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Press Release Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Press Releases

Foreign Secretary William Hague's statement to House of Commons on Palestinian resolution at the UN General Assembly

Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement on the Palestinian resolution to be moved at the UN General Assembly tomorrow.

This resolution calls for the upgrading of the Palestinian UN status from observer to non-member observer state.

I wish to inform the House of discussions the Government has had about this with the Palestinian leadership, and how we intend to proceed.

Achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of our top international priorities.

We support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state; based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees.

This is the only way to secure a sustainable end to the conflict, and it has wide support in this House and across the world.

There has been a dangerous impasse in the peace process over the last two years. The pace of settlement building has increased, rocket attacks on Israel have increased, frustration and insecurity has deepened on both sides, and the parties have not been able to agree a return to talks.

The crisis in Gaza and tragic loss of Palestinian and Israeli life shows why the region and the world cannot afford this vacuum in the peace process.

I pay tribute today to Egypt and the United States and to the UN Secretary General for their role in bringing about a ceasefire in Gaza, and we now need to build on it to bring about a lasting peace, including an end to the smuggling of weapons and the opening up of Gaza for trade as well as for aid.

In the House last week I set out our belief that the United States should launch a new initiative to revive the Middle East Peace Process urgently.

If progress on negotiations is not made next year, then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.

Yesterday I said to Secretary Clinton that such an effort led by the US would need to be more intense than anything seen since the Oslo Peace Accords, and it should backed by a more active role for European nations.

Given the overriding need for both Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations as soon as possible, we asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to move a resolution at the UN General Assembly for the time being.

Our view was that it would be better to give the US administration the opportunity to set out a new initiative. We pointed out that a UN resolution would be depicted by some as a move away from bilateral negotiations with Israel. We were also concerned about the considerable financial risks to the Palestinian Authority, at a time when their situation is already precarious, if a vote led to a strong backlash from Israel and within the US political system.

Nevertheless President Abbas has decided to press ahead – a decision we must respect. No one should be in any doubt that he is a courageous man of peace.

Our central objective remains that of ensuring a rapid return to credible negotiations in order to secure a two state solution. This is the guiding principle that will determine the way in which we will vote on any resolution at any time.

The frustration felt by many ordinary Palestinians about the lack of progress in the peace process is wholly understandable. Illegal settlement activity in the West Bank, which we condemn, threatens the very viability of the peace process, and after many decades the Palestinians still do not have the state they aspire to.

That is why we have consistently asked Israel to make a more decisive offer to Palestinians than in the recent past, and have also called on Palestinians not to set preconditions for negotiations.

We want to see a Palestinian state and look forward to the day when its people can enjoy the same rights and dignity as those of any other nation.

But for us to support a resolution at the UN it is important that the risks to the peace process are addressed, so that the chances of negotiations beginning after it are enhanced rather than diminished.

I spoke to President Abbas on Monday and my Right Honourable Friend the Deputy Prime Minister spoke to him yesterday.

We explained that while there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments.

The first is that the Palestinian Authority should indicate a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without preconditions.

This is the essential answer to the charge that by moving the resolution the Palestinians are taking a path away from negotiations.

Given the great difficulty in restarting negotiations in recent years, and the risk that some will see this resolution as a step that is inconsistent with such negotiations, this commitment is indispensable to us.

The second assurance relates to membership of other specialised UN agencies and action in the International Criminal Court.

Our country is a strong supporter across all parties of international justice and the International Criminal Court. We would ultimately like to see a Palestinian state represented throughout all the organs of the United Nations. However we judge that if the Palestinians were to build on this resolution by pursuing ICC jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories at this stage it could make a return to negotiations impossible. This is extremely important given that we see 2013 as a crucial year for the reasons I have described for the Middle East Peace Process.

We have also said to President Abbas that we would like to see language in the resolution which does not prejudge any deliberations by the United Nations Security Council, and for it to be clear that the resolution does not apply retrospectively.

We believe these changes would not be difficult to make; that if made either in the text of the resolution or in accompanying statements as appropriate they would win wider support for the resolution without any prejudice to final status issues; and that they would increase the prospects for negotiations moving ahead.

Up until the time of the vote itself we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution, if we see public assurances by the Palestinians on these points.

However in the absence of these assurances, the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote. This would be consistent with our strong support for the principle of Palestinian statehood but our concern that the resolution could set the peace process back.

So we call again on the Palestinian Authority to make every possible amendment to win the widest possible support and to give the strongest possible assurances;

We call on Israel to be ready to enter negotiations and to agree a two-state solution before it is too late.

Whatever happens at the General Assembly we call on Israel to avoid reacting in a way that damages the peace process or Israel’s international standing. We would not support a strong reaction which undermined the peace process by sidelining President Abbas or risked the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

And we look to the US, with our strong and active support, to do all it can in the coming weeks and months to restart this process.

The only way to give the Palestinian people the state that they need and deserve, and the Israeli people the security and peace they are entitled to, is through a negotiated two-state solution.

This requires now Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations, Israel to stop illegal settlement building, Palestinian factions to reconcile with each other and the international community led by the United States and supported by European nations to make the necessary huge effort to revive the peace process.

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