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18/08/2002
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Frequent Questions & Answers

Please find below answers to the questions most commonly asked by members of the public in correspondence relating to the Middle East Peace Process:

What is the Government’s view of the situation in the Middle East?

The Government is gravely concerned by the situation in the region. All the peoples of the region suffer directly or indirectly the consequences of the violence in Israel and the OTs, and the absence of a settlement between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon. The impact is felt in human suffering, economic underdevelopment, and an atmosphere of hostility which feeds recruitment to terrorist organisations. Because of its historical links to the region, and the close personal links many British citizens enjoy, the UK in turn is affected. A just and lasting settlement in the Middle East is one of the UK’s highest foreign policy objectives.

Actions by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have contributed to the current crisis. Neither side can achieve lasting security through force, and neither side has a monopoly on right or wrong.

We condemn suicide bombings and the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. Terrorism is inexcusable. Israel is entitled to act in self-defence against such attacks. The Palestinians’ legitimate national aspirations cannot be achieved through violence and world-wide support for their cause is weakened by every suicide bombing. Such attacks strengthen the conviction among Israelis that the Palestinians are not interested in peace, only in destroying Israel, and therefore make peace more difficult to achieve. The Palestinian Authority must do what it can to stop further attacks, not least by speaking out clearly against them.

At the same time, a number of Israeli policies and practices give the Government cause for grave concern. The ongoing cycle of violence and retribution, the restrictions imposed by the IDF on the movement of Palestinian people and goods, and the demolition of infrastructure, property and agricultural land have had a severe impact on the Palestinian economy and on the provision of health, education and social services. Recent IDF operations have accelerated this decline, leading to a real humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Territories. For example, 45% of children there suffer from chronic malnutrition according to a recent UNICEF-funded study. This kind of suffering is unacceptable. We are discussing with international partners, including the World Bank, how to respond to the emergency situation. We are providing practical support through our contributions to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). We have disbursed £12 million of our annual contribution to UNRWA’s General Fund, and made a £5 million contribution to UNRWA’s 2002 Emergency Appeal. But the real answer is an end to the occupation so that the Palestinians can take responsibility for their own lives.

The imposition of closures, settlement expansion, incursions, and cases of misconduct by the IDF are counter-productive. Continuing settlement activity and extra-judicial killings are illegal under international law. Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements. These practices fuel Palestinian anger and confirm to Palestinians their fear that Israel is not interested in ending the occupation. The Prime Minister has raised some of these concerns personally with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and the Foreign Secretary has raised them with the Israeli Foreign Minister Peres and Israeli Defence Minister Ben-Eliezer. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv is in frequent contact with the Israeli Government and conveys our views frankly.

What is UK policy on a negotiated peace settlement?

The UK is intensely engaged with all parties involved in this conflict. Recently, the Prime Minister has met President Mubarak, Prime Minster Sharon, Prime Minister Hariri President Bush and King Abdullah. The Foreign Secretary has been in constant contact with his EU and US counterparts. Mike O’Brien, the Minister with responsibility for our relations with the Middle East, visited Israel and the Occupied Territories in July.

There is now a clear international consensus on the parameters for a negotiated comprehensive settlement – the exchange of 'land for peace' leading to a viable state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, both secure and respected within recognised borders. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 1397 set out these principles, which, following Saudi Arabia's initiative, were also adopted by the Arab Summit in Beirut on 28 March.

We want to see both parties move immediately to a meaningful ceasefire as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1402. With our support, the recent Seville European Council reiterated its condemnation of all terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, and also stressed that the Palestinian Authority should make good its commitment to political, administrative and security reforms, and to hold early elections. Israel should end the occupation, cease military operations in the Occupied Territories and act in accordance with international law. President Bush made similar points in his statement on 24 June.

The issues of permanent status, including that of territory, are for negotiation between the parties. It is not for the UK to prescribe the form of any Palestinian state. The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination is not subject to any veto.

The fate of the Palestinian refugees is important to Palestinians, Israelis and regional States such as Jordan and Lebanon. A just resolution of the refugee issue must be agreed consistent with UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), which calls for the right of return, and compensation, for Palestinian refugees. We believe that a solution can be agreed and implemented without threatening the existence or character of the State of Israel.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND NEXT STEPS?

The Foreign Secretary took a lead in pressing for an international investigation into the recent events in Jenin. Unfortunately Israel raised conditions which the UN Secretary General judged made the deployment of a fact-finding team impossible. We supported the UN General Assembly’s request to the Secretary-General to produce a report drawing on available information. We welcomed his report published on 1 August. The report rightly puts events in the context of the rising violence on both sides since the start of the current intifada. It also shows that neither party was blameless for what happened in Jenin and elsewhere. As the Secretary-General said, 'Combatants on both sides put civilians in harm’s way'. Nevertheless, the report bears out the Foreign Secretary’s comment back in April that 'all the available evidence is that the Israel Defence Forces used disproportionate and excessive force'.

