At Prime Minister's Questions today, Ed Miliband MP condemned the violence in the Middle East and expressed his sorrow for the loss of life. He went on to urge the Prime Minister to use the opportunity at the UN General Assembly later this month, to support the two state solution by recognising enhanced observer status for the Palestinian Authority. You can watch the full exchanges by clicking here or read the transcript below:
May I start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Walter Barrie, of 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland? He showed the utmost courage and bravery, and all our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends.
May I also express my deep sorrow about the loss of life and suffering in Israel and Gaza in recent days, including the latest appalling terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv? There is widespread support on both sides of the House for the agreement of an immediate and durable ceasefire in Israel and Gaza, so will the Prime Minister set out, in his view, the remaining barriers to that ceasefire agreement now being reached?
May I say how much I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the appalling news this morning about the terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv? May I also express our deep concern about the intolerable situation for people in southern Israel and the grave loss of life in Gaza?
The right hon. Gentleman asked specifically what more we can do to help bring this ceasefire about. I think that all of us, right across the European Union, and in America and beyond, need to be putting pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister and all those who have contacts with Hamas, to de-escalate, to stop the fighting, to stop the bombing; and that is exactly what I have done. Over the weekend, I spoke twice to the Israeli Prime Minister and once to the President of Israel—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is working very hard on this as well—to persuade both sides that we need a ceasefire. Beyond that, obviously what we need is proper discussions about the future of Israel and Palestine.
I agree with the Prime Minister: he is right to say that any such ceasefire deal can be turned into permanent peace only if there is a resumption of meaningful negotiations towards a two-state solution. This week has shown us once again that there is neither peace nor a peace process, and the reality is that the international community bears some responsibility for the abject failure to have those meaningful negotiations, nine years on from the promise of the road map for peace. Can the right hon. Gentleman set out for the House what steps beyond the hoped-for ceasefire need to be taken to pressure both sides into meaningful negotiations?
I agree that we need a process to be put in place and we have to do everything we can to persuade President Obama that this should be a leading priority for his second presidential term, but I make this point: of course we all want this process and we all want this peace, but in the end peace can come about only by Israelis and Palestinians sitting down and talking through the final status issues—they have to discuss borders, Jerusalem and refugees. In the end, as President Obama is fond of saying, and I agree, we cannot want this more than they want it. We have to encourage them, provide the framework and push for a process, but in the end we need courageous leadership from Israelis and Palestinians to talk through those final status issues.
That is completely right, but we have to use every means at our disposal to pressure both sides into those negotiations, because the reality is that confidence that there can be a two-state solution is dwindling month by month. There will be an opportunity to support the cause of the two-state solution at the UN General Assembly later this month by recognising enhanced observer status for the Palestinian Authority. The Opposition support that because we believe it will strengthen the moderate voices among the Palestinians who want to pursue the path of politics, not the path of violence. I urge the Prime Minister to consider adopting that position in the days ahead.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the first part of what he said: confidence is dwindling that there is time left for a two-state solution. That is why there is such a sense of urgency in the international community—this could be the last chance for peace, because the facts on the ground are changing. Frankly, I think it is so much in Israel’s interest now to push for the two-state solution, so we should keep up the pressure.
On the potential vote at the United Nations, our view, which I know the Foreign Secretary set out for the House in some detail yesterday, is that the Palestinians should not take it to the UN in the short term, and we have urged them not to do that. Clearly, if they do so, we will have to consider the right way to vote. The point is this: we will not solve this problem at the United Nations; it will be solved only by Israelis and Palestinians sitting down and negotiating. Indeed, there may be dangers in pushing the issue too early at the UN in terms of funds for the Palestinian Authority being cut off and all the other consequences, so let us get negotiations going, rather than discussions at the UN.