Please find below answers to the questions most commonly asked by members of the public in correspondence relating to the Middle East Peace Process. (Please visit the FCO profiles of Israel and the Palestinian Authority for further information.)
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 Occupied Territories, 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. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are convinced that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important precondition for long-term peace in the region.
Actions by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) 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. 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 PA must do what it can to stop further attacks, and we welcome President Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister designate Ahmed Qureia's (Abu Ala) public condemnations.
We are seriously concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation. Israel must ease restrictions on Palestinians, to enable economic life to recover, and the humanitarian situation to improve. We are working with the World Bank, the UN, EU partners, humanitarian agencies and the PA to assess needs and priorities on the ground. The imposition of closures, settlement expansion, incursions, and cases of misconduct by the Israeli Defence Forces are counter-productive. Continuing settlement activity and assassinations are illegal under international law. Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements and stop construction of the so-called security fence. Assassinations do nothing to prevent violence and undermine the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to tackle terrorism. These practices fuel Palestinian anger and confirm to Palestinians their fear that Israel is not interested in ending the occupation. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Baroness Symons have raised these concerns with their counterparts. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv is in frequent contact with the Israeli Government and conveys our views frankly.
What is Government's policy on a negotiated peace settlement?
We are committed to reviving final status negotiations as soon as possible. The path towards this is through the Quartet (US, UN, EU, Russia) Roadmap. There is a clear international consensus on what a negotiated settlement might look like. The key elements will include an end to occupation, 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, as set out in UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. It should also build on Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative, adopted by the Arab League in Beirut on 28 March, which offers full normalisation of relations between the Arab States and Israel, in the context of a final settlement.
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.
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. We regard the status of Jerusalem as still to be determined, in permanent status negotiations between the parties. We do not support any action that predetermines the final status of Jerusalem. Pending agreement, we recognise de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem and consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory. We recognise no sovereignty over the city. At Camp David and Taba discussion was on the basis that the capitals on both sides would be based in Jerusalem. We believe the parties should proceed on that basis.
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?
We worked closely with the Palestinians on the appointment of a Prime Minister and on securing publication of the Quartet roadmap. We regret Mahmoud Abbas's decision on 6 September to resign as Prime Minister and supported his efforts on reform, especially on financial and public administration reform, and to meet Palestinian obligations under Phase I of the roadmap. We welcome Ahmed Qureia's decision to accept his nomination as Prime Minister. He is a Palestinian leader with a long track record of efforts for peace. We will judge him by his commitment to the peace process and to continuing reform efforts. The Palestinian leadership must now unite around a clear commitment to roadmap implementation and take firm action to stop terrorists planning and executing attacks.
We will continue to press Israel to meet her obligations. Israel must create the climate within which moderate Palestinian leaders can meet their commitments by freezing settlement activity; removing outposts, illegal even under Israeli law; restoring Palestinian freedom of movement, and so allowing economic activity to restart; ending assassinations; and ensuring that the security fence does not encroach on Palestinian land.
We continue to work with the US and international community to do everything we can to hold both sides to their commitments under the roadmap, and to isolate the terrorists. The EU is taking the lead and has frozen the assets of 34 terrorist organisations, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -General Command, and Hamas IDQ. On 6 September, European Foreign Ministers agreed that the EU should take asset freezing action against Hamas as a whole.
What is the future role of the Quartet?
The Quartet continue to have a crucial role in helping the parties to implement the roadmap. We expect the next Quartet meeting to take place shortly at the UN. All members remain committed to finding a solution to this conflict.
Is there a monitoring mechanism?
A US team led by John Wolf is working on roadmap implementation. This is vital; it was a key element missing from earlier agreements among the parties. The Wolf mission is looking at Israeli and Palestinian actions in areas including security co-operation, settlement outposts, incitement and prisoners. We continue to stress to all those involved the importance of effective monitoring of the progress made by both sides, and the value of drawing on wide participation.
The EU is ready to contribute if this is necessary.
What is the Government's view on President Arafat?
UK – and EU – position on President Arafat remains unchanged. We continue to talk to President Arafat, the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, when we judge it to be useful.
What are we doing about the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Territories?
We are seriously concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation. It fuels the extremists and stifles hopes of a political process. We welcome the role of the UN humanitarian envoy. We look to Israel to do more to ease restrictions on the Palestinians, to enable economic life to recover, and the humanitarian situation to improve. We are working with the World Bank, the UN, EU partners, humanitarian agencies and the Palestinian Authority to assess needs and priorities on the ground. It is important that our assistance is fully co-ordinated with others.
In 2002 the British Government provided £68 million to the Palestinians. A similar level of support will be provided during the current year. This includes the UK share of EC funding, which was £31 million in 2002.
The UK provides support for a number of emergency programmes, including non-salary budgetary support, trauma counselling, special educational needs and UN Relief & Work Agency's UNRWA) emergency appeals. £8 million of our bilateral expenditure for 2002/03 was for ‘emergency' programmes. In addition, we contributed £7 million to UNRWA's emergency appeal for 2002. So far we have contributed £1.8 million to the 2003 appeal and will provide more during the year. The UK is UNRWA's second largest bilateral donor after the US. We contributed nearly £22 million in 2002.
