Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)



Mr Chidgey

  240. Can I come back to the Minister on a question that I asked earlier and that Sir Patrick was asking. I appreciate the point that the Minister makes about not divulging intimate and sensitive discussions with our American allies, but can you answer the question? Have the issues that I raised regarding reparation, regarding the US aid to Israel, been raised with our American colleagues? I do not expect you to give an answer on what was agreed; I just wish to know whether the Government has raised the issues.
  (Mr Bradshaw) No, I am not aware of those specific issues being raised, but I have not been present at all the conversations where they might have been. What I will repeat, as I said earlier, is that of course we discuss the Middle East situation and the importance of American engagement, and I think that is the single most important thing. If, Chairman, you will allow me, I have been passed a note by which, if I may, I would like to clarify the answer that I gave on Sir John's question about potential future ICC involvement in violent events in the region. The ICC, one must remember, only gets involved where states are unwilling or unable to do other work themselves, and as I said earlier, in the case of Israel, being a country that has respect for the rule of law, we would expect it to carry out its own investigations and to take action against those people who had been shown to have broken the law, and similarly for any future Palestinian State.

  Chairman: Sir John, do you want to come back?

  Sir John Stanley: No, thank you.

Mr Hamilton

  241. Minister, you very helpfully said earlier, in an answer to Mr Mackinlay's question about whether Chairman Arafat truly has command of the entire Palestinian Territories, that the Government believed that he did, that obviously he could not control some of the factions that were involved in suicide bombings, but that he was broadly in control and was somebody with whom the Israelis could negotiate. That is obviously and clearly different to the Israelis' own view. Last week, in the debate on the floor of the House, I think almost every Member who spoke condemned the use of excessive force by Israeli Defence Forces in the Occupied Territories, but I think one thing that we have not really mentioned today was the reason why the Israeli forces used that excessive force in the first place, and that was the appalling spate of suicide bombings. The one that shocked the world most, I think, was the one that took place on the eve of the Passover, 27 March, in Netanya, in the hotel, prior to a sederite meal; 27 people were killed, hundreds were injured, some very seriously. What I want to put to you is that the anger that that has generated, and the public opinion that has now risen in Israel to support the actions of their government and their prime minister in making the incursions and using force in the Occupied Territories to root out those bombers, is also matched, as I think you alluded to yourself, by the proportion of the Israeli public who would favour a settlement which involved the establishment of a Palestinian State, provided it gave the security required. Does the British Government acknowledge fully that in spite of the excessive use of force, the Israeli government had cause to try to root out those terrorists, given the lack of action by Chairman Arafat and that the Natanya bombing was caused, if I remember rightly, by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, I believe controlled by the Chairman of the Fatah region in Ramallah, Marwan Barghouti, who has now been arrested? Surely Chairman Arafat has control of at least that faction and can therefore be deemed to be responsible, however indirectly, for that appalling fact of the bombing in Natanya?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I think what is very important in what you have just said is that we recognise the public mood in Israel and what has caused that public mood, and of course we support Israel's right to security, but we do not happen to believe that the way the Israeli government and the IDF recently has gone about that will provide Israelis with security. All the evidence of the last 18 months is that the strategy, if you can call it that, adopted by the Israeli government has done exactly the opposite and more Israelis have died in the last 18 months than, I think, in the whole history since the foundation of the State of Israel. So for a government that was elected to provide security to its people, and peace, it has not been terribly successful, but of course we understand the levels of frustration among the Israeli public and, indeed, the political class. We just seek to persuade them that the way that the government is currently going about things is not likely to succeed. We should not forget—and you are absolutely right to have reminded us of that—that there are violent, evil, rejectionist groups operating from the Palestinian Territories, who are not interested in a peace settlement with Israel, who do not recognise Israel's right to exist, and consistently in the last 18 months, just at a time when there has been a period of quiet, when the international community could have put real pressure on both sides to come back, through the Mitchell and Tenet, to meaningful talks, have exploded a suicide bomb. It is not coincidental. The timings of those attacks have not been coincidental. So I think you are absolutely right in reminding the Committee of the reasons for the current mood in Israel, but that does not mean to say that we have to endorse the actions that the Israeli military have taken in recent weeks.

  242. I am not suggesting that we do, but I wonder, with your permission, Mr Chairman, if you could come back on the one point about Yasser Arafat. If he is in control or not, and if he is in control, surely he must have had some knowledge of what the Al-Aqsa Brigades were doing in Natanya?
  (Mr Bradshaw) My understanding—and I will ask Christopher to come in on the detail of this—is that there is no evidence to link President Arafat with any of the actions, including the one that you referred to. I do not know, Christopher, whether you want to add anything.
  (Mr Prentice) On the Al-Aqsa Brigades, these are individuals on the very extreme fringe, who are secular rather than religious in their motivation, who claim these appalling suicide bombings in the name of Al-Aqsa Brigades; they claim a connection to Fatah which is a very broad organisation, but they are not under Arafat's direct control, authority, and particularly when, by the time of this Passover bombing, he was himself under virtual siege and house arrest in his headquarters, held incommunicado. There is a paradox that over months the Israeli reactions to these events have been targeted against those very security apparatuses close to President Arafat which they are separately asking and requiring should take action against the extremist groups. So they are undercutting his ability to act, at the same time as they are insisting that he act.

