Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)



  200. In order to move it forward, and I would agree with you entirely this could and should be the basis for a settlement, would Her Majesty's Government be prepared to take a rather more active role, not just support a conference but actively seek to bring one about? Would you be prepared to have an emissary from this country go and talk to both sides to try and bring them forward to a conference, and would you be prepared, would Her Majesty's Government be prepared, to host such a conference?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I think I am right in saying that we have already said we would be willing to do anything we felt was helpful if there was enough international consensus to do it. That would include hosting a conference. In terms of sending an emissary, the same applies. If we made a judgment that the time was right and we could do something no one else had managed to do, we would do so. But at the moment most of our hopes and efforts are still invested in the diplomatic efforts of Colin Powell and his deputy, Bill Burns, who is still in the region, and the prospect Colin Powell will return, because I think everybody recognises that without serious and sustained American engagement in the Middle East we are not going to get the necessary steps we would all like to see.

  201. I made the suggestion in the House a couple of weeks ago that perhaps John Major could be used, and the Prime Minister did not turn that down but said he would consider it. I have had indications from various quarters in the Middle East that might be a very acceptable proposal. Is it something you would be prepared to discuss further with the Foreign Secretary after this meeting?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I would certainly be prepared to take your proposal away and give it further consideration, Sir Patrick.

  Sir Patrick Cormack: Thank you.

Mr Hamilton

  202. Minister, I am glad obviously you made the comments you made in the House about supporting Crown Prince Abdullah's plans, especially the point you made in your opening comments, but would you not agree and would the Government not agree that it is not sufficient simply to have a territorial division and a two-state plan which gave adequate territory, contiguous territory obviously, to the Palestinians but that we need to invest considerably not just in the infrastructure and in a judicial and legal system but in the democratic framework of civil society and the possibilities for economic development so that the problems of poverty in the Palestinian territories can also be overcome? Surely, would you not agree, those problems of poverty are a contributory factor perhaps in part to some of the terrorist activity?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I would certainly agree with the main thrust of your point, that a great deal of investment is going to be needed in a future Palestinian state. One of the tragedies of the events of the last few weeks is that tens of millions of pounds-worth of damage has been done to the Palestinian Authority infrastructure, much of it funded originally by the European Union, which, as members I am sure know, is the major single contributor and has been to the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo and Madrid Accords. You are right to say that poverty has got significantly worse in the Palestinian Authority over the last 18 months, and that a programme of reconstruction and supporting good governance and infrastructure investment is going to be absolutely essential, but I would add this caveat, the European Union is not about to throw a lot of money into the Palestinian Authority unless we can be absolutely sure it is not going to be destroyed again.

  203. The thrust of what I am trying to say is, of course, the political and geographical settlement has to come first but that you simply cannot leave it at that.
  (Mr Bradshaw) Absolutely.

  204. The proposal, the suggestions, I have made must follow on, you cannot have one without the other, in other words.
  (Mr Bradshaw) Absolutely. There is a meeting of the international community in Oslo tomorrow over two days discussing what immediate humanitarian relief can be given to the Palestinian Authority areas. You are absolutely right, after a political settlement there is going to be the need for a massive amount of investment in the new Palestinian state. You were also right to point out, and the Government has on many occasions, that the war against terrorism, which your Chairman referred to earlier, is not just about military solutions, it is also about tackling injustices and poverty and those things which breed fanaticism which feeds terrorism.

  205. Could I ask finally what part the British Government can play? Would we play a part in such a reconstruction through the European Union once there is a political settlement, or is there anything specific we can do about, for example, teaching good governance or exporting some of the things that we are very proud of which might help the Palestinians establish a viable state?
  (Mr Bradshaw) Any of you who have visited the occupied territories will be well aware of the very good work the British Government already does, both bilaterally through the British Council and also through the European Union in a number of the areas you have already mentioned. I think we would have to wait and see, to be perfectly honest, what the essential need was when we get, as I hope we do, to the formation of a Palestinian state. I do not think there is any doubt that just as in the past Britain has been one of the major, if not the major, contributors within the European Union—if you combine the money given to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, which deals with all the Palestinian refugees in a number of countries in the region—we would continue with that level of commitment. Indeed, we are increasing it at the moment, we are increasing both our contribution to UNRWA and to the Palestinian Authority.
  (Mr Prentice) DFID have for many years been running a large programme on institution building in the Palestinian Authority, and we have run programmes also to help their Negotiation Affairs Department to make them professional in their preparations for the peace negotiations, and those programmes I know will be continued and indeed strengthened in the next period. On an earlier point, the Foreign Secretary said in his speech in the debate that the international community would need to set up a large trust fund in order to support the implementation of any final status settlement, and this covers a great range of issues which will be needed then.