We welcome the personal commitment to the search for peace President Bush signalled in his speech on 24 June. He called for a final settlement within three years, and set out what both parties have to do to achieve this goal. He said that there must be an end to terror, and that settlement activity must stop. We are doing all that we can to assist President Bush’s initiative. We will also help wherever we can to build confidence between the parties, and to promote dialogue at all levels.

International activity is now focussed on the engagement of the Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia), which issued a statement on 16 July, building on President Bush's speech. It expressed support for the 'convening of a further international Ministerial meeting at an appropriate time' and reaffirmed that progress in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields must proceed together. The statement welcomed the Arab peace initiative of March 2002 (offering normal relations between Arab States and Israel in return for full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories), and highlighted the role of the Task Force on reform in implementing a comprehensive action plan on reform, with benchmarks to measure progress. The Quartet committed itself to assisting the parties in efforts to renew dialogue, and to regular consultation at Principals level. Israel should take 'concrete steps', including immediate easing of some closures and tax revenues should be released. We welcome Israel’s recent release of a small part of the frozen revenues, as a first step. New settlement activity should stop and humanitarian personnel should be allowed free access. 'As security improves' the IDF should withdraw to pre-intifada lines. The Quartet also recognised the need for Lebanon and Syria to be included in a regional settlement with Israel.

We welcome President Arafat’s statement on 15 May committing himself to institutional reform and fresh elections. The UK has long supported the development of more effective and accountable Palestinian institutions in preparation for Palestinian statehood. With our EU partners and the US, we stand ready to help the Palestinian Authority rebuild and reform its security structures so that it can clamp down on violence and root out terrorism. The Palestinian Authority has already taken some action, but commitments must now be translated into action.

TARGETED ACTION?

It has been suggested that the UK should take targeted action against Israel, for example by recalling our Ambassador, suspending the EU-Israel Association agreement, and applying an arms embargo and trade sanctions. The Government believes that, as a friend of Israelis and Palestinians, we can best exert influence, and encourage both sides to take the steps needed for progress, through close engagement. We need to keep lines of communication to both sides open. One important line of communication is through our Ambassador to Israel. Through him, and our Consul-General in Jerusalem, we have made known our views on recent actions by both sides. We do not believe that suspension of the EU/Israel Association Agreement would bring the parties any nearer to a peaceful resolution. Trade embargoes are most effective when imposed on a multilateral basis. At present, there is no consensus in the EU for an arms embargo against Israel. The UK arms trade with Israel is tiny; it constitutes only 0.1% of Israel's total arms imports. Sanctions would impact not only on Israel, but also on the fragile Palestinian economy, which is closely linked to the Israeli economy.

We recognise that this conflict is the most destabilising force in the Middle East and we will continue with our efforts to revitalise the peace process. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Mike O’Brien work continuously with the parties, US, EU colleagues, UN, Russia and regional leaders to this end.

Is the Palestinian National Authority a terrorist entity?

We reject this description. The Palestinian National Authority should certainly do more to prevent terrorism, and in this way it will be more able to refute this description. President Arafat has repeatedly condemned terrorism.

We reject any comparison of President Arafat with Usama Bin Laden. He is the elected head of the people in the Occupied Territories, he should remain as such, and he is the only person with whom Israel can negotiate a settlement.

What is the Mitchell Committee report?

The Sharm el-Sheikh Fact Finding Committee (chaired by Senator George Mitchell) was appointed, with the agreement of both parties, to look into the events of Autumn 2000 (at the start of the second 'intifada') and to trace a path out of the current crisis in the MEPP. The Committee published its report in May 2001, and it is universally accepted as a balanced and constructive way forward. Israel and the PA have accepted its recommendations, but significant differences remain between them on the timing and sequencing of their implementation.

What is the Tenet plan?

During a visit to the region, CIA Director Tenet produced a security plan, detailing the parallel actions required of the parties to end the violence, resume security co-operation and implementat initial confidence-building measures. Since their commitment to the Tenet Plan both parties have taken some tentative steps towards implementation. Further security meetings have taken place involving senior officials on both sides.

What is the UK's position on a Palestinian State?

In line with the EU's Berlin Declaration , we recognise the Palestinian right to self-determination, including the option of a state.

It is the Government's view that peace will only be achieved through a political process that implements 'land for peace', brings an end to occupation and allows the emergence of a viable, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state, committed to co-existence with Israel, as the Prime Minister made clear after his meeting with President Arafat on 15 October 2001.

