Before we begin the main business, to the many hon. Members who have approached the Chair to ask whether they will be called to speak in the debate I can say only that this is one of those days on which they will just have to wait and see.
This is the first full-day debate on the middle east in Government time for some years, and it comes not a moment too soon. The conflict there is now more fragile and more dangerous than it has been for decades. Understandably, that conflict provokes great passion and partisanship, but through you, Mr. Speaker, I make one plea: that whatever our different perspectives, we use this occasion for a sober and serious examination of the issues, and above all apply ourselves to assisting both sides to move towards a peaceful solution.
The prospect of peace in the middle east hangs by a thread. There are three fundamental truths about the situation. First, neither side has a monopoly of right or of wrong. Secondly, the peoples of the area have to live together. Thirdly, neither side can achieve lasting security through force, but can do so only by having the courage to compromise.
Since the intifada began, at least 1,300 Palestinians and more than 450 Israelis have been killed; thousands more on both sides have been injured. In recent weeks, we have seen a spiral of violence following a spate of suicide bombings and the Israeli incursions into the west bank, in which many more have lost their lives and many, many more have been injured. The situation on the ground is fluid and critical. The Israeli defence force, I understand, has withdrawn today from Qalqilya, but they remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and a number of other towns. On the diplomatic front, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently meeting Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. The House will also wish to know that the military attaché of Her Majesty's Government is now in Jenin making his own assessment; if I have a report before the winding-up speeches, I will ensure that it is drawn to the attention of the House.
Like everyone in the House, I have found the continuing reports of deaths and damage, caused in Israel by suicide bombings and other terrorism and in the occupied territories by Israeli military action, deeply disturbing. I am profoundly concerned about the scenes of widespread destruction of densely populated refugee camps. We are doing all that we can to obtain an authoritative account of the conduct of the Israeli operation—that is why the military attaché is there at the moment—and its consequences. As a long-standing friend of Israel, I have to say that such scenes can only be harmful to Israel's reputation abroad.
There have been allegations of misconduct by the Israeli forces during the operation. Last week, on my instructions, our ambassador in Tel Aviv raised our concern with Prime Minister Sharon's office. I have twice spoken in the past few days to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres about that and demanded that Israel allow the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies immediate access to the affected areas, including Jenin. I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the work of my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, who was in Jenin last week with the United Nations. Many in the House will have heard her vivid account of the situation with great alarm.
We are in constant contact with our ambassador in Tel Aviv and the consul-general in Jerusalem. I want to pay tribute to their efforts. Our staff, often at considerable personal risk, have worked tirelessly to discharge their consular responsibilities to the British nationals living and working in the west bank in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and have helped to ensure that we can fulfil our general humanitarian obligations to relieve the suffering there.
As some hon. Members will know, many of the locally engaged staff working for the British consul-general in Jerusalem are Palestinian. I have met and talked to those Palestinian staff, and have great admiration for them. In normal times, they suffer extraordinary inconvenience to get to and from work; each journey often takes them two or three hours, as they have to go through five or six different checkpoints, taking separate taxis between them. During the current Israeli defence force operations, many of our staff have been trapped in their own homes for weeks, while some have relations who have been killed or injured in the violence.
Throughout this period, Her Majesty's Government have called on the Israelis to pull their forces back, and to act in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions and the requirements of international humanitarian law. We have consistently called on the Palestinians to do everything in their power to halt the terrorist attacks. Both sides must now step back and start talking.
I am happy to do so, and shall place the text of the resolution in the Library. The simple fact of the matter is that the resolution was completely unbalanced, which is why Germany and the United Kingdom decided to oppose it. Many European countries that voted for the resolution made oral statements of objection to part of its content. I happen to think that it was a cleaner approach simply to vote against it.
Both sides must now step back and start talking. The conflict can no longer be managed; it must be resolved. So today I want to tell the House what we and the international community are doing and should do to help reduce the dreadful violence, and to bring both sides back to the negotiating table and towards a settlement. I want to use this opportunity to set out some of the elements that will have to form part of any framework for a peaceful future in the middle east.
The immediate causes of the present conflict go back to the collapse of the Camp David and Taba talks, and to the eruption of the intifada in September 2000, but of course the underlying causes of the conflict go very much deeper. We in the United Kingdom bear some more contemporary responsibility for the current situation. It was a predecessor of mine as Foreign Secretary, A. J. Balfour, who in 1917 promised a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people.
The holocaust, which was commemorated in Israel last week, and which we commemorated in this country in January, acted to reinforce the determination of Jewish leaders to create their own state of Israel. Fifty-four years ago tomorrow that state was formally declared.
For most of the five and a half decades since, Israel's very existence went unrecognised by all Arab states. Only in 1979, after three wars, did Egypt sign a peace treaty with Israel, recovering its territory occupied in 1967. In 1991, the Madrid conference launched an international effort to conclude a comprehensive settlement.
Parallel diplomacy by Norway and the United States gave birth in 1993 to the Oslo process—an imaginative effort to bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace through a phased approach. The Palestinian Authority was established and helped to develop into an embryonic state administration, with substantial European Union and bilateral United Kingdom financial support. But crucial issues were left unresolved or ambiguous by the Oslo process, including the future of the settlements, borders, Palestinian statehood, Jerusalem and refugees. The murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 was a grievous blow to the peace process. Accelerated settlement building and extremist violence thereafter undermined confidence on both sides.
In 2000 there was a further moment of hope when the Israeli and Palestinian leaders met at Camp David, and later when negotiators met at Taba in the new year 2001. By then, however, the intifada had broken out. Since then, the region has been gripped in a spiral of violence, not least through the terrifying horror of the suicide bomb. We all need to understand that it is almost impossible to imagine the agony of ordinary Israeli citizens as they sift through the wreckage of yet another supermarket, nightclub or bus, looking for the remains of their loved ones.
No less hard for us to imagine is the fear of ordinary Palestinians as they cower in the ruins of their homes, not knowing the fate of their friends and family in the next village, and not knowing where the next shell may land. Victims of terror on one side; victims of occupation on the other.
There are 3.5 million Palestinians, many of them living in desperate circumstances in east Jerusalem, the west bank and the Gaza strip. There are 6.5 million Israelis, including 1 million Israeli Arabs. Their only future in the west bank, in Gaza and in Israel is living together.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out in his statement six days ago, there can be no military victory for either side in this conflict. The international community cannot stand by and watch as the parties fight each other to a standstill. The world has to act before irreparable damage is done to the cause of peace and the hopes of future generations.
The first priority must be to stop the spiral of violence and reprisal, and to persuade both sides to accept a ceasefire. That is the focus of the current mission to the middle east by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. The UN Secretary-General, the EU presidency and the Russian Federation gave Secretary Powell their full backing when they met him in Madrid last week, as did all EU Foreign Ministers at our meeting in Luxembourg yesterday. Of course, Secretary Powell has our full backing and support. As a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations and a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom has been actively involved. As the House knows, the middle east dominated my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's discussions with President Bush at Crawford just over a week ago.
Secretary of State Powell's task is an incredibly delicate one. It is vital that it should not be disrupted or undermined. However, our role is not only diplomatic. We are already major providers of aid to the Palestinian Authority and to those in the occupied territories. The amount of aid will double during this financial year compared with the amount provided two years ago. We have also made it clear that we stand ready to take part in monitoring the parties' compliance with their obligations, starting with the ceasefire and continuing as the process develops.
Will my right hon. Friend say something about the emergency aid that the Government can offer to help in the traumatic situation following the destruction of the refugee camp at Jenin and at other places?
We stand ready to provide considerable emergency aid. We discussed the provision of aid bilaterally and multilaterally through the European Union at the EU Foreign Ministers General Affairs Council meeting yesterday. The problem at the moment is not finding the money to pay for humanitarian aid, but ensuring that the aid gets through. That is where we have been directing our efforts.
Last week, the Prime Minister was pretty dismissive when he was asked by Donald Anderson about the case for sanctions. Given the events and developments of the past week, is the Foreign Secretary prepared to reconsider the case for sanctions? Usually, when a country is in flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions, sanctions are one of the first measures to be considered to ensure enforcement and withdrawal.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I do not believe that that would be an appropriate course for us to take at this time. I believe that the whole effort of the United Kingdom and the international community needs to be directed at securing a pathway to peace, as I shall explain.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. The House will have heard his reply to the question about sanctions. Will he at least give the House an assurance today that there will be no arms exports to Israel and that no new licences will be granted for parts for equipment that has already been exported? Will he urge the United States to do the same?
We discussed that matter yesterday in the General Affairs Council. We did not decide on an arms embargo, but we concluded that the European code of conduct—a common position followed by all European Union members—ought rigorously to be applied to those exports as to others.
Will my right hon. Friend at any rate give the House an assurance that the Government will make it clear to the Israeli Government that military equipment supplied by Britain on condition that it would not be used for internal order purposes will not be used to suppress Palestinians?
I have already made that clear and have answered a number of questions about the matter. I deeply regret the fact that our very good military attaché discovered a little while ago that armoured personnel carriers built in Israel, but on the chassis of tanks exported from the United Kingdom—it has to be said that they were exported 40 years ago—were being used in the occupied territories. We took up the matter immediately with the Government of Israel and I reported it to the House on the day on which I found out about it. We have followed it up and I gave Mr. Campbell a detailed answer about it yesterday. We had received undertakings from the Government of Israel that such exports would not be used in the occupied territories, but, as I told the right hon. and learned Gentleman yesterday in my answer, as a result of what I regard as unsatisfactory answers from the Government of Israel to our inquiries, we can no longer make decisions about arms exports to Israel on the basis of those undertakings.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for this passage of his speech and for the answers that he provided yesterday. Should we take those answers and what he has just said to mean that he is no longer prepared to rely on the assurances of the Israeli Government as regards the use to which any arms exports may be put?
I gave a detailed and carefully drafted answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The words are clear, but it is extremely important that there should be the greatest certainty here. Under the consolidated European Union criteria, by which we abide carefully, we would not export anything that could be used for internal repression or for external aggression. That remains the basis of our policy. I am happy to ensure that copies of the consolidated criteria are drawn to the House's attention.
If I may, I shall now make progress. I know that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to contribute.
Progress on peace, when it happens, will come slowly through small, reciprocal steps. However, the confidence to agree and to implement those first steps will not be found on either side unless they are seen to be in a clear political context. To generate any momentum, we have to maintain at every stage a political perspective alongside the necessary concerns over security.
One of the terrible twists of the past few months is that each moment of hope—after Tenet; after the Bush and Powell speeches in November; after the Arafat speech on
We must all understand that there has to be more than a process: there has to be a destination. There is now a near-universal acceptance that that destination has to be the existence of two states—a state of Israel and a viable state of Palestine. That was the message of United Nations Security Council resolution 1397, which was passed unanimously last month. It is the basis of the peace plan put forward by Crown Prince Abdullah, which received backing from the Arab summit in Beirut last month.
Moreover, crucially, it is the policy of the United States. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on
"We are working toward a day when two states, Israel and Palestine, live peacefully together within secure and recognised borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions."
We have to keep that vision of peace firmly in view and to impress upon the parties that we expect them to work towards the same objective.
The "two-state solution" means what it says: two viable, secure, territorially sovereign and democratic states of Israel and Palestine, mutually recognised and committed to peaceful co-existence within agreed borders. Let us be clear that Palestine should have the usual characteristics of statehood: the necessary institutions and rights, including responsibility for its internal security; the freedom to conclude treaties; and freedom of internal movement of goods, services and people and of economic policy. We understand that precise borders would have to be negotiated, but Israel would have to withdraw in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
As I said a few minutes ago, one problem with the Oslo process was that it left some key issues unresolved, especially in respect of Jerusalem, settlements and refugees. Those issues are, however, so central both to the conflict and to its solution that they have to be addressed. At Camp David and at Taba, discussion was on the basis that the capitals on both sides would be based in Jerusalem. I believe that the parties should proceed on that basis.
On settlements, we have repeatedly called for Israel to withdraw. The settlements are contrary to international law, and all settlement activity must immediately be frozen. Again, Camp David and Taba provided the framework for handling those in the long-term future.
On refugees, I welcome the recent statement by Arab leaders that, provided there is a just outcome on this issue, they are prepared to accommodate Israel's fundamental concerns.
The Foreign Secretary is outlining a solution that we would all, of course, welcome. After Chairman Arafat's comprehensive rejection of Barak's offer at Camp David, and of the Clinton-Barak offer at Taba, however, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that Chairman Arafat would accept any such deal at all?
My first concern is that the House and the Government should decide what we think is right. That is what I am setting out. There are many stories about exactly what happened at Camp David and Taba, and there is much to be said on both sides. When I made a similar point about what happened at Camp David to a Palestinian leader last week, he said, "Well, we only got 80 per cent. of what we wanted at Camp David. We got 95 per cent. at Taba, which proves to us that we were right to resist at Camp David. But, at Taba, it was too late." Those are points that the Palestinians make, but there is much to be said on both sides. My concern, however, is not to crawl over the entrails of Camp David, Taba or any other dismal sequence of failed peace approaches, but to build on what positively has been achieved—little though that is—and to seek to set out not just a time scale for a settlement but some sense of a final destination.
On refugees, I find it strange that we should rely on an accommodation between the Arab states in relation to Israel's concerns when, throughout most of my right hon. Friend's speech, he has referred to international law. International law is quite clear on this matter. Resolution 194 establishes the principle of the right of return and the right of individual Palestinians to decide on that. It is not for the Arab states to decide on that. It is not even up to President Arafat to decide on it. Can my right hon. Friend clarify this matter?
Of course, we have to take full account of international resolutions, although resolution 1397—the most recent substantive one—recalls resolutions 242 and 338 in particular, rather than the one to which my hon. Friend referred. We also have to take account of where we are, and it is President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority who would be the key negotiator on the Palestinian side, for as long as he occupies that position. He has said that he accepts that there has to be some accommodation of the issue of refugees. If we are to seek a solution to this terrible conflict, that has to be the case.
I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary. I take him back to the passage in his speech about the creation of two states. I would like to ask him whether, in his mind, there is any danger of a tragic repetition of history. Was it not the discharge of the League of Nations' British mandate that produced two states—Israel and Transjordan, as it was then called? Why did that not work? Why might the next move work, if that one did not?
There is a separate, and perhaps more academic, debate to be had about why the Balfour declaration did not work. Happily he was not a member of my party. [Hon. Members: "It included Attlee."] It was not Attlee; this was in 1917. I am talking about the Balfour declaration, not the mandate.
One of the many problems is that of raised expectations on both sides, partly through the use of diplomacy for the moment—rather than diplomacy for the long term—which cannot be fulfilled. However, it is my judgment that only through a two-state solution will we ever achieve a resolution of this conflict. Mr. Taylor must bear it in mind that these communities must live side by side, or not at all. People who go to the occupied territories see very densely populated settlements that share water and other facilities. There is no future for the territories, or for Israel, unless they can reach an accommodation.
The attitude of other states in the region has to be a vital part of a lasting solution. Peace in the middle east will have to be comprehensive and include full treaties between Israel, Lebanon and Syria.
Arab states said at their Beirut summit that they were ready to extend the hand of peace to Israel, if Israel would end the occupation of Arab territories captured in 1967. It is vital that the Arab leaders make that commitment believable. As a peace process develops, they must make strong efforts to quell incitement, to support moderation and, above all, to cut off funds to the extremists. They must aim to isolate those extremists, not glorify them. That includes dealing with the radical organisations in their midst that oppose any sort of peace agreement.
It must also be understood from the beginning that the aim has to be to achieve a genuine end to the conflict, settling all issues and ending all claims. Any such agreement would have to be underpinned by a UN Security Council resolution, and, if necessary, an international force to oversee the phased withdrawal of Israeli troops to the new border would need to be provided. Moreover, the international community has to stand ready to provide financial support for a settlement.
A state of Palestine would begin its life in very difficult circumstances. The violence of the past 18 months, and especially the current invasion of the west bank, have done immense damage to the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure. Many of the facilities provided by the EU and Arab countries have been wrecked.
We and our partners in the EU are now ready to help rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority and to help rebuild its infrastructure, but this must be on the explicit expectation that there are no further Israeli incursions. We cannot go on picking up the pieces.
A trust fund, under the auspices of the World Bank or the UN Development Programme, could channel resources to where they were needed. However, to return to a point that I made a moment ago, the two states would have a common interest in each other's stability, security and prosperity. There would have to be maximum openness in their economic relations, for their futures are inextricably linked.
I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I have taken many interventions, and many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
It is because of this mutual dependence that the more extreme solutions suggested recently—such as reoccupation, unilateral separation, and the forced transfer of Palestinian populations—could never deliver a sustainable peace. That can come only through negotiation and agreement. There is no sane alternative to a two-state solution and a broad vision of the sort that I have set out today.
I last visited Israel and the occupied territories two months ago. I have two abiding memories of that visit. One is of meeting a young Israeli volunteer at the main ambulance station in west Jerusalem. He was killed two weeks later by a sniper bullet while he was patrolling a checkpoint as a reserve soldier.
The other memory is of the faces of four young girls in Ramallah whom I saw as I drove in for a meeting with a representative of the Palestinian Authority. The girls were peering from a doorway. They were being held back for safety by their mother, but they were seeking a response from me to their waves.
When we talk about a secure Israel, we mean an end to wasted young lives, such as the life of the young Israeli volunteer. When we talk about a viable Palestinian state, we are talking about a future for those girls in which they do not have to live with the horrors that we have all seen on our television screens.
Those children and young people—everybody in Israel and the occupied territories—need peace. The world wants peace. Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat have a responsibility to deliver it. The passions and hatreds that are aroused by the Arab-Israeli conflict are so strong and so visceral that many on either side cannot bring themselves even to acknowledge that there is another side to the issue. Yet it is only through such an acknowledgement, only through negotiation and compromise that either side can achieve what it wants.
Only compromise can deliver a secure state of Israel, alongside a viable state of Palestine, whose citizens enjoy the same safety and freedom of movement and of life as those of any other state. Only through compromise and mutual recognition of needs and aspirations can the people of the region break out of the cycle of violence and reprisal and ensure that the future is not sacrificed to the grievances of the past.
Over these past few weeks we have watched a tragedy of enormous proportions unfolding in the middle east. Not only has it brutalised the peoples of that region but it now threatens a wider conflagration that could end up burning us all.
Five weeks ago, at the start of this latest escalation, I was in the middle east with my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan. As we drove through that beautiful landscape down from Jerusalem to the River Jordan on our way to Amman, the body of a Palestinian was being carried, amid militant chants, to its burial. Not far away, the body of an Israeli soldier was being taken with military honours to its burial place. These were only the first of the funerals that day—each a victim of the other. Today, there are many, many more.
It is easy to claim that violence in the middle east is nothing new. That does not make the despair any less deep, the dangers any less grave or the need to find an answer any less urgent. That is why I welcome today's debate.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have in the past, in this context, drawn on the experiences in Northern Ireland. We must be careful—the two situations are materially and geopolitically very different. The nature of the terrorist threat and the response required are also different. I do not believe that we serve either process by drawing the analogy too closely. However, some general lessons can be learned, particularly on breaking an apparent impasse.
One of the first things that I learned in Northern Ireland is that there is nothing less helpful than third parties hurling accusations from the sidelines, giving moralistic lectures or veiled threats from a safe distance, or seeking to intervene in areas where they have no locus. Such actions entrench intransigence rather than resolving it.
We all share the horror at the current violence, but indulging in accusation and counter-accusation will not end it. We can bathe in outrage and become bogged down in it or we can learn the lessons of the situation and move forward. We need to know the truth. For that reason, I welcome the fact that the International Red Cross will investigate what happened, particularly in Jenin, and also the news given us by the Foreign Secretary that our military attaché is also in Jenin and that he will report to us in due course.
I also welcome Secretary of State Colin Powell's current courageous efforts to involve all the regional powers in a resumption of dialogue and a search for a genuine settlement. He is looking for them to identify those areas upon which the search for a settlement can positively proceed. I hope that everybody in this House will wish him well. He knows, however, as we do, that a lasting settlement cannot be achieved without genuine agreement by the parties themselves, and that genuine agreement cannot be secured under duress. One of the facts of history is that too many of today's burning territorial disputes, possibly including this one, were born out of imposed settlements, and I believe that that must be avoided on this occasion.
I learned also that it is unhelpful to be partisan. We have to break free of the political zero-sum game in which we are either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli but cannot be both. I am an unashamed friend of Israel but, equally, I have long been a supporter of Palestinian rights. I recognise the fears, aspirations and emotions that inspire both sides. Funnily enough, those fears and aspirations often mirror each other.
We have to be even-handed; we must be unequivocally clear in our condemnation of acts of terrorism and about the need to eradicate them at their roots. Equally, however, we must never dilute our criticism of military actions by Israel that overstep the mark, of the violation of human rights or of the humiliation and harassment of innocent citizens. Where those practices are established we must denounce them, too, without equivocation.
The strongest lesson that I learned was never to give up hope. I learned that, however dark the horizon, there can always be steps back from the abyss to the negotiating table. Those steps are neither quick nor easy but they carry hope, and hope is at a premium in the middle east at the moment.
The first step is to maintain dialogue. As the Foreign Secretary said, there can be no final military solution to the problem on either side. However hostile the political climate and however fierce the fighting, each side must keep talking. That talk may be at an extremely basic level; it can be about the most rudimentary issues, but it must maintain contact. The current proposal for a regional conference at ministerial level could offer an opportunity. It does not matter how unpromising it appears initially—it could be the thin strand from which the substantial rope of real negotiation can eventually be woven.
