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Middle East Peace Process "must not become a casualty of uncertainty in the region"

Foreign Secretary William Hague discussed the Middle East Peace Process when he met Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in London on 8 March.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speaking after the meeting the Foreign Secretary said:

“It is a huge pleasure to welcome President Abbas to London and to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have had important discussions about the peace process, our bilateral relations and the situation in the region, which the President will continue with the Prime Minister later this afternoon.

It is a moment of unprecedented change, as we know, in the Middle East, one which combines the immense potential for greater democracy and human development with the risk of instability and violence. It calls for extraordinary efforts by the international community; for radically different thinking about the region; and for bold leadership from governments within it.

And there’s has been a long held view that change in the Middle East would be slow and incremental.

There is an equally long held view that the Middle East Peace Process can limp just along indefinitely.

Both these assumptions have been shattered by the recent convulsions in the region, which have shown that change can happen overnight, that there are vast populations of young people demanding their rights and a say in their government, and that we cannot predict for certain the shape of the Middle East in the years to come.

And the British Government’s message today is that the Peace Process must not become a casualty of uncertainty in the region.

It is too important to be allowed to fail or falter.

Instead, efforts must be redoubled to move the Peace Process forward.

The British government believes that the parties must recommit themselves to negotiations as soon as possible, to do so on the basis of clear principles with international support, and to strive for a breakthrough this year.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that the risk of conflict is significantly heightened in the absence of a meaningful peace process. We have seen this many times before. The dangerous undercurrents in the region, including the existence of armed groups wedded to violence and young people vulnerable to radicalisation are just some of the forces that could spill out into the vacuum left when there is no credible prospect of negotiated peace on offer.

Second, time is working against the interests of all those who want peace, above all the parties themselves. The changing situation on the ground, in particular the encroachment of settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the isolation of Gaza and the entrenchment of Palestinian divisions all make a settlement harder to achieve. We should not pretend that this can continue indefinitely without at some stage making a two-state solution impossible. A two state solution is the only lasting hope for sustainable peace and security in the region, but it is possible to foresee that it will have an eventual expiry date if it is not seized now.

I do not underestimate the uncertainty and what it means for those who live with it on their doorstep, above all in Israel which has suffered attack in the past and lived with insecurity for decades.

But we are convinced that there is an inescapable need for both parties to commit to negotiations based on clear principles, and for the United States and the Quartet to set out the parameters for a future settlement.

In our view such a statement should include 1967 borders with equivalent land swaps, appropriate security arrangements for Israelis and Palestinians, a just, fair and agreed solution for refugees and Jerusalem as the capital of both states, so that urgent negotiations can lead to a framework agreement should aim to achieve a framework agreement by September this year as called for by the United States. And I pay tribute to the leadership of President Obama and the tireless efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Envoy Senator Mitchell.

The UK, France and Germany committed themselves to such a statement at the UN on 18th February. We will work in the coming months to seek wider international support for this approach, which I discussed in some detail with President Abbas today.

We also discussed the significant progress that Prime Minister Fayyad and the Palestinian authority have made under the leadership of President Abbas’s to build the foundations of a viable Palestinian state in line with their road map commitments.

So I was pleased to confirm to the President that the UK will join many other nations in upgrading the status of the Palestinian Delegation to London to the level of a Mission. We welcome this positive step in our relations, along with the President’s long standing commitment to a two state solution.

I also welcomed the recent call for Palestinian elections, and I condemn Hamas’s rejection of these. Hamas should not be allowed to stifle the democratic expression of Palestinian opinion.

Finally given that today is also the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, I would like to pay tribute to the many Israeli and Palestinian women who have borne decades of conflict with great dignity and fortitude, and of whom many have worked courageously for peace. It is in the families and young people of every society that hope, optimism and energy for change reside. With their future hopes in mind, we call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seize the moment for a historic peace agreement to match the historic changes in the region, and to provide the lasting peace and security that both peoples deserve. The UK is ready to do all it can to support this endeavour, to make the case for peace and to put forward ideas and proposals to help overcome the obstacles, but above all to support the parties as they take the bold steps that are undoubtedly needed.”

Published 8 March 2011