Why do we not have targeted action against Israel?
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. The current situation in the region is serious, but we do not believe imposing an embargo on Israel would help it.
We believe that Israel has a right to self-defence, and to buy arms from overseas suppliers. British manufacturers have a right to sell them but within the constraints of our existing policy. Both our EU partners and we are guided by the EU Code of Conduct which means we will not issue licences where there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression or aggressively against another country. All relevant export licence applications are rigorously assessed on a case by case.
What is the Government's view on Israeli settlements?
Our policy on settlements is clear: settlements are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Phase One of the Quartet roadmap calls on Israel to freeze all settlement expansion, including “natural growth”, and to dismantle settlement outposts erected since Prime Minister Sharon's election in March 2001. Further action on settlements will be required in subsequent phases of the roadmap. We welcome the action already taken by the Israeli Government to start dismantling unauthorised outposts and the commitment Prime Minister Sharon gave President Bush on 28 July to continue this.
Continuing illegal Israeli settlement activity threatens the prospects for a two-state solution and is an obstacle to peace. The area of the West Bank under the jurisdiction of the settlements now accounts for more than 41 percent of the total land area. Settlement activity, including road building, is breaking up Palestinian territorial contiguity throughout the West Bank. The continuing process of establishing settlements is encircling East Jerusalem. It makes it more and more difficult for there to be a viable and secure Palestinian State. These practices fuel Palestinian anger and tend to confirm the concern of Palestinians that Israel is not genuinely interested in ending the occupation. Israel should reverse its settlements policy and end land confiscation for the construction of the so-called security fence. The Foreign Secretary raised our concerns about settlement activity with Prime Minister Sharon during his visit to the UK on 14 July, our Embassy in Tel Aviv and Baroness Symons continues to do so with our Israeli interlocuters.
What is the Government's view of the construction of the Israeli security fence?
We understand Israel's need to take steps, within international law, to protect itself from terrorist attack. But unilateral measures, such as the security fence, will not provide lasting security and are likely to inflame matters further, leading to a deterioration in the security situation. In this Government's view, the building of the fence, the displacement of the Palestinians and the confiscation of land are wrong. Construction of the fence harms the prospects for peace.
The route taken by the fence and the effects on the Palestinian people is unacceptable. We deplore the demolition and confiscation of Palestinian land associated with the construction of the fence, which creates a physical obstacle to the two-state solution. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary raised the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon on his visit to London on 14 July. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv has also made representations to the Israeli Government about this.
What is the Government's view of Israeli targeted killings (extra-judicial killings/assassinations)?
We have always recognised Israel's right to security and duty to act within the constraints of international law to protect its citizens. We have repeatedly made clear our views on Israel's policy of killing suspected Palestinian terrorists. Except where absolutely necessary in self-defence from unlawful violence, such assassinations breach Israel's international legal obligations and contribute to the ongoing cycle of violence which makes a comprehensive settlement more difficult to achieve. We believe that in many cases the use of lethal force was not necessary. We condemn such attacks. They are illegal under international law.
What is the Government's view on demolitions?
We are greatly concerned about the destruction of Palestinian homes and property. Such actions are provocative, exacerbate tension and undermine ongoing efforts to bring about an end to violence and a return to negotiations. We have called on the Government of Israel to stop these demolitions.
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 in London 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?
We have long held the view that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the Occupied Territories. Where Israeli restrictions of Palestinian movement, destruction of homes, property and agricultural land constitute collective punishment, they are illegal under the terms of the Convention. The UK and EU partners reaffirmed the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, at the reconvened conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention in Geneva on 5 December 2001. At that conference, the High Contracting Parties called upon all parties, directly involved in the conflict or not, to respect and to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions in all circumstances. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have responsibilities. This includes abstaining from 'any measures of brutality and violence against the civilian population'.
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.
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.
Are we guilty of applying 'double standards' to Iraq and Israel?
As the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have reiterated, a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important precondition for long-term peace in the region.
We do not ignore outstanding UN obligations on Israel but press for the implementation of all Security Council resolutions by all the parties. We remain committed to their aims. UN Security Council Resolutions on the Arab/Israeli conflict – including 242, 338, 1397 and, most recently 1435 - impose obligations on the parties: on the Palestinians to end terrorism, on Israel to end the occupation, 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 and on the Arab countries to recognise the State of Israel.
In the case of Israel and the Occupied Territories, we see the immediate priority as being implementation of UNSCR 1435, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, a meaningful ceasefire and for the Palestinian Authority to bring those responsible for terrorist attacks to justice, leading to the resumption of political negotiations. The UK played a key role in the adoption of this resolution.
The task is immense. We are working intensively with all parties to implement UN obligations. It would be wrong to single out any of these groups as being the sole violator of these UN resolutions.