When I visited Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres in February, low-level contacts were being maintained, despite growing violence. I was very sorry that those contacts were broken; they need to be resumed—even before a ceasefire, or indeed before an Israeli withdrawal takes place.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to low-level contacts. Will he draw attention to the fact that people in the religious communities, on both sides, have been trying for many months quietly to build dialogue? The same thing is happening in this country between Jews, Christians and Muslims who are working hard to maintain dialogue to reduce the tensions that might arise in our own society.
I pay tribute to those who try to maintain dialogue. I have always believed that dialogue is the way out of an impasse of this kind and I certainly hope that dialogue will continue. However, there must be direct dialogue between the parties to the conflict, and that can take place at an extremely low and insignificant level without losing its value.
The second step is the gradual building of confidence. Generations of hatred and mistrust will make that a long haul. It needs the backdrop of United Nations resolution 1397 and of the generally accepted concept of two states west of the River Jordan: the state of Israel and an independent, viable Palestinian state, both recognising the reality and legitimacy of the other and both secure in their respective boundaries. Within that, the building of confidence can begin.
It must start with the most basic problem—fear. There is fear of violence and destruction in the short term, followed by the longer-term fear of domination and dispossession. The answer to both lies in security. In the short term, Israel must cease its present incursions into the territory of the Palestinian Authority and must withdraw. As a democracy, it should respond fully and publicly to the serious accusations being laid against it about the conduct of those incursions.
Equally, it is vital that the terrorist suicide bombings and the carnage of innocent Israelis that results must also be ended. Israel has a right to demand that, if she cannot pursue and apprehend those who instigate, equip and train the terrorist suicide bombers, they will be restrained by other means. When I talked to Yasser Arafat in February he seemed to be firmly in denial as to his responsibility for Palestinian violence, either in Israel or on the west bank, so if he is not prepared to restrain the bombers, other means must be found.
I have seen several reports to that effect and I have also seen the evidence of arms shipments earlier in the conflict from Iran to the Palestinian Authority.
The important point is that Israel should receive the guarantee of security that she has a right to expect, and if Yasser Arafat cannot deliver it, another means must be found. It must, therefore, be valid to ask what action can be taken by other Arab states to constrain the terrorism and to guarantee Israel the security for her citizens that she has a duty to provide. Will the Foreign Secretary or the Minister who responds to the debate give us information about any discussions that may have been held in that regard?
Of course everyone deplores suicide bombings, but can the right hon. Gentleman explain how Yasser Arafat is currently expected to exercise any form of control when he is under siege in Ramallah, when the Palestinian Authority's communications have been destroyed and when his own security forces have been killed, taken prisoner or dispersed? What can he do positively, given the current circumstances?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not understand what I have been saying. I was saying that, if Yasser Arafat cannot exercise such control because he does not want to or because he is unable to, another means to do so has to be found. Without mutual security, the confidence to make progress is unlikely to occur. That lesson has been learned in other conflicts, and we have to learn it here.
"On this occasion, I would like once again to reiterate our condemnation of yesterday's operation in Netanya, in which a number of innocent Israeli civilians were killed and wounded. This operation constitutes a deviation from our policy and a violation of our national human values."
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why Chairman Arafat said that?
I read what Chairman Arafat has said, but I come back to the same point: both sides to the conflict need in the end to believe that they are secure if talks are to proceed. Such mutual security measures providing both sides with freedom from present violence would be a crucial step forward. It would, for a start, reinstate the Tenet proposals and Mitchell recommendations, leading to a ceasefire and resumed negotiations. If that path is to re-emerge, there are further steps to be considered, because confidence in the long-term stability and security of the two states must be established.
A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman rightly bemoaned the evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Palestinians. A few minutes before, the Foreign Secretary said that he had no confidence in the Israeli Government's explanation of the use to which United Kingdom arms are being put. In that light, and in view of the right hon. Gentleman's even-handed approach, would he now like to call for the cessation of United Kingdom arms exports to the state of Israel?
I have not had the opportunity to read the exact words that the Foreign Secretary used in his answer, but from what he told the House—obviously, I shall study his words carefully—I would say that we would adhere to that position as well.
In establishing confidence, Israel would need to reaffirm that it accepts an independent, viable Palestinian state west of the Jordan; and the international community would need to underwrite it. At the same time, the Arab states would need formally to accept the right of the state of Israel to exist and their willingness to normalise relations with it.
The Saudi proposals in the name of Prince Abdullah, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, provide a gateway to that end, but if they are to work, they would have to recruit to their standard those who currently are Israel's most implacable foes: Syria, with its sponsorship of Hamas; Iran, with its sponsorship of Hezbollah, its vocal incitement of suicide bombers and its inflammatory talk of uprooting Israel from the region; and Iraq, with its weapons of mass destruction and its total hostility to Israel.
We need to be realistic. So long as those countries and regimes remain committed to the destruction of the state of Israel and have the ability to deliver that result, the confidence in her own security required by Israel to reach a settlement will be impossible to achieve. In the case of Iraq, I welcome the Prime Minister's commitment again today to supporting United States initiatives to remove Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and to backing measures including the re-involvement of United Nations inspectors, but ruling out no course of action at this stage in our determination to ensure that those weapons are dealt with. The Government's recent announcement on smallpox vaccines underlines the chilling threat that those weapons could pose.
In pursuit of all this, it would help to show that de-escalating violence produces a peace dividend. Commitments by the international community that there will be investment, trade and jobs so long as peace is maintained can positively encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to come to terms. Again, I have welcomed the Foreign Secretary's remarks today in that regard.
There must then be formal negotiations towards a fair and lasting settlement. We need to understand that, in the end, the only parties that can negotiate that settlement and make it stick are the Israelis and the Palestinians. Although outside encouragement may be valuable, outside interference could be fatal. Internationally tabled blueprints, as the European Union's Javier Solana seemed to accept yesterday, can promote rather than reduce intransigence. The way forward is therefore to identify common motivation: on the Israeli side, the sustaining of a secure democratic state within pre-1967 boundaries that will not be eroded by demographic leakage or unrestricted Palestinian return; on the Palestinian side, the realisation of a self-governing and viable Palestinian state to which Palestinians can feel genuine and sovereign allegiance. Those are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, as I ascertained when I was in the middle east recently, there are people in high office on both sides of this conflict who subscribe to those concepts, which must provide hope.
Although blueprints can be counterproductive, what I call negotiating road maps or frameworks can be valuable. They do not need to provide the only answers; they need to show that the detailed elements that require resolution and negotiation are technically capable of a resolution. They are the essential first step around which political agreement can be negotiated.
Before Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001, I doubted whether technical solutions to the key issues of territory, Jerusalem, the settlements and the right of return were available. However, as the Foreign Secretary said, it is now clear, from formal and informal records of both Camp David and Taba, that they were, and, I hope, still are available. On territory, with a little give and take, the 1967 lines could, in accordance with UN resolution 242, form the basis for the borders between Israel and the state of Palestine. On settlements in the west bank, some land swapping and border modifications recognising, in the words of the report on Taba, both Israel's and Palestinian needs and interests, and a safe passage between Gaza and the west bank, could point the way to an acceptable outcome. On the previously seemingly intractable problem of Jerusalem, divided sovereignty, with capital status for both sides within an open city, and with respective control over each side's holy sites and vertical responsibility over parts of the Temple Mount—these could provide an answer. A demographically acceptable quota on the delicate and sensitive question of the right of return could recognise the legitimacy of the claim while balancing it against the need to preserve the Jewish state.
Those are the raw elements of a road map that can point to a way through. None is without difficulty and all require concession on each side. Every one of them requires a compromise on cherished positions. One of the sadder truths about the middle east today is that those who at this crucial moment in history find themselves in the leadership of their respective peoples are not natural deal makers or compromisers. They look to their places in history as the leaders who remained unyielding in their adherence to their principles. They regard compromise as a weakness and a betrayal, and they are bolstered by apparently massive domestic support for their contrasting actions. On the face of it, they will never come to terms, but we must believe today that the pressures of history will make them think again, and underline again the historic role that they could play at this crucial moment.
It may seem unreal to be talking in terms of the way forward while blood is still being spilled in the middle east, and while the threat of a wider conflagration still remains, but we have no option but to do that. I remember that, in the dark days in Northern Ireland in 1993, I was told time and again that there was no answer and that we were wasting our time looking for one. I also remember, however, the never-extinguished hope of ordinary people which drove us to identify a road map of solutions that could provide a way through. That is what is now needed in the middle east.
That is why this is the time to return to the basics of informal dialogue, of elementary confidence-building measures and of even-handedness. We should not seek to dictate or to prescribe, to bully or to condemn. Our job is to be friends, with all the frankness that friendship involves. We should be ready to help, but always on the understanding that, in the end, Israel and the Palestinian people must make their own peace, their own "shalom", their own "salaam". We must give them all the support that we can in so doing.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That applies from now on.
One conclusion is clear from the speeches made by those on the two Front Benches: there is a substantial degree of consensus in the two spokesmen's analysis of the situation and, indeed, of the road map. It is an escalating crisis and perhaps events have moved on so fast that only the most fundamental questions are relevant here. The end point has largely been agreed, but how do we get from here to there given the fact that hopes have been frequently dashed in the past, as at Camp David and in many other attempts to find a settlement? Equally, a key question is whether the key participants are capable of moving towards that goal on their own or do they need robust external intervention that uses the leverage that is available to the international community? Perhaps we have reached the point where international and robust intervention needs now to be exercised.
I commend to the House a recent report of the International Conflict Group. It argues persuasively that, because of the failures of the past, the incremental approach is no longer relevant. The Mitchell and Tenet proposals are landmarks of the past, detached from the current realities on the ground. Events have moved on and we now need a radical new approach as we search for a solution. If the international community can put a fair and final political settlement plan on the table, it would demonstrate that community's determination and give both sides something tangible to reach for. Obviously, for maximum legitimacy, the European Union and the United States should take a leading role, but they should be backed by Russia and the Arab states.
Clearly there is considerable scepticism about the proposal for a regional conference put forward by Prime Minister Sharon this week. It smacks of a tactical concession. He has said that Arafat should be excluded from it, so perhaps it is not a serious suggestion.
However, the outlines of the overall settlement are clear. The two states should be based on pre-1967 borders. The settlement should include land swaps in areas such as Gilo, a resolution to the issue of the capitals of both states, an international force to provide stability to both states and a fair and realistic settlement to the refugee issue. The politics of fantasy that have fed the idea that there can be a substantial return of refugees must be put aside, but a fair and just solution must certainly involve some movement and a considerable effort on the part of the international community to provide financial compensation and a choice of resettlement in other areas. Despite all the faults involved in such a settlement, does any other serious alternative have a chance of being accepted?
We must address the problem of the extremist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Part of the package must also involve the rebuilding of the Palestinian Authority area. The carrot is the counterpart of the stick, and the Authority must be prepared to pay the price in meeting suitable conditions if finance is to be provided.
International involvement is just one part of the equation. Success depends on both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, so what leverage is available to the international community? Clearly the Israeli Government depend substantially on financial support from outside. For example, in the last financial year, the United States gave more than £2 billion in aid to Israel. We know about the extent of military supplies from the United States, but Israel's response over the past few weeks has done substantial damage to its cause. It has lost friends all round. It must withdraw, stop the incursions and adopt a more mature attitude to Chairman Arafat. It will have to deal with him. As the debate in the United States appears to have concluded, Israel cannot simply marginalise him and write him off. With all his problems and faults, he is there and he must be seen as part of the solution.
So far as the Palestinian Authority are concerned, it is clear that public denouncements of terrorism must be made, along with a serious commitment to preventing it. They must stop the creation of a climate in which suicide bombers are thought of as heroes, and take pre-emptive action to stop terrorist attacks. In that context, the evidence of Karine A is not encouraging. The Palestinian Authority are also heavily dependent on outside financial and other help, particularly from the European Union—a further external lever that can be used. At the moment, the two key participants—made for each other, alas, in a rather tragic way—seem incapable of reaching a solution themselves.
Neighbouring countries must also be heavily involved, because no amount of peace initiatives will work if they continue to play an unconstructive role. I welcome the Arab League declaration, but further vital steps are necessary: the cessation of all support for extremist Palestinian groups engaged in terrorism, and the public condemnation of terrorism. Without that guarantee, it would be unrealistic to expect Israel to trust any settlement.
I should like to make one or two final reflections on Iraq, on which we have yet to touch. A clear nexus exists between the escalating crisis concerning Palestine, and the war on terrorism. That makes the task of building and maintaining a coalition the more difficult, as do bellicose statements by the United States on a possible military incursion to bring about a change of regime in Iraq. In respect of Palestine and Iraq, the war for the ear of the President appears in some cases to have been won, not by Secretary Powell, but by more extreme elements.
I have one or two questions on Iraq for the Secretary of State. Does he claim that a clear basis exists in international law for any military incursion? Does the Foreign Office accept that the post-1991 and post-
Those are serious concerns. At the same time, we cannot duck the question of Saddam Hussein and the major threat that he poses to his region and to world peace. Many obstacles to peace in the region remain, and in terms of the peace process a desperate situation demands desperate measures. That is part of the tragedy of the individuals whom the Foreign Secretary described. Ultimately, a solution can be reached only through compromise, negotiation and a political process. We must be ready to do all that we can to assist in that process.
I thought long and hard about my contribution to this debate, and I concluded early on that it would be easy to adopt a position of equidistance. I concluded that it would be easy to argue for some moral equivalence between Israel's army and the suicide bombers; and that it would be wrong to take refuge in such moral equivalence. I reached that conclusion not because some lives are worth more than others; not because I have an emotional attachment to the Arab cause or an in-built prejudice against Israel; and not because I believe that Arafat can be excused from not having done more, from not having been sufficiently robust in his condemnation of terrorist actions or from sometimes having been less than effective in the clampdown on terrorism which was his obligation and responsibility. The reason why I believe that moral condemnation cannot be neatly divided in light of the events of the past few days—I do not say these things lightly—is that one side has self-evidently been the aggressor; one side is self-evidently the more powerful; one side is self-evidently the more determined to breach international law; and one side is self-evidently more willing to ignore the legitimate protests of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.
Our Prime Minister sought last week to draw a limited parallel with Northern Ireland. He rightly asserted the need to have an identifiable and acceptable political process marching robustly in tandem with any military response to terrorism. But one parallel is patently lacking. When the most terrible atrocities were committed at Omagh and Enniskillen, the British Government did not put attack helicopters over the Bogside and we most certainly did not invade terrorist-supporting enclaves in the south.
I do not pretend that it is always possible to act according to some international Queensberry rules in dealing with acts of terrorism. I do not pretend that Arafat has always fulfilled his responsibilities or kept his promises. I certainly do not pretend that when ordinary citizens celebrating the most important time in their religious year are brutally killed by acts of terrorism, the provocation is not intolerable. I do argue, however, that it is not just Israel's good name and its credentials as a democracy that are damaged by continuing unfettered and defiant military action, but the prospects of a settlement that is sustainable in the long term.
President Bush asked what it was that made an 18-year-old Palestinian woman strap explosives to her chest, go to a discotheque and murder—yes, murder—among others her 17-year-old Jewish equivalent. We should ask ourselves that question, and perhaps the answer is a sense of hopelessness, a lack of self-worth, or a terrible vengeance for the indignities and humiliations past and present. We should then ask ourselves this: after the military operations of the past week, how many more will feel the same? How many more will feel moved to sacrifice themselves unless measurable progress is made?
We have all seen the images of refugee camps, with mothers standing in the wreckage of their homes, fearful for their children. We have seen the most holy place in Christianity under seige, and scenes of desolation and devastation, as if a terrible earthquake had visited the area. We have heard the claims of unburied bodies, of massacre and of indiscriminate violence. Israel says, "Do not judge us harshly. We are a democracy. We are fighting for our existence", but it is precisely because Israel is a democracy that we impose higher standards than if it were not. We expect democracies to implement the resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations. We expect democracies to allow the Red Cross access when it requests it.
There have been claims and counter-claims, all of which need investigation, as the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Bradshaw, has said and as the Foreign Secretary acknowledged this afternoon. There should be an investigation, and it should take place as soon as possible.
In light of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's courageous comments, does he share my disappointment at the review that was published this morning by the Glasgow Media Group and reported in The Guardian? In spite of what he is telling the House, it indicated, on the basis of lengthy monitoring, that most news channels are overwhelmingly pro-Israeli. Does he agree that that is not the basis for a proper national discussion?
I fancy that if the right hon. Gentleman addressed that question to the Israeli ambassador here in London, he might get a rather different response. We should not be concerned about the bias, perceived bias or lack of bias of these channels but about our own judgments and saying what we think is right and what ought to be done.
What is obviously right is the twin-pronged approach whereby Israel is entitled to live in peace within secure borders and free from attack or the threat of attack, and the Palestinians are entitled to justice, land and a viable homeland. Those are not new concepts. They are to be found in Security Council resolution 242, passed in 1967 after the war of that year. They are concepts that survived through the Madrid conference, the Oslo agreement and Camp David. They are the same underlying principles that now form the foundation of the Saudi Arabian proposal. Let us be clear—as Mr. Ancram made clear by implication, if not expressly—that these proposals do not themselves form a solution. But they offer a legitimate basis for discussion, and they come, on this occasion, with the unique endorsement of the Arab countries' meeting just 10 days ago.
However, to ensure the peace within secure borders and freedom from attack or threat of attack, I believe that the justice, the land and the viable homeland must come first. The difficulty of achieving that is shown by the fact that the settlement programme proceeds unhindered, even as we talk about these matters. How can there be confidence that a viable homeland can be created when that settlement programme is still in progress? How viable would a homeland for the Palestinians be if so much land were still put permanently aside for settlers?
The Foreign Secretary, in an interesting historical analysis of these events, reminded us of the historic agreement reached between Egypt and Israel—between Sadat, who some believe gave his life for the agreement, and Begin. We should remember that, to return the Sinai to the sovereignty of Egypt, Mr. Begin was willing to take the most severe steps to disrupt the settlements and to exclude the settlers from that land. The point is that one can do that if one has the political will to do it, and one will have the political will to do it if the reward for doing it is sufficiently attractive. If, for Israel, the reward was security within its own borders and freedom from attack or threat of attack, surely in those circumstances we would be entitled to say, "Show the necessary political will."
Is not that almost exactly what Israel did at Camp David and then at Taba? According to the Foreign Secretary, the Palestinians say that Israel offered them 95 per cent. of what they want. I am sure that we, as lawyers, would advise our clients to settle for 95 per cent. Yet the Palestinians persisted in starting the intifada during those negotiations. Why should Israel think that any subsequent offer would be accepted by President Arafat?
There is considerable dispute about what happened at both of those places; the hon. Gentleman may be right, but that was some time ago. If we are to move forward, relying on what happened then may prove ineffective. [Interruption.] If Dr. Lewis has a comment to make, let him get to his feet and make it.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way even though I had not intervened. His was a feeble response to my hon. Friend's point, which was clear. If, within recent history, the Arabs were offered very much what they could reasonably have expected, in line with the formula that everybody agrees with, and they rejected that, what reason is there to think that they would accept something now? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that there is no moral equivalence between the two sides, he might find some agreement on one point: there is no moral equivalence between a side that initiates an exchange and a side that responds to it. Does he really believe that the Israelis would be in the occupied Arab territories now if the suicide bombings had not begun first?
If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about history, he ought to have recourse to the history of the settlements and the extent to which they have been promoted. As for the remainder of his comments, jury trial has not yet been abolished and I rest my case on the response of the jury of the whole House.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. That is clear beyond question—clear even, I hope, to the hon. Member for New Forest, East, who might also bear in mind the provocation of Har Homa and the extent to which that was a source of great aggravation.
My next point is essentially domestic. I do not know whether all hon. Members have seen the leaflets that I have seen, but circulating throughout the United Kingdom, particularly in some UK universities, are hateful and hate-filled leaflets that demonstrate the most blatant and unpleasant anti-Semitism. They are an affront to decency, they disfigure democratic society and they disgrace our democracy. They are the product of twisted and evil minds. Whatever criticism any of us may make of the Israeli Government, we should all be united in the view that there is no justification for such conduct or for the circulation of material of that kind.
I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but does he accept that such leaflets do not come only from one side? As one who is without doubt a friend of Israel but who has recently expressed sentiments not entirely different from his own, I have received some pretty nasty epistles.
For us, they go with the rations and with the territory. We are in public life, and we have to accept that, if we make speeches about such issues, we will receive unpleasant letters. I am far more concerned about the fact that such offensive leaflets are circulating on the campuses of universities here in the United Kingdom.
Looking at these issues as I try to do, it is clear to me that there have been several opportunities for hope—albeit hope that has proved to be unjustified—and a number of false starts. Great courage has been shown along the way, for example, by Mr. Begin and Anwar Sadat, whom I mentioned, and by King Hussein. Yitzhak Rabin paid with his life: he was assassinated not by a suicide bomber, but by a fellow Israeli who was determined to prevent the progress towards peace that Yitzhak Rabin represented. Ehud Barak, who was mentioned in connection with the last meeting at Camp David, paid for his efforts with his political career.
The Foreign Secretary referred to the role of the European Union. A great deal of damage has been done to Gaza airport, Gaza seaport, the Palestinian central bureau of statistics, a forestry project in Gaza, schools and clinics in the west bank, a sewerage and pumping station in the west bank, and an irrigation scheme near Jericho in the west bank. What they have in common is that all were funded at least in part by the European Union. They will have to be restored—paid for again—but I would regard that as a worthwhile price to pay if it were part of a settlement package of the sort outlined by the Foreign Secretary.
