Written statement to Parliament

Middle East Peace Process: Ministerial Visits

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has updated Parliament on his and the Foreign Secretary's visits to the Middle East.

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

Alistair Burt

I would like to provide the House with an update on the Middle East Peace Process, following recent visits by myself and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The search for Middle East peace remains an urgent global priority in 2013. At the start of this year we were clear about the overriding need for the United States, supported by the international community, to lead an effort to revitalise the peace process. The events of the Arab Spring, particularly the threat posed by conflict in Syria, make the need for progress even more pressing. We therefore deeply appreciate the leadership which the US, and particularly Secretary Kerry, are showing on this issue. Britain stands fully behind these efforts to revive the peace process. We remain in close contact with the United States. On 12 June in Washington, the Foreign Secretary discussed with Secretary Kerry the prospects for progress on the Peace Process and stressed UK support for his efforts.

The Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 23-24 May, to demonstrate UK support for US efforts to bring about credible negotiations. He met with key figures from both sides, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, and welcomed their clear commitment to a two-state solution and to work to achieve peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people. With both parties, the Foreign Secretary set out the urgent need for them to show bold and decisive leadership and engage seriously with US efforts. The Foreign Secretary made clear that there was no credible alternative to Secretary Kerry’s initiative.

The Foreign Secretary set out the UK’s commitment to seeing a negotiated two state solution. We want to see a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state; based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, living in peace and security alongside a safe and secure Israel and their other neighbours in the region, with Jerusalem the shared capital of both states and a just, fair and agreed solution on refugees. Where both prosper and both enjoy privileged partnerships and enhanced trade relations with the EU.

The Foreign Secretary also underlined UK concern about Israeli settlement activity and the threat this poses to the two-state solution. He visited a Bedouin family in the E1 area of the West Bank, where he heard about the impact of the Israeli occupation on vulnerable Palestinian communities, including the threat of house demolition and the issue of settler violence.

I subsequently visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 11 – 13 June, to reinforce our support for US efforts and the priority of serious engagement. In Israel, I met Justice Minister and Chief Negotiator Tzipi Livni, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s personal envoy Isaac Molcho. In Ramallah, I met Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah (who has since resigned), and paid another visit to the village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. I also visited Gaza and southern Israel, to understand the impact of movement and access restrictions on the livelihoods of ordinary people, and the reality faced by families who live in fear of rocket attacks. We are clear that a solution to the problems of Gaza is urgently needed, that economic restrictions should be lifted and that any negotiated two state solution must include Gaza - Gaza is a fundamental part of a future Palestinian state.

Both the Foreign Secretary and I made clear to our Israeli and Palestinian partners that maintaining the status quo is neither desirable, nor practicable. As Secretary Kerry has said, a stalemate today will not remain one tomorrow. We are running out of time to achieve a two-state solution as the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. Yet any alternatives would be harder still. There is no such thing as a one-state “solution”, only a one-state reality, which would not fulfil the legitimate national aspirations of the peoples of either side.

The parties, and we, currently face a choice: either we move towards peace, with the strong support of the region and the wider international community, or we face an uncertain and dangerous future. This is why the Government will continue to do all we can to support US efforts. In this context, we will discuss specific steps the EU can take in support at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 24 June. And we will continue to work actively with the United States, the Israelis and Palestinians, and our other international partners including the Arab League, to achieve peace before the window for a two state solution closes.

Further information

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Published 24 June 2013