still the key to progress. Most Israelis would now certainly prefer to belong in the Middle East. As our own Prime Minister has put it:The Israeli people have proven their dedication, their abilities, their ingenuity. Those assets in the service of peace could transform the whole region … nothing would entrench peace more firmly … Israel needs to listen to its true friends.I believe that Mr. Fatchett. in expressing the view of the European Union, is one of those true friends. We look forward to hearing as much as possible about it.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, this is a timely debate both because of the fragility of the Netanyahu majority and because of the dual anniversary of independence and the ending of the mandate. However, there can hardly be any pride in the Labour Party or in any British Government in those two events 50 years ago as far as concern the Palestinians. I trust that today the Minister will reaffirm Britain's role in the so-called peace process in its own right, not just on the coat-tails of Madeleine Albright or even the British EU presidency.
In the Adjournment Debate in another place on 17th December the Minister of State, Mr. Derek Fatchett, was understandably cautious about whether there was a peace process. We know from experience closer to home that we can hardly contribute to a process which is based on international aspirations and not on the positive actions of the communities involved. As Mr. Shimon Peres said on television last week, the peace process is needed not only by the Americans or the Arabs; it is also necessary for Israel.
Looking back, one can well understand the frustrations of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians driven from their land half a century ago and those who remained who are denied not only basic rights and resources but are still being deprived of land which they owned for generations. One can understand why some elements have resorted to suicide attacks or violence to draw attention to injustice and to more desperate alternatives than those proposed in the Oslo agreement.
The intifada was a response to violence of another kind—the violence of a political system which has pushed them right to the edge. The inescapable parallel which occurs to me is South Africa. It is not an exact parallel but it is another form of apartheid which denies Palestinians access to the wealth of the country around them and the opportunities even to make choices about their future. If the ANC has set a precedent for further sacrifices by the weak in order to defeat an extreme minority of the strong through mainly but not exclusively non-violent means, then at least we have been forewarned. The Palestinians have been waiting for justice for too long.
I have spoken to two of our leading aid agencies, Christian Aid and Save the Children, who have been active in the Middle East for all those 50 years. I have asked them what are the most acute needs. The unhesitating reply is: water and land and, in the shorter term, closures, which have cost the Palestinians 1 billion US dollars, the equivalent of their entire gross domestic product. Israeli control of drinking water, restrictions on land use and daily movement divide the communities more than any other issue. The average consumption of water by the Israeli settlements on the West Bank is four to five times higher than in the neighbouring Arab villages. It is higher even than in Israel itself. Israel diverts 75 per cent. of the Jordan river by virtue of its 1967 occupation, and fewer than one new Palestinian well per annum has been drilled during 30 years of occupation.
1230 In the Gaza Strip the coastal aquifers have had to cater for a population which has risen from its 1948 figure of 50,000 to nearly 900,000, half of them children, living in one of the most crowded areas of the world. The main aquifer is, not surprisingly, over-exploited well beyond the safety level, and is dangerously saline and polluted. The 2,500 Jewish settlers have over 30 wells drawing on a second aquifer for domestic and agricultural use. Is that not reminiscent of apartheid?
The Palestinians are also highly restricted as regards agriculture. In Israel itself Palestinians farm 17.6 per cent. of available land for crops, 17.8 per cent. for fruit and 23.5 per cent. for vegetables, yet they have access to only 2.7 per cent. of the water available for irrigation.
I conclude by asking the Minister whether she agrees with me that the restrictions I have mentioned, and the closures since February 1996, recall the Group Areas Act in South Africa and some of the worst features of apartheid. Finally, does she accept, in the spirit of the words "engendering peace", that the role of women, as we have known in Northern Ireland, is crucial in that process? Will she follow her Dutch foreign office counterparts in supporting a new peace initiative by the churches and NGOs in Jerusalem?
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Lord Watson of Invergowrie
My Lords, it is entirely appropriate to seek some means at this stage to break the log jam between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I commend the noble Viscount on introducing this debate. My noble friend Lord Janner said, as he so eloquently does on these occasions, that the issue is complicated. Of course it is. He went on to say that no purpose was served by criticising either side, particularly Prime Minister Netanyahu.