The EU has donated about 3 billion euros to the Palestinian Authority since 1994. No one in the Israeli Government could be surprised if the EU began to consider what its response should be if that Government continue upon their present course. The EU is Israel's greatest trading partner. We know that 27 per cent. of Israel's exports come to the EU, and that 43 per cent. of its imports come from the EU. We have a trade agreement that has been entered into by the EU and Israel. Article 2 states that respect for
"human rights and democratic principles constitute an essential element" of the agreement. If Israel continues on its present path, there will be those who will argue, with some justification, that that condition would most certainly justify suspension, or even revocation, of the agreement.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned some distinguished Israelis who oppose the policies that are being pursued. Will he also mention those in Israel—in the minority though they may be—who totally oppose what Israel is doing, believe that such policies bring discredit on the country and have the bravery to demonstrate in every way possible against the occupation and the crimes that have been committed in the past fortnight?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. No doubt he had in mind also those members of the armed forces who have been called upon to serve in the occupied territories and have declined to do so, doubtless at risk of prosecution or something of the sort.
The proposals that the Foreign Secretary advanced are, in substance, the same as the proposals of the shadow Foreign Secretary. They have the unequivocal support of the House because they represent a staged journey and a route map. They contain all the necessary ingredients for a settlement, especially the need for it to be buttressed by UN resolution and acknowledgement that substantial financial assistance will be required, perhaps not only for the Palestinian Authority, or a viable Palestinian homeland, but for Israel—the costs to Israel of these activities must be enormous.
It is right also to refer to the obligations of other Arab states. There is no point in going to a summit of Arab nations and endorsing the Saudi Arabian proposal if one is not willing and prepared to implement the responsibilities that will fall to one's country if the proposal is implemented.
There was reference also to the principle of mutual dependence, which can be achieved only by negotiation and agreement. It is relatively straightforward in the relative calm of the Chamber to argue for these things; it is much more difficult to see them carried through. The unique quartet of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia is probably the best bet for ensuring that the things that we believe are right, and which in my judgment are most certainly in the interests of both the people of Israel and the Palestinians, are finally implemented.
I wish that I could pretend that the road towards that settlement was an easy one, but it is most certainly one that must be followed.
First, I apologise for my voice. I had dust in my lungs once before from when I went down a coal mine; this time it is dust from Israeli tanks in Jenin. That is no exaggeration. I am grateful to the BBC and "Today" for giving me the opportunity to go there. We do not often thank "Today", but I do so most warmly on this occasion. It was kind of those concerned to enable me to go.
Along with the head of the UN relief programme, I went to Jenin on Friday, where I was able to see at first hand some of the things that were going on. We had tremendous difficulty getting into the town to begin with; there seemed to be many tank commanders every step of the way. It took us a total of six hours to deliver relief supplies to some of the 1,000 women and children who had been taken out of the refugee camp a few days before. Those women and children could describe what they saw; they were not particularly interested in the United Nations presence, although we were the only ones in town. There was a complete curfew. At one point, we saw a sea of men going down the road, but within half an hour they came back. The Israeli army had called out every man over 16 to a central point. I found it chilling just to watch that.
We tried to get to some of the hospitals, as we had medical supplies and doctors and nurses in the UN convoy, which was clearly marked with UN flags and "UN" on the side of the vehicles. However, we had great difficulty getting to the hospitals, and it took us six hours to deliver important medical supplies. Most of the hospitals had had their electricity cut; only one small private hospital had its own generator. People were therefore working in difficult conditions. The UN people with us who spoke Arabic took down in detail the statements of the women to whom we spoke. They said that when the Israeli army came into the camp, it called people out of their houses, particularly men. They had seen men come out of houses with their hands above their heads who were then shot. They saw people wounded on the ground; other people could not go to help them. Those who were watching were obviously reluctant to come out of their houses.
Our presence in the town was not popular with the Israeli military and at one point we were surrounded by six tanks. I did not know that tanks were quite as big as some of those that I saw. I was pleased to talk to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on a mobile telephone and describe what was going on. I was glad that he took immediate action and put out a press release later in the day. He called in the Israeli ambassador in London and asked people at the embassy to go to Mr. Sharon's office in Tel Aviv. The UN representatives were impressed by the fact that the Foreign Secretary was on the telephone, particularly when they saw the press release later in the day. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for taking that action.
I have no idea what happened at the camp, apart from what we heard in those eye-witness accounts. However, one of the men who came back down the road in our direction was the mayor of Jenin, and he talked about a catastrophe. He claimed that up to 1,000 people had been killed. I have no idea whether or not that is true, but that is what he said. He said that what happened would be counted among world tragedies, like Sabra and Chatila, for which Mr. Sharon had some responsibility in the past.
Today, I checked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the organisation with which I went into Jenin. It waited for eight hours yesterday with two trucks of food and water and a medical team. It was then allowed in, but was not given a liaison officer, nor was it allowed to offload its supplies. It managed to throw food to 30 people on its way out. Today, UNRWA has been allowed into the camp, but only into one area. It has set up a distribution point. A curfew is still operating, but the Israeli defence force has promised not to fire on people collecting food and water.
Yesterday, Richard Cook, head of UNRWA, was denied access not only to the camp but to Jenin itself. With him was the director of relief and social services and the new co-ordinator of relief projects in Jenin, who had flown in from Jordan, as well as representatives of the Swiss, Danish and Dutch Governments.
I spoke to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Two small hospitals are near the entrance to the refugee camp. A man from the International Red Cross had been standing by there for four days when I met him. He said that he could see people in the windows of some of the houses in the refugee camps—that is, the houses that are still standing.
The Palestine Red Crescent reports that from 6 am to 2.10 pm today, its teams awaited permission to enter the camp and resume rescue operations. At 2.51 pm, teams were allowed into the camp, but with an Israeli army escort. At 3 pm, the army escort left the teams— 11 paramedics, three doctors, 10 IRC personnel and two ambulances. The teams distributed water and provided care for the sick. No search and rescue teams were operating in the camp.
Yesterday, the teams worked in one area that covers about 10 per cent. of the camp. Seven bodies were recovered and seven others could not be recovered. The teams are asking for equipment that is used after earthquakes, when houses are demolished on such a scale. They believe that after all this time people are still alive under the rubble. If that is the case, that equipment must be brought into the area. I saw a UN ambulance with a bullet hole in its side. We learned that the driver had been arrested with the keys and the ambulance could not be moved.
I cannot tell the House about the women and children—they were so traumatised and upset. They were not interested in the UN food and clothing, and instead kept calling for news of their husbands and sons, from whom they had not heard for several days and still have not heard today.
No political or security objective can justify targeting and punishing civilians in this way. It is not enough for the European countries simply to bleat condemnation. They need to withdraw European ambassadors from Israel, they need to impose an arms embargo, as Germany has already done, and they should consider what economic sanctions can be imposed. After all, British taxpayers' money is being spent on infrastructure in the west bank, and that is being ground to dust by the Israeli army.
This is the moment when the European Union should show its mettle and implement its own plan, regardless of the objections or intransigence of the United States or any other country. At present the Palestinian leadership are so beleaguered that they are not in a position to negotiate anything. The Israelis' present policy is not working, and the sooner they realise it, the better.
The subject is difficult to consider with any degree of clarity, not least for the reasons given by Mr. Campbell. Those of us who have been targeted by the National Front because of our refusal to take other than a non-racist position know just how beastly, unpleasant and utterly immoral is the racist understanding of any situation, not least the one under discussion.
To try to talk about Israel in these circumstances is often to invite the use of one's words as in some way racist, rather than political. I much honour Members of the House and even more those people in Israel who have raised their voices with the same degree of honest and objective criticism in respect of what has happened in the middle east as they have on other issues, and who have been consistent in upholding human rights, even when it pains them to speak in such a way of the Government of Israel.
I hope that I am one of those who does not have to start off by saying that he has always been, in the general sense rather than in any particular sense, a friend of Israel, who is committed to the maintenance of the state of Israel, and who believes that we have a responsibility for that, because it was our forefathers who to a large extent both made it possible and recognised its rightness.
In that context, however, there is a fundamental distinction between the Israeli action and that of the Arabs: Israel is a state that has the trappings of a state and claims the legitimacy of a state. The more it rightly claims that legitimacy, the more it must be judged by the standards of a state and of democracy. That is where the distinction lies. It is not that one excuses for one moment the actions of individuals such as Chairman Arafat or Saddam Hussein; it is simply that one cannot treat as acceptable the decision of a democratically elected Prime Minister and Government to invade their neighbours and threaten civilians who, by their nature, must include some who are innocent of any the crimes that have been committed. One simply has to say that the actions of Israel are unacceptable because they would be unacceptable in any other state—
If I may, I shall continue, as I have but a short time.
If Israel is to be treated and defended as a state, as most if not all of us in the House wish her to be, the converse must also be true: in circumstances such as these, she must also take the responsibilities of a state.
To save time—I know precisely what the hon. Gentleman is going to say—let me explain that extra time is allowed for interventions, but not for responses to them, so it is entirely a matter for the hon. Member who has the Floor to decide how much time he loses.
It is therefore important to recognise that it is not in any way to criticise the Israeli state for its hugely understandable reaction to the awfulness of the suicide bombers to say that the result of that reaction is unacceptable. The reason why one has to make that remark as a friend of Israel is that that reaction makes it incredibly difficult to see how one should move forward. A different reaction of the sort that might have been made by some of the great Israeli leaders of the past might have given a glimpse or glimmer of hope. That is why one speaks in sadness.
Donald Anderson spoke about the need for maturity, which leads me to the second issue that I want to raise. There is a huge need for maturity in these discussions, not only in terms of the Israeli Government, who are under such huge provocation, but in Washington and the United States. I cannot believe that it is helpful in the current circumstances for the voices of intolerance to be raised to the degree that they have been not only in the speeches of Mr. Netanyahu, but in the American Government's approach to the problems of Iraq. I yield to no one in my hatred of the Iraqi regime and my non-acceptance of its refusal to allow the visits of United Nations observers or weapons investigations that any sensible and proper state should allow. Neither do I yield to anyone in my belief that Saddam Hussein would be very much better off the scene. However, we have to deal with the world in which we live and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I cannot believe in building an approach that says that we judge what is in our self-interest and self-defence and can thereby do anything we like, irrespective of the international law of the United Nations or the evidence that is before us.
I am still banned from having my questions on the bombing of the Sudanese aspirin factory answered in the House because the Prime Minister tells me that it is a matter of national security. Nevertheless, I remind hon. Members that that was done because of the CIA's absolute certainty that the factory was producing biological or other weapons. It was wrong. It had not shown the degree of accuracy in foretelling the future that we might have expected of it, especially in the light of
This is an issue not for those who have historically been members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but for those of us who have given the strongest and toughest support to cruise missiles and so on. We must have the evidence, because it is too dangerous to use this, the cockpit of the world, as a means of carrying out internal political agendas and gaining votes for internal political purposes.
We have to talk so seriously about these matters because it is hard to find the truth. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes says, the truth is not all on one side. If it is unequal today, it may be different tomorrow. That is part of the awfulness of the whole issue. The word of which we must remind ourselves is maturity. If we are to be mature, we must call on the Israelis to shoulder the burdens of being a state and on the United States to shoulder the burdens of being so powerful that it has to get it right.
I became a friend of Israel when I was eight days old, and I have the scar to prove it.
The confrontation between Ariel Sharon's Government and the Palestinian terrorists has become an international crisis, which, unless handled decisively, could create a dangerous wider conflict and disrupt the economies of the developed world. The suicide bombings organised by Palestinian terrorist groups are atrocities with which no civilised community can cope. Earlier this month, an Israeli friend visited me here and told me that his trip was an escape from hell. He went back to hell. Last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the bus stop outside his kibbutz, where I have stayed many times, killing eight innocent people.
The deaths of hundreds of innocent Israelis are horrifying and have created an unsustainable atmosphere in Israel. The suicide bombers are mass murderers whose aim is to kill the maximum number of victims. Yet we need to ask ourselves why young Palestinians, men and women with their lives before them, decide to turn themselves into human bombs. We need to ask how we would feel if we had been occupied for 35 years by a foreign power that denied us the most elementary human rights and decent living conditions. We need to ask what the Jews did in comparable circumstances. In 1946, the Irgun, controlled by Menachem Begin, who later became Israeli Prime Minister, blew up the King David hotel in Jerusalem, slaughtering 91 innocent people, 17 of them fellow Jews.
Ariel Sharon responds to the suicide bombers by using the full force of the Israeli army. He is having absolutely no effect in ending the terrorist acts. The suicide bombings and the slaughter of Jewish innocents continue and, as Colin Powell said while in Israel, will go on—not only regardless of what Ariel Sharon's army does, but impelled by what it does. We have now witnessed—my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd described her experiences—the full impact of the Israeli assault on the Palestinians. We have seen what happened in Jenin.
In 1948, the Palestinians denounced what they described as a massacre in the village of Deir Yassin. It was denied that there was such a massacre, but it was later officially established by the incoming Israeli Government that 254 Palestinians had been murdered wantonly by Begin's Irgun and the Stern gang, led by Yitzhak Shamir—later, like Begin and Sharon, a Likud Prime Minister.
It is undeniable that something dreadful happened in Jenin. Despite an Israeli attempt at a cover-up, the press have now managed to get into Jenin. The Telegraph newspapers, which are pro-Sharon in their editorial line, deserve credit for reporting objectively what happened in Jenin last week. The Sunday Telegraph said:
"Without doubt something very terrible had happened to the Palestinian refugees there".
Yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph described how Israeli soldiers beat Muntaha Seraya with their fists and guns after bursting into her home. Four months pregnant, she suffered a miscarriage half an hour after the soldiers left. Today's Daily Telegraph accepts the Palestinian estimate of hundreds killed. The Times today describes the "stench of death" in Jenin, and The Independent calls what happened there a "war crime".
The difference between the Deir Yassin massacre and what happened in Jenin is that Deir Yassin was the work of terrorist groups denounced by mainstream Jewish organisations, whereas the horrors in Jenin were carried out by the official Israeli army. In 1901, Henry Campbell-Bannerman asked, "When is a war not a war?" Talking about the British Government and the Boer war, his answer was, "When it is carried on by methods of barbarism." Sharon has ordered his troops to use methods of barbarism against the Palestinians. Two thousand years ago, Tacitus said, "Solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant",
"They made a desert and called it peace."
That is a precise description of Sharon's actions.
It is time to remind Sharon that the star of David belongs to all Jews, not to his repulsive Government. His actions are staining the star of David with blood. The Jewish people, whose gifts to civilised discourse include Einstein and Epstein, Mendelssohn and Mahler, Sergei Eisenstein and Billy Wilder, are now symbolised throughout the world by the blustering bully Ariel Sharon, a war criminal implicated in the murder of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila camps and now involved in killing Palestinians once again.
Sharon is not simply a war criminal; he is a fool. He says that Jerusalem must never again be divided, yet it is divided in a way that it has not been for 35 years. I used to walk, shop and dine in east Jerusalem. No westerner or Israeli would dare to do that now. The state of Israel was founded so that Jews would no longer be penned up in ghettos. Now the state of Israel is a ghetto: an international pariah.
Sharon has reduced Israel's economy to its worst state for nearly half a century. As a consequence of his policies, more innocent Israelis have been killed by terrorists than for decades. More Israeli soldiers are being killed than at any time since Sharon tricked Begin into invading Lebanon 20 years ago. Sharon has rehabilitated Yasser Arafat, who had become sidelined and discredited and is now a Palestinian icon. The United States Secretary of State waited on Arafat in Ramallah like a petitioner. If Sharon succeeds in exiling him, Arafat will be welcomed throughout the world as a spokesman for the oppressed Palestinian people.
Sharon's most dangerous enemy is Iraq. Although I ardently wish for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, I have my doubts about taking action against him now because the confusion in American policy makes success extremely unlikely. The current fighting in Afghanistan involving the Royal Marines six months after we first went in shows how much more difficult a campaign would be in Iraq, with its huge, well equipped armed forces. In any case, Sharon has made it impossible for the Americans to take action against Iraq. If they did, the whole Muslim world would be united against the United States, the coalition against terrorism would disintegrate, and western economies could suffer a disaster comparable to the oil shock of 1973.
It is time for the United States to take action. Sharon must make a full withdrawal from Palestinian territories. If he does not, economic sanctions and an arms ban must be imposed. In 1956, President Eisenhower ordered the Israelis to withdraw from Sinai, which was occupied during the Suez war, and the Israelis, under a sensible Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, complied.
In 1991, when the Israeli Prime Minister, former terrorist and assassin Yitzhak Shamir refused to participate in peace talks in Madrid, President Bush senior imposed economic sanctions by withholding $10 billion in loan guarantees from the Israeli Government, and Shamir turned up in Madrid. President George W. Bush told the Israelis to withdraw from the Palestinian territories. Instead, Sharon has stepped up his aggression. Jenin has happened since Bush's call for withdrawal. The international credibility of the United States presidency is at stake. If Bush continues to be defied by Sharon, the United States presidency will be proved ineffectual with ominous consequences for the entire free world.
Our Prime Minister is an internationally respected statesman. He must use his influence with the United States—the special relationship—so that Bush speedily compels Sharon to return Israel to the international community. No alternative is acceptable. If it does not happen, the outlook for us all is bleak.
It is a privilege to follow Mr. Kaufman, who has again demonstrated his passion and knowledge of this subject. Whenever middle east matters are debated, one cannot fail to be struck by the depth of feeling, experience and knowledge that is consistently displayed. That has been borne out so far today. There was a remarkable consensus between members of both Front Benches, and we are privileged to debate in relative calm, which is currently foreign to those who live in Israel.
We are debating a genuine crisis. As the Prime Minister said last week:
"There are many situations, both at home and abroad, which are called a crisis when, in truth, they are not. In this case, however, it is hard to overstate the dangers or the potential for this conflict to impact far beyond the region."
"It is, indeed, a genuine crisis, and one on which all of us, in whatever way we can, small or large, have a duty to act."—[Hansard, 10 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 22.]
Despite the variety of views that are likely to be expressed, I agree with that.
Although I speak as chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, I shall try to argue as even-handedly as I can. It must be obvious to all that, whatever our views, if we call on the Israelis to withdraw from the occupied territories and on the Palestinian Authority to tackle the terrorism of the suicide bombers, we also must try to understand the viewpoints of both sides. It helps no one for us to replicate here arguments, the results of which we condemn in the middle east, without at least attempting to understand others' points of view. This time, the messages are not mixed. Both sides must exercise restraint and put an end to violence.
As chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel for the past four years, I have visited Israel several times. I have had the opportunity to meet members of the Israeli Government, the Palestinian Authority, our ambassadors and consuls in Israel and Israeli ambassadors in Britain. It would be safe to say that my views do not differ from those of my counterpart, the chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, Mr. Murphy, who is in his place and from whom we may hear later. I have frequently hosted meetings with him for the Jewish community and others when Israeli politicians have visited the House.
Others have described circumstances in the Palestinian areas, notably Ann Clwyd, whose memories are so fresh and raw. I should like briefly to describe the state of mind as I perceive it—perhaps from the outside—of people living in Israel, not only now but since the state of Israel was established.
We do not remind ourselves frequently enough that Israel is a tiny country, one third the size of the state of Florida. It has been said several times that it is a democratic state, where politics are fiercely argued and as vehemently valued. It is surrounded by much larger nations, some of which make no secret of their violent opposition to its very existence. Its only international airport is in easy rocket range of potential aggressors, as are its major cities and its main highway. It has been invaded by its neighbours three times in living memory: in 1948, 1967 and 1973. During the Gulf war, it was a target for Scud missiles. It is no place for the paranoid.
The escalation of terrorist suicide bomb attacks in the past few weeks has created fear and dread for people who are trying to live their lives. In the wake of the events of
"Israelis are deeply troubled about the impact on Palestinian civilians of the current military offensive—natural empathy combined with the realization that the bitterness this assault is causing will rebound to their detriment. But they feel strongly that at the root of the intifada is not 'the occupation' which Mr. Barak tried to end but an Arafat-engineered suicide-bomber-backed effort to destroy all of Israel."
Furthermore, Israelis feel overwhelmingly strongly that although Israel as a democratic state can deliver a ceasefire, Chairman Arafat cannot deliver an end to the suicide bombings as a quid pro quo. That is a major blockage to a peaceful solution. However, I believe that Chairman Arafat's recent condemnation of suicide bombings is welcome. The importance of guarantees cannot be overstated.
Israel, in its current preoccupation with its security and the rightness of its cause, must take note of international opinion. As the Foreign Secretary said, 450 Israelis have died in the current conflict, but 1,300 Palestinians have died and 1 million Palestinians have been living under curfew. The world has seen the terrible destruction of Jenin.
In this country, we have suffered the terrible insecurity caused by terrorist attacks and bombings. We know what they can do for national confidence. However, there must now be movement on both sides. Israel must withdraw from Palestinian Authority territory and terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians must cease. Arab states must recognise publicly the right of the state of Israel to exist, and there must be a reciprocal agreement on the way forward for Palestinians.
In one sense, tragically, things have gone backwards since the Camp David agreement when, under the leadership of Prime Minister Barak, a deal was on the table. For whatever reason—one has been adduced this afternoon—Chairman Arafat could not accept that deal. The non-acceptance of the deal has, understandably, increased cynicism in Israel as to whether Mr. Arafat can deliver any agreement. The fact that Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative is consonant with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 1397 represents some indication of a possible political way forward.
