The newly appointed FCO Minister for the Middle East, Hugh Robertson, visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of his first regional visit since his appointment. He also visited Israel on his trip.
The trip was an opportunity to see the situation on the ground, to take stock of progress in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and to strengthen further the ties between the British and Palestinian peoples.
The Minister was briefed on the impact of the Occupation and the range of human rights issues facing the Palestinian people. He visited Al Walajeh, a village located northwest of Bethlehem. Touring the village, Hugh Robertson saw firsthand the impact of the separation barrier, settlement expansion and house demolitions on the daily lives of the local community.
Mr Robertson also visited the Salesian Cremisan School, a primary school located in the Cremisan Valley, where he heard about the impact of the separation barrier on the movement and access of the school’s pupils. The Minister also visited Jerusalem’s Old City including the Haram Al Sharif, following discussions in London with his Majesty King Abdullah II.
The Minister held a number of high level political meetings including with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Professor Rami Al Hamdallah, Palestinian Foreign Minister Dr Riyad Al Malki, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat. The Minister reiterated Britain’s strong support for ongoing peace negotiations, expressed concern at the deteriorating situation on the ground and underlined the importance of building strong, effective and accountable institutions for the future Palestinian state.
Following his meetings, Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said:
The Foreign Secretary has made clear that there is no more urgent priority in 2013 than the Middle East Peace Process. This is my first visit to the region in my new capacity. It has made absolutely clear to me the vital urgency of progress.
I salute the courageous decisions taken by both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to re-enter final status negotiations. I made clear to President Abbas Britain’s strong support for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as the capital of two states.
I am deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation on the ground which I have seen for myself during this visit. I made clear to President Abbas that Britain views settlements as illegal. Britain has consistently condemned settlement announcements. The most recent announcement of 1889 illegal settlement units is deeply concerning.
I also discussed the situation of Jerusalem’s holy sites with the President. We agreed that, given the particular sensitivities, provocative actions in these holy sites pose a risk to the peace process and must be avoided.
I encouraged President Abbas to show continued courage despite these challenges. With strong leadership from the United States, bold decisions from the parties, and robust support from Britain and the wider international community, we must seize the opportunity of the current peace talks to end this conflict once and for all.
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