Mr Illsley

  206. Minister, can I bring you back to something you touched on very briefly, which was Colin Powell's visit to the Middle East, which has been described by some of the Palestinian negotiators as a failure in that he has left the situation much worse than when he arrived there? Is that the sense that the British Government holds of the visit, that it was a failure, or is there any aspect of the visit which could be regarded as successful?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I do not think it was a failure and I do not think it is true to say he left the region much worse than when he arrived. If you cast your mind back to the situation when he arrived, it was a lot worse than it is now. Although I think it is true to say Colin Powell's visit did not achieve everything that we all hoped it would, it achieved a lot more than your question suggested in that most fair-minded observers accept that worse things would have happened had he not gone. If you remember, before he arrived Israel was talking quite openly of its operation in the occupied territories lasting months, and the signs are that the withdrawal is happening, albeit not as quickly as the international community demands. As I said, possible worse and more calamitous action has been avoided. The most important thing to remember is that a year ago the United States was not engaged in the Middle East peace process to the extent that it is now. President Bush came into office following President Clinton who had expended a great deal of time and energy on this issue ultimately without the success we had all hoped for. That has all changed now. It has changed as a result of 11 September, it has changed as a result of a number of things, but, most importantly, President Bush's statement Thursday fortnight ago marked I think a crossing of the rubicon in terms of American engagement, and I think America now understands there must be a political process if we are to get the necessary steps towards a political solution, and I think we should all welcome that. As I said, Colin Powell has indicated he will go back.

  207. I do not disagree with that. As you said earlier, American involvement is going to be crucial to this. Given that Sharon is making statements and his head of military intelligence is making statements that they will go back into the occupied territories should they need to, to fight terrorism, that there is still a stand-off in relation to the Church of the Nativity, is there not a sense coming through that the Israelis are less prepared to listen to the Americans these days, and perhaps that American influence we have seen and relied upon in the past is not counted on as well as it has been in the past?
  (Mr Bradshaw) It may be helpful to members if I say in the last half hour we have heard the Israelis and the Palestinians are now talking about a solution to the stand-off in Bethlehem, which is a positive sign. I am not really in a position to judge whether the Israelis are listening more or less to the Americans than they have traditionally, I think those are questions which you would better ask the Israelis, but there are certainly signs American influence is important, and I have already suggested a number of ways in which Colin Powell's visit made a difference. I think the fact that the Israelis agreed to co-operate with the fact-finding mission as well was partly a result of the fact America had expressed its clear support in a United Nations Resolution for that. We obviously hope Israel takes notice of what its friends and particularly its most powerful friend and ally says to it, but I think to completely write off the ability of America to influence what the Israeli Government does at this stage would be wrong.

  208. You have just said that America has made a clear statement, but there has been some criticism of America and, as you just pointed out, there was a lack of engagement a year ago, and Condoleeza Rice was talking about America butting out of the Middle East situation altogether. Paul Wolfowitz has made speeches recently congratulating Sharon on his stand. Yet Powell is in the Middle East trying to take a more conciliatory line. Is the American involvement clear enough? Is their standpoint on this issue clear enough? A question I want to ask in relation to our Government, how much influence does our Government have on this American influence? Are we able to make representations which are heard and listened to in Washington?
  (Mr Bradshaw) Yes, I think we are. Although I think sometimes British influence in the world and with the United States can be exaggerated, I think we do have a certain amount of influence, and of course we use it. I do not think it is accidental, for example, that back in the autumn, after 11 September, our Prime Minister embarked on a whirl-wind diplomatic tour of the Middle East, he then went to the United States and, shortly after that, President Bush made his historic speech to the United Nations, which was historic, when he became the first American President to use the term "Palestine". It is all very well people wondering or criticising whether the United States is really engaged, the fact is the United States is engaged, and, not only that, the United States Government under this President has used unprecedented language, has supported an unprecedented United Nations Resolution, the most recent resolution a couple of months ago, calling for a two-state solution; the first time that was explicitly stated clearly in a unanimous Security Council Resolution supported by the United States. I think the objective observer would see all of this and think that they are saying things they have not said before, these are going to be very difficult to go back on, how you get there is another matter, but I am absolutely satisfied that the commitment is there and that America realises that it is in her interests that she should be engaged and that we should at long last get a solution to this terrible problem.

