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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as my right honourable friend made clear in the statement that I just read, we hope that the issue of Cyprus will be resolved. The new Turkish Government have signalled clearly that they want to solve the Cyprus problem as soon as possible. For our part, we are urging them to do all that they can before the European Council meeting next week, for the sake of all those in Cyprus.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the noble Baroness answer the second question that I put to her? Will the Government press the Turkish authorities to allow the displaced villagers of the south-east—who number between 380,000 and a million, according to Human Rights Watch—to return to their original villages and pay them compensation for the disturbance that they have suffered?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, whether that issue is addressed in what I understand to be 36 key legislative changes going before the Turkish Parliament or whether it will be addressed in the smaller package of reforms that, I understand from our ambassador, will be brought forward shortly. I will certainly make the noble Lord's views clear to my right honourable friend in another place who deals with those issues.

I hope that the noble Lord will acknowledge that what has happened in the past 24 hours or so in Turkey will be significant in making reforms in areas about which, I know, he has strong views.

Israel: Settlement Expansion

2.58 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have consistently called on the Israeli Government to freeze all settlement activity, including the "natural growth" of settlements, as recommended in the Mitchell report.

On 5th November, my honourable friend Mike O'Brien raised settlement activity with the Israeli ambassador. On 18th November, our ambassador in Tel Aviv conveyed to Prime Minister Sharon's office the Foreign Secretary's concern at reports that the Israeli Government were considering extending settlements in Hebron, which we consider to be illegal

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and an obstacle to peace. Those points were reiterated at official level to the Israeli Ambassador on 20th November.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I particularly thank her for her report of the expressions of concern that have been conveyed to the Israeli Government. Is she aware that subsequent to those expressions of concern the press have reported that 15 Palestinian families have been told that their property is to be demolished to make way for settlers' access to certain shrines; that the settlers in Hebron have announced that they propose to erect a building of 1,000 flats in Hebron; and that the so-called separation fence has already absorbed a great deal of property on the east of the 1967 line, extending to as much as five kilometres in some places?

In those circumstances, does the Minister agree that a viable Palestinian state—to which the European Union, President Bush and, indeed, Prime Minister Sharon are explicitly committed—is becoming, day by day, less and less practicable or viable? Cannot the Prime Minister persuade President Bush to use his undoubted influence to compel the Israeli Government to halt and to reverse this illegal and disastrous settlement process? I would argue that it is not in the interests of Israel itself and it is certainly undermining any progress in the peace process.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that at a time when there is a firm international consensus on a two-state solution—comprising as it does the Arab League, the United States and the European Union—it is alarming that the practical basis for this solution is in jeopardy. The fence is indeed worrying because it involves the destruction of Palestinian farmland. We have protested about the fence through our ambassador in Tel Aviv. As I indicated, we have made representations on the settlement activity. We have talked, and we continue to talk, to the United States about these concerns. We hope that Israel will see that settlement building threatens its own vital interests in a two-state solution.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is no benefit whatever in inferring that all the blame lies on one side in a situation which is very parlous? Does she further agree that the right answer is to ensure that constructive talks take place between the parties rather than an escalation of violence? Does she also agree that the proposed talks between my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the new mayor of Haifa are to be thoroughly welcomed?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that the only way in which this appalling situation will be solved is through discussions. That is why we have been keen advocates of the discussions being undertaken by the quartet, which we hope will agree a road map for progress towards a comprehensive settlement by 2005. Of course it is axiomatic that the blame lies on both sides of this

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terrible conflict. There was an appalling massacre in Hebron which exacerbated the situation over settlements. The Israeli Government took a decision over those settlements in retaliation for what happened in Hebron, and since then we have seen a further appalling massacre. The only way forward for the terrible position in Palestine and Israel is on the basis of discussions. We hope that the discussions undertaken by the quartet will be successful.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that visits made from this country on behalf of the Churches to communities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip persistently and unanimously report a growing sense of despair and isolation among the Palestinian people—and among younger people a very dangerous growth in anger—about the present situation? There is a feeling that the isolation means that they have few friends in the international community and that the international community is powerless to act. Can the Minister give some assurance that Her Majesty's Government will exercise all of their influence on our American friends to act with greater equity in these matters?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, one cannot fail to be aware of the growing despair among many Palestinians. Currently, 1.5 million are in receipt of food aid; 50 per cent are unemployed; two-thirds are at the poverty level; 600,000 are directly affected by curfews; and 600,000 children do not go to school regularly. These are appalling statistics for the Palestinian people. We shall do everything that we can in the discussions being undertaken by the quartet, as I did when I met the Alexandria Committee on 23rd/24th October under the auspices of the then Archbishop of Canterbury. I hope that we shall see a way forward through the United States, the EU, the UN and Russia agreeing a comprehensive settlement plan for 2005.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree—

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, using the—

Lord Grocott: My Lords, we will have time to hear from both the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, so I suggest that we hear them in that order.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, using the identical terms of the Question on the Order Paper, what representations are Her Majesty's Government making to the Palestinian Authority in regard to the harbouring of suicide bombers and other terrorists on its own territory?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have made many representations to the Palestinians and to Mr Arafat that they should not only place people under arrest when they know that they have been responsible for these atrocities but should also

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keep them under lock and key. As I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, knows, we have helped in that respect by taking into custody, and helping to look after, some of those we believe to have been responsible for these atrocities. We are even-handed on that matter.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the problems is that in the areas around the settlements which become secure areas occupied by the military, there is very great interference with economic activity within the territory of Palestine? In particular, many roads are closed, which makes employment, shopping and other transactions extremely difficult and sometimes involves civilian deaths. Does she accept that many of us recognise the extraordinary vitality of Israeli democracy? The new leader of the Labour Party, Mr Mitzna, is backing a withdrawal of the settlements in Gaza and is calling for a new security zone in which he believes can be based a new international settlement, allowing Israel to be secure and the Palestinian territory to emerge. Many of us who criticise the present Government of Israel would like it to be widely known, in this House and outside, that in no way does that suggest that we do other than admire many of the achievements of Israel and the Jewish people.


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