PN240707C

Embargo: 00:01 Tuesday 24 July 2007

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659

THE EU MUST BE MORE 'ACTIVE AND IMAGINATIVE' IN THE SEARCH FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE - LORDS COMMITTEE

The House of Lords European Union Committee has today warned that the situation in Palestine could deteriorate rapidly and that the crisis is in danger of spreading. Underlining the urgent need for international action, the Committee argues that the European Union is in a strong position to press for a lasting peace in the region and should participate "actively and forcefully" in efforts to renew the Middle East Peace Process.

The Committee's report, The EU and the Middle East Peace Process, asserts that the EU and the international community must act urgently to restore the credibility of the peace process through a renewed, concerted and sustained effort. Expressing its 'grave concern' about the security, human rights and socio-economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Committee criticises the approach taken by the Quartet - the US, Russia, the UN and the EU - which it says 'contributed nothing to ameliorate the crisis'.

The report comes at a critical juncture in diplomatic activity. The Quartet held it first meeting with Tony Blair, its newly appointed envoy, on 19 July. The Committee sees the Quartet of the US, EU, Russia and UN as continuing to be the essential diplomatic tool for coordinating the involvement of the wider international community in the peace process.

A key conclusion of the report is that the EU must press upon the US the importance of its sustaining an 'active, balanced and consistent interest and engagement' in the peace process. The report calls on the EU to be 'more active and assertive than it has been in the past', including by providing leadership and imaginative ideas within the Quartet. The Committee point out that the EU led the way in 1980 in putting forward the key premises for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The report asserts that the Quartet 'Road Map', or blueprint for peace, as originally conceived in 2003, cannot be the only vehicle for progress. The Committee urge the EU to keep the objective of a two-state solution firmly in mind at every stage of its dealings with the Palestinians and Israelis. But it argues that the interim steps described in the Road Map should no longer be pursued to the exclusion of consideration of the final status issues, including the territorial limits of the two states, the fate of refugees and the status of Jerusalem. The report stresses that any peace process should be inclusive, and cites experience in Northern Ireland as a positive 'source of inspiration'.

The report outlines the significant role that the EU plays in supporting the Palestinians through the provision of billions of euros of humanitarian and financial aid and assistance for institution-building, but states that the EU should link its financial and technical assistance more directly to its political goals.

The report says the EU is right to require Hamas to renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept past agreements signed by the PLO, but that it should avoid an 'undesirably rigid' approach to dealing with Hamas that risks undermining progress in building viable and democratic Palestinian institutions, a pre-requisite for any peace settlement.

The Committee calls on the EU to build and strengthen the bilateral relationship with the Israeli Government, and to press them to transfer quickly the remaining Palestinian tax and customs revenues to the Palestinian authorities in a way that benefits all Palestinians.

The report commends the Arab League States' recent diplomatic efforts and praises the role played by Saudi Arabia in the formation of the Palestinian National Unity Government. It argues that the EU should 'encourage the renewal of Arab regional leadership'. The Committee also call for the EU to continue to engage with Syria to ensure it does not undermine the peace process either by supplying weapons to Hezbollah or by providing safe haven to exiled Hamas leaders. The report outlines Iran's destabilising influence in the region, including its links to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to Hamas. It concludes that while it is important that the EU continue to engage with Iran diplomatically, Iran 'should not be allowed to have a veto' over the peace process.

The report argues that the peace process is vulnerable to derailment by extremists on both sides, but the EU should not allow the process to be held hostage by any faction, individual or state.

The Committee believe that discussions should start to identify whether the EU may be in a position to support a peace settlement through the deployment of a peacekeeping mission.

Commenting Lord Roper, Chairman of the Lord EU Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, said:

"The EU has a crucial role to play in ensuring the Middle East Peace Process gets back on track.

"As recent events have testified the situation in Palestine is very fluid and it will be necessary to engage effectively with all the parties involved, that is where the EU has an advantage over other members of the Quartet.

"The EU should now take an assertive approach both unilaterally and within the Quartet to ensure innovative solutions are found to move the peace process forward as quickly as possible.

"The focus must now be on the working towards sustainable final status agreements not a inflexible devotion to the Road Map, the goal of a two state solution is key and the EU should do everything it can to ensure that it is achieved."

Notes to Editors

1. The Report The EU and the Middle East Peace Process is published by The Stationery Office, House of Lords European Union Committee (Sub-Committee C), 26th Report of 2006/07, HL paper 132.

2. The report will be available online shortly after publication at: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_s_comm_c.cfm

3. The Committee heard oral evidence from a distinguished list of witnesses including: Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Dr Javier Solana, EU High Representative; Dr Oded Eran, Israeli Ambassador to the EU; Prof. Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian General Delegate to the UK; Mr Sami M Khiyami, Ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic to the UK; Mr Gehad Refaat Madi, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the UK; and various senior EU figures.

4. The members of the Committee who conducted the inquiry were:

Lord Roper (Chairman)

Lord Anderson of Swansea

Lord Boyce

Lord Chidgey

Lord Crickhowell

Lord Hamilton of Epsom

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

Lord Lea of Crondall

Lord Swinfen

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Lord Tomlinson

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Roper, please contact Owen Williams (Committee Press Officer), on 020 7219 8659.

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