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UK Government: Middle East Peace Process Statement

IN THIS ITEM: Statement From Jack Straw, followed by Juen 25th PM's Spokesman's briefings on Middle East issues.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw has welcomed President Bush's speech which called for a final settlement within three years.

Mr Straw said, 'we strongly support the call for reforms to the Palestinian Authority and for new elections', and added that the UK has 'long advocated the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security'.

The Foreign Secretary was speaking in the House of Commons in response to a Parliamentary Question asking him to make a statement on the Middle East Peace Process. Read the full text of the statement below.


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FOREIGN SECRETARY:

The search for peace in the Middle East has suffered many setbacks in recent months. The speech yesterday by President Bush is therefore very welcome.

In summary, President Bush calls for a final settlement within three years, including 'two states living side-by-side in peace and security'. He said that there must be 'an end to terror', and that 'Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied Territories must stop'. He went on to say that, and I quote:

'Israelis and Palestinians must address the core issues... This means that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties, based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognised borders. We must also resolve questions concerning Jerusalem, and the plight and future of Palestinian refugees'.

I recognise that there are also some uncomfortable messages here for the Palestinian Authority. But I am glad to note that President Arafat has welcomed the speech.

On President Arafat's position, we strongly support the call for reforms to the Palestinian Authority and for new elections. These will be an opportunity for the Palestinian people to decide who will lead them towards a final and peaceful settlement.

The UK has long advocated the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. We will do all that we can to assist the process now restarted by President Bush.

In this new political environment we now look to the Palestinian leadership to act decisively to end the suicide bombings. We look to Israel to end the closure of the Occupied Territories and its incursions into Area A. Both parties have a duty to take up President Bush's initiative. There is no other way forward.

Tuesday 25 June morning lobby briefing

MIDDLE EAST

Asked for the Government's reaction to President Bush's speech on the Middle East yesterday, the PMOS said that Jack Straw would give a detailed response during Foreign Office Questions today. Obviously we welcomed the President's statement, as well as the demonstration of real engagement from the US Administration. The proposals were built around the two fundamentals to which the Prime Minister had been drawing attention for some time. They set out a clear route to Palestinian statehood within three years on the basis of the 1967 borders, while at the same time underlining Israel's right to exist in security within those borders. Of course no one was minimising the difficulties in achieving this vision. However, it was important for the international community to take the opportunity to do all it could to try to help move this process forward.

Questioned as to whether the removal of Yasser Arafat would be helpful, the PMOS reminded journalists that we had always said it was for the Palestinian people to choose their own leader. The key point here was that there needed to be someone who could represent the views of the Palestinian people, who could take up this vision and who could deliver. In his recent Newsnight interview, the Prime Minister had been asked whether he believed that Mr Arafat had betrayed his people. The Prime Minister had replied, "I do believe that he's let down the Palestinian people.....There was a deal on offer from Prime Minister Barak some time ago that should have been accepted and I don't think the Palestinians have done all they could to bear down on a scourge of terrorism".

Asked if Mr Arafat's international status had changed as a result of President Bush's speech and whether the Prime Minister would be willing to receive him again at Downing Street as he had done in the past, the PMOS noted that that circumstance was not before us. As the Prime Minister had said, he believed that the Palestinians had not done all they could to condemn and bear down on terrorism. He acknowledged the fact that the Palestinian Authority itself had welcomed the President's speech. The important thing was to put a stop to the cycle of bombings and incursions.

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the President's condition that the Palestinians needed to change their leader before we could move on, the PMOS said that it was for President Bush to use his words. He, as the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman, would use his own. As he had stated repeatedly, we believed that it was up to the Palestinian people to choose who should lead them. However, the Prime Minister remained firmly of the view that that leader needed to be someone who could deliver. Questioned as to whether Yasser Arafat was that person, the PMOS said it was not for him to take things any further than that which he had already stated. He had set out the Prime Minister's most recent views on Mr Arafat.

Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister would be happy to continue 'to do business' with Mr Arafat if the Palestinians re-elected him, the PMOS repeated that it was up to the Palestinian people to choose who their leader should be. Put to him that the Palestinians were under immense international pressure to 'dump' him, the PMOS said that ultimately it was a judgement for them, not us.

Asked whether the British Government had downgraded its diplomatic links with the Palestinian Authority, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware. Asked when the Prime Minister had last met Mr Arafat, the PMOS said he thought they had met about three or four months ago in Downing Street.

Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister had been given advance notice of the contents of President Bush's speech, the PMOS said that obviously we had been in discussion with the US Administration, as you would expect. Pressed further, the PMOS said that the speech was a US speech by the President. We had regular discussions across a whole range of issues.