  243. I am sorry, my point was not about that. I made the point about Yasser Arafat, but the point I made earlier was about Marwan Barghouti and his involvement.
  (Mr Prentice) Marwan Barghouti is connected with the Fatah-Tanzim who are a street movement arising out of the Intifada. That is not identical to the Al-Aqsa Brigades.

  244. So you are satisfied that there is no connection between Al-Aqsa and Marwan Barghouti?
  (Mr Prentice) I cannot say there is none, but they are not identical. Marwan Barghouti is a semi-political figure who has openly pledged himself to a future settlement with Israel on the basis essentially of the Arab peace plan; if they fully withdraw, then he is prepared to accept Israel's future existence. He has written public articles in that sense, and also predicting that he would at some stage become a martyr, be assassinated, as he said. He was expecting that because, as he put it, he was somebody who was very tough in defence of Palestinian interests and open to peace, but uncompromising. He did not expect to survive. I think it has been true that some Israelis have seen Marwan Barghouti at other times as a potential person with whom they could do business in the future as an alternative leader who might emerge. They have changed their view on him now apparently, but there have been other leaders who have been into Israeli jails and out of Israeli jails, as he has himself. He speaks fluent Hebrew. For many years I think the Israelis considered him a replacement for Arafat, and perhaps he will emerge again.

  245. I will leave you with this. I accept the point you make about Marwan Barghouti because I have actually met him myself, but you are clear that in spite of what you said about Yasser Arafat being unable to operate in the last few weeks—and of course that is very clear—there is no connection between any of the recent suicide bombings and Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement? That is what your intelligence is telling you?
  (Mr Bradshaw) No evidence that we have seen, that is convincing.

Sir John Stanley

  246. Does the British Government have grounds for believing that the real objective of Prime Minister Sharon is the de facto annexation of the whole or the greater part of the West Bank?
  (Mr Bradshaw) We do not, no, but it is a prospect that is one of those that we consider when we try to work out exactly what his strategy might be.

  247. That is a very Delphic answer. I am glad you do take that prospect in mind, because I think you might agree, Minister—and I appreciate this is a public forum and there might be further information you may wish to give the Committee on a classified basis, and the Committee would welcome that if you choose to do so, but I think you would agree—that there is an abundance of empirical evidence in terms of the Israeli security systems which have been set up in the West Bank, the readiness to use overwhelming Israeli military force, against the background, which has been perfectly properly referred to by Mr Hamilton, of an unprecedented level of suicide bomb attacks, and that it does appear that everything is being put in place for a de facto annexation of a large area of the West Bank?
  (Mr Bradshaw) Let me put it like this, Sir John. I think that if that were the case, if that were the strategy, we would say that strategy was cataclysmic, not just for Palestinians but also for Israel. It is in Israel's interest that there is a viable Palestinian State, and any idea that the solution to the current situation is the one that you fear is illusory, and we do hope that it is not being seriously considered by anyone, least of all the prime minister of Israel.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  248. Have you told him that?
  (Mr Bradshaw) Indeed we have.


  249. Minister, you have spoken quite properly of the United States as having the greatest leverage within the Middle East. We have not touched on the European Union. Can you confirm that the European Union is the largest contributor to the Palestinian Authority?
  (Mr Bradshaw) Yes, and I think I said that in answer to an earlier question.

  250. To what extent is that EU contribution conditional upon good behaviour or types of behaviour by the Authority?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I am not in a position to answer that with total accuracy, Mr Chairman, so I might ask Christopher to come in here.
  (Mr Prentice) The direct budgetary assistance which the European Union has provided was vital, particularly since Israel has not transferred the tax revenues which it owed. When Israel stopped payment of the tax revenues that it formally owed to the Palestinian Authority, it threatened the whole budgetary process, and the European Union stepped in, as did some of the Arab League countries, to provide emergency budgetary assistance. That budgetary assistance was conditional on transparency of the process, and the IMF was brought in to certify the proper uses of that and the existence of a rational emergency budget to reflect priority expenditures. There were also European conditions attached to good governance aspects. At an earlier stage when this seemed possible—which it does not now of course—we were very keen to see the consolidation of various budget headings, the introduction of reforms to the judiciary, the promulgation of a constitution and other reforms which we saw as necessary stepping stones towards building up viable institutions in the Palestinian Authority. We were using the financial assistance the EU was providing, as a means of securing those necessary and desirable reforms.