It is notable that within Israel itself the Prime Minister is treading a narrow line. The resignation of Foreign Minister Levy makes his position ever more tenuous. It is notable also that within the US support for Israel is decreasing. I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet President Clinton next week. That is at the third time of asking. No such meeting took place on his two previous visits. That is unusual. I noticed also that the International Herald Tribune reported that in a recent poll commissioned by the Israeli Pro-Peace Policy Forum, 84 per cent. of US Jews believe that America should pressure both sides to be more constructive, and 79 per cent. favour what the Americans call a "time out" in Israeli settlement activity.
Such sentiments would not have been expressed but for the exasperation felt by many people in the USA at the lack of progress and at the barriers to progress which the Israelis seem to be putting in place in the wake of the Oslo accord. A number of reasons for that have been rehearsed this evening. I do not intend to go over that ground again. We should think of the closures and the effect that they have on the Palestinian economy. The employment of Palestinians within Israel is down in 1231 the past six years from something like 120,000 to no more than 25,000 now. We must consider the effect that must have on the standard of living of the Palestinians.
The UN Special Co-ordinator's Office in the Occupied Territories estimated a decrease of some 60 per cent. in employment on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It claimed that, in large part, that is the direct and indirect result of the 25th February 1996 closure imposed by the Israeli authorities.
The Israeli Government have maintained their decision to increase settlements, despite widespread condemnation. This Government continue to condemn the spread of settlements, as did the previous government. Something must be done about the spread because it is an impediment to any progress towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is appropriate that Britain, within its presidency of the European Union, takes action to try to move the process forward. I feel strongly about the fact that the Israelis are not moving forward on redeployment, for instance. The Oslo accord called for a 10 to 12 per cent. redeployment but the Israelis have by no means agreed to that. Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to make one redeployment and an announcement was made in the Israeli Cabinet on Tuesday, drawing its map of vital security interests, leaving the Palestinians very little. No percentage figure has been attached to that. It is to be hoped that when President Clinton and envoy Donald Ross meet Mr. Netanyahu they draw those matters to his attention. They are a brake on progress.
The EU is the single largest donor to the peace process and therefore it is appropriate that it takes on the role which I was sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, say was not appropriate. I believe that it is appropriate. The EU is an integrated body and has a role to play. It channels a considerable amount of finance to the area and it has a right to express its view. I hope that my noble friend Lady Symons will say that determined representations will be made by our Government to the Israeli Government so that we may ease the closure to help breathe life into the Palestinian economy. If that were to emerge during this country's presidency of the EU it would mark a solid achievement of which we could be proud and on which we could build in future relationships between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord Denman
My Lords, I have two interests to declare. First, I am a trustee of the Medical Aid for Palestinians, a notable charity which is doing marvellous work in all the Arab areas. The noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, has made a great contribution to it. Secondly, I am a member of the Committee on Middle East Trade, which is part of the Overseas Trade Board and has responsibility for understanding the commercial problems of the whole region.
Soon after the Oslo declaration, I and others went to the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip to try to understand better how Britain could help. We concluded that in the appalling conditions in the Gaza Strip it was essential to make it possible for the products of Gaza— 1232 the citrus crops and so forth—to get out to the world markets. The first essential was a port and the second was an airport.
I understand that with Egyptian help the airport has been constructed but is not allowed to be operated. The port is still under discussion. The money is available for construction. We believe that we should take an example from the Second World War and build a temporary port which would, with the help of ro-ro ships and caissons, enable the movement of goods. We were soon told that the French had decided to help in producing the caissons and the Dutch in producing the ro-ro ships. That is very nearly five years ago. I urge the Government that one of the things they can do early on is to encourage the Europeans to take on those issues.
I have a positive suggestion. The Government have in their hand the Commonwealth Development Corporation, an enormously important body of great competence which has the ability to take on that issue. We have as a Member of this House the chairman, the noble Earl, Lord Cairns, who I am sure would be sympathetic to that suggestion.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for choosing this subject and for making such an excellent speech. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, on his distinguished maiden speech.