It must be clear to everyone, however, that military or terrorist solutions are not the way forward. Nor can those acquainted with the situation endorse the view that Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat can, as a result of international pressure, somehow just shake hands and move straight on to high diplomacy. With passions running as high as they are, and with wounds so deep, it is not possible to think that they could, at this time, discuss the future of the settlements, the partition of Jerusalem, or the status of refugees. Those questions will have to be tackled, but only when there has been some sort of return to order and normality, when both Israelis and Palestinians can focus on the bigger picture.
For the moment, Prime Minister Sharon must give the world an end date for his incursions into the west bank, and the world must be given the facts about what has gone on in Jenin. Chairman Arafat must continue to make it clear that he condemns terrorist suicide bombings, that he endorses a ceasefire and that he will return to dialogue.
The question of guarantees for Israel is, of course, the nub of the problem for the Israeli Government, and it is one of the reasons why the Israeli military action seems to be set on defying world opinion. First must come an end to the violence. The international community cannot reiterate too often that, no matter how long the conflict goes on and no matter how many innocent lives are lost, the state of Israel will still be there, and so will the Palestinians. The players on the ground, however, are the democratically elected Israeli Government and Chairman Arafat. They must move.
I welcome this debate. There have been calls from other speakers that we should be calm, and I respect that injunction. This Chamber can also be a place in which to express anger, however, especially when we see the injustice that we are witnessing now. There is anger on the streets in my constituency about what is going on. My Muslim constituents cannot understand why there are threats from America, backed by our Prime Minister, to attack Iraq while we are doing nothing about the massacre of Palestinians.
After supporting the Palestinians' calls for a homeland for so long, I have to ask whether there will ever be an end to the despair of the Palestinian people. In 1947, they were dispossessed of their homes, their land and their heritage. Seventy per cent. of their land had been taken by 1949, and the remainder was illegally occupied in 1967. Even in that remainder, settlements grow apace; there have been 34 more settlements since Sharon came to power.
The Oslo peace accord, signed in 1993, gave a glimmer of hope, as did Camp David. The reality, however, is that those on the right in Israel never accepted those agreements. They never wanted them. While Rabin was alive, and while Barak was in power, there was a road to peace. That was partially destroyed by the assassination of Rabin and the fall from power of Barak.
I am sorry, I shall not have time.
The peace process has unravelled not because of Palestinian terrorism but because of the continued expansion of settlements in the west bank, and because those who succeeded Rabin never wanted that peace process. Sharon was elected on a ticket of peace and security, but he is presiding over a massive escalation of violence and killings. He is not interested in peace. He is interested only in destroying the Palestinian people and continuing the illegal occupation of the west bank and Gaza that has gone on since 1967. If anybody doubts what makes Sharon tick, they need only think back to the massacres at the refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in the early 1980s. He is continuing that policy, as we are now seeing in Jenin.
Sharon calls this present invasion Operation Defensive Shield. He says that it is intended to destroy the infrastructure of terror. It is neither of those things. A suicide bomber does not need an infrastructure of terror. The truth is that this operation represents Israel's—Sharon's—reign of terror against the Palestinian people. Nobody wants to see the death of anyone on any side, but in the last 18 months, hundreds of Israelis and thousands of Palestinians have died, not counting the deaths in recent weeks.
Nobody supports suicide bombers, but we must ask what motivates a young girl to carry out such an act. What is the frustration and despair that makes her give her life? This is not an even battle. It is hard to be even-handed when the sides are not even. One side is an occupier; the other is an occupied people fighting against helicopter gunships, jet fighters and tanks. Against that, the Palestinians have only their lives to give. That is what creates the suicide bomber.
What is happening in the west bank is an atrocity. Why have journalists, aid organisations and human rights organisations been banned from Jenin? The answer is simple. It is because Sharon does not want us to know what has been going on there. The truth is emerging, however. It is a horrible truth involving civilians under siege and being murdered, their houses being reduced to rubble, assassinations, executions, gunship attacks, tank attacks and rocket attacks. The Palestinian people have not even been allowed to bury their dead.
The United States of America could have stopped this. I am sure of that. I wish that Bush junior had followed some of the examples set by Bush senior in trying to resolve this issue. It is clear, however, that the silence—until very recently—of the American Administration and the American President was a green light for Sharon. I am convinced that that green light existed, and I am convinced that that is why Sharon has not withdrawn now. He knows that, intrinsically, the American Administration support him.
Do not the United States Administration understand the danger to the region, or the danger to their own policies on the coalition against terror? Do they not also understand that, if Saddam Hussein is this great tyrant who needs to be removed—I do not support the latter proposal—there is a danger that that will never happen in the present circumstances? So much of the damage being inflicted now is going to take a long time to repair. The USA and the international community should hang their heads in shame for allowing this situation to develop for the Palestinian people over the last 35 years or so. Yes, Israel should be entitled to its security, but that question has moved on. The question now is: when will the Palestinian people be entitled to security? When will they be entitled to peace, a homeland and dignity?
The United States calls on Arafat to rein in the suicide bombers. Arafat is in a room somewhere without electricity, surrounded by tanks and machine guns. I do not know about him, but most people in that position would not be able to control their bowels, let alone suicide bombers. Bush's call on Arafat to control the suicide bombers is ridiculous. The infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority has been destroyed; security forces have been arrested and killed. In no way is Arafat in a position to do anything of that nature at present.
If Sharon's name were Milosevic, we would be acting now. If Sharon's name was Milosevic, we would be talking about war crimes and war criminals. It is time that the international community acted. It is time to give the Palestinian people a homeland and a home. It is time, now, for sanctions—economic and military—against Israel. It is time, for once, that we helped the Palestinian people.
I have only a few points to make.
On occasions of this sort and in debates of this nature, it is easy for us to spend time beating our breasts and saying how terrible it all is, and then to engage in individual expressions of long-held views consisting mostly of a denunciation of the opposite view to the one we tend to favour. With respect to Mr. Singh, I must say that that is what we have just heard: a very one-sided view. Things—I was going to say "sadly", but as it is not sad I shall say "hopefully"—are, in fact, much more complicated.
It may seem absurd, when we are considering the terrible events of recent months, to sound a note of optimism. We should not forget, however, that what has happened over the last 20 months or so—since Camp David and the start, or renewal, of the intifada—has not returned us to the situation that existed before the Oslo accords. Minds have moved, and have moved decisively. I believe that that applies not just to a few moderates on both sides, but more widely.
When I was in Jerusalem in January last year, while the negotiations in Taba were still going on, I had the privilege of meeting Faisal Husseini, now sadly departed. He said something that I will never forget: "If we had been having this conversation 10 years ago, I could not physically have got the word Israel past my lips: I could not have said it. Now the negotiators at Taba are negotiating on whether the Palestinian state is to have 92 per cent. or 96 per cent. of the west bank."
The commitment of both sides to entitlement to the entirety of the land west of the Jordan has gone—for ever, we hope. So let us not lose sight of the fact that minds have moved in the last 10 years. We must hope that things do not slide back, and that we do not return to the extreme views that tended to be held before.
What has changed in that period of 20 months? We know that the process of the moving of minds, and the achievement of an intellectual consensus in favour of commitment to the new agreement, involve a huge amount of confidence and a huge amount of trust. During those 20 months, the trust has evaporated. It is not entirely pointless to ask why that has happened, and where the blame lies—not for the sake of settling scores and playing the blame game, but because it is important to understand and accept what went wrong if we are to remedy it.
Let us be blunt: there is blame on both sides. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer, who said that Israel should expect to be judged by a higher standard. Israel is a democracy; it is a fully established state. It is, in fact, a very argumentative democracy—and that is healthy, but it must nevertheless expect to be judged according to a higher standard.
I could wish that the Israeli Government had been much more restrained in their reaction to the intifada. At the time of the Gulf war, the then Israeli Government exercised what seemed to be almost superhuman restraint in not responding to Iraq's direct attacks on populated civilian areas in Israel. That superb restraint won them the high moral ground. I could wish that today's Israeli Government would exercise the same restraint. That, however, is easy for us to say in this well protected House of Commons, here in the United Kingdom. We are not the ones who face the daily threat of having our families—our children—blown up by suicide bombers.
It is obvious that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have been lamentably to blame in failing to control the terror, and indeed, in many instances, in positively encouraging it. It is easy for us to hope for restraint; but we should recognise that Ariel Sharon belongs to a strand of Israeli thought that has held for decades that Palestinians will only acquiesce in Israel's existence at the point of a gun.
If we are thinking about blame, we should also accept that the Israeli Government's decision to go on creating settlements on the west bank in the aftermath of the Oslo accords was highly provocative, and appeared to constitute a determination to ensure that the peace process did not reach a satisfactory conclusion. It looked like—again—an attempt to change the facts on the ground, so that residual matters not disposed of in Oslo could be disposed of only in a way that would be more favourable to Israel. It was contrary to the spirit of the Oslo accords.
It would be hugely helpful to getting the process back on track if the Israeli Government accepted that this is the case, and that mistakes were made. A statement to that effect would constitute an earnest of their serious intention to resurrect a peace process capable of resolution.
What about blame on the Palestinian side? I spoke of the Palestinian Authority's lamentable failure to curb the terror. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said that Israel had the trappings of a state and the status of statehood. That is true, but one of the obligations that goes with statehood is the obligation to protect citizens.
I do not know what I would want to do if terror was emanating from a neighbouring territory and the established authority in that territory refused, or was unable, to take steps to enforce the law and ensure that those behind the terror were brought to justice, other than going in there and enforcing order myself. That is not to say that everything Israel has done has been proper or proportionate. As is increasingly clear, we shall have to wait to find out exactly what happened at Jenin. It seems fairly clear, however, that what happened was well beyond the scope of any appropriate intervention in a neighbouring territory.
I think that we are right to expect Mr. Arafat to be unequivocal in his condemnation of suicide bombers. A Labour Member quoted something he had said, which included the comment, "This conduct is a deviation from the established policy of the Palestinian Authority". I do not think that that is quite the unequivocal condemnation for which we are looking.
We are all too used to Mr. Arafat's issuing some form of condemnation in English to appease his western allies—generally of a qualified nature—while at the same time, speaking in Arabic on the Arabic broadcasting channels, not only failing to condemn but positively encouraging such action. We should accept that that happens. If it carries on happening, it will perpetuate the nightmare.
We should also expect Palestine's Arab neighbours, and those states that support Palestine, to change their ways. The Saudi peace plan is encouraging, but it would be more credible if the Saudi Government did not at the same time positively tolerate the promotion of terror by Palestinians. Saudi Arabia is an autocracy, and one of the benefits of that is that the Saudi Government ought to be able to control terrorist activity, but they are not so able. It is very important that action be taken to condemn such activity.
In the end, there must be compromise, and negotiation; otherwise, nothing like a satisfactory conclusion will be reached. However, both sides must acknowledge that there have been serious mistakes along the way.
Neither Ariel Sharon nor Yasser Arafat would be anyone's choice of dining companion, let alone of negotiating partner, but they are the ones who are in place. They may be bloody fools, as someone once said, but they are their own bloody fools, and we cannot choose to change them. We—the west in general, although Britain has a particular influence in the area—must use our influence to persuade Sharon and Arafat that, in the circumstances that obtain in the middle east, true leaders must accept that some mistakes have been made, and move forward.
This debate has been characterised by some excellent speeches, and some passionate ones as well. I do not want to talk about Iraq other than to pick up a comment made by Mr. Gummer. Referring to Saddam Hussein, the right hon. Gentleman said that we should deal with the world as it is and that, having dealt with the world as it is, we should decide to do nothing. I do not think that that is an option. The possibility that weapons of mass destruction might pass from Iraqi hands into the hands of international terrorists means that, in the end, we will have to do something.
My hon. Friend Ann Clwyd offered an important and sobering—chilling, even—account of recent events. It was all the more important for coming so early in the debate.
I have no hesitation in agreeing with my hon. Friend Mr. Singh, who said that at the heart of the conflict lies the gross, offensive, unacceptable and intolerable denial of human rights for the Palestinian people. It may be true that those people are led poorly and weakly, that the Palestinian Authority—which, by all accounts, is riddled with corruption—presides over them in an inadequate manner, and that too many Palestinians have absorbed the mindset and methods of the terrorist organisations that hold sway. However, although that complicates and clouds matters, it does not alter the basic, salient fact that the conflict will not end until the Palestinian people have a free, independent and viable state of their own. Everyone's efforts must be directed towards achieving that outcome.
One key point that I wish to make is that the creation of a state for the Palestinian people is as important for the Israelis as for the Palestinians themselves. Of course, Israel must take all reasonable measures to protect its citizens. Only the most partisan and one-sided advocates of the Palestinian cause would expect anything different. When people cannot take buses, sit in cafes or go to family weddings without there being a possibility that they will be blown up, they must of course act to defend themselves. However, we must also understand that long-term security for Israel can be achieved only if the Palestinian people form a state, and move on from what they are at present—a rag-bag of refugee camps, isolated and deteriorating towns, and terrorist cells.
The Palestinian state, once formed, would become part of the international community and system. It would have to play by the rules. It would be deterred from wrongdoing, in the same way that every other state in the international community is deterred. It would have to invest in peace and neighbourly relations, like any other state, because that is what economics and trade would dictate. The Palestinian state would also have to build up the security apparatus required by any normal state.
I believe passionately that Israel must work towards establishing that Palestinian state. At present, Palestinian policemen and gunmen operate hand in hand. That would no longer be possible in a state that was internationally and legally constituted.
I shall not engage in the blame game. That would be sterile, as we all know what has happened in the years since Oslo. Oslo was about building peace, but Israel built peace with one hand and settlements in the occupied territories with the other. Similarly, the Palestinian leaders built peace on good days, but hate on other days, and they have armed and trained terror units.
We now have two very angry old men who are unsuited to creating peace on behalf of the people whom they represent. They are going at each other with weapons of war, destroying any semblance of trust that ever existed, and deepening the hatred between their peoples.
I do not believe that the Israelis embrace Ariel Sharon as their natural leader. I think that they support Sharon and his policies because they feel that they have no option. Everyone involved—and all the Arab nations, as well—must work on creating an alternative option for the Israeli people to embrace.
The Israeli state was founded on principles of social justice, democracy and respect for other people. That is why Israel has always been able to draw on a well of sympathy and support in the British Labour party. That sympathy still exists, because the founding values of the state of Israel still exist, however much they might be obscured by current events.
In their apparently contradictory attitudes, the opinions of Israeli people continue to reflect those founding values. The mass of Israelis support a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. However, although 76 per cent. of Israelis favour the creation of a Palestinian state, a similar proportion—74 per cent.—support the current security policy. That is what happens when decent, civilised people are terrorised to within an inch of their wits' end.
We must accept that many people in Britain would react in the same way if bombs—twice the size of the ones at Birmingham, Warrington, Omagh, or Enniskillen—were to explode twice a week in our country. Yet however desperate we might have felt, we would have known that the answer did not lie in our Army seeking not only gunmen but what appear to be reprisals against innocent citizenry, as seems to be the case in Jenin.
My last point is about the Americans. Any success in creating a peace process will require strong external pressure. The only source for that pressure will need to come from the Americans, who need to be engaged, full scale and full-time, and win the trust of both sides. That means putting aside their supporter's scarf if they are to go between the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arabs. We will not persuade the Americans to take on that role by bleating and complaining about them or cutting across what they are doing. Our job is to persuade the Americans to stop wavering, acquire resolve and resume their international responsibilities to play the role that only America can play in these terrible conditions.
I hope that tomorrow the Foreign Secretary will invite the Israeli ambassador to come to his office—I do not say summon him—and give him a copy of Hansard. There is a message running through this debate. Parliamentarians who are deeply attached to Israel—some have an attachment going back many, many years—are deeply distressed by what is going on at the moment.
I cannot claim to have been a friend of Israel for as long as Mr. Kaufman, who made a most moving speech. However, within weeks of entering the House of Commons in 1970, I got together with Lord Janner, as he now is, and others, and we formed the Campaign for the Release of Soviet Jewry. We worked hard to get people visas from the then Soviet Union to go to a land which, if not exactly flowing with milk and honey all the time, was a land of freedom, a true democracy, a country of which we could all be proud to be friends.
One of the first countries that I had the privilege of visiting as a Member of Parliament was the state of Israel. I went with a group of colleagues; the House must remember that it was just three years after 1967. We stood on the Golan heights, visited the other historic parts of Israel, and went to the holy places. We all came back conscious of the pioneering spirit of the Israeli people, conscious of their vulnerability and conscious that almost all their neighbours wished to push them into the sea or crush them one way or another.
Over the years, one has watched Israel develop and one has been extremely glad that a degree of normality began to come to the middle east. The way in which Begin and Sadat came together was deeply impressive; the part played in that by President Jimmy Carter was also extremely impressive. Now, of course, the situation is very different. Israel has, over the past two months or more, forfeited its right to claim the moral high ground. I find that distressing.
Ann Clwyd spoke most movingly of her recent experiences. She brought home to us, in a way that nobody else has done, what is going on at the moment. However, we have only to watch our television screens and read our newspapers to realise that crimes are being perpetrated—I use my words carefully and deliberately—by a civilised state that are bound to forfeit the respect of the world for that state.
Mr. Sharon has one great accomplishment: he has virtually united the world in condemnation of the enormity of his actions. He has created a situation in which many who were sceptical about whether there should be a state of Palestine now accept it and promote it as official policy. I am glad about that; I think that there should be a state of Palestine, side by side with the state of Israel—both within secure guaranteed borders, enjoying international recognition and a degree of international protection. Mr. Sharon has indeed taken the agenda forward, but he has behaved, as Mr. Singh said, as a Milosevic—a war criminal. He has used the apparatus of a mighty army and a civilised democratic state to crush.
Nobody in this House cannot but condemn the suicide bombing, but what drives a 16 or 17-year-old girl to go into a restaurant or to a bus stop and blow other people and herself up? I say to Members of this House that if they had been born where she had been born, if they had been taught what she had been taught and if they had been deprived of hope as she had been deprived of hope, they might have done the same. The true poor of the 21st century are those who have no hope. In Palestine, they do not have hope, and we must recognise that.
I yield to no one in my defence of the state of Israel, its right to exist, and to no one in my condemnation of any terrorist barbarism, but I say to the Prime Minister of Israel and his Government that they have brought many of these atrocities upon their own people by the way in which they have over-reacted and over-retaliated. They have forfeited the respect of their friends; they have made a great country into a pariah nation. They have behaved in a way that puts them beyond the pale of decency and civilised values.
It is not easy to say these things so strongly, but I say them because I believe them to be true. I hope that tomorrow the Israeli ambassador will convey to his Government just how many of his friends in this Parliament, on both sides of the House, feel about their actions. He should see, in particular, a copy of the speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, himself a Jewish Member, with an impeccable record in this regard. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—I hope that he is not blushing outside.
That is wisely said. However, the right hon. Gentleman is, above all else, a friend of Israel. Let the Israeli Government realise what they are doing to civilised opinion in this Parliament at Westminster.
As my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer said, in a powerful speech, if the Americans do not take a firm grip, the whole substance of the fight against terrorism is undermined. Saddam Hussein is a brutal and terrible dictator who has done the most despicable things to his own people. I have great sympathy with everything that the Prime Minister has said about him, but I know that if action is taken against him while Sharon is in power and behaving in the way that he is, the middle east will go up like a tinderbox. All those who are inclined to join the coalition or who are uneasy members will desert it.
When I visited the United States with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs shortly before Christmas, I was impressed by much of what we were told. Nobody could stand at ground zero and fail to be deeply moved, but I was disturbed by the fact that many of the people we met did not seem to realise that unless the Palestine-Israel conflict is brought to an end, on sensible and civilised terms that allow the existence of both states, the breeding ground for terror will remain.
I hope, therefore, that the message will go out from the House today that there is no one who is not committed to an independent, democratic state of Israel; but also that there is no one who is not deeply disturbed by the way in which its Government are behaving at present.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the heartbreaking situation in the middle east. I do so on the eve of yom ha'Atzma'ut, the Israeli independence celebration, for which, this evening, my constituents will be gathering in a determined but solemn manner.
I speak as chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, as an avowed supporter of land for peace and—as everyone who knows me well is aware—as a passionate believer in a democratic Palestinian state existing alongside a safe and secure Israeli state, as a neighbour rather than as an enemy. I fully endorse the Prime Minister's statement that there is no exclusively military solution to this complex political problem.
I support the Tenet proposals, the Mitchell plan, the Camp David proposals and the most recent Saudi proposals. I endorse the idea that they could form the basis of a new UN resolution that would garner broad international support.
In advocating anything that would bring the two sides closer together in a just settlement, I believe that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want a peaceful resolution of the problems. Both communities have hurt, bled and died for far too long. Both communities accept the painful need to make difficult concessions.
From my background as an avid supporter and chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I am happy to associate myself with all the proposals that advocate the creation of a democratic Palestinian state. I was in Israel when the secrecy about the Oslo talks was broken and the accord became public. I joined tens of thousands of Israelis from all political backgrounds in an almost spontaneous Peace Now demonstration in the enormous public square in Tel Aviv. That square has now been named after the late Yitzhak Rabin as, tragically, he was assassinated there. I admit to breaking a small council byelaw when I was there by joining many hundreds bathing in the public fountains, such was my joy in the belief that a new opportunity was on the horizon. Sadly, we are where we are now.
It is easy to apportion blame, but in my short comments I want to try to put my perspective in context. It is clear that a generous offer was made at Camp David. Our Prime Minister made that point, as did President Clinton. The deal was not ideal for either side. It involved painful concessions, but I believe that they would have been built on if peace had been maintained. It was a continuing process rather than a permanent settlement.