  251. Obviously these are longer-term contributions, hopefully to a peace process, but there have been many criticisms that, for example, maps in the Palestinian Authority never show the existence of Israel, that there is within the press in the Authority a certain glorifying of suicide bombers and so on. Is there any concern about that?
  (Mr Bradshaw) There is, Mr Chairman, and we have expressed that concern regularly, although I have to say that not the most recent evidence, which I have not seen, but certainly up until about three months ago there was evidence that some of the incitement and the language that we had been worried about in the Palestinian media had reduced. It is a point that we make repeatedly to the Palestinian Authority—and this is not just a problem within the Palestinian Authority, it is also a grievance that Israel rightly raises with us about the language that you get in countries like Egypt—that the language can be extremely virulent, anti-semitic, violent and not conducive to giving confidence to those people in Israel who want to make peace and who agree with the principle of land for peace. You are right in the suggestion of your question that it is an obstacle to building up confidence within Israel.

  252. Obviously we contribute to education. Do any maps in the schools show Israel, on the maps in the Authority?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I am afraid I am not aware of the detail of maps in Palestinian textbooks. I do not know whether Christopher is.
  (Mr Prentice) I cannot say there are not any such maps, but the EU has had a project on reform of the Palestinian textbooks, which has made possible the issuing and the gradual distribution of new texts which are far more acceptable. The Palestinian Authority have co-operated in this, and I think there is an improving picture.

  Andrew Mackinlay: I do not think we need to get hung up too much on maps, Chairman. No doubt in certain places in Germany there is Wroclaw shown as Breslau. I do take your point, though.

  Mr Hamilton: A slightly different one.


  253. What is Mr Moratinos doing with his time? Is there any role being played by the EU?
  (Mr Bradshaw) The EU has, I think, been playing a very important role in quite difficult circumstances, and that includes the role played by Mr Moratinos and Mr Solana. As to what they are doing at the moment, I am afraid at this very moment I cannot tell you, Mr Chairman. I do not know whether any of my officials can.

  Chairman: Minister, we have had a fair innings on the Israel/Palestine issue. Fundamental to our inquiry into the war against terrorism is the whole question of Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, where we go as an international community in dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein. Mr Olner has a few points on this.

Mr Olner

  254. Actually it links the two of them together. Has the escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians affected the Government's plans to address the threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq?
  (Mr Bradshaw) No. I think the whole international community is agreed—and this is outlined quite clearly in successive United Nations resolutions—that there are obligations on Iraq that Iraq is not in compliance with. I think it would be a mistake to think that the threat posed by Iraq is just going to go away. It is not. The British Government's position is quite clear on this. Saddam needs to comply fully with the demands of the United Nations, not just to allow weapons inspectors back in unconditionally, but so that they can ensure that the weapons of mass destruction programme has been dismantled. This is the agreement that he made at the end of the Gulf War, and he is in contravention of that.

  255. I do not disagree with Iraq being forced, one way or another, to conform with UN resolutions that have been passed against it, but surely the escalation of the violence between Israel and Palestine has to some extent, if you want, soured things? Anything we do against the Arabic world seems to be US dominated. We want further action by the UK Government.
  (Mr Bradshaw) I think what would be right—and I think this is the inference of your question—is that the current state of affairs in Israel/Palestine makes any idea of military action against Iraq politically in the region a great deal more difficult, and I think that is simply recognising reality. The appetite in many Arab countries whose leaders do not have a lot of time for Saddam Hussein and in private, if not in public, would dearly love to see the back of him, for military action against Iraq is diminished by the situation in the Middle East. I think that is a political fact.

Andrew Mackinlay

  256. I wonder if I could use this occasion to ask you, Minister, but I imagine it is Mr Ehrman who might answer this one on José Bustani, who is the Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Americans have used their clout and have mustered a large number of votes, and I understand the United Kingdom support this action, to sack him. Could you take this opportunity of telling Parliament why the United Kingdom Government supports the sacking of this gentleman?
  (Mr Bradshaw) The United Kingdom Government voted along with all the other EU members[1].

  257. I vote along with Labour MPs every night but I have to explain why—occasionally. Do you know, on occasions, just to complete the story, sometimes it is extraordinarily difficult to explain why. Why have we supported the sacking of this man?
  (Mr Bradshaw) Because we share the belief of all the other European Union members who voted the same way and the vast majority of members of the committee who also voted the same way that there were serious management problems and that Mr Bustani was not the best candidate to sort those out.

  258. What were these management problems?
  (Mr Bradshaw) I would rather not go into the details because I am not sure whether I am covered by parliamentary privilege.

  259. You are.
  (Mr Bradshaw) Suffice to say that the management of Mr Bustani left something to be desired, the consequence of which was he had lost the confidence of the vast majority of the members. What we are concerned about is that this body is an effective body. We had the view which was shared, as I said, by the vast majority, I think only one per cent of the members voted against this[2].

1   Note by witness: A Special Conference of States Parties was called on 21-22 April to consider the matter. At the Conference, 48 States Parties voted for the resolution to terminate Mr Bustani's appointment, seven voted against and 43 abstained. Every EU country voted for the resolution (except France, which abstained), as did other key countries like India, Australia, Canada and Japan. Back

2   Note by witness: Around 7% of members voted against this. Back

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