Andrew Mackinlay

  209. I have three questions. One thing I would like you to cover is what has been the response from Israel to United Kingdom representations or protestations about the lack of access for the UN relief works agency, international press and others to Jenin? Perhaps you might want to pause for breath and then go on and respond to my next question. It seems to me that when bad things happen in the former Yugoslavia everyone is agreed, it is acknowledged there are things which have been disproportionate and prima facie are war crimes, but when it comes to what happens in Palestine, everyone can agree there have been bad things happening, that it is disproportionate, but nobody talks in terms of war crimes. It seems to me we have to have regard for the very fragile things we are trying to build up internationally as regards rule of law and that response should be proportionate to when there are attacks and so on. What is Her Majesty's Government's view as to what happened at Jenin? Was it proportionate or disproportionate? Secondly, do we consider prima facie there were war crimes committed there?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I hope Mr Mackinlay will forgive me if I forget part of that question, please come back if I do. To attempt to answer the first bit, we are not satisfied with the responses which Israel has given us to the various representations we have made in recent weeks, whether on access for humanitarian organisations, for the media, for our own diplomatic staff—for quite a long period of time there were British citizens trapped in Bethlehem and Ramallah, and although there is evidence that some representations made some difference, it is often quite difficult to actually quantify whether they have. I think certainly the frustration felt by our diplomats on the ground was made very clear to me and to the Foreign Secretary at the time and has been since. So, no, we are extremely unhappy about the way Israel has responded to our representations. On the second question about possible war crimes in Jenin and consistency with the Balkans, all I can say on this is that our Defence Attache's official report, which I quoted in the debate in Parliament last week, said quite clearly that he had discovered strong evidence of, I think the words were, "excessive and disproportionate force" having been used in Jenin. It was a direct result of those concerns that the Foreign Secretary took this issue up and managed to get this unanimous United Nations Resolution endorsing a fact-finding mission. Now it will be up to the fact-finding mission to establish the facts, that is why they have been appointed, and the facts are of course bitterly disputed by the Israeli side. I think it makes sense and it was a very sensible thing to do given the situation, with one side saying there had been a terrible massacre and the other side saying this had all been part of the necessary security operation, that the facts should be established. I think the process will then flow from that. In comparison with what happened in the former Yugoslavia, Mr Mackinlay will recall that when we were in Opposition there were a lot of things going on and there was very little response, and it sometimes takes a while for the international community to take real cognizance of the situation. The definitions of war crimes are quite clear but I think it will be up to the United Nations fact-finding mission to determine what they think happened, and it is then under international law the responsibility of, in this case, Israel to properly investigate and to take action against any people who might have committed such war crimes. Israel, as a democracy which prides itself on the rule of law, would be expected to do that.

  210. Can I refer to the Foreign Secretary's willingness to take part in the monitoring process, if we ever got to that stage? I do not know if implicit in that is that there will be some of our armed forces committed. I know that Secretary of State Hoon has indicated on the floor of the House—he has not used these terms but he has basically said—we are at the bone with our armed forces, we are at over-stretch and beyond. Do you envisage that even if we got to the stage where there was a pause and some need to separate the parties and monitor them, we have the armed forces we can realistically commit to this?
  (Mr Bradshaw) The monitoring body we are talking about is a body of people who I believe would not be armed forces, who would simply monitor a ceasefire. This is not a new suggestion, although I think it was the first time we suggested it in public when the Prime Minister was in Crawford. One of the problems we have had since the outbreak of the Intifada is the claim and counter-claim from each side about what is going on in the security field, who is doing what, who is under arrest. There are constant claims by the Israelis that people they think should be in prison and the Palestinian Authority say are in prison are then in fact discovered not to have been in custody, and this has contributed, we believe, hugely to the level of distrust between the two sides. So we feel that a monitoring body could make a very constructive contribution to rebuilding trust, and actually ascertaining what the security situation is on the ground.


  211. Has the Israeli Government accepted now the case for such an international force?
  (Mr Prentice) No. I think there is evidence of continued reluctance on the part of the Israeli Government about what they would see as the internationalisation of this conflict and dispute.