We must all be honest about what a minority of terrorists hope to achieve. There has been a lack of perspective about that. Some hon. Members have said that the peace process was destroyed by the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, but in fact when Shimon Peres was the caretaker Prime Minister and the Labour Government were trying to negotiate a peace settlement, there were regular terrorist bus bombings. When Ehud Barak was trying to negotiate during the build-up to Camp David, bus bombings and suicide attacks were a regular occurrence. While the peace process was going on and hope was at its highest, terrorists continued to bomb innocent civilians in an attempt to undermine the process.
Neither of the last two Labour Governments of Israel were brought down by differences between the left and the right over the economy or other factors of that nature. Those Administrations were supported by the people of Israel in the hope that they could deliver peace and security, but history will judge that, unfortunately, that was not the case.
For people in Hamas and Islamic Jihad and for some of those in Al Aqsa—the so-called martyrs brigade—no concession would be good enough. We all know that drastic action is needed on Israeli settlements, but even if not one settler remained, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some in Al Aqsa would continue to bomb innocent Israelis. Even if there were the most expansive Palestinian state, those people would continue to bomb innocent Israeli civilians.
Many Israeli civilians do not believe, or are unconvinced, that there is a partnership for peace. Israel, under a Labour Government, rightly withdrew from Lebanon. Although that took far too long, it was in full compliance with UN resolution 425, yet Hezbollah continues to mount terrorist attacks and launch rockets across the border. We have to accept that there is a hardcore coalition of organisations, and, yes, states, that does not believe in Israel's right to exist. It includes Syria, Lebanon and elements in Iran, Iraq and, sadly, in the Palestinian Authority. Arms shipments from Iran are delivered to the Palestinian Authority. There are strong allegations—although an independent assessment has yet to be made—that the Authority is providing funds for the families of suicide bombers. Elements in the Palestinian Authority glorify the suicide bombers while describing their activities as outwith its agreed policy or strategy.
The difficulty for all of us who want to see the two states living alongside one another is that while the majority of Palestinians and Israelis accept a peace settlement—albeit with painful concessions—a hardcore minority will never accept one. Who will guarantee the ceasefire for the people of Israel? Who will protect them against Hamas or Islamic Jihad? Will Chairman Arafat—or, in a Palestinian state, President Arafat—give that guarantee? It cannot just be willed in English or in Arabic, on television or radio; it must be given through action, not merely in words of equivocal condemnation or criticism. Until that guarantee can be delivered, I have substantial fears that Israel will be unable to make the essential and difficult concessions that are necessary.
The coalition of terror, which involves states and individual benefactors throughout the region, has killed 126 innocent Israeli civilians in the past month alone—Jews and Israeli Arabs alike. In this debate and on other occasions, hon. Members have drawn parallels with Northern Ireland. During the horrific dark days of the troubles there was disgraceful bloodshed and mass slaughter in Northern Ireland, to the eternal shame of those in the IRA and other organisations who carried out those deeds.
On average, every year, 31 innocent civilians were brutally murdered by the IRA and their friends, yet in only one month, 126 innocent civilians were killed by suicide bombers in Israel. In one month alone, Palestinian terrorists killed more civilians than the IRA managed to kill in four years of the troubles at their darkest. That tragic loss of life has led the majority of Israelis, who are peace loving and wish to reach an accommodation with their neighbour, to turn to alternative means.
There is pain and suffering on both sides—we all know about the deaths of Palestinian children, mothers and grandmothers—but I shall cite just one terrible example: the recent slaughter in which a suicide bomber killed 28 innocent Jewish civilians as they celebrated Passover, including Frieda Britvich, 86 years of age; Anna Yakobovitch, 78 years of age; and Eva Weiss, 75 years of age. All three were survivors of the holocaust, and all three lost their lives to a suicide bomber on the eve of Passover.
We have to ask ourselves honestly how we would react as a democracy that wishes to reach an accommodation and accepts the need for painful concessions. How would we choose to react? I say that not as a friend of Ariel Sharon in any sense, as everyone knows. In conclusion—
Like most hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, Mr. Murphy rightly concentrated on the dreadful events that are unfolding in Israel and Palestine even as we speak. At this stage of the debate, it might be helpful if I pick up the various more casual remarks that have been made about Iraq because this will be one of the few opportunities that we have to question a Foreign Office Minister and express some concerns about British and American policy, which could lead to military action against Iraq in the near future. I hope that it goes without saying that I do so as one who abhors everything that Saddam Hussein has done and who, as Tom King's Parliamentary Private Secretary during the Gulf war, saw at something fairly close to first hand the effects of Iraq's invasion of its neighbour, Kuwait.
The first set of questions that I should like to pose to the Minister who will respond to the debate deals with the implications of any such military intervention, and the implications for Iraq itself. Most hon. Members have been impressed that America and the international coalition have identified people who could lead Afghanistan in the future. In fact, if anything, almost too many people have been identified and delicate negotiations and diplomacy will be needed to ensure that good people run Afghanistan. But there is no such opposition in Iraq that could take over from Saddam Hussein.
There is no point whatever in military action to remove Saddam Hussein and replace him with someone just as bad. The further implication would be the almost certain break-up of Iraq as a nation state, which is not necessarily desirable for the stability of the middle east. When I was Tom King's PPS, I visited northern Iraq and saw the excellent work that our soldiers were doing to protect Kurdish Iraqis from attacks by Saddam Hussein. There is no doubt that the Kurdish people in the north would wish to have an independent state. The possibility of a greater Kurdistan would lead to instability and have a huge effect on our NATO ally, Turkey.
Equally inevitably and, I suspect, rightly, the Shi'ites in the south would wish to have independence. They would probably form a statelet very dependent on Iran. That would lead to greater instability because it would give even more power and influence to Iran, which is far from a force for good. There are grave implications for Iraq itself and for its neighbours, and the fragile international coalition against terrorism could well break up, as other hon. Members have said.
I noted, as other hon. Members must have done, the Arab League summit in Beirut earlier this month, when even Kuwait rejected military intervention in Iraq. Our many moderate friends throughout the middle east would be at least embarrassed and, at worst, heavily destabilised by any such military action. I need hardly say that the harm that it would do to the present awful crisis in the middle east—the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians—does not bear thinking of, so, on that count alone, I urge caution.
The second set of questions that we should ask deals with what exactly is new. Saddam Hussein is a very bad man—he has been for a very long time. He has inflicted gross cruelty on his own people and, some 10 years ago, he invaded his neighbour, Kuwait. But what has happened in the past two, three, six or nine months that requires military intervention to be considered that had not happened before? We are not told what weapons of mass destruction he has now that he did not have then.
If we were to take military action against every rogue state and every disagreeable dictator who has dangerous and serious weapons, we would have to consider many other candidates. There is Libya, which used its weapons of mass destruction in neighbouring Chad. There are Iran, North Korea and even China, but there is rightly no suggestion of military action against those countries. Instead, there is a sensible policy of containment and deterrence.
I have repeated time and again the self-evident truth that Saddam Hussein is a very bad man indeed, but he is not mad. I believe that he understands a deterrent and there has been no further incursion into neighbouring countries because, by and large, the no-fly zone over Kurdish northern Iraq has been maintained by us and our allies and because, after the Gulf war, he knows just what would happen if he were in any way implicated in any terrorist activity.
There is therefore no justification whatever for our American allies, supported by our own Government, to take military action against Iraq in the foreseeable future. In the long term, such action would be highly dangerous and destabilise not just the region, but world peace and the world economy. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would take a huge amount of convincing before our armed forces joined the Americans in any such military adventure. 6.59 pm
It is significant that, as my hon. Friend Mr. Murphy said, we are having this debate on the eve of the 54th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.
I last visited Israel in 1999 with a delegation from Labour Friends of Israel. One of the things that those delegations always do is speak to Palestinian representatives, as many of my hon. Friends and colleagues who have taken part in those visits will know. Indeed, on my first visit as a Member of Parliament we met Marwan Barghouti, who has just been arrested. We had an hour or so with him, as my hon. Friend Mr. Murphy will remember. In 1999, we had lunch at the American Colony hotel in east Jerusalem with Palestinian representatives, one of whom was the Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem, Ziad Abu Ziad, whom we have seen on television from time to time. He said something very significant, which has stuck in my mind: "If you are truly Labour Friends of Israel, you must also be Labour Friends of Palestine. That means that you must support a Palestinian state, a true state that lives not back to back but face to face with Israel in peace." Those words have always struck me as very important and very wise. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Mandelson said, it is significant that more than three quarters of Israelis would support a Palestinian state if it brought them the security that they are so desperate to achieve. It is, of course, also significant that so many Israelis support the current leadership of Ariel Sharon, who is causing so much violence, death, destruction and mayhem among innocent Palestinians.
I support the recent moves by the Arab League for a peace settlement—land for peace. That is supported by most of my colleagues in Labour Friends of Israel and, I am sure, by the vast majority of Members of Parliament. However, it is not good enough simply to say we will get rid of the Bantustans of area A, area B and area C, and the towns that are isolated from each other in the Palestinian territories; we must do much more than that. There must be investment in infrastructure, the creation of a civil society and the creation of an economic infrastructure, so that the economic development that is so sadly lacking in Palestinian areas can be used to develop the wealth and standard of living of ordinary Palestinians, which fall so far behind those of ordinary Israelis.
On my last visit, I went to east Jerusalem. The poverty there is palpably a factor that gives rise to the militancy of many Palestinians. When one considers that there is a 20-fold difference between the gross domestic product per capita or the annual income of a Palestinian compared with that of an Israeli, one begins to understand why there is so much bitterness. It is not good enough simply to have a Palestinian state; there must also be massive investment so that the standard of living can be increased—perhaps not to that of the Israelis, but so that a democratic, peaceful, civil society can be created in a state of Palestine and that we can have a truly and properly established state and bring justice to those Palestinians.
I want to say a few words about what is happening in Israel. We have heard many stories and many tales of ordinary Israelis and the way in which they have lost their lives, the lives of their children, and the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by the suicide bombers. I was in Cyprus on
What was the response of Ariel Sharon's democratically elected Government? The Israeli leadership says that it was to root out the terrorist infrastructure—there is an infrastructure even for suicide bombs. Brigadier-General Eyal Shlein said:
"We went out on a mission with the intent of destroying the terrorist infrastructure to thwart terrorist attacks, and to remove the threat of terrorism inside Israel. This is one of the most justified wars, and I am very much at peace with it."
Is that a justified response to the horror and carnage of suicide bombing? I recently received an e-mail from my cousin who lives in Ramat Aviv. She is now too frightened to go shopping. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman said in his excellent speech, the fact is that Israel is becoming a ghetto—that is what the Jews tried to escape from when they set up the state of Israel. It is not good enough for ordinary Israelis to be too frightened to go out of their own homes. It is not good enough for my cousin who lives in Tel Aviv to send me an e-mail saying that he did not know, for six hours, whether his son, who is doing military service in Gaza, was alive or dead, when three soldiers were killed a few weeks ago.
What is the solution? I have been as horrified as all hon. Members by the reports that we have read—the kind of reports that were published recently in The Sunday Telegraph—of murder, mayhem and carnage in some of the Palestinian cities as well as the camps. A significant piece appeared in The Times on
"You f****** Europeans, you have got it all wrong."
So began the familiar outburst before it headed in an entirely unexpected direction:
"Should I be here? No. Should any Israeli tanks be here? No. I have more sympathy with these people than any of those f****** settlers we are supposed to be looking after . . . You're going to write about massacres, aren't you, say we are killing them all in Jenin, all over the West Bank. We're not. But you won't write that."
Of course, the journalist did so, but those comments were very significant.
I am in an unenviable position as a constituency Member of Parliament who represents about 10,000 Jews and about 10,000 Muslims—I cannot win, whatever I say. I did do something that I felt was right, however—I signed the advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle on
"We condemn the use of terror by extremist Palestinian groups. Nevertheless, this terror should not blind us to the deeper issues posed by Israel's occupation of and current behaviour in the Palestinian territories. It is in recognition of these issues that voices are being raised in Israel to point out that the moral foundation of the Jewish state is being destroyed by the occupation."
Three hundred Jewish people signed that; I was the only Member of Parliament to do so—and, believe me, I have had a bit of flak from my constituents for so doing. I do not apologise, however, because, in the end, how many people have to die before there is a solution?
We know that violence breeds further violence; that is absolutely clear. I agree with Naomi Chassan, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, when she says, "Withdraw the troops now." The moral high ground has been lost through such action. All I can say is this: we know that there will be a solution—eventually, one day, all the parties will have to negotiate peace in the middle east. The only question that remains is: how many innocent Palestinians and innocent Israelis must die in the meantime?
The last two speakers from the Government Benches have done something to redress the balance of this debate. I concur with much of what they said. Indeed, I am surprised at how overwhelmingly the balance of the debate has been tipped the other way.
Since I have been involved in politics, my sympathies have been largely with the Palestinians—60:40 or 70:30. As many of us have done, I have tried to balance the right of Israel to exist as a state against the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians and the indignity of having their land occupied, and the continued building of settlements, for which the current Israeli Prime Minister is largely responsible.
My attitude to that changed about 18 months ago when negotiations started at Camp David and culminated at Taba, in which President Clinton invested an enormous amount of time and the prestige of his office, and in which Prime Minister Barak of Israel went to extraordinary lengths to reach a settlement with the Palestinians. As the Foreign Secretary said, Barak offered them, in the words of a Palestinian negotiator, 95 per cent. of what they wanted. That was not just turned down flat; it was not even used by Arafat as a basis for continuing negotiations. In the middle of those negotiations, Arafat restarted the intifada for some trumped-up reason. Perhaps it was because Sharon went to the Temple Mount. [Interruption.] At that time Sharon was not even a member of the Knesset, let alone a member of the Israeli Government. If the leader of the Palestinians is not more mature, there is not an awful lot of hope.
It is not surprising that Israel and, perhaps more important, the United States have given up on Chairman Arafat as a negotiator for peace. We want a compromise, and that fact has been laid out by both Front-Bench spokesmen and by many speakers in the debate. A great many people in Israel want a compromise, but a good deal of Arab and Palestinian opinion does not want one. It wants the destruction of the state of Israel, and that might explain why Arafat cannot or will not reach a deal.
It seems from the events of the past few months that Arafat is really a terrorist at heart. The Al Aqsa brigade is not a child of Hamas; it is a child of Fatah. We have to ask what kind of regime encourages teenage schoolgirls to become suicide bombers. What kind of sick mentality or sick thinking encourages people to do that? It may be understandable that the occasional adult decides to become a suicide bomber, but it is obscene for a regime that claims to be a Government to encourage children to carry out such acts.
I hold no brief for Sharon. He has made the situation much more difficult, and the chances of reaching a peace with him are very limited indeed. The reaction of Israel may have been brutal, but it cannot have been unexpected. I wonder whether the aim of the Palestinian Government was to provoke an overreaction from Israel so that they could gain world sympathy. Arafat has created a Sharon Government. He had much better options than that. He could have reached a peace deal with Barak, and he could probably have reached one with Rabin and Peres. He created the Netanyahu Government and he created the Sharon Government, and we are all reaping the results of that.
I am afraid that I am a pessimist—perhaps that is why I am a Conservative. I do not believe in the perfectibility of human nature or that it is as good as people like to pretend it is. I think that things will get worse in the Arab-Israeli conflict before they get better. I suspect that we will need new leaders on both sides before a peace deal is struck.
Since September 2000, just after the Camp David talks, there have been 67 suicide bombings in Israel and 29 of them have taken place since
The Israeli reaction has been brutal, but it remains to be seen whether what happened in the refugee camp in Jenin was a war crime. However, the reaction has been over the top and we must acknowledge that, if there were no suicide bombers, there would be no Israeli defence force incursions on the scale that there have been. The suicide bombings came first.
What is the difference between the Israeli reaction to the Palestinian suicide bombings and our reaction to the suicide bombers in the United States? Terrorism is terrorism. I do not see a moral distinction. There is a practical distinction and that is what the issue comes down to. Our Government and the American Government are driven by the fact that we are engaged in a war against terrorism in which our Arab allies are an important ingredient. The United States is thinking about and perhaps even planning an attack on Iraq to replace the regime there, but my right hon. Friend Mr. MacKay will forgive me if I do not pursue that point. However, it will be difficult to replace that regime if the situation in the middle east has been inflamed by the Arab-Israeli conflict re-emerging in the way that it has done. That is why there is a difference and that is why it is in our interests to cool the situation down. However, we should be very careful about pretending that there is a moral difference between one kind of terrorism and another.
If Israel withdraws, which United Nations resolutions and many speakers in the debate have called for, what guarantee is there that the suicide bombings will stop? They will almost certainly continue. No one has answered the question and I do not pretend to have an answer myself, but reasonable Israelis are entitled to an answer.
The middle east is the source of most of the world's instability, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the only cause of that. The threats are not just regional and nor do they affect only our oil supplies. Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are a serious threat to the west and to our fundamental interests.
In the attacks on
The problem is not created just by the mullahs; it is financed by Saudi money in one form or another. A recent article in a Saudi newspaper accused Jews of drinking the blood of Christians and Muslims in religious ceremonies. Saudi Arabia has a Government-controlled press. As someone said earlier, one of the advantages of an autocracy is that one can at least get what one wants in the newspapers. We have all met extremely well-educated and urbane Saudis, Egyptians and other Arabs, and can any of them seriously believe that that accusation is true? The Egyptian newspapers constantly carry diatribes against America and they fuel anti-western feeling. When combined with a fundamentalist brand of Islam, it creates many of the problems that we face.
The Saudi ambassador to Britain has recently taken to writing light-hearted and amusing letters to The Spectator. Last week he put pen to paper and wrote a poem that was published in a Saudi newspaper. It lauded one of the Palestinian teenage suicide bombers. It praised her and said that the gates of heaven were open to her. We are dealing with a serious problem in Saudi Arabia. It is our ally and we rescued it from a potential Iraqi invasion during the Gulf war. The stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia, who are there to protect it from Iraq, is Osama bin Laden's casus belli. He constantly says that his actions are designed to get American troops out of Saudi Arabia, but the country refused to allow our Prime Minister to land there and to talk to its Government in the aftermath of the events of
We must face the fact that we have some not terribly attractive allies in the war against terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are at the heart of opinion in the Arab world. One has most of the money and the oil; the other has the intellectual influence. However, both of them are running failed economies. Egypt is a failed state and Saudi Arabia's GDP is half what it was 10 years ago. Saudi Arabia will find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to provide jobs for young, relatively well-educated Arabs. There are no political outlets for dissent, which is focused in the mosque. That is stoking up the problem. I hope that our foreign policy in handling the war against terrorism will address the issues affecting some of our allies.
I believe that everyone will agree with Mr. Maples when he attacked anti-Semitism. Any form of racism is totally unacceptable. He referred to the disgraceful article in a Saudi Arabian journal and the blood-libel allegations against Jews. The columnist has since been sacked, but only after pressure from the United States.
I am highly critical, and have been for some time, of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and I shall turn to that issue in a moment. However, I want to make it clear that I am totally opposed to suicide bombing. Such atrocities cannot be justified in any way. In the main, they are targeted at civilians in Israel and they cause death and destruction to people who are not involved with Israeli policy in the occupied territories.
It is also important to recognise that suicide bombings play into the hands of those in Israel on the right wing and the ultra-nationalist right wing who use them as a justification for what is happening now. We should bear it in mind that the suicide bombers and those who organise them have one thing in common with the right wing in Israel: both are totally opposed to a negotiated settlement leading to a viable Palestinian state, co-existing with an Israel without its post-1967 occupied lands.
We have heard from some of my hon. Friends about the atrocities that have undoubtedly occurred in the past two weeks as a result of the Israeli action. The essence of the tragedy is the Israeli occupation since 1967 of the west bank and Gaza. Understandably, Palestinians see Israel as a colonial power that rules a people against their wishes. Even if the current Israeli policy were somewhat different, the situation would not change. We must try to understand that Palestinians feel humiliated and deprived of respect and statehood, living in wretched refugee camps for years on end, often jobless and denied adequate basic facilities—even such as sufficient water supply. To believe, as Israeli propaganda would occasionally have us believe, that Palestinians live like that deliberately to gain world sympathy is simply a refusal to face up to the facts. If a breeding ground for terrorism exists, it is what is happening—and has been happening for the past 35 years—in the refugee camps.
I have always argued—indeed, it has been my position since 1948—that Israel has a right to exist. I am not usually reluctant to state my views, and if I were a Zionist, I would say so, but I am not. Like most people—Jews and non-Jews alike, and certainly people in European countries, the United States and many other countries outside the Arab world—I believe that, as a result of what happened to the Jews, not only the holocaust but the 2,000 years of acute anti-Semitism that led to what occurred between 1939 and 1945, there is justification for a Jewish state.
In 1967, I was one of those Members of the House of Commons who argued that Israel had a right to defend itself, and I have not changed my views about that in any way, but I am totally opposed to Israeli occupation of the west bank and Gaza. If it is argued that, because of the events of 1967, Israel had no alternative, I would argue—indeed, I did so when that war ended—that Israel should use that land as a negotiating point in bringing about a settlement with the Palestinians. Instead, of course, the Israelis have adopted the very opposite approach. It is all very well talking about the Oslo agreement, which I support, and further negotiations, but what has Israel actually done in the occupied territories in the past 35 years? We know the answer: it has built its settlements—in defiance of international law. Tens of thousands of Israeli settlers are living on land that belongs to the Palestinians, yet we ask ourselves why the Palestinians feel such resentment and bitterness. Would not we feel that way if we were them? Would not the Israelis feel the same if they were in that position? Why should we be surprised?