We had two extremely interesting speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Janner and Lord Beloff, which were made all the more interesting by the fact that they did not mention the key issue which has brought the peace process to a halt and indeed which has resulted in there not being a peace process; namely, the building of illegal settlements.
To give Mr. Netanyahu his due, he did not start that. He has carried on what the previous Labour government in Israel did. Not only are they illegal—they are aesthetic and political crimes. But they are also a complete negation of the peace process. As has been said, the peace process is a question of swapping land for peace. What are the settlements doing? By stealing more Palestinian land, they are taking more land rather than giving up that land. That is absolutely monstrous. It is wholly wrong that the American Government should allow that to happen. Indeed, it is yet another unfortunate example of what Gore Vidal calls the serene corruption of American politics. No other country would have been allowed to behave in that way.
By building those illegal settlements in advance of any agreement, the Israelis are not only moving the goalposts but are digging up the pitch. It is not surprising that the peace process has come to an end. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, mentioned the settlements in Gaza which are an obscenity. One sees the squalor of the Palestinians in Gaza and then one sees the swimming pools, the luxury and vast amounts of water on those Israeli settlements. Half the time the Israelis do not even live there and they are used by commuters. That shows the apartheid nature of the Israeli state at its very worst.
1233 Sara Roy, who works at the Centre of Middle East Studies at Harvard and is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said that she believes that the goals of the Israeli state are,to destroy the social, economic and political structure that could provide the basis for a viable independent Palestinian state".When one sees the conditions and ambitions of the present Israeli cabinet members which have been announced this week, one must say that Sara Roy has got it right, because the most that Mr. Netanyahu and his cabinet appear to be ready to leave the Palestinians are a very few small Indian reservations. They are very small and not joined up. Again, that is very much an apartheid state.
Of course, that is particularly true of Jerusalem. When he was in London Mr. Netanyahu said that if he was offered the choice between Jerusalem and peace, he would choose Jerusalem. But of course if he does that he will not have either in the long run because by no stretch of the imagination can East Jerusalem be considered to be Jewish. It is clearly Arab. All talk about the eternal capital of Israel is historical nonsense, as all noble Lords know.
And so it is vital that there should be a territorial compromise not only on the West Bank but also in Jerusalem. It is absolutely vital also that those settlements in Gaza should be removed forthwith. I very much hope that in the coming six months of the British presidency Britain will show an unaccustomed independence from the United States—and that applies not only to this Government but also to the previous one—and that that will breathe life into the peace process, which has not happened under the Clinton administration.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, it is a very sad fact that the economic and social situation of the Palestinian population of the occupied territories is worse now than it was during the intifada; it is worse than it was during the Kuwait war; and it is worse than it was during the time of the Oslo agreements. I should just like to mention four points which could—with a lot of good will, I admit—totally transform the situation. The first is free movement for the Palestinians of the West Bank between the West Bank and East Jerusalem and between both of those and Gaza.
The second point is one that was touched upon by several speakers. I refer to access to Israel for Palestinians lucky enough to have jobs there. The third point was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Denman; namely, fair access for Palestinian goods, especially export goods, to ports from which they can get to the outside world. The fourth point is free access for humanitarian aid destined for the Palestinians.
I have personal experience of a container that was sent by an English charity to a Palestinian charity, consigned through the port of Askelon last year. The container was held up for over two months and was only released after payment of £8,000 in customs and other charges. That container had in it wheelchairs, aids for
1234 disabled children and young people and dried milk. I have asked the Israeli authorities for a reimbursement of that enormous sum of money.
Earlier speakers mentioned the issue of "land for peace", a principle which, I am sure, finds universal support. It is the basis upon which the relevant UN resolutions have been constructed. I express the strongest possible hope that Her Majesty's Government will continue to press it.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that he was going to refer to the terrible circumstances which surround the origin of the state of Israel, I thought that he was going to talk about something else. Indeed, I thought that he would perhaps touch upon the policy of the Germans during the war, because only today we heard about the result of that policy in this Chamber during Question Time. I refer to the deliberate slaughter of homosexuals, of the disabled, of the mentally ill, of Romanies or gypsies; but, above all, we should remember that some 6 million Jews were deliberately put to death.