Mr Mackinlay

  212. My next question is about Chairman Arafat and there are two aspects of the question I want to ask. One, presumably his capacity to lead and to administer the Authority is more or less non-existent, is it not? I do not know what representations you have made about this but even putting aside the most recent traumatic events, his inability to have access and inability to cross the Authority, basically it cannot be anything other than house arrest, what is your assessment as to his capacity to call the shots in the Palestinian Authority? Are we deluding ourselves that he is a man with whom we, the Israelis and the international community, can do business? Can the poor man deliver? What is your assessment of his authority, quite apart from the fact he has been disabled by the most recent traumatic events, which I would also like you to comment upon, because it seems to me this is something which is intolerable?
  (Mr Bradshaw) We think Mr Arafat could have delivered more in the past which he did not deliver. However, the current situation of him holed-up in a couple of rooms in Ramallah does not make it exactly easy for him to deliver very much. We think his control of the Palestinian Authority is pretty comprehensive.

  213. You do? You do think that he can deliver in negotiations? Even today, if there were to be meaningful negotiations, you think he could bind and deliver?
  (Mr Bradshaw) One of the paradoxes of the current situation is that the Israeli actions have made President Arafat more popular than he has been for a very long time and his support among the Palestinian people is probably at a higher level now than for some years.

Mr Olner

  214. So is Sharon's!
  (Mr Bradshaw) Yes. He is now in a better position to deliver politically. The problem in the past, and this has frustrated the Israeli side, is that they felt, and I think sometimes rightly, he could have delivered more on security and done more to stop the violence. However, we have never accepted this argument that it is possible for President Arafat to stop every single suicide bombing or every single action by one of the rejectionist groups; that is simply not possible for him. But we do feel strongly that he has not had a consistently good record of delivering and of leadership, and that has been part of the problem. We could spend a lot of time wishing we did not have the leaders we currently have on both sides, but I do not think that is going to get us very far, we have to deal with the people we have got, and we know who they are, and not give up hope on them.

Mr Chidgey

  215. Minister, in the opening response that you gave, you talked very passionately, I think, about the need to bring humanitarian aid into Jenin and elsewhere, and the consequences of the destruction of vital infrastructure which had been funded to the tune of tens of millions of pounds by the EU and others, but then you also said, quite understandably, that the EU was not about to fund the replacement of those projects. So again to use that expression, we have a dichotomy in the sense that there is a vital need to establish the basic fabric of civilisation and the basic requirements of human aid, and yet we do not have anybody, as far as I am aware, offering to put up the money to do that. So my question therefore centres on asking you whether the Government is having discussions, either directly with the Israeli Government or with America, about Israel accepting the responsibility for reparations, accepting the responsibility to take an active part in restoring the infrastructure which they destroyed through their incursions. The second part of my question is to ask if the British Government has reflected on the fact that Israel receives by far the greatest amounts of American aid—I think it is about a third of the total American aid programme. Has any thought been given to persuading the Americans that perhaps that aid might be diverted to restoring the infrastructure which was destroyed in these incursions?
  (Mr Bradshaw) May I say, the United States is certainly thinking very carefully and realistically about the level to which it is going to have to help the Palestinians, not just on humanitarian aid but on reconstruction. It is not true to say that the money is not there. I think the Foreign Secretary made this quite clear in his speech last week that we in the European Union, indeed the whole international community, are ready with humanitarian aid. That is not the problem. The problem is getting access.

  216. May I just say for a moment, I think you also said that we were not prepared to fund it just to see it destroyed again?
  (Mr Bradshaw) There is a slight difference between the immediate humanitarian relief where people are starving, and money for reconstruction in the longer term after a political settlement. What we have said is that we are not prepared, and I think rightly—and we have said this quite clearly to the Israelis—to spend tens of millions of pounds again on buildings and infrastructure and good governance and things to help the Palestinian Authority rebuild itself, only to see that wrecked. As to your question about reparation, the European Union has made absolutely clear that it reserves the right to claim compensation from the Israelis for the damage done to EU-funded projects in the last few months.

  217. Has there been any discussion? Picking up the last part of my question, has the Government discussed with the Americans this question I put? Here is a huge amount of aid going into Israel. If there is a reluctance to pay reparation, should not some of it be diverted?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I think, with respect, Mr Chairman, what America does with its money is up to America. I am not aware of any specific discussions.

  218. Have you had any discussions?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I am not aware of any discussions between Britain and America as to how America should spend its aid budget. There have not been any. Christopher Prentice wants to add something here.
  (Mr Prentice) One of the consistent demands made of Israel in the last period has been that they should resume payment of the customs revenues which are owed to the Palestinian Authority, which they have been withholding now for 18 months or more—perhaps actually longer than that. This amounts now to a very large sum which is owed by Israel under its international agreement, under the Paris Protocol.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  219. Could you put a figure on it?
  (Mr Prentice) That would be one way in which Israel could immediately contribute to the restoration of the Palestinian Authority's viability.

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