Israel and Palestine: Annapolis Conference
7 January 2008

In a debate on Lord Dykes' question to the government on 'Whether they expect the Annapolis conference to lead to the creation of a fully sovereign Palestinian state' in the House of Lords on 7 January 2008 Lord Trimble said,

'My Lords, does the Minister agree that some elements are opposed to the existence of two sovereign states—primarily Hamas, Hezbollah and their backers—and that we can confidently expect that they will take steps over the year to frustrate the talks? Have the Government thought of this and of what their response should be?'

The entire debate is reproduced here:

Israel and Palestine: Annapolis Conference

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they expect the Annapolis conference to lead to the creation of a fully sovereign Palestinian state.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, we welcome the agreement that has come from the Annapolis conference. This has put the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008, leading to a final settlement, we hope, of two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security. As the Foreign Secretary highlighted in his Statement to the Commons, there is an end date to the negotiations initiated at Annapolis. All parties have agreed that these negotiations should seek to conclude by the end of 2008.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and for the Written Answers of 17 December. Can he now reassure the House that these processes will not lead to the cobbling together of a Bantustan-like quasi-state for the already weakened Palestinians and that the British and EU part of the quartet will work hard to prevent this? Such a result would prevent the Palestinians from having what is their due under these processes, which is a fully independent, autonomous, proper sovereign state with its own borders.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I can certainly confirm that it is the intention and purpose of British diplomacy over the coming months to ensure that a Palestinian state that emerges from these negotiations is truly independent and sovereign and no Bantustan. Obviously, given the way in which these negotiations are structured, others have an even greater say than we do, but we will use all the influence available to us to achieve a proper outcome.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the targeted assassinations among the population of Gaza, both of which the British Government have repeatedly declared to be illegal, not only run counter to the aspirations of Annapolis but also seriously undermine the prospect of creating an independent, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state? If the Minister does agree with that conclusion, what are the British Government doing about it, either bilaterally or via the quartet?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the British Government have used both public statements and private contacts to make clear our belief that new settlements and assassinations of the kind to which the noble Lord refers are indeed obstacles to peace. Equally, we have made it clear that the some 1,500 rockets that have been fired into Israeli civilian territory since July are similarly blocks to peace.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend know how important his statement is and how important it is that we work to try to bring the parties together? I say this having returned late last night from a visit to both Israel and Ramallah, so I know how many people on both sides seek to achieve the sort of peace that the two noble Lords do not seem to be aiming at and I understand how welcome is the financial and political support being given by Her Majesty’s Government towards these goals. Is it not now vital that this support, along with that of other members of the international community, continues so as to strengthen the talks? What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking now and in the coming months to ensure that the necessary momentum is maintained so that a viable and sovereign Palestinian state is created alongside a secure state of Israel that is free from the threat of terror?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My noble friend’s views on this matter are always welcome and it is important to hear them. As he knows, the British Government made a generous pledge to the donors’ conference chaired by Tony Blair in Paris last month of £243 million over the coming years, but that was conditional on political progress. Indeed, the $7 billion committed overall by the donors was similarly conditional on the need for political progress. Both sides are in no doubt that not only the United Kingdom but all who want peace in the Middle East see that now is the time to move forward on both the political and economic tracks, and there will be strong support for that from the international community.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, does the Minister agree that some elements are opposed to the existence of two sovereign states—primarily Hamas, Hezbollah and their backers—and that we can confidently expect that they will take steps over the year to frustrate the talks? Have the Government thought of this and of what their response should be?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, Hamas has an interest in these talks—Hezbollah does not, because this deals directly with the issue of the Palestinian state—but is excluded from them because of its unwillingness to recognise Israel, commit to peace and pursue this kind of negotiation. That policy is critical. The appeal to Hamas remains: if it will disavow terrorism, disavow attacks on Israel and come into the political process, that would allow in the future much fuller negotiations and not leave people on the side trying to destroy them.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, given the repeated position of the quartet envoy and former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that there are many lessons for the Middle East process from the Irish experience, and given that the essential element of that experience was direct dialogue with representatives of the IRA with the sole precondition of a complete cessation of violence, can the Minister guide the House as to how Her Majesty’s Government intend to apply that sole precondition to dialogue with Hamas, in particular, in order that there might be peace, stability and security for all the people of Israel and the Palestinian Authority?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, among the several differences between the situations is that in the Irish case we were a direct, principal party to the talks. In this case we are members of the quartet through the European Union, so we participate indirectly, in that sense, and we have a lot of voices heard. It is for us to persuade and influence other direct parties to these talks; we are not a direct party ourselves. On the noble Lord’s second point, we have stressed time and again that, although the condition is not quite as simple as only a cessation of violence—there must also be a recognition of the right of Israel to exist—if the conditions are met, the path for a political dialogue that includes Hamas could reopen.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Trimble is right to remind us that Palestine is, sadly, divided not only geographically but politically. President George Bush of the United States is about to begin a huge tour of the Middle East. Have we had any input to the White House and to his advisers on the emphasis needed in maintaining a balance in the area? Secondly, what can be done to bring Hamas and Al Fatah together so that there is a Palestine authority with whom to deal and with whom to persuade the Israelis to get down to business?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that there have been contacts in advance of President Bush’s trip, which is an enormously important development. As for Hamas, I cannot add to what has been said. The United States has made it abundantly clear that it, too, requires the quartet conditions to be met before a dialogue can begin.

7 January 2008

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