The latter was in the minds of the Israelis when the state of Israel was formed some 50 years ago. I heard Golda Meir and Mr. Begin when they came here. They said, "Never again". We should bear that in mind when we talk about such matters because they represent a traumatic and disgraceful episode in European history.
The European Union is concerned at present about the situation in Algeria. Indeed, in the past few days over 1,000 people have been slaughtered there. We need to think back to the origin of the Community. Noble Lords will recall that in 1950 Schuman proposed the merging of the iron and steel industries of France and Germany so that never again could they go to war because the sinews would be so closely knitted together. In fact, the coal and steel treaty was signed on 18th April 1951. That has meant that there has been an increasing opportunity for the European Union to speak as one in such matters. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is not too happy about this, but we have to seize every possible opportunity. I hope that the Government will seize the chance of the presidency to follow up what has already been said by the Minister of State, Derek Fatchett, who has already been quoted in your Lordships' House.
We had the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel this year, as I have said. We welcome a new ambassador, His Excellency Drog Zeigerman, who replaces the previous able occupant of this post, Moshe Raviv. We welcome the new ambassador and his state's 50th anniversary. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out, this state could become a powerhouse for the whole region in terms of agricultural expertise and irrigation expertise.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned the nuclear weapons which Israel may possess. I say, "Thank goodness for that". The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, mentioned an Early Day Motion. An Early Day Motion was tabled in the House of Commons when the Israelis attacked Iraqi nuclear installations. The Motion 1235 condemned Israel. Thank goodness they did that because heaven knows what might have happened in the Gulf War had they not done so. We must understand the attitude of the Israelis towards these matters, because in many ways they feel they are still under seige.
This is yet another debate about this tiny area which is only the size of Wales. While it is important to talk about it, it seems to have an almost obsessional interest for some people who come back to it time after time after time. I suggest that some of the regulars in these debates might like to join those of us who are concerned about the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world. As I mentioned in a previous debate, a State Department study produced at the behest of Congress shows that the persecution of Christians is the most prevalent religious persecution throughout the world, and a great deal of it occurs in Moslem countries. I welcome the plea of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford for support for our Christian friends in Israel. But let us all try to look further than this small pocket of land in the Middle East and speak up for our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they may be and wherever they are suffering persecution.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on introducing this debate at what is clearly a crucial time in the Middle East. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton on his contribution which broadened the subject to consider the whole crucial area of conflict resolution.
I begin by saying that I think all of us recognise that there is no way forward except through some variant of the Oslo process. The noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Gilmour, referred to the basic concept of land for peace. I believe that the European Union has a responsibility continually to draw attention to breaches of the Oslo accord that makes its achievement more and more difficult. In that respect it is worth saying that the extension of settlements into East Jerusalem and on the West Bank have not made the possibility of reaching that accord any easier.
The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, was right to remind us—there are parallels here with the history of Ireland—that the persistence of history in Israel is one factor to be taken into account. There are long memories and great fears in this region of the world.
Having said that, I believe that there are certain constructive gains to be made from limited intervention. I refer to the coalition government of Mr. Netanyahu. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, reminded us that Israel is a democracy. However, it is a democracy which shows a rather arithmetically perfect form of election which produces large numbers of parties bound together in a way that, frankly, puts a premium on a party which tries to fight a bargain with the others using the Prime Minister as the catalyst in those issues. In a country profoundly divided between those who broadly support Likud and its related coalition partners, and those who broadly support the Labour party and its partners, one 1236 has to recognise that that puts minority parties in the strong position of asking for attitudes and policies which make the continuation of the peace process difficult. Israel may in some ways, therefore, benefit more than many countries from what one might describe as constructive intervention.
