Peace conference 'waste of money'
The Times - 18 January 2003
By Tom Baldwin
Iain Duncan Smith dismissed yesterday the Government's Middle East peace conference as "pointless" and called for an inquiry into claims that taxpayers' money was funding Palestinian terrorism.
His speech to a Jewish charity in London provoked a furious response from the Foreign Office, as well as the European Commission, which provides emergency financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.
There was also dismay among senior Conservative MPs, one of whom suggested that Mr Duncan Smith appeared to have "downloaded a lot of nonsense from Richard Perle" - a leading American hawk on the Middle East.
The Tory leader said the peace conference held in London this week - from which Palestinian representatives were barred by Israel - had done "more harm than good".
He added: "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."
Later he repeated allegations made by Charles Tannock, the Conservative MEP, that the €10 million (£6.5 million) a month paid to the Palestinian Authority "could be financing the bombs and explosives used to attack Israeli civilians".
The aid was authorised by Chris Patten, Europe's external affairs commissioner and a former Conservative Party chairman. Last night his spokeswoman said: "There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that EU budgetary assistance is being misused to fund terrorism. The money is paid only subject to very tight controls.
"Mr Duncan Smith might be interested to know that Israel itself has recently resumed regular payments to the Palestinian Authority - using the very same mechanism and account we set up for our payments."
The Tory leader also used his speech to urge Tony Blair to tell Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, that time was "running out" for a diplomatic solution in Iraq.