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Libya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:40 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Dennis Walters Mr Dennis Walters , Westbury 8:40 pm, 16th April 1986

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), in an excellent speech, pointed out that Colonel Gaddafi was not central to a middle east peace solution or to terrorism in the middle east, or, indeed, in the world, and I agree. King Hussein and the Palestinians are much more central, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be seeing King Hussein later in the week.

There can be only a few people who know and understand the middle east who wish to see progress towards achieving a peace settlement, who at the same time believe that Colonel Gaddafi has a contribution to make in that direction. His posturings, inflammatory language and support for terrorist activities have been highly provocative and damaging to the causes that he so loudly claims to espouse. The fact that he still enjoys a considerable following among the Arab masses is largely due to United States' foreign policy in the middle east. One should be able to say that without being subjected to the boring accusation of anti-Americanism.

It is, in fact, one's best friends who point out when they agree and when they disagree with one. The idea that one should blindly follow everything that the United States does is rubbish. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) pointed that out this afternoon.

American policy has failed in the middle east because it has not been able to provide an even-handed approach to the problems of the area and has blindly supported Israel on all occasions. As a result, it has lost influence and credibility in the Arab world. Its backing of Israel has been constant since 1948, but perhaps never quite so absolute as under the present Administration. Whether Israel was breaking international law by continuing to occupy and colonise the West Bank and Gaza or offending principles of natural justice by bulldozing houses, sacking mayors, beating up students and shutting down Palestinian schools and universities in the occupied territories; whether Israel was launching an unprovoked war of aggression in Lebanon or was involved in a state terrorist attack on Tunis. President Reagan's total backing never wavered.

In those circumstances, it is no wonder that the United States' foreign policy has become a source of despair for those who wish to see western influence in the middle east preserved and enhanced. Such a partisan attitude has assisted in promoting the people that it was supposed to weaken. Colonel Gaddafi, radical fanatics and fundamentalists throughout the Arab world and Iran have all profited.

Perhaps the most telling incident recently was in connection with the supply of arms to Jordan. King Hussein, a leading moderate statesman whose efforts to achieve a just peace I am glad to say received a good response from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Government, but not elsewhere, asked the United States for the supply of military equipment. The Administration favoured a positive answer, but, under immense pressure from the Zionist lobby, the Senate made it clear that it would vote overwhelmingly to reject the King's request. A sensible foreign policy cannot be run in that way, certainly not if it is the foreign policy of the leading power in the western world.

On the American air strike against Libya, two questions should be asked. Was it justified in international law, and will it have the desired effect of weakening Colonel Gaddafi and eliminating his support for terrorism? If a state claims that it has taken action in the lawful exercise of its right of self-defence, it has to satisfy three requirements. It is obliged to use peaceful procedures before resorting to the use of force; it has to show that an actual necessity existed for it to use force; and the force that it uses in response to actual or anticipated armed attack must be proportional both in kind and amount. I find it very difficult to accept that all those conditions were met.

On the second point, it is certainly right, as has been pointed out, that much thought should be given to effective ways of curbing Colonel Gaddafi's support for terrorism and in that respect the frustration of the United States Administration is perfectly understandable. Much more should have been done to isolate and weaken his regime. But bombing the centre of Tripoli as part of the way to achieve that end is neither defensible nor effective. Even if Gaddafi should now be overthrown, the fact that it came about as a result of a massive United States air attack will make it questionable that it will prove to be, in the long term, a western success. In any event, the killing of many civilians, including women and children, is unacceptable. The mother of Yvonne Fletcher, who is a constituent of mine, as indeed was her late daughter, expressed the view in a moving way yesterday and today.

For all those reasons, although I fully accept the great difficulty of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's decision, I should have liked to see the British Government take the same attitude as that adopted by France and our other EEC partners.

The best contribution that President Reagan could make to reducing middle east terrorism would be to ensure that Israel evacuated the territories occupied by force in 1967 and which resolution 242 27 years ago called upon it to relinquish. That would pave the way to peace in the middle east on the lines to which in the past the United States has subscribed and to which the overwhelming majority of countries still do, as of course do we.

Perhaps the most effective way to start making progress towards that goal would be to hold an international conference, and I have referred to that on many occasions in debates on the middle east. The participants should be the countries directly involved in the conflict and naturally, among those, should be the Palestinians who are at the heart of the whole problem. Britain. France, the United States and the Soviet Union should also participate. No one state should be allowed to block progress towards a settlement, and an international consensus does exist on what that settlement should be.

If peace came to the middle east, terrorism would receive a death blow. If President Reagan exercised his muscle in trying to bring about a settlement, he would receive and deserve widespread support. It is in that direction that we should be pressing him.