It must be recognised that Sharon does not want a Palestinian state. Virtually everyone who has contributed to today's debate, however much they may disagree, has argued in favour of a viable Palestinian state. That is the policy of the British Government, and even President Bush has used such words. However, does anyone believe for one moment that Sharon, the party that he represents and, as I said, those even on the right of Sharon—if such a thing is possible—want a viable Palestinian state? We must realise that the whole of Sharon's political career has been concerned with building a settlement, holding on to the occupied territories and denying the Palestinian people a state. We are dealing not with an Israeli Prime Minister who wants a proper negotiated settlement, leading to the type of solution that we want, but with a very different type of politician.
We are right to refer back to what happened in Lebanon. Is current Israeli policy and the crimes—indeed, the atrocities—that have been committed in the past fortnight very different from what happened 20 years ago in Lebanon? As hon. Members have pointed out, was not Sharon himself instrumental in Israel's going into Lebanon? What a fiasco that was. How many innocent lives were lost? When Sharon was elected last year, I said to the Prime Minister that we should remember those refugees who were butchered in Lebanon in 1982. Should we not do so? It is perfectly true that Israel was not responsible for the killings as such, but Sharon was indirectly responsible. As minister for defence, he was brought before a court of inquiry in Israel. It found that he was not the sort of person who should hold such a position, and rightly so, but now he is Prime Minister.
This issue cannot be resolved until Israel withdraws totally from the occupied territories. As I have said, Israel's right to exist is not in question. Arab states may not like that—understandably, they wish that the events of 1948 had not occurred—but an increasing number accept the reality of the situation. The way to resolve the issue is to bring about not a "statelet", but a viable Palestinian state that is no less sovereign and independent than Israel itself. That state should be responsible for matters such as security, and for combating terrorism.
I am glad that this debate has taken place. The United States is the one country that can put pressure on Israel, and I hope that it recognises that responsibility. It is all very well its considering Iraq, and so on, but its immediate responsibility is to put economic and financial pressure on Sharon, so that, at long last, there can be justice for the Palestinians. They deserve it, and they should get it.
I am pleased to participate in this important debate on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. As hon. Members will recognise, both parties are committed to democratic constitutional change and self-determination for our countries. Therefore, recognising the right and aspiration of both Israeli and Palestinian people to national self-determination and security comes easy to us. Like many who have spoken, we want to put on the record our condemnation of acts of violence in the region—whether acts of state violence by the Israeli Government, or terrorist attacks by Palestinian factions and suicide bombers. We associate ourselves with the calls for an immediate cessation of all acts of violence.
We also support moves to codify the Saudi Arabian initiative: a resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations that would require the withdrawal of Israeli troops to pre-1967 boundaries, the Arab world's acceptance of the legitimacy of the Israeli state, and the establishment of a viable, self-governing and independent Palestinian state.
We have heard moving speeches throughout the debate. I was particularly struck by the testimony of Ann Clwyd concerning conditions in Jenin and elsewhere. If they have not already done so, I urge all Members to read an article in London's The Times today, by Janine di Giovanni, who writes from the Jenin refugee camp. She writes:
"The refugees I had interviewed in recent days while trying to enter the camp were not lying. If anything, they underestimated the carnage and the horror. Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life."
In a previous career, I worked as a journalist. For one of my assignments I spent a great deal of time in the former Yugoslavia reporting on Croatia, in particular, and on the cause of the civil war there. I saw a great deal of destruction. I have not been to the west bank or the Gaza strip, but like other hon. Members I have seen many of the pictures and much of the television coverage. Rarely have I seen so much destruction caused in such a short time. Although there was also terrible destruction in eastern Croatia and Bosnia, it was wrought over many years.
The Israeli Government justify the actions of their defence forces—so-called—as dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism. It is clear to everyone, however, that their aim is broader than justifiably dealing with the terrible suicide bomb attacks. It is instead an attempt to dismantle the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.
In preparing for the debate, I tried to find out what neutral observers on the ground have been saying. Other hon. Members have given various facts and figures. Today's update by the Palestinian Red Crescent confirms that it was denied access to the refugee camp in Jenin for 10 days. It was not allowed to remove the injured or the dead, and of course it is terrible for Muslims if they cannot bury their dead within 24 hours. Red Crescent was allowed in once but its movements were restricted to less than 10 per cent. of the camp area. In Bethlehem, Israeli forces continue to prevent ambulances and medical teams from gaining access to the Nativity church area, Manger square and the old city. In Jenin, Israeli forces continue to surround the town's hospital.
Oxfam writes today that it is concerned about the
"gross violation of international humanitarian law", including violence against civilians and humanitarian workers and the denial of access to meet immediate need. It fears that there will be a serious health crisis due to people drinking contaminated water. Oxfam is also aware that Israeli soldiers have failed to honour agreements made by senior officers to allow repair of water pipes. That and all the other points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House—I agree in particular with what was said by Donald Anderson—challenge us all to call for and bring into effect a step change in the international community's reaction so that it uses its leverage. I also agree with Mr. Kaufman that the time has come to think about the use of sanctions to effect that.
On sanctions, we have heard much about even-handedness and it is true that we have to take a mature approach to both sides. However, is it not supremely ironic that we are considering the use of force, even warfare, to deal with one country—Iraq—that has consistently broken UN resolutions, yet we are not prepared to consider imposing even limited arms sanctions against another country that has also consistently broken UN resolutions since 1967? Does my hon. Friend agree that unless the Israeli Government are prepared to trade land for peace, we will not see a resolution of the conflict in the land of Israel?
I agree with my hon. Friend and will deal with Iraq in a moment. On sanctions, however, it is important that we do not avoid mentioning developments at a European level, which have not been discussed so far. I note with interest that Members of the European Parliament representing the European Socialists, the Liberals and the Greens/European Free Alliance, of which our parties are members, recently voted overwhelmingly to suspend the EU's association agreement with Israel. I note with sadness that that was not endorsed by the British Government or many others at the meeting of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers yesterday.
It is also sad that the UK Government did not support the initiative that my party colleague and the Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer, presented to the Council meeting. Ironically, the plan embodied points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It called for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops, international peacekeepers patrolling a buffer zone, a declaration of a Palestinian state, an end to Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas and negotiations on Israel's borders and the status of Jerusalem. I agree with the Prime Minister when he says that inaction is not an option in the face of breaches of UN resolutions. For that reason, I very much hope that the UK Government will pursue those matters in the UN and with our EU colleagues and support a robust response.
I dislike Saddam Hussein's regime as much as anyone else in the Chamber, but we still wait for the famed dossier on the weapons of mass destruction programme of Iraq. Dossiers and intelligence on al-Qaeda were shared and briefings were done on Privy Council terms in the run-up to the situation in Afghanistan. Why is the same not true of the Iraqi information that we have been promised? We still also wait for a specific UN mandate should military options be undertaken on Iraq. What we are not having to wait for, however, are clear breaches of UN resolutions when considering the situation in Israel. Like Mr. Gummer, my comments are aimed at Israel in particular because it is a democratic, independent state and should be judged by a higher standard. However, like Mr. Maude, I think that the extraordinary provocation and senseless killings by suicide bombers are a massive challenge to the Israeli authorities to protect their citizens.
Nevertheless, on balance, the time has come for the countries that can influence Israel to act decisively. We have a responsibility to use the political and economic leverage that we possess to influence change. Although I welcome the recent change in tack by the United States and the mission of Secretary of State Powell, it is time for the US Administration genuinely to press Israel to withdraw from Jenin and the other occupied areas. It is also high time for the EU and the people in Europe to lead by example.
I have visited Jerusalem only once, in 1965, when I was a very young woman. It was an incredibly interesting visit and I was struck everywhere I went by the ability of the young people whom I met to speak English. I was amazed by their wonderful grasp of our language. I remember what an enormous impression it made on me at the time, when I was still ill-informed about the history of that region, when they got out their ID cards and said, "I am a Palestinian."
I have thought many times in the past few weeks about those young people and a young woman in particular to whom I spoke. Now, of course, they are probably grandparents if they are still alive. They, their children and their grandchildren have lived through a terrible time in which they have suffered goodness knows what deprivations or humiliations. They have all lived out that history in a way we can only imagine.
There have been many courageous people in those generations who have struggled for self-determination and many who have done despicable acts, but it is extraordinary that the struggle has taken so long and has come to this. If I am shocked by what has happened and find it utterly unbelievable, then how much the more so those people of the middle east?
I have no special expertise or associations in the context of the debate, but I want to join all those who have spoken in expressing my wish to see an independent state for Palestine and a state of Israel that can live in peace and security.
I join with all who condemn the suicide bombings. There can be nothing more terrifying for people than going about their work and ordinary daily events not knowing whether they may stand or sit next to a person who is about to blow himself or herself, and them, to destruction. Undoubtedly, we would all find it impossible to live with such a threat and not feel the need for revenge. Nothing can justify the suicide bombing, but equally no military action can eradicate it. What is so shocking about the current events is that we can, as many people have done in this debate, almost track them back to a time when lasting peace was within our grasp.
There has been a debate among Opposition Members about what happened at Taba. I have had sight, as others may have done, of the paper that is called, in EU-speak, a non-paper and is the account of the EU special representative to the middle east, who wrote at the time that although there were serious gaps and differences between the two sides,
"it also shows that both sides have travelled a long way to accommodate the views of the other sides and that solutions are possible".
Furthermore, in that contemporary account, the EU representative records that both sides had agreed to the
What we do know, however—this is why I cannot be even-handed in this matter—is that the election of Ariel Sharon, on
When we unreservedly condemn the suicide bombers, we must equally condemn the 70-odd political assassinations carried out by Israel. Of course Israel has an absolute right to take steps to protect its citizens, and it must, but the actions that have been taken in the past few weeks go far beyond that aim; as somebody said today, Ariel Sharon is a fool to believe that they could have any meaningful result for those young people.
Professor Paul Rogers of the Bradford school of peace studies has said that the military operations have a different purpose, which has become clear as the effects of the war have become apparent. He says:
"They are, in short, aimed at destroying the capacity of a putative Palestinian state to operate."
Those sentiments were echoed by my hon. Friend David Winnick. The international community cannot allow those sentiments to prevail. It cannot allow this impasse to continue.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the Mitchell and Tenet proposals and the Saudi peace initiative provide an international consensus on the best way forward for securing an end to the cycle of violence and a return to negotiations. As others have said, we can no longer wait for those two old men to cease their quarrel and come to the table. We, the international community, have to bring that about. I am not sure, as others have said, that a ceasefire has to be a prerequisite. We have seen previously how a demand for seven days' continuous cessation of violence prevented negotiation. There is the difficulty that Chairman Arafat undoubtedly faces of policing any ceasefire, if indeed he agrees to one.
It is for the leaders, under the influence of the international community, to start talking now even while the violence continues. We cannot go down the confidence-building road proposed by Mitchell which will take so long. This is so urgent that it has to happen now. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I have no time, and others may not have time, to go through the dossier and the briefings sent by Amnesty International and Oxfam to Members of Parliament today, but the Government must read those documents to see just how horrific the conditions have been. Clearly, the aid agencies have seen those conditions at first hand, as my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd so movingly demonstrated.
In conclusion, we must do more than we have already done. I applaud the attitude of our Government, but we must put an absolute ban on any export of arms to Israel at this time. We could do more, perhaps within the European Union, to consider other sanctions. We must continue constantly to put the maximum pressure on the United States of America because as others have said, it is the one nation that holds the key to the solution of the crisis. It must accept its responsibility; we must ask that of the USA. It must get the two sides in the dispute to rise to their responsibilities as well.
Bournemouth is twinned with that very similar coastal resort in Israel, Netanya. The hon. Members for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) and for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) have reminded us that last month a suicide bomber destroyed 27 lives and injured more than 100 of Netanya's citizens, most of them elderly, as they sat down for a Passover supper. The mayor of Bournemouth sent his counterpart in Netanya a message of condolence on behalf of us all. It has been his fourth such message during his year in office. Israel has used that atrocity to justify its current offensive in the occupied territories.
There is, of course, no justification for such acts of terrorism. In the total absence of any curtailing influence over those who perpetrate them, we should have sympathy with Israel in seeking to defend itself from them. However, as many hon. Members have said in this debate, until Israel offers the Palestinians a credible prospect of a homeland of their own, such atrocities will continue. Only the people of Israel, as citizens of the only responsible civilised democracy in the region, can insist on their political leaders seeking a settlement by negotiation which will enable them to live in peace and security for the first time in their history.
Of course we should support initiatives such as the one undertaken by Colin Powell. The role of the international community is to encourage a climate in which negotiations can recommence and succeed. Thus we should welcome Crown Prince Abdullah's plan, which, although neither new nor his, calls in the clearest terms yet for the universal Arab recognition of Israel. We should consider Mr. Sharon's plan for a regional conference, as well as the concept of an organisation for security and co-operation in the middle east—an OSCME—to emulate the success of the Helsinki process in consolidating peace in Europe, as proposed by the Council of Europe.
The devastation of the Palestine refugee camp in Jenin, graphically described by Ann Clwyd, should concentrate our minds on how to resolve the greatest humanitarian challenge in the middle east: the existence of densely populated refugee camps. There are 59 refugee camps in four host countries and the occupied territories, housing 1.5 million refugees. A further 2 million refugees are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides them with support and services, as it has done for more than 50 years with the continuing generous financial support of the international community.
As David Winnick rightly says, most of those refugees are effectively homeless and stateless. They are the prime sources of terrorism against Israel and the international community and of support for the current intifada, but as long as their situation remains hopeless, there will be no settlement in the middle east. We all have an interest in resolving their position.
In 1998, in its resolution 1156, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe endorsed proposals that would provide a permanent settlement and a secure future for all those refugees, and enable those camps to be closed. The proposals accept the reality—as do a growing number of Palestinians and Arab states today—that there can be no right of return to Israel, although Israel has agreed to accept some of the refugees to reunify families. I believe that the rest would accept one of the current options: citizenship in their host country; acceptance of offers of resettlement to other countries; or real citizenship in a viable state of Palestine.
The message I want to convey in today's debate is that the international community, especially the European Union, should give clear and firm support to those proposals and consider how they might be funded. A new United Nations "Palestine refugee and displaced persons final status" fund has been proposed. We should wait no longer for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resume on that and all the other final status issues. We should have an international plan ready for all to see as soon as possible.
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will find details of the proposals in his Department. They were the subject both of a conference at Warwick university in March 1998 that was addressed by his predecessor, the late Derek Fatchett, and of my Adjournment debate on
I hope that the House will not mind if I do not follow the path laid down by Mr. Atkinson. I had the misfortune to follow in one of his paths during an investigation into the future of Palestinian refugees undertaken in September 2000 by the Joint Parliamentary Middle East Councils. One of my abiding memories is of sitting in a refugee camp listening to refugees tell us that they were—I shall not use their language; hon. Members can read the report for themselves—fed up to the teeth of people from various organisations coming to the middle east, asking them how they felt about their situation, getting the information, then returning home and producing their version of what they had been told. We had to spend a lot of time assuring people who had been refugees since 1948 that we did not intend to do what the hon. Gentleman had done when he visited the area in another capacity.
While listening to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, I recalled that my hon. Friend Mr. Galloway and I have spent most of our adult lives working on these issues. Had we been asked back in the 1970s what we most wanted for the Palestinians, we would have said that we wanted them to have a home and to be able to sit down at a table with the Israelis and talk about how they could live together. However, we recognised that support from the Americans would be required to make that happen.
In the midst of the events taking place in the middle east, it is difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has recently returned from his talks with George Bush, and it is important to remember that those of us who have been involved in these issues have striven for many years to make the Americans understand their responsibility. Only with the active engagement of an American Administration will we achieve an end to the problem.
I shall not spend time going over the comments already made by speakers in the debate. Everyone has their own opinion. Instead, I shall speak specifically about the issue that I believe will derail our efforts again and cause us even more heartache in future: the notion that we can resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict without recognising that the refugees are at its core. Unless we deal with that problem, as set out in resolution 194 passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1949, there is little or no chance of ever achieving peace in the region.
Like many other middle eastern peoples, the Palestinians have a direct and profound attachment to their land that is apparent as soon as one talks with them. I am sorry that my hon. Friend David Winnick is no longer present. Under the 1947 UN resolution 181, British mandate Palestine was partitioned into separate Jewish and Arab states. Under that plan, 86 per cent. of the land owned or inhabited by Palestinians was taken away from them and given to someone else.
I do not excuse what happened afterwards, but most of those who have been involved in these matters would agree that the people who have most let down the Palestinian Arabs are the Arabs themselves. The 1948 war that followed the end of the British mandate led to the flight or expulsion of two thirds of the Palestinian Arab population, and to the Israeli conquest of 25 per cent. of the territory that had been allotted to the proposed Arab state, in addition to the land set aside for the Jewish state—of which, as I said, 86 per cent. had been Palestinian owned or occupied.
In 1967, Israel occupied the remainder of Palestine—the west bank, the Gaza strip and the rest of Jerusalem. That caused a second exodus of about 500,000 Palestinians. The refugees from 1948 and 1967 now live in the west bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Gulf, Europe and the Americas.
Of the 3.8 million refugees registered with UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, which was set up specifically to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian refugees, 33 per cent. live inside one of UNRWA's 59 refugee camps. That is the background against which it is said that the Arab states must decide what will happen to the refugees. It is not up to those states. If anyone believes that it is, a major mistake is being made, and one that will come back to haunt us. The outcome will be catastrophic.
If I were living in Israel, I would not want to talk about the refugees. We cannot get Israelis to talk about them. If there are refugees, we must ask from where they came. Who made them refugees? To where do they return? All refugees have that right. Of course, if they all returned, Israelis would say that that would be suicide. That word is used again. Yet again the Palestinians are referred to in the context of suicide for someone else. When they exercise their rights, somehow that becomes a threat to someone else.
No one has asked them what they feel, what they believe and what they understand. Not even the Palestinians have done that. We did. The JPMEC went to the area in September 2000, and we took 40 hours of evidence from Palestinian refugees. That has been reported, and a document has been sent to every Member of this place. The report is entitled "Right of Return". It is not a frightening document. Evidence was given for 40 hours and tapes are available for anyone to hear. Tomorrow, the Arabic version of the report will be published. There will be a verbatim account of what the Palestinian refugees are saying.
Not one Palestinian wants to kick Israel into the sea. The Palestinians accept the reality that there is a state of Israel. They accept that if they accept the right to return, they will have to live in Israel. They want that right so that they can decide for themselves. Yasser Arafat cannot negotiate that right away on their behalf. One of the reasons why the Oslo process failed is that the multi-track approach did not include the views of the Palestinians. The refugees were not spoken to. That is not possible.
I ask right hon. and hon. Members to take some time to read the report. The Palestinians recognise that they do not want to visit on others what has happened to them. They know that times have moved on. They know that they cannot return exactly to what the situation was. They understand that there will have to be accommodations. However, they have rights. If we do not recognise those rights, we will lose, and quite heavily. There will be more problems. The issue will not be resolved unless that is recognised.
We need to consult the Palestinian refugees, but there is no mechanism whereby those who are not within the Palestinian Authority in the west bank of Gaza can even communicate with the Palestinian leadership. It is significant that all the Palestinians accepted that the PLO was their representative body. That still did not give the PLO the right to negotiate away on their behalf their right of return.
We could use—
Today is yom ha'Zikaron, the Israeli day for remembering the fallen soldiers who died fighting for Israel. They were fighting for a Jewish homeland. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, three years after the end of the second world war. That was a war during which 6 million Jews were systematically and brutally murdered in a plan to wipe out Jewry everywhere.
I am not Jewish, nor do I have a large Jewish community in my constituency. However, I am a strong supporter of Israel. That is because in the period ending only 15 years before I was born, across the channel just a few hundred miles south-east of my constituency, Jewish men, women and children were being gassed. The Jewish people need a homeland.
In discussing the middle east, and especially the situation in Israel, we have become accustomed to using phrases such as the cycle of violence, intransigence on both sides and the failure of negotiation. They are phrases that seem to imply that each side is as bad as the other; that each is equally worthy of our support or, more usually, our condemnation.
There are however, important different differences between Israel and its opponents. Israel is a democratic country that upholds the rights of its citizens and uses military force only for self-defence. It is surrounded by countries that are, to a greater or lesser extent, hostile to its very existence. Every day, Israel faces fierce and even deadly opposition to its very survival from enemies who seek their ends through force and terror rather than through democracy.
As UN Security Council resolution 242 declared 34 years ago, it has
"the right to live at peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force."
That right is still not recognised in full by many of Israel's neighbours.
The Palestinian Authority is a haven for terrorism. It glorifies suicide bombers through its media and tells them that they are martyrs. It has authorised the Tanzim militia, an organ of Yasser Arafat's Fatah PLO faction, to fire upon Israeli civilians and soldiers. It tries to import arms and ammunition from terrorist allies such as Iran. It tells its people and educates its children to believe that every ill is the fault of Israel.
The unfashionable truth is that the greatest obstacle to peace in the middle east is not a breakdown in diplomacy. The biggest obstacle is terrorism on the citizens of Israel. That is terrorism which Yasser Arafat, as President of the Palestinian Authority, has done nothing to end. At Oslo, in 1993, and elsewhere Arafat has renounced terror and agreed to control it, but terror continues unabated. If Arafat can call an end to the terror, why has he not done so? If he cannot, what possible claim does he have to a place at the negotiating table?
It has come to be accepted that the cause of the current crisis in Israel was the visit by Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in September 2000. Like many things that come to be accepted about Israel that is wrong. The roots of the present crisis can be found two months earlier at the summit at Camp David. Palestinian spokesmen have said so themselves. Communications Minister Imad Al-Falouji, for example, was reported in the semi-official Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam on
"the Palestinian authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself."
