The Gulf

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 6th September 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Dennis Walters Mr Dennis Walters , Westbury 5:38 pm, 6th September 1990

As the 10-minute rule applies, I shall not be able to deal with a number of the points made in an eloquent speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He always speaks eloquently, but his conclusions are usually wrong. In any event, it is absurd for anyone who knows the middle east to compare Nasser with Saddam Hussein. Their records and their respective countries are totally different.

Undoubtedly there is massive support in the House and in the country for the Government's policy on the Gulf crisis. The facts are abundantly clear. President Saddam Hussein's attack on Kuwait, which was a member not only of the United Nations but of the Arab League, was an act of blatant aggression. It was callous and unprovoked and was particularly beastly because for eight years, while Iraq fought for its life against Iran, Kuwait gave Iraq generous and unstinting support. Saddam Hussein's accusations launched at the Emir of Kuwait were a grotesque distortion of the truth. Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah is one of the most independent-minded and wise of Arab leaders.

I have been a member of the Kuwait Investment Advisory Board—an interest which is duly recorded—for many years and I was therefore able to witness at close quarters Kuwait's munificence to Iraq during the war and, for much longer, the enlightened investment policies pioneered by the Emir. There are not many countries whose principal investment portfolio is the "future generations fund", which is precisely what its name indicates. It was established to support future generations of Kuwaiti citizens without having to rely on oil revenues.

The Government obviously are right in what they have done and said. This act of aggression must not be allowed to succeed. Co-operation between the United States and the Soviet Union has been the most encouraging aspect of the crisis, and it is essential that it should continue. Saddam Hussein's two crucial miscalculations were, first, that a puppet Quisling regime would speedily emerge in Kuwait and, secondly, that the Soviet Union and the United States would immediately be at loggerheads about how to respond to his aggression.

Hopefully, the economic action taken will have the desired effect. Sanctions should start to bite before too long, and bite severely. Eventually it is not unreasonable to expect that Saddam Hussein or his successor will be forced to comply with the United Nations resolution calling for the immediate Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Should that not happen, we must accept that action, under article 51, will have to be contemplated.

As has been said, the legitimate Government of Kuwait would be entitled to ask for the removal of the Iraqi presence from Kuwait. Should action become unavoidable, it is essential that the United States and the Soviet Union should act in concert. British and European Community diplomats should employ all their skills to help to cement the new Russo-American understanding.

I shall now mention the wider scene in the middle east. It is simply not good enough for the United States and the world community to deal exclusively with one act of aggression. It would not be acceptable to the Arab masses, who cannot and should not be lightly dismissed, if the United Nations, under American leadership, dealt speedily with one outrage while allowing others to continue festering. Why is King Hussein, one of the best friends of Britain and the west, so disturbed? Why is the Arab world partially divided over Iraqi aggression? The answer is relatively simple for anyone willing to take an objective view of the area and its history. It is Palestine and the running sore of the Arab-Israeli dispute, which is still unresolved and where efforts to do so have been at best half-hearted and often contemptible.

Twenty-three years have passed since Israel was called upon to withdraw from Arab territories occupied by force in 1967. United Nations resolution 242 is quite explicit, but Israel has not budged, and, what is more, it has continued to pursue a policy of savage repression against the Palestinian people on the west bank and in Gaza and no one has bothered to do much about it.

In the past two years alone, 159 Palestinian children under the age of 16 have been slaughtered and thousands wounded. What has the international community done about that? Some years ago, Israel invaded Lebanon, and its artillery mercilessly bombarded Beirut for weeks on end. What did the international community do then? Some years ago Israel bombed Tunis—the capital of a sovereign state—which was a clear act of international piracy. Again, the international community failed to take appropriate action.

Regrettably, the realities of internal American politics in the past have not allowed the United States to act even handedly in the area. This continuing exercise in double standards has created a seething and unfathomable sense of bitterness, frustration and anger in the Arab world.

President Bush and Mr. Baker have rightly said that they want a stable middle east, but they will not get it unless they face up to this reality. Therefore, it was most encouraging that Mr. Baker seemed to recognise this fact when he told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that

America accepted that regional stability in the Middle East must include a settlement of the Palestinian issue. Subsequent reports from Washington seem less encouraging, but I hope that the quotation I have cited represents the authentic view of the American Administration and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has just returned from an important and successful visit to the area, will be able to confirm that that is so.

We now face a genuine opportunity for good and one for evil. For good, after Iraq has agreed to withdraw from Kuwait, the United States and the Soviet Union should jointly sponsor an international conference to deal with all the middle east's territorial and economic problems, especially the Palestinian problem, and the role of the United Nations should become genuinely effective.

For evil, there exists a real danger that King Hussein may fall and be replaced by a fanatically anti-western fundamentalist regime. The King is facing gigantic economic and political problems, and needs major help and understanding—not the kind of idiotic comment that was made by some American senator or congressman the other day, describing him as a wimp.

Should Jordan be destabilised, this could be the moment for which the Shamir Government have been waiting for in order to implement the transfer solution so beloved by Likud racialists: that is, to expel the bulk of the west bank population. Such a move would have catastrophic and irredeemable consequences for western interests, and for the whole of the middle east. Wars and chaos would rage. It must not be allowed to happen: the opportunity for good must be seized, and, after the Iraqis have been obliged to leave Kuwait and the Emir and his legitimate Kuwait Government have been restored, the Palestinian problem must be dealt with immediately. That unresolved cancer, which is at the root of almost all the dangerous turmoil in the middle east, must finally be tackled and resolved.