MPs urge Israel to work with Palestinian Authority

Israel's best chance for peace is to work with the current leaders of the Palestinian Authority, according to the leader of a group of MPs which has just visited the region.

Mike Gapes, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, led nine of its 14 MPs from all parties on the four-day trip.

He said on their return: "I believe Israel should recognise that Salam Fayyad and Abu Mazen are the best hope they've got for peace. They are committed to a two-state solution and Israel should respond positively."

The MPs visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, Hebron and Ramallah, met deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon who had just returned from London, Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and many different Knesset members, as well as Mr Fayyad and ordinary Palestinians.

Mr Gapes, MP for Ilford North, said he was "not very optimistic" about progress towards any form of peace settlement after what he had heard and seen on the visit.

"There's no prospect of a national unity government for the Palestinians in the near future.

"The question is, will there be talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority about the West Bank and east Jerusalem? Will Gaza be put to one side? Will it be impossible for the Palestinians to negotiate on that basis?"

While some Israelis he met thought there was a window of opportunity for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Gapes said he had encountered a lot of pessimism "that the clock is ticking. The current Palestinian Authority leadership is moderate but unless there is a breakthrough, what comes after them might be worse."

Another member of the group, Leeds MP Fabian Hamilton, was in a group that visited a Palestinian village.

"We met a group of young people who were part of the Committee Against the Wall," said Mr Hamilton. "If you saw them here, swarthy-looking and with their hoodies, you might have been intimidated. But they spoke very good English and were very articulate.

"They were angry, but they weren't saying they wanted to invade Israel. They just wanted an end to the occupation."

    Last updated: 4:50pm, February 18 2010