Israel regards the United States as its best friend. It has mixed views about the European Union, partly for historical reasons and because it is not certain that the European Union is in the same sense a friend. I believe that the European Union could be more bold. Perhaps I may take the analogy with Northern Ireland. There are two forces upon which we might build. One is to try again to bring the regional countries into a common forum, in a way that we are beginning to build, painfully, a forum from representatives of the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in a peace process not so far away from us. We are not a country with much reason to be able to lecture others. We have found the process infinitely painful ourselves.
However, it is by the sharing of functional arrangements that gradually one may build the bricks of peace. In that respect, I believe that the EU could be more proactive—for example, by bringing together discussions about investment in both the Palestinian areas of Israel, Israel and neighbouring countries like Jordan. I believe in promoting discussions about the division of water. In other words, the EU should invite, on a non-governmental basis but using our power and influence to bring them together, discussions on matters that would give the Palestinians some sense of a future.
I agree absolutely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said about the importance of access for Palestinian goods to the outside world and of enabling the Palestinians to carry forward jobs in Israel and maintain them.
In conclusion, as we have discovered with the Northern Ireland peace process—every time it seems to be getting somewhere a single act of terrorism throws it off the rails—a single suicide terrorist, a single atrocity in some market or county town in Israel, again drives the peace process to pieces. So it is not unreasonable for those of us who ask Mr. Netanyahu to be more cautious about settlements and more willing to go back to the Oslo process to recognise that it is crucial to support, train and assist the Palestinian authority in dealing with the terrorists in its midst who are not only capable of but anxious to destroy the possibility of a peace process.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Baroness Rawlings
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. for having secured this debate so early in the new term and at such a critical time in the Middle East. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, on his maiden speech.
This is the 50th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel, as we have heard. In the past five decades there has been much bloodshed, war, hatred and animosity, as there has been throughout the history of the area. Many lives, hopes, and dreams have been lost.
1237 The international community has sought to help the region away from open warfare, hostility and suffering towards the fruits of peace and prosperity. Progress has been made in the half century since David Ben Gurion inaugurated modern Israel. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat achieved their breakthrough at Camp David. Former Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat together met President Clinton on the White House lawn. The 1990s have marked a milestone in the quest of peace, with the Madrid conference and the Oslo accords. Together they identify the tools of negotiation, compromise, communication and reconciliation. Indeed, in recognition of those historic efforts to achieve peace, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Yet the events of the past 18 months have tarnished the peace process, damaging the fragile confidence and trust, thus threatening the process at its very core.
Given that the time allowed is brief, I shall not go over the many points I had intended to make since they have been ably put by so many noble Lords today. I shall restrict my remarks to the title of the debate; namely, the Government's proposals for an environment of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Although the Foreign Secretary has met Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu in London, he has not yet visited the region. Has he any plans to do so in the future?
I have not had the experience of many of your Lordships in this area, but I have visited and had discussions with the mayors of Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem and Hebron. I have been to the University of Beir Zeit and talked to some of the professors. Admittedly, that was several years ago. I have personally witnessed the suffering. I have also spent time in Jerusalem and other cities in Israel. I can understand the fear of the constant threat under which Israelis live. It is not a happy situation. I recognise, too, the enormous work done by the Jerusalem Foundation, with guidance from the past mayor, Teddy Kolleck. Its projects of co-operation between the two communities have been highly successful. Tremendous progress has been made. But there is still a long way to go.
So what of the future? As we begin 1998, the eyes of the world will be turning to Washington and to Prime Minister Netanyahu's meeting with President Clinton on 20th January to see whether the impasse which poses such a grave threat to the peace process in the Middle East can be overcome, although the Israeli internal political crisis, which cannot be discounted, has deepened with the erosion of the prime minister's paper-thin majority. I am afraid that this is an example of the damage that PR can inflict with minority extremist parties.
The international community can clearly help to play a role in the days ahead. Peace, security and economic prosperity are inextricably linked; they cannot be separated. It is vital that the people in the back streets of Gaza and the West Bank, too, see a real improvement in their standard of living. Without prosperity to underpin the peace process, one of the most effective 1238 defences against extremism and intolerance is lost. Through our economic support, as remarked by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, we can contribute to the peace process.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for raising the issue of the Middle East peace process. It is a subject on which I share his concern and it will be one of the most important foreign policy priorities of our EU presidency.
Perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, on his maiden speech. I have great sympathy with the noble Lord's problems with the geography of this place. However, whatever his problems regarding sense of direction, they were more than adequately compensated for by his powers of oratory. I am sure that your Lordships look forward, as I do, to future contributions from the noble Lord.
My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Derek Fatchett, is currently visiting Israel and the Occupied Territories—an indication of the priority that the Government attach to high-level contacts with the main parties early in our presidency of the EU. To answer the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, the Foreign Secretary hopes to visit the region in the spring.
We are determined that the EU should continue to play an important role in the search for peace, a role commensurate with the scale of European Union interests and economic support. Her Majesty's Government do not agree with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, but agree very much with the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie. I also assure the noble Earl. Lord Sandwich, that during our presidency, and working closely with the EU special envoy for the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Miguel Moratinos, we will use our influence within the Middle East, in Israel and in Washington to support the current process, based on the Oslo agreements and the principle of "land for peace". That was suggested by the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Gilmour and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, this evening.
We welcome the continuing efforts of the United States to resolve the deadlock and restore the momentum to the process. Her Majesty's Government believe that that is the best forum. We believe, too, that that is the view of the Arab leaders closely connected with the peace process. Our aim will be to ensure that the European Union's views are heard in Washington, and we shall continue to look for ways in which EU activity can support and complement United States' efforts, namely, to facilitate and act as a catalyst, as suggested by my noble friends Lord Janner and Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. This question will be high on the agenda when the Foreign Secretary meets Mrs. Albright during his current visit to Washington.
1239 The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked about our proposals:for engendering an environment for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians".The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, reiterated that question in her contribution. Crucial to such an environment is the full implementation of existing commitments under the Hebron and Interim agreements. We will therefore continue to press the Israelis and Palestinians to make progress on negotiations on the opening of Gaza airport, the construction of a sea port, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, suggested, on "safe passage" transit arrangements between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and on the need for further redeployments of Israeli troops from the West Bank. Only through such progress can the atmosphere of confidence be restored to allow a resumption of discussions on the shape of an overall settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Her Majesty's Government have therefore welcomed the Israeli Government's recognition of the need to address the question of further redeployments of Israeli troops from the West Bank. We look forward to the early implementation of significant, credible and timely redeployments, in line with the letter and spirit of the agreements between the parties. We will also be looking at practical ways in which the European Union could support agreement on implementation of the Interim Agreement commitments on the port and airport and safe passage issues.
We also believe that maximum and sustained security co-operation is essential to rebuild confidence between the parties and provide a firm basis for further negotiations. We welcome Palestinian commitments in London last month to a memorandum of understanding on security co-operation with Israel drawn up by the United States. We will continue to impress on President Arafat the need to exert every effort to counter the threat of terrorist attacks.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, reminded us—and the point was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles—the EU already provides finance, expertise and equipment to help the Palestinians to develop their counter-terrorism capability and to enable them to fight terror more effectively. We will also pursue with the United States and the parties EU proposals for institutionalising security co-operation and handling crises, proposals which we believe flow naturally from the principles laid down in the United States' memorandum of understanding.
We and our EU partners believe that Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Territories are both illegal and damaging to the prospects of peace, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, told the House. Her Majesty's Government believe that they pre-empt the outcome of negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem and the West Bank and destroy the trust between Israelis and Palestinians. We believe that a firm commitment to refrain from such unilateral actions is vital to creating the atmosphere of trust necessary to move to final status negotiations. We will therefore ensure that the European 1240 Union continues to monitor carefully developments on the ground, including the building and expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied territories and actions in East Jerusalem such as the withdrawal of residency rights, house demolitions and the denial of building permits to Palestinians.