What constitutes a viable Palestinian state?

We look forward to the fulfilment of the right of the Palestinian people to establish a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state.

We remain convinced that a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state should come about as part of a negotiated settlement that guarantees peace and stability for Israel, secure within recognised borders and viewed as an equal partner in the region.

The details are for agreement between the parties in permanent status negotiations. It seems self-evident that a viable Palestinian state would exhibit certain characteristics, including for example a high degree of territorial contiguity, responsibility for internal security, and the development of the full range of institutions necessary for effective governance.

What is the Government's view on the Fourth Geneva Convention?

The UK, along with our EU partners, participated in the reconvening of the conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on 5 December in Geneva. The EU has long held the position that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war.

The EU worked hard to achieve a balanced statement which recalls the obligations on all High Contracting Parties and parties to the conflict in this region ‘to respect and ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions in all circumstances’. The High Contracting Parties deplored the ‘great number of civilian victims, including children, due to indiscriminate or disproportionate use of force and due to lack of respect for international humanitarian law’ and called ‘upon the parties to the conflict to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects’. The High Contracting Parties called on Israel, as the Occupying Power, to respect the Convention.

Does the Government support proposals for a monitoring presence in the Occupied Territories?

The Government continues to believe that monitors could play a valuable role in deterring violence and contributing to stability in the region. The presence of third party monitors accepted by both parties could serve their interests in implementing the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee report .

We would support any proposal which would make a positive contribution on the ground. For that criteria to be met any proposal would need to address the concerns of both parties. We remain ready to help in any way we can.

What is the Government's position on Jerusalem?

In line with the Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993 and the Interim Agreement of 28 September 1995, both agreed by Israel and the PLO, the Government regards the status of Jerusalem as still to be determined in permanent status negotiations between the parties. Pending agreement, we recognise de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem but consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory. We recognise no sovereignty over the city.

Jerusalem has a unique religious and cultural importance for Christians, Jews and Muslims, and we attach great importance to ensuring access to Jerusalem and freedom of worship there for those of all faiths.

How does the Government view anti-Semitism?

We deplore anti-Semitism. Indeed we deplore racism and xenophobia in all forms. We have consistently called on all parties in the Middle East to do everything within their power to desist from incitement and to curb extremism. We will continue to make representations where necessary, at all levels.

What about the situation on the Israel-Lebanon border?

We remain concerned about continuing tension on the Israeli/Lebanese border. We condemn all breaches of the UN delineated 'Blue Line', whether by land, sea or air.

Who is Lord Levy?

Lord Levy travels as the Prime Minister's envoy.

Lord Levy receives no remuneration and travels at his own expense. The FCO provides him with logistics and administrative support, including use of an office in London and official accommodation overseas, and briefing as necessary.

What is the Government's view on accusations of war crimes against Prime Minister Sharon?

Prime Minister Sharon has not been indicted for war crimes and no international arrest warrant has been issued.

Prime Minister Sharon is the elected leader of a democratic country. It is in all our interests to keep open the channels of communication him, as with all the parties involved in the Middle East Peace Process.

What is the Government's view of the construction of the Israeli security fence?

We understand Israel's need to take steps to protect itself from terrorist attack, especially against the appalling suicide bombings. But unilateral measures, including a fence, will not provide lasting security. This fence is one result of the continuing, vicious cycle of violence in the region which we believe can only be broken by a renewed peace process. So we are doing all we can to get talks restarted.

We are concerned at Israeli measures to exert control over the West Bank. Further Israeli restrictions, including dividing up the West Bank and preventing travel by Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank to Jerusalem are excessive and likely to inflame matters further, leading to a deterioration in the security situation.

What is the Government's view on Israeli settlements?

Settlements are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace.The recommendation of the Mitchell Committee is that Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements. We support this.We have consistently called on both parties to refrain from unilateral acts which have the effect of prejudicing the outcome of permanent status negotiations.

Did President Arafat reject Barak's offer at Camp David and Taba?

There is much speculation about the detail of negotiations between the parties at Camp David and Taba. It seems clear that President Arafat let his people down by failing to respond more constructively to Prime Minister Barak's offer. Negotiations fell short of the permanent status settlement which all parties sought. And it is the Israeli and Palestinian people who have suffered as a result. After Taba, the parties themselves declared that they had never been closer to reaching a permanent status deal.

What is the UK arms sales policy to Israel?

We continue to assess export licence applications for Israel on a case by case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. But, we will no longer take into account the Israeli assurances given to us in November 2000 that they would not use UK-originated equipment in the Occupied Territories.

The UK arms trade with Israel is tiny. It constitutes only 0.1% of Israel's total arms imports.