Tory leader rubbishes peace conference
The Guardian - 18 January 2003
The Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, today called the government's Middle East conference "pointless" and suggested that British taxpayers' money was helping fund Palestinian suicide bombers.
Mr Duncan Smith accused ministers of "fiddling" and said the London conference - called by the prime minister, Tony Blair, and which ended on Tuesday evening - had done more harm than good.
He made his remarks to an audience of businessmen at a London fundraising breakfast for Norwood, a leading Jewish child and family care organisation.
"Israel's fight against terror deserves support. It is no good the Foreign Office fiddling with pointless conferences, whilst suicide bombers are malignantly burning their way through Israel," he said.
"We welcome any initiative that can promote a resumption of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"However, the prime minister and his conference, which ended this week, I believe, offer little hope."
Mr Duncan Smith said Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and restated his belief that a solution to the conflict lay in "a two-state proposal".
But government policy lacked the "balance" required to help reach a peaceful settlement.
"Labour ministers must realise that cosmetic grandstanding solutions and ill-thought-out conferences do more harm than good to a process which requires above all even-handedness," he said.
At the close of the conference, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said "positive" reforms to the Palestinian Authority had been agreed.
The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had banned Palestinian representatives from travelling to London following a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv earlier this month.
Palestinian representatives took part in the mini-summit via a video link from Ramallah and Gaza.
Today, Mr Duncan Smith said Tory MEP Charles Tannock was trying to drum up support to launch a European parliamentary inquiry into whether the 10m euros given each month to the Palestinian Authority were "being used to fund terrorist attacks".
"It is very disturbing to contemplate the possibility that our taxpayers' money could be financing the bombs and explosives used to attack Israeli civilians," he said.
Responding to the criticisms, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "There is no question of taxpayers' money funding Palestinian suicide bombers - stringent accounting and a number of investigations have made sure of this.
"The Palestinians and international community did not regard the conference as pointless.
"Our policy does not lack balance - we continue to have good relations with Israel despite our differences."