Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Israel and the Occupied Territories

  1.  This memorandum responds to the Committee's request for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's view of recent developments in Israel and the Occupied Territories (OTs), and describes the action the FCO is taking in reponse to the situation.


  2.  Since 28 September, when the second Palestinian, or "Al Aqsa", intifada started, over 400 Palestinians and 70 Israelis have been killed. Over 10,000 people have been injured, the vast majority Palestinian.

  3.  The intifada began with demonstrations, usually involving stone-throwing or Molotov cocktails. Soon after it began, however, armed Palestinian groups initiated a more violent strategy based on shooting attacks, bombings and (most recently) mortar fire. The attacks have largely been aimed at settlers and soldiers, but on occasion have hit targets within Israel proper. Throughout there has been the threat of Palestinian suicide bombers to Israeli civilians and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). In the most recent such incident, on 22 April, a suicide bomber killed one Israeli and injured 50 others at Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv.

  4.  The Israelis have responded with overwhelming military force, including helicopter gunships, anti tank missiles and tank shells and widespread use of live fire by IDF troops on the ground. Although Israeli actions have often been targeted at Palestinian security forces' buildings, civilians have suffered most. The bulldozing of houses and large areas of farming land has been used as a routine response to shooting attacks, on security grounds. Armed settlers have also attacked Palestinians and destroyed Palestinian homes, shops and crops. On 16 April the IDF temporarily occupied parts of Palestinian controlled areas in Gaza in violation of the Oslo Agreements, and have since made other short raids into PA territory.

  5.  Throughout the seven months, the IDF has, on security grounds, imposed tight restrictions on the movement of goods and people between the Occupied Territories and Israel and other countries, as well as restricting movement within the OTs. The road-blocks, military checkpoints and trenches have drastically reduced the provision of and access to education, medical assistance and employment opportunities. It is estimated that, because of the restrictions, 50 per cent of Palestinians in the OTs are unable to work and, according to UN estimates, one third of the Palestinian population is now living below the internationally recognised poverty line. Israel has continued to withhold tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority. Settlement building has continued in the Occupied Territories; over 6,000 housing units (not including East Jerusalem) are currently under construction, according to the Israeli group Peace Now.


  6.  This period began with agreement at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in October 2000 on steps to end the violence and for the Israelis to return to their pre-28 September 2000 positions. Although the agreement was renewed in November, it was not implemented.

  7.  In late December, President Clinton put forward "bridging proposals" to both parties, setting out new parameters for a permanent status agreement. Neither side rejected the bridging proposals outright but both expressed reservations. Prime Minister Barak was increasingly constrained by domestic political developments, having lost support in the Knesset and trailing Ariel Sharon in pre-election polls.

  8.  The Israelis agreed to a Palestinian proposal for marathon talks in Taba, Egypt, beginning on 21 January. Taba achieved some further progress in narrowing the differences between the parties. They issued a concluding statement agreeing that they had never been so close to agreement.

  9.  On 6 February Ariel Sharon was elected Israeli Prime Minister. He has rejected Prime Minister Barak's proposals and the agenda of the Taba talks as a basis for future negotiations, and has ruled out all political negotiations until there is an end to violence. The new United States Administration has stated that neither Israel nor the US is bound at what was discussed at Camp David and Taba.

  10.  Although the parties maintain some political contact and have held some security co-operation meetings, no political negotiations have yet taken place, though both sides are now beginning to seek ways to break the cycle of violence.


  11.  The Government is gravely concerned at the continuing violence and bloodshed. Trust between the two communities has collapsed. Each side accuses the other of bearing responsibility for the deteriorating situation, and insists on action by the other as a pre-condition for a return to negotiations.

  12.  The UK has been working throughout this period to encourage the parties to end the violence and re-start negotiations. We have worked closely with EU partners, the US and the UN Secretary-General, as well as using our bilateral contacts with the Israelis, Palestinians and Arab states. We have expressed our concern at the level of force employed by the Israelis, their policy of targeted physical eliminations and the continuing imposition of closures. We have repeatedly and strongly urged the Palestinian Authority to take action to end the violence by Palestinians and firmly restrain those forces which it controls.

  13.  The UK has given strong support to the Sharm el-Sheikh talks and to subsequent efforts to implement the understandings reached there. We supported US efforts to secure agreement in the last weeks of the Clinton administration. The Prime Minister's Personal Envoy, Lord Levy, has visited the region, most recently in April following the election of the new Israeli Government when he met Prime Minister Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, President Arafat and key Palestinian figures. We have encouraged the efforts of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the EU's High Representative Javier Solana to engage the parties.

  14.  Ministers have maintained frequent high-level political contacts with the countries of the region. The Secretary of State spoke recently to Shimon Peres, Nabil Sha'ath, Farouq al-Sharaa, Prince Saud al Faisal, and Colin Powell and issued a statement calling for restraint and a return to the negotiating table.

  15.  We welcome Egyptian and Jordanian efforts to help the parties find an agreed basis for a return to negotiations.

  16.  We support the principle of a mechanism to protect civilians. At the right time and in the right form such a mechanism could make an important contribution to a wider settlement. In March, when this issue came before the Security Council, we made it clear that we could support a balanced resolution on a protection or observer presence, to be set up with the agreement of both parties to co-operate with it. We worked hard to bring about agreement. The outcome was, therefore, a disappointment.

  17.  With a more long-term focus, the Foreign and Commonwealth office hosted informal discussions on options for Jerusalem's final status between Israeli and Palestinian academics from 19 to 21 April. This was the latest in a series of such meetings funded by the UK since 1997 at the request of both Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental representatives.

  18.  The UK remains willing to help in any way it can to bring about a just and lasting peace.

April 2001

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