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
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.