Asked whether the President would receive the support of the Prime Minister and other G8 leaders for his Middle East vision, the PMOS said he spoke for the Prime Minister, not other G8 leaders. As he had said, the Prime Minister welcomed the President's speech. It was a strong demonstration of US engagement. The fact that it focussed on the two fixed principles of Palestinian statehood and Israeli security was significant. Clearly it was a thoughtful contribution to the process.

Asked if the Prime Minister supported President's Bush's call for Palestinian elections by the end of the year, the PMOS said he had no intention of responding to every aspect of the speech. Jack Straw would give a detailed response during Foreign Office Questions later today. That said, it was clear that everyone was keen to move the process forward, although there were obviously deep problems at the moment. As you would expect, people would want to take the time to look carefully at the detail of the President's speech and study what he had said in depth.

Asked whether the British Government actively supported the US's desire to remove Mr Arafat from the Palestinian leadership in light of the fact that the UK and EU had taken great pains in the past to boost Mr Arafat's national and international standing, the PMOS said it was no secret that the EU had an aid programme to help the Palestinian people. As the President himself had noted yesterday, it could not possibly be right for people to live in the difficult conditions they were living in in the Palestinian territories. Of course everyone wanted to see change there. Similarly, we wanted two democratic states to exist side by side in mutual recognition, both secure within their own boundaries. Obviously, while it was easy to set out the vision, how it might be achieved was much harder. The fact that the President had presented a proposal with a timeline would help people to focus in on the issue.

Asked again about removing Chairman Arafat, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had made clear, he believed that Mr Arafat had let the Palestinian people down and that there should be someone who could deliver. That said, it was not for us to say who the Palestinians should choose as their leader.

Asked whether Downing Street was 'depressed' about the short term prospects for peace in the Middle East given President Bush's indication that the US would not become involved in the process until Yasser Arafat was replaced, the PMOS said that people should not underestimate the importance of the US Administration setting out its vision for Palestinian statehood. Talking of putting an end to settlement building programmes and Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders were significant issues for people to focus on. Of course no one was pretending that progress would be easy. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister believed that the importance of the President's speech lay in the fact that it focussed on the two fixed principles. Everyone recognised that the US had played a significant part in trying to achieve peace in the Middle East in the past. Yesterday's statement was a welcome sign of further engagement.

Asked whether the idea of Middle East peace conference was dead in light of the fact that President Bush had not mentioned it at all during his speech, the PMOS said that there would be a number of discussions on this matter, not least at the G8 in Canada. Asked if we supported the idea of holding a peace conference, the PMOS said that we were open-minded about it. We would welcome whatever steps could be taken to try to move things forward. Asked if there were any plans to phone world leaders or set up meetings to discuss developments, the PMOS said there was nothing specific he could point to beyond the fact that the Prime Minister would seeing world leaders at the G8 Summit in a matter of hours.

Tuesday 25 June PM Lobby Briefing


DENIS MACSHANE/US/MIDDLE EAST

Asked for a reaction to Denis MacShane's characterisation of the Bush Administration as a 'right wing' government, the PMOS said that he hadn't seen Mr MacShane's words and he always thought it best to see what someone had actually said rather than comment on reports. Asked if he would be rushing off to study them, the PMOS said it was no secret that we had disagreements with the US Administration over trade tariffs and Kyoto for example. However, to say that they defined our relationship with the US would be a complete caricature.

Put to him that the British Government also appeared to disagree with the US about the status of Yasser Arafat, the PMOS said that just because we were not using precisely the same language did not mean that we didn't welcome President Bush's speech which set out a vision and timescale which could realise the twin aims of a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel within its 1967 borders.

As Jack Straw had underlined in the House this afternoon, our position remained that it was for the Palestinian people to choose who their leader should be. Put to him that there appeared to be a fundamental disagreement between the UK and US with regard to Mr Arafat's role, the PMOS said he had dealt with this question in some detail this morning. Similarly, Jack Straw had spent twenty five minutes talking about it in the House of Commons this afternoon. We remained firmly of the view that it was for the Palestinian people to choose who their leader should be.

In answer to further questions about Yasser Arafat, the PMOS said the Prime Minister had underlined that Mr Arafat needed to do more to address terrorism - both in condemning it and in acting against it. He had also made clear in his Newsnight interview that he believed that Mr Arafat had not seized the opportunities that had arisen during peace discussions with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In his view, that was unfortunate. Ultimately, it was for the two sides to work through their differences.

We would do all we could to try to move the process forward. Asked if he would agree that the Foreign Secretary's confirmation today that we would do business with Mr Arafat if the Palestinian people chose him again contradicted what President Bush had said in his speech yesterday, the PMOS said that the British and American Governments both used their own words. That should not come as a surprise.

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