It added that this was a
"culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount."
The Camp David summit illustrates in microcosm the story of Israel's relations with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. This was a summit at which hopes were high for real progress. The world called for flexibility on both sides and Israel responded. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered unprecedented compromises—real sacrifices—to achieve a workable and enduring peace. He offered 94 per cent. of the remaining land of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. He offered Arab and Christian east Jerusalem, and he offered an additional parcel of the Negev to make up for the additional 6 per cent. He could not meet every Palestinian demand but he offered genuine concessions. What was the Palestinian response? The proposal was rejected out of hand and then we had the current intifada. That is how we find ourselves now.
Israeli civilians are subjected every day to violence and mayhem. People in Jerusalem, Haifa and every town in Israel are afraid to leave their homes and Israeli leaders and soldiers struggle every day to protect and defend them. An accusation often levelled at Israel is that it is not really interested in peace. It is alleged that it prefers to remain in military conflict rather than negotiate with the Palestinians. This accusation is unjust. After generations of conflict, the people of Israel yearn for peace. Their leaders are willing to achieve it through negotiation, hence the offer made by Mr. Barak.
No. The change of Government in Israel has not destroyed that willingness at all. Prime Minister Sharon—I am no great defender of him—expressed his readiness to return to the table to make painful concessions for a true peace. He has stated his acceptance of the Mitchell plan. But Israel understands that peace cannot exist in the shadow of terrorism. We should respect its leaders' firm resolve not to negotiate under fire and their determination to take action, which the Palestinian Authority should have taken, to destroy terrorist capability.
In recent days, attention has focused on the Jenin refugee camp. The pictures emerging of the aftermath of the battle are ugly and brutal. But it is easy to overlook the facts: between September 2000 and the beginning of Israel's action there, Jenin was the source of no fewer than 23 terrorist attacks on Israel, including suicide attacks on Afula and Hadera. The Palestinian Authority knew Jenin was a centre of terrorism, but did nothing to prevent the attacks or to apprehend the perpetrators. There were pitched battles in Jenin; 13 soldiers were ambushed and killed, and 23 soldiers were killed in total. We have yet to see what did happen in Jenin, but Israel has been careful to minimise civilian casualties, which is why the mission has taken so long, and why Israeli forces have suffered. The Israelis could have done what we did in Afghanistan: they could have conducted aerial bombing of the area, which would have resulted in far higher casualties overall, but fewer Israeli casualties—[Interruption.]
It is said that the military action against terrorists will simply encourage more fanatics to join the militant brigades to wage war on Israel; there is some truth in that. But those people, like the young woman who blew herself up in Jerusalem on Friday killing six Israelis, cannot supply their own explosives, plan their campaigns, finance their operations or import their own arms. Israel is therefore taking action against the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure—a task that Arafat should have undertaken himself.
Our Prime Minister said last week that the only way to resolve the conflict is not to take sides. With respect to the Prime Minister, who is undoubtedly committed to do everything in his power to help bring about peace in the middle east and whose support for President Bush in the fight against terrorism has been inspiring, he has got it precisely the wrong way round on Israel. First, terrorism has to stop, and we must side with those who oppose terrorism and oppose those who support terror. We must not equate the perpetrators of terrorism with its victims.
Some people say that the situation in Israel can be compared with that in Northern Ireland; the parallel to be drawn is that if only the two sides will negotiate, peace can be achieved. But like Mr. Trimble, I believe the lesson is quite different: progress towards peace can be made only when terrorists decide that they will not succeed through violence. President Arafat has done nothing to suggest that he has yet made that decision.
Many people argue that the situation in Israel is not quite as simple as I have described. In some ways that is true; there are many questions, not least about land, that go back many generations and myriad grievances will need to be addressed if a lasting settlement is to be achieved. Those things are a matter for negotiation, to the success of which Israel is committed. One does not have to be a committed Zionist to understand Israel's stance against terrorism; one merely has to favour democracy over terror.
With the obvious exception of the last contributor, hon. Members have been reluctant to apportion blame for the current conflict. However, it is possible to do so. It is not just Israel and Palestine that are responsible; others should shoulder blame for what is happening in the middle east, including nation states such as our own, other European democracies and the United States of America. They have long remained inactive, allowing Ariel Sharon to take his war to the occupied territories over an extended period.
In his recent statement to the House on the middle east, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, developed the message of his address at the George Bush Senior Presidential library in Texas on
"Doing nothing is not an option."—[Hansard, 10 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 23.]
He was, of course, referring to our response to the worsening situation in Iraq. I accept that there are different views about what should or should not be done about that, but most hon. Members believe that the Prime Minister and the President of the United States would have been wiser to call for action against the genocide and bloodletting in Israel and Palestine which, as we know, has led to the deaths of 1,500 Palestinians and more than 400 Israelis. That death toll has risen substantially over the past few days.
In addition, we have seen on our television screens not just pictures of the refugee camp in Jenin but disturbing reports suggesting that the conflict could extend beyond Israel's borders to other Arab nations. When we see scuffles and military action in and around other Arab states, we must take a step back and see what we can do to try to prevent the crisis from worsening and spreading.
President Bush's "axis of evil" speech was rightly criticised; it was not well received in this country or across western Europe. President Bush did himself and the office of President a great disservice by lumping together countries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an evil threat to western democracy. He must have had criteria for judging those countries—a way of determining their ranking in the league table of evil. He would have had to include the following in his list: whether nation states aggressively occupied others' territory; whether they were in breach of United Nations resolutions; whether they were willing to defy international law and opinion; and whether he thought them capable of using military force against a civilian population.
If President Bush used those criteria, he would have to include Israel in his statement about countries that form an axis of evil. Those double standards have led to much unrest and disagreement, both in the United Kingdom and across the world, about what action should be taken in the middle east, not just in Israel and Palestine but in Iraq. Such double-speak has led to people like me arguing that without renewed UN authority, and while the situation in Israel and Palestine remains unresolved, UK military action in Iraq would be at best immoral and at worst illegal.
I said that we should shoulder some of the blame and guilt. There have been many warnings in the House and elsewhere about Ariel Sharon's endgame since he came to office. I tabled an early-day motion on
Since then, the situation has deteriorated. I had the pleasure, and the displeasure, of being in Israel and Palestine at the start of the intifada. I believe that the hon. Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) do the House a disservice when they suggest that Ariel Sharon's walkabout, as it was described at the time—Ariel Sharon's setting foot in the grounds of the Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount—was not the cause of the latest unrest and the intifada.
As someone who was on the streets of the west bank at the time, I can tell the House that there was only one reason for the unrest. There was only one reason why Palestinian youth took to the streets and started to engage Israeli troops, and the reason was Ariel Sharon's actions that weekend. Let history show that to be the case, and let apologists not suggest that there were other reasons for the start of the intifada at that time.
During my visit to Palestine, I visited villages in the west bank—Batir, Husan and Wadi Fuquin—where I saw some of the forerunners of the present conflict. We were shot at while visiting charity projects for World Vision. Israeli forces entered villages, answered stone-throwing youths with live bullets and dumdum bullets, which are illegal under international law. I then visited Bethlehem and Rachel's tomb and witnessed the shooting of a young man within 20 yards of where I stood. I felt that I as a westerner was clearly picked out and allowed to walk within gun-sight of Israeli defence force soldiers without being shot. They were clearly targeting individuals for assassination and have continued to do so ever since.
I went to Gaza city and visited the Shiffa hospital. I walked around the intensive care ward. It must have been clear to all the consultants and surgeons that none of those occupying the 14 beds would survive their injuries. I spoke to the parents and relatives of those lying there. Anybody who wants to know why there are martyrs and why people become so desperate that they will give up their own lives should speak to the relatives of those who have been butchered and assassinated by Ariel Sharon and the Israeli defence force over many years. One can then start to understand the pain that they feel and why they feel so hopeless that they resort to such terrible acts of terrorism.
I do not have time.
Time prevents me from saying all that I had intended, but in the remaining time I shall mention two matters. When we discuss international aid in the Adjournment debate tomorrow, we must turn our attention to the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Palestine and the occupied territories of the west bank and Gaza, particularly in Jenin. Oxfam and World Vision speak today of gross violations of international humanitarian law, military targeting of medical personnel, denial of medical care and violence against International Red Cross and Red Crescent workers, and they give examples of such terrible atrocities, including the systematic—
I apologise for being rather creaky. I sometimes wonder whom I would sue if I had a deep vein thrombosis in the Chamber after a long-haul debate.
Even before the recent Israeli offensive on the west bank, the humanitarian situation was very grave indeed. Life was hard for Palestinians. Some may ask why it should be, when they are surrounded by friendly Arab states, some of which are extremely wealthy. Nevertheless, I repeat that life is very hard. Child malnutrition in Gaza has doubled in the past year. I repeat: doubled. Unemployment in Gaza is 85 per cent., the result of border closures. Thirty-seven per cent. of people in Gaza and 15 per cent. on the west bank are living in poverty—that is, on less than $2 a day. That has happened over the past year or so—a breeding ground for terrorism, if ever there was one.
Recent events in Jenin have horrified the international community, however many terrorists were hidden there. That was eloquently and vividly described by Ann Clwyd.
Over the years, the European Union has provided a large amount of aid to try to combat the problems of the Palestinians, but much has been destroyed by Israeli action. The list provided by the Department for International Development in response to my parliamentary question on
The airport at Gaza is totally destroyed. The list includes schools, hospitals, the sea port, forestry projects, landfill sites and water installations. I heard from Oxfam today that the engineers are not allowed to go in and repair them. The lack of clean water is a huge problem for the Palestinians. The list goes on and on. Almost 20 million euros worth of aid has been blown up in the past two weeks.
I well understand that the Palestinians are not entirely without blame. It has been said tonight that they hide terrorists among civilians so that the civilians suffer too. I have seen reports, and been given reports by constituents, of Red Crescent ambulances being used to transport explosives and terrorists. There is blame to be laid there, but we must remember that terrorism is desperation and it is a very dirty business.
In the eyes of the world, Israel must take responsibility. It is seen as exerting disproportionate force. Mr. Gummer put it eloquently when he said that we expect more of a state like Israel.
Will the Minister say who will refund the European Union? There are many calls on those funds from all over the world. Will Israel be forced to pay reparations for the damage? If not, how can those essential services be restored?
I had a useful meeting with members of the Jewish community in my constituency on Sunday evening. They are eminent and highly regarded members of my community, one a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. I love and respect them all. They asked me to make three main points in the debate tonight. First, Mr. Sharon is not admired by them, nor are his methods, but they are firmly committed to a free and secure Israel and will always support the Israeli people. Many have relatives there and visit them often.
Secondly, my constituents want to support the Palestinians' right to their own free and secure state in Palestine, and wish to see withdrawal from the occupied territories to facilitate that. The settlements must indeed go. Thirdly, and above all, they wish me to say that they welcome the Saudi peace plan and the recognition by the Arab League of the legitimacy of the state of Israel. They felt that that was a huge movement forward and that the international community must not lose the opportunity to build on that gesture. They want negotiations based on the plan.
My constituents showed me an interesting piece written by Amos Oz, a well-known left-wing Israeli. I confess that I did not know of it, but some in the House may do so. I should like to quote what Amos Oz said:
"Israel is fighting two wars. Only one of them is just. One is the Palestinian nation's war for its freedom from occupation and for its right to independent statehood. Any decent person ought to support this cause. The second war is waged by fanatical Islam, from Iran to Gaza and from Lebanon to Ramallah, to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of their land. Any decent person ought to abhor this cause. Yasser Arafat and his men are running both wars simultaneously, pretending they are one."
Of course, we must support the just war, but we should abhor the unjust war against Jews worldwide that is waged by Islamic fundamentalists. I contend that the unjust war is one of the reasons—if not the main reason—for the suicide bombings, on the basis of a combination of desperation and hopelessness, laced also with a huge dose of religious fundamentalism.
There is already much evidence of anti-Semitic campaigns being waged in universities, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife pointed out. I have brought evidence with me of what is happening in universities in this country in terms of action against synagogues and individuals throughout Europe. Just as we urged people to support the ordinary Muslim after
The situation in the middle east is dangerous and terrifying for all of us and I urge the Government to seek to use all means—I support wholeheartedly many of the suggestions made in the House—to bring the two sides together yet again.
We are witnessing the tragedy of the conflicting rights of self-determination of two peoples and the consequences of the derailment of the peace process that should have led to the creation of a new, independent and viable Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. That derailment happened when Yasser Arafat decided to walk out of negotiations 17 months ago and resort to terrorism—a decision that was criticised by the PLO's major negotiator in Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh, who said that it was a major missed opportunity.
That major missed opportunity has been a tragedy for all in the region. In Israel, we see the carnage caused by the work of suicide bombers who deliberately target civilians in cafes, at 12-year-olds' birthday parties and discos, and families and elderly people in particular as they sit down to religious festivals. We have seen targeted carnage in places such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya, Hadera, Beersheba and Afula. On the west bank, we see the tragedy of destruction and loss of life as the Israelis make their incursions into the Palestinian west bank in an attempt to prevent suicide bombers from planning and executing new outrages.
I deplore the loss of civilian life, and the loss of the lives of innocent people. Where there is evidence, outrages must be punished, but surely it is absurd to suggest that any Government can ignore the continuous targeted killing of its citizens by people who believe that their country should not exist. Let us consider what happened in just one week this month. The casualties in Israel caused by the deliberate targeting of civilians for no other purpose than the creation of terror are the equivalent of 400 people killed in this country, with 2,500 injured. That would be the United Kingdom equivalent of what happened in Israel in one week in April—and that is not an isolated week.
As many hon. Members have said, attention must be concentrated on how we move forward, but before that can be achieved a number of unpalatable and extremely difficult facts must be faced. First, terrorist suicide bombings by Palestinians are directed against the existence of the state of Israel. We have heard much today about the desperation that may drive some people to commit these atrocities and massacres against Israeli civilians, but let it never be forgotten that suicide bombings began on Israeli civilians when the peace process was under way. They began when Rabin and Peres began their peace initiative; indeed, they brought down Shimon Peres' Government and ushered in the Government of Netanyahu, who was not committed to the peace process or to peace. History then repeated itself, and it was the suicide bombers who brought down Barak's Government as he fought so hard to achieve a genuine peace. The result of the suicide bombings carried out while Barak fought hard to bring peace was the ushering in of the Sharon Government; again, we saw coming into power a Government led by someone who was not dedicated to peace.
It is important to remember that the continuing outrages committed by Palestinian bombers and by people shooting indiscriminately have occurred to a great extent within the green line, or within Israel's 1967 borders, so I fear that it is promoting a misleading fallacy to pretend that suicide bombers are the result of occupation of the west bank and Gaza, much as I deplore that occupation and want it to end. I believe that the evidence shows that those suicide bombings are about the attempted extermination of the whole of Israel and what is seen as the occupation of Palestine.
The second unpalatable and difficult fact that has to be recognised is the reality that Yasser Arafat is part of the terrorist network. There is abundant evidence that he broke the promises that he made at Oslo while that peace process was ongoing, where he said that he would deal with conflicts and difficulties in a peaceful manner and without resorting to violence. At the end of 2000, he ordered his security services to release many Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, many of whom had been convicted for terrorism under the Oslo provisions.
I am sorry; I have no time.
Perhaps even worse, information has now been revealed on the Israeli incursions in the west bank, and specifically on its incursions into Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah, giving direct evidence that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have been the paymasters of the terrorists, including the very recent ones who are still wreaking havoc.
Invoices have been found in Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah from the Al Aqsa martyrs brigade, which is directly connected to Yasser Arafat, asking for reimbursement from the Palestinian Authority for explosives for bombings in Israeli cities. Those requests were directed to Fouad Shoubaki, the Palestinian Authority's chief financial officer for military operations. Some, dated
The Israelis have found and made available a handwritten note from Yasser Arafat dated
That is recent evidence, unearthed by the Israeli incursions into Ramallah, of Yasser Arafat's continuing direct complicity in the direction of terror, which is being perpetrated to ensure that there can never be peace.
It is important for everyone who seeks peace to remember that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians will not be resolved without recognising the impact of international terrorism. Iraq is deeply involved through its funding of the families of suicide bombers. Recently, Iraq decided to increase its payments to the families of suicide bombers, who now receive $25,000 every time a suicide bomber goes out on a mission.
There is awareness of the involvement of Iran, especially in the case of the Karine A, which was carrying a shipment of arms to the west bank. Fortunately, it was intercepted by Israel. Those arms were intended for the purpose of firing on Israeli cities, in direct contravention of the Oslo agreement. Syria is involved in direct funding of Hezbollah and Hamas.
Hon. Members referred to the increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in this country and other countries—
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, because there have been many fine speeches, which I cannot hope to emulate. They introduced passion, commitment and a great deal of understanding of the situation in Israel and Palestine.
Mrs. Ellman, like my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb, assisted the debate by ensuring that we balance an understanding of the issues as appreciated by those who live in Israel, and have suffered at the hands of terror for so long and to such a dreadful extent, with an understanding of the perspective of Palestinians who have suffered so much injustice.
At times I felt that some hon. Members strayed into representing views, or even repeating propaganda, more than aiding genuine understanding. Nevertheless, it is to the credit of the House that anyone who cares to read the whole debate, as my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack suggested, will at least, even if they do not think that an appropriate balance was struck overall, appreciate that we understand many of the views of those involved and trust and respect one another in doing so.
As my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude said, that sense of trust is precisely what is missing in the middle east process. My right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram and the Foreign Secretary explained how past negotiations and discussions brought the parties close to the point where they could see an end, but did not reach it. Although we can argue about who was to blame—Ariel Sharon at Temple Mount or Yasser Arafat promoting the intifada—agreement was not reached and trust between the parties broke down. There is now such an absence of trust that it is difficult to see how they can be brought together.
As we move towards the conclusion of this debate, I do not envy my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan or the Minister their task of trying to sum it up. We have to think not only of what has happened and who is to blame but of where we are now and where we should go. There has been insufficient emphasis in the debate on the American Government's desire to play an active part in seeking a way forward, with which we can assist, and too much cavilling about what may or may not have been a lack of commitment on the part of President Bush after what was clearly an immense effort by President Clinton to secure agreements.
It is hardly surprising that President Bush thought that he would not devote so much political capital and energy to securing an agreement in the middle east in the immediate wake of his election. He knows that he has to do it now. That is not simply because the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is the genesis of so much terror and crisis across the world, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire said; more particularly, it is because the Americans know that only they have the ability to bring the necessary influence to bear on the Israelis. It is no good believing that anyone else can do that. It is even worse for us to make suggestions about sanctions against Israel, as that would simply convince the Israelis that they had no option but to defend themselves entirely according to their own justification and judgment, rather than according to the judgment of the international community. The Israelis must understand that the international community understands and supports them, their right to self-defence and their right to exist.
President Bush said in his speech in the rose garden:
"This can be a time for hope, but it calls for leadership".
Of course, that leadership must come not least from the Americans. We should applaud the fact that Secretary Powell is in the middle east meeting some of the participants in this conflict. We should particularly applaud the fact that he is meeting Chairman Arafat. We in this country do not necessarily understand how that will be received in America, or how difficult it is for the American Secretary of State to meet Yasser Arafat, for example, or members of the Syrian Government. It is difficult, but he is doing it.
We need to determine how to escape from this position of mutual mistrust and incomprehension. On the face of it, that will not happen with Ariel Sharon at the helm in Israel and Yasser Arafat at the helm on behalf of the Palestinians, but how do we move from that position? We cannot govern who is democratically elected as Prime Minister of Israel, or Chairman of the Palestinian Authority. We have, however, reached the point at which we must tell Prime Minister Sharon that he cannot determine who speaks for the Palestinians in these negotiations. So, it will be either Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat, or neither of them. Secretary of State Powell's meeting with Chairman Arafat could be interpreted as important in that respect, because he accepts that Chairman Arafat has that authority for the time being. Prime Minister Sharon should also accept that.
I entirely support what my right hon. Friends the Members for Horsham and for Devizes said earlier about the nature of the problem, and about where we need to go from here. As Dr. Tonge said, we must understand that there is a Palestinian cause, but it is not one that justifies terror. We must understand that the Israelis have the right—and, if necessary, we must offer them responsible support in exercising their right—of self-defence and striking back against those who would use terror against them.
We must understand that even in the context of further negotiations that may lead to a settlement, which is plausible, we will not eliminate terror levelled against Israel, whatever its source—whether it comes from Hezbollah, from some of the fundamentalist Islamic groups supported in Iran, or from anywhere else. We must be prepared to support Israel in the process of distinguishing between legitimate Palestinian causes and the pursuit of terror.
We must do something else as well. If we expect a high standard from Israel in respect of how it exercises its right to self-defence according to the rule of law, we should also expect the Palestinian Authority, if it aspires to statehood, to meet the standards of statehood. That means ensuring that it exercises the monopoly of coercive power within its state, that it does not allow terror to be used from that state with its consent or even through negligence on its part, and that it uses the rule of law to bring those responsible for terror to justice.
In the years during which I was on the campaign trail with my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman, I used to describe him as the best Foreign Secretary that Labour never had. I think that he proved that again this evening.
The real Foreign Secretary, on the other hand, sought at the outset to inject a tranquilliser into the debate. He proceeded on that basis to paint a picture that I thought bore little relation to the reality of what is happening on the ground. He and his opposite number seemed to be building sandcastles in the air, talking of a peace process that no longer exists and of all the things that Ariel Sharon will have to do—which, as is manifestly and abundantly clear, he has no intention whatsoever of doing: he will tell anyone who is listening, and indeed those who are not, that he has no intention of doing them, not now, not ever. They made demands of Arafat that he do this and that in his cell in Ramallah. He was being asked to control—from a cell full of holes, without water, without a toilet, without a telephone, without electric light, without policemen, without an army, without transport and without the ability to leave Ramallah—the destiny of millions of his compatriots.