Another important element in engendering an environment of peace is working for improvements in the Palestinian economy, as many noble Lords made clear this evening. We sympathise with the despair and frustration of Palestinians whose standard of living has fallen by over 30 per cent. since the Oslo agreement, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, reminded us. As the Prime Minister said, real economic progress for the Palestinians will undermine those extremists who seek to destroy the peace process. Britain and its European Union partners have provided almost 2 billion dollars of aid to the Palestinians since 1993. In addition to our share of European Union aid, the UK bilateral programme provides £10 million per year towards the elimination of poverty on the West Bank and Gaza to help underpin the peace process.
I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that we stand our corner on the question of aid and are proud to do so. The noble Earl also raised questions concerning the provision of water. We hope to see all parties in the region co-operating to make the best use of the water resources available. The Palestinian water sector is one of the priority development areas of the Department for International Development's assistance to the Palestinians.
We also seek to reinvigorate the Palestinian economy through practical assistance. Within the framework of the Euro-Med process, the European Community signed an interim association agreement with the PLO allowing preferential access to EU markets for Palestinian goods and services. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that we repeatedly remind the Israeli Government of our concern that our efforts to help the Palestinian economy are being undermined by restrictions on the free movement of Palestinian goods and people.
In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, I can say that the EU dialogue with Israel is aimed at finding practical ways of reducing the damage done to the Palestinian economy by the measures which Israel believes necessary to ensure its security. Of course the United States has no monopoly of wisdom.
My honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Derek Fatchett, is currently in the region and I can therefore assure the House that the United Kingdom Government are committed to stand our corner in the discussions. My honourable friend co-chaired a plenary session of this dialogue yesterday. We have been encouraged by the positive spirit with which Israel approached the dialogue. I take this opportunity to bring your Lordships' House up to date with what happened, as my noble friend Lord Kennet requested I should.
My honourable friend recognised Israel's legitimate need to maintain security but stressed that that should not be done in such a way as to undermine the Palestinian economy. He emphasised the dialogue which should produce positive results on the ground. The EU 1241 passed a paper to the Israeli side with clear, practical operational goals for the next six months and the EU Special Envoy to the Middle East peace process will be following that up with the Israelis.
We hope now to reach agreement on a work plan for the next six months which will enhance Palestinian worker access to Israel; improve trade flows and the movement of business people; establish better transit arrangements between Gaza and the West Bank: move ahead on the construction of the port and the opening of the airport; and encourage investment—all vital points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Denman, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and others this evening. Her Majesty's Government believe that these are win-win developments, boosting the Palestinian economy and enhancing Israel's security.
The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, raised the role of Jordan. Her Majesty's Government recognise the important part that Jordan has played in contributing towards peace in the Middle East. The Prime Minister has recently reaffirmed our desire to work closely with moderates, like King Hussein, who have taken risks to see the Oslo process succeed.
Questions were asked about the status of Jerusalem. Questions have been raised in your Lordships' House recently. Perhaps I can make Her Majesty's Government's view clear again. The status of Jerusalem should he determined in the final status talks. Neither side should seek to pre-empt this. We have condemned Israeli policies aimed at altering the demographic balance of East Jerusalem, including settlement building and confiscation of Palestinian ID cards. Pending agreement, we recognise de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem but consider East Jerusalem to be illegally occupied. We recognise no de jure sovereignty over the city.
1242 We welcome the interesting visit of the noble Lord. Lord Janner, to the Middle East last week and we also welcome the assurances given to him by Mr. Arafat that he will provide clarification on the points that were raised. We agree that the anti-Israeli views in the Palestinian media are very unhelpful.
Other questions have been raised about Iraq and Iran. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to write to noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, as I see from the Clock that I am about to run out of time. Perhaps I may deal with those points in correspondence and indeed with the points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford about the importance of inter-faith dialogue which Her Majesty's Government support and about which I shall write to him in more detail.
I know that many noble Lords share my concern about the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories. I assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are fully and actively committed to the search for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, a peace with justice and a peace with security. The international effort to re-inject momentum into the Middle East peace process will be one of the most important foreign policy priorities of our European Union presidency.