In the Foreign Secretary's discourse and in that of his opposite number, I smelt no whiff of the cordite of the ordnance that, as we speak, is shattering the edifice of the basilica of Bethlehem. In their, if I may say so, rather complacent Front-Bench consensus I did not smell—as I did so vividly when my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd was speaking—the death camp of Jenin. I did not picture the children drinking sewage. I gained no grasp of the immediate, desperate tragedy of all this.
Instead, we heard a long recitation of what we all know already—of what the final solution of the conflict will have to be, namely two states living side by side. We do not need to debate that; what we need to debate is how we get there. Nothing that the Front Benchers had to say led me to believe that they had any manifesto or programme for bringing that about. We should compare what they said with the radical set of proposals presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton. He actually had a plan for how we and the United States could, and should, force Sharon to the negotiating table, and for the concessions that he must be forced to make. We should compare that with our own Government's performance. As Mr. Thomas pointed out, in the United Nations conference yesterday we could not even bring ourselves to vote to condemn the massacres. The Foreign Secretary said that the resolution was unbalanced, but it was not so unbalanced that most of our European partners could not vote for it. Why was that impossible for us?
What is Britain doing to rise to the occasion? We are selling guns to Ariel Sharon. In fact, the Government are selling more weapons to General Sharon than we sold to Ehud Barak, the so-called dove who preceded him. The Minister answered my earlier question, so the Government know that Israel is brazenly breaking former assurances that it would not use those military weapons in the occupied territories. The Minister said that he would demand an assurance on that, but we have had none. The Foreign Secretary said today that he could no longer rely on Israeli assurances. Given those facts, what is stopping us announcing now that we will sell no more arms to General Sharon?
Time will not permit me to develop more than a few extra points, so I shall deal with two dramatic events that have occurred over the past couple of days. They are pregnant with further disaster, and I direct my remarks to those friends of Israel who have been eloquent in the past few minutes.
First, the capture and proposed trial of Marwan Barghouti; is a very dangerous development. Marwan Barghouti; is the second most important man in Palestine, and he may well be the president of the Palestinian state one day. He is not an Islamic fundamentalist or extremist, but a leader of the progressive nationalist wing of the Palestinian resistance. The friends of Israel must accept that when Sharon marginalises, imprisons and murders the leaders of the nationalist wing of the Palestinian resistance, he ensures that the torch of nationalist leadership will pass to the irrational and irreconcilable Islamist fundamentalist forces. They are the main beneficiaries of Sharon's rampage through the Palestinian territories.
I ask this of the friends of Israel: please do not harm, humiliate or, after a kangaroo court trial, imprison Marwan Barghouti. With Yasser Arafat, he represents the last hope of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
Mr. Ancram said earlier, from the Opposition Front Bench, that Arafat was not flexible. My God, Arafat is so flexible he could be made of india rubber. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that another Palestinian would be more flexible than Yasser Arafat, his learning curve has some way to go.
Barghouti and Arafat are the last hopes of a two-state solution. If we lose them, we are in for prolonged war between Islamic fundamentalism and Israel. How any friend of the Jewish people could think that that would be a step forward beats me.
My second, and final, point, concerns the proposal from General Powell in the past 24 hours for a regional peace conference that did not involve the Palestinian leadership. Someone in London will have to tell our special friends in Washington that the Palestine Liberation Organisation became the sole legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people more than 25 years ago. No Arab leader, however much of a puppet he may be, would ever turn up to speak for the Palestinians at a conference from which the Palestinian President was forbidden, and certainly not at a time when that President is besieged and imprisoned in a cell in Ramallah. We have to shoot down that moth-eaten kite now, because it seems to be emerging as the only concrete product from General Powell's ill-fated and ill-starred visit to the region.
In conclusion, I implore the Government to be bolder and more imaginative. We have a special responsibility here: in this building was authored this tragedy when one people promised a second people the land of a third people, without consulting any of the three peoples concerned. Balfour did not speak for the British; the Zionist movement to which he promised the land at that time was not only not hegemonic among world Jewry but represented only a small fragment of opinion in world Jewry. The Palestinian people, whom even Balfour said had inalienable rights that must not be prejudiced, were the last and least to be consulted about that historic declaration.
We have a special responsibility to try harder than other people, to go the extra mile to get justice for the Palestinian people when we played such a seminal part in the tragedy that has befallen them. The great Albert Camus said:
"All civilised people have a duty; not to be on the side of the executioners"—
Even if Mr. Galloway has little time or patience with the Foreign Secretary, there are plenty of voices on the official Opposition Benches who appreciate what the Government are trying to do and applaud the measured tone and balanced approach that the Foreign Secretary took this afternoon.
I believe that the Palestinians played into the Israeli rejectionists' hands by refusing a generous deal with Ehud Barak at Camp David less than two years ago. I believe, too, that the Israelis have now played into the Palestinian rejectionists' hands by responding to terrorist bombings with a military offensive. Terrorism should be met by proportionate and effective measures, and that is not happening.
I hope that the House will not play into the hands of the rejectionists of both sides by adopting double standards. If ever there were a case of extremists feeding off each other, it is this one. It has reduced the prospect of rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians to the present dire straits.
I have been sad to see that double standards have explicitly been applied in the course of this debate. Mr. Campbell, the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that because Israel is a democracy, we expect a higher standard from it. My right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer similarly said that because Israel is a state, we expect a higher standard from it. Angus Robertson, who belongs to the Scottish National party, said that Israel is a democratic state and should be judged by a higher standard. What is this if not moral relativism? If we wish to condemn one side or another in a terrible conflict such as this, we must apply similar standards of morality to each side. We must not say that because one side in the conflict is a state or a democracy, it is unacceptable for it to overreact to terrorism, but because the other side is not a state or a democracy it is less morally reprehensible for it to embark on terrorism in the first place.
My view is that Arabs have consistently tried, over many years, to destroy Israel and, since 1967 at least, Israelis have consistently tried to colonise occupied Arab territory. After 1967, the Israelis were in a position—had they wished to be magnanimous—to conclude peace settlements with their erstwhile enemies. They were not magnanimous and when Sadat successfully launched the Yom Kippur war in 1973, it was an opportunity for the Arab nations to regain some self-respect and to negotiate realistically with the Israelis to bring about peace. Sadat and Begin seized the opportunity after 1973 and, as was said earlier, Sadat—whom I regard as one of the heroes of the history of the middle east conflict—paid with his life for his foresight, generosity and courage.
Mr. Singh claimed that nobody supports the suicide bombers. Tell that to the people who organise telethons in Saudi Arabia to raise vast sums for the relatives of those bombers. It is a fact—alluded to previously in the debate and not, as far as I know, denied—that many of the suicide bomb attacks have been carried out by the Al Aqsa martyrs brigade. That body is directly linked to Fatah, and there is little doubt that it would not continue those terrible activities if Yasser Arafat were not willing for it to do so.
There is an example of the support for the suicide bombers in an article published as recently as
"May Allah have mercy upon you . . . mujaheed and martyr, the quiet hero who infiltrated so elegantly and spoke so gaily. You defended your religion, your homeland, and your people. You attached no importance to any Arab summit; you did not wait for international agreements; you did not follow television interviews; you did not pause because of dead Arab and international reactions that neither help nor hinder."
The article uses similar words to describe the supermarket bomber, a young teenage girl. It states:
"May Allah have mercy on you . . . You left your home for the path of martyrdom and Paradise. Your family knew not where you were headed, and knew not that you had chosen the way of martyrdom. There was nothing to stop you . . . You proceeded with a determination, will, and strength rarely found, even impossible to find, in a 16-year-old girl."
The article concludes by asking that Allah and the angels welcome both of them as religious martyrs and beseeches Allah to give them
"the highest level of Paradise".
Is it only Sharon who is the cause of the present situation? Many people have chosen to load him with all the guilt and to say that he is why the present situation is so disastrous. Only yesterday, however, The Times published an article written by Ehud Barak himself. He said of the missed opportunity at Camp David that the Arab states and Yasser Arafat had been offered
"a contiguous and independent Palestinian state, over more than 90 per cent. of the West Bank."
This is Barak speaking—not Sharon the extremist. He said:
"Mr. Arafat refused even to take it as a basis for negotiations and turned deliberately to terror. To reward this is like feeding a crocodile—it only increases its appetite."
Mr. Barak's view of Mr. Arafat is as follows:
"Mr. Arafat does not envision a Palestinian state alongside Israel but a Palestinian state instead of Israel, and now he tries to dictate it by dispatching brainwashed human missiles to commit suicide and murder civilians."
That is the moderate voice of Israel speaking, not the extremist.
Several right hon. and hon. Members asked what drives a teenage girl to blow herself up and murder innocent civilians. The suggestion was that it is a form of desperation, caused by the Palestinians' plight. Yet, no one said anything like that about the suicide hijackers of
I am grateful to the House for the chance to contribute to this very timely debate. This is a grave period for people in the middle east. Colin Powell's intervention is welcome, but he has much to do before he is seen as even-handed. Ariel Sharon suggested an international peace conference, excluding Yasser Arafat, when he met Powell on Sunday. The US Secretary of State now states that Yasser Arafat would not need to attend such an event, which serves only to undermine his leadership among the Palestinians.
According to a statement by the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, Palestinians now identify more strongly than ever with President Arafat. Mr. Powell told reporters that President Arafat
"has the ability to empower people in the Palestinian movement who represent him."
"The conference does not necessarily require his personal presence to get started."
It is difficult to imagine a key leader being excluded from genuine peace talks anywhere else in the world. It is even more difficult to picture the fair-minded Secretary Powell agreeing with such an unreasonable demand.
New Israeli calls for peace talks will be empty rhetoric if President Arafat cannot leave his front door in Ramallah. Prime Minister Sharon has also omitted the European Union from prospective delegations to such a conference. Discussions will be extremely short if the Israeli leader wishes to talk only with those who agree with him.
I welcome Mr. Powell's recent engagement with other Arab leaders to avert the conflict widening throughout the middle east. The Lebanese Government have said that they will attempt to restrict attacks to the disputed Shebaa farms. President Lahoud also called on Mr. Powell to view the middle east situation with "objectivity and realism" and not to be influenced by Israel's presentation of events. We must all heed that warning.
In particular, we must exercise extreme caution over yesterday's arrest of Marwan Barghouti, the west bank Fatah leader, a view I share with my hon. Friend Mr. Galloway. Mr. Barghouti denies charges of stoking violence and encouraging the suicide bombers. He must not simply be a scapegoat for Israeli retribution against acts of terrorism. The evidence must be openly presented against him. In the same way, the evidence of the horrendous conditions in Jenin must be presented to the world.
According to The Independent today, a monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed in Jenin refugee camp. The International Committee of the Red Cross has finally been allowed into the west bank refugee camp after the Israeli onslaught. The ICRC has found destruction and a terrible smell in the camp. Israeli tanks and bulldozers have reduced much of it to dust. Workers from the Red Crescent and the Red Cross have begun to treat the injured before bringing out the remaining dead. Their task is enormous. The Palestinians say that hundreds died in Jenin, but Israel denies that. Our Government must join with others to uncover the truth.
The indiscriminate force currently being used by the Israeli army in the west bank against a civilian population is a form of collective punishment. According to Oxfam, there has been systematic targeting of medical personnel, denial of medical care to the injured, and threatened violence against clearly identified ICRC staff, Palestine Red Crescent Society staff and UN staff. Damage to water lines and pumps has left approximately 400,000 people in Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Tulkarm without access to running water. Almost all hospitals in the west bank are now surrounded by Israeli tanks, which compromise the free and safe movement of staff, patients and emergency vehicles. Hospital generators, electricity and telephone lines and water supplies have been deliberately damaged by Israeli soldiers. United Nations organisations including the UN Development Programme, the UN Fund for Population Activities, the World Health Organisation, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Relief and Works Agency issued the following joint statement on
"This is a humanitarian crisis without precedent in its destructive impact on the Palestinian people and its institutions".
The UN resolution accusing Israel of "gross violations" of international law must be acted on. Our partners in the European Union have a pivotal role. I am disappointed, however, that European Foreign Ministers have rejected calls for trade sanctions against Israel. However, I understand the reluctance to act while Colin Powell is in the middle east pushing for peace, for fear of undermining him.
I welcome Germany's decision to suspend its supply of military equipment to Israel and urge our Government to consider a similar gesture. The EU, not America, is Israel's largest trading partner. Under a special agreement between the EU and Israel, the latter enjoys preferential trading under an association treaty. The European Parliament has already voted to suspend this agreement. If there is no sign of real progress following Mr. Powell's intervention, will the Minister assure me that the British Government will consider again the issue of trade with Israel?
Ariel Sharon must recognise that there has to be a political solution, which cannot be imposed by force or by killing innocent men, women and children. Israel has been ignoring or breaking UN resolutions for the last five decades, and still enjoys blind support from the United States of America. The USA must adopt an even-handed approach to deal with the UN resolutions if President Bush wants to bring peace and stability to the region.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at this late stage in what has been an extremely interesting debate; in fact, it has been one of the best debates that I have heard in the House. The House has been shown at its best.
With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to move away from the general discussion that has taken place and focus on a single tragedy arising from the situation in the middle east. Before I do so, I should like to make a personal observation: as far as I am concerned, there is no justification for the use of human bombs to kill innocent civilians in the streets of Israel, just as there is no justification for the suicide attacks on the United States of America. Attempts to seek such justifications are unwarranted and wholly wrong. I must also say that there is no justification for the actions of Israeli soldiers in the last 12 days—I speak as an ex-service man. Their actions bring disgrace and dishonour to the uniforms that they wear. They have no right to call themselves soldiers if they carry out such heinous crimes.
In the short time available to me, I want to draw the attention of the House and the country to the desperate plight of four young Welsh children who have been caught up in the terrible horrors that have been taking place in the middle east. The four children of my constituent, Mrs. Eileen Sutton of Barry, have been trapped in a house in Nablus for the past 12 days. They are unable to move, and the house has been occupied by 21 heavily armed Israeli soldiers. The occupants of the house—not just the four children and their immediate family but other children and adults—have been pushed into one room. These young children—constituents of mine—have been warned not to go near the windows because they might be shot dead if they do. There is no justification or excuse for treating children like that in any war or any situation.
These Welsh children are British citizens and British passport holders. Not only that: they are British wards of court. In other words, the legal guardians of the trapped children are the British Government. Everything humanly possible should be done to move the children immediately and to place them in the safe custody of the British consulate general in Jerusalem.
I have been in touch with my colleagues on the Front Bench, the Foreign Office and the British consul in Jerusalem. We have had regular contact. I also wish to place on record my gratitude to my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd. She raised the plight of the children when she was in Israel last week. I thank her for her efforts to get them released into safe custody.
These children were born and brought up in the little town of Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. Just a few months ago, they went to local schools, clubs, after-school clubs and discos. They enjoyed the life that our children and grandchildren take for granted. However, in just a short space of time, they have found themselves in the most horrendous and despicable situation.
I am aware that such cases involve desperately difficult diplomatic and political considerations. In fact, it has been put to me that moving the children right now might create a spark that could result in an escalation in the violence in Nablus. If that is the thinking, we have got it all wrong. There should be one consideration only: the children are in grave danger and should be moved to safety immediately.
I hope that the fact that I have been able to refer to this desperate case in the debate will mean that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do all in their power to return the children to the safety of their mother at home in Barry, in south Wales. I hope that they will not delay any further. The children are the only British subjects in such a position anywhere in the occupied territories or where the Israelis have moved in and attacked and threatened innocent civilians. These four young innocents do not deserve to find themselves in such a situation. For God's sake and in the name of humanity, get them out of there—and get them out now.
Although I sympathise greatly with my hon. Friend Mr. Smith and I want to see his constituents returned, I should point out that the last time I saw children in Palestine, they were being put into graves.
The important point is that the Israeli state is waging a war on people who, in the main, are innocent. Although some may be taking up arms on the Palestinian side, or committing acts that some have described as atrocities, the reality is that we are facing the butcher of Beirut, who has also become the butcher of Bethlehem. There is a madness to current events there. The Christian bell-ringer at the church in Manger square was shot dead by Israeli troops, and an Armenian monk was shot in the back by Israeli troops and left to die. The bodies of Palestinians remained unburied because their burial in Manger square would probably have turned a shrine to the Christian birth into a shrine to Palestinian martyrs.
As I have only a few minutes, I shall skip many of the points that I wanted to make, some of which have already been made. In my view, the flaw lies in the original Oslo agreement, which was supposed to provide land for peace. It is no wonder that some on the Palestinian side left the negotiations. It became clear that what was on offer was not a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, but land criss-crossed by Israeli roads leading to settlements. Such an arrangement would have fragmented the west bank in such a way that a Palestinian state could never have proved viable.
Most people do not know that the majority of the land in Gaza is still under the control of the Israelis; in fact, Israelis go on holiday there. I have visited Gaza several times and walked on its beach. It is beautiful, but nearby Beach Camp is infested and rat-ridden. Along the coast, however, there are protected zones where the people of the cities of Israel can spend a nice summer holiday, protected by Israeli troops.
In terms of peace, when I was in Beirut, the people looked to Hezbollah to provide spokespeople for the Palestinian diaspora. When my hon. Friend Richard Burden and I visited Gaza last year, it became clear that people were turning not to the Palestinian Authority, but to Hamas, and that those who had supported the Palestinian Authority were looking to other, more violent methods of extracting a settlement from the Israeli Government.
We must ask where the solution lies. Does it lie in Sharon, who clearly came to office on the back of a promise of peace and security? Jewish friends whom I used to visit in Tel Aviv have left Israel altogether, because they do not believe that Sharon can deliver peace and security. He is displaying not statesmanship but the worst form of militarism. His record—from events in Beirut to his election as Prime Minister—made clear what kind of Prime Minister he would be. He thinks that he can defeat the Palestinian people, and that they will have to accept whatever solution he offers, but that will not happen. He is creating bitterness and feeding future generations with the desire for retribution. I am amazed to hear that he enjoys 67 per cent. of the popular vote in Israel. That is a disaster for Israel, among other nations.
On the question of whether the solution lies with Yasser Arafat, my view is perhaps controversial. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Galloway that Yasser Arafat represents the non-militant, non-Islamic view. However, as a European Union observer at the elections, I share the view of many who wanted the Palestinian Authority to come into being that they are failed and devalued. Arafat is accused of approving of Fatah members who participate in violence, but what other option did he have? It was clear that Hamas, Hezbollah and other fragmented groups that support Islamic jihad were getting popular support. The Palestinian Authority were being valued less and less.
What could Arafat do, given that Israel was killing children? I have not seen martyrs dying with bombs strapped to their chests, but on many occasions I have seen snipers or members of the official Israeli defence force shoot children who were throwing stones at, or shouting at Israeli soldiers when they were killing their brothers and their mothers, and even the nurses and drivers of ambulances who went to try to help those who could be rescued. Have we forgotten the sight of the man perched behind a bollard with his son behind him while the Israeli defence forces shot until they killed that child? Although Arafat has had to take a more militant stand, such events lead me to believe that he is either the rock upon which peace will be settled or the rock upon which the future peace of Israel will be dashed. It would be insane to encourage anything that would allow him to be taken out.
I do not believe that the solution lies with the United States of America. I was in Washington on
I am disappointed that I do not have more time to speak. This is the first time that I have tried to speak in the Chamber since
If the hon. Gentleman is at the fag end of debate, I do not know where that puts me.
The debate has been a high point for this Parliament. In the 10 years in which I have been a Member, I have not heard a better one. The six hours of discussion have brought credit to all the participants, of whom there were many—I counted the contributions and I am the 32nd to speak. There were respectable differences, passionately and genuinely put, and division and argument that did not follow traditional party lines. Every contribution was infected by a sense of moral judgment—not to say outrage at times—and by a genuine search for peace, decency and civility in this highly complex issue.
For some, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is just a local skirmish on which they can turn their back, but they are wrong. They are very wrong on mere grounds of justice and humanitarian decency, but they are doubly wrong because the continuing conflict in the middle east has the potential to spark global conflagration on a massive scale. We, as politicians with opinions and influence, have a duty to grapple with the issue in all its complexity.
I want to echo the good sense spoken by the Foreign Secretary. He gave us three guiding principles that he and I hope all of us believe should govern our approach to the issue. First, there is no monopoly of right and wrong. Secondly, Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to live side by side. Thirdly, no solution can be reached by force. In all those three, the Foreign Secretary was absolutely right and we share them in every respect.
In fact, on this issue perhaps more than any other, it is easy to champion one side. Anyone can easily take up the cudgels for one side against the other, but they soon find that for every argument there is a counter-argument and for every claim there is a counter-claim. They simply get into a tit-for-tat debating battle. We need understanding rather than grandstanding and to appreciate that there is a limited purpose to any antiphony of blame. There is no point being simplistically partisan. We all have to struggle to be even-handed and to bring the sides together. We need to take steps that allow us to see an end to the polarisation that has bedevilled the argument for decades.
It is not necessary to be anti-Israel to be pro-Arab; nor is it necessary to be anti-Arab to be pro-Israel. It is not nonsensical to be pro-both. Indeed, I would contend that if one is to be pro-peace, one has to be pro-both. In the 20 years in which I have travelled the Gulf, and in which I think I have been to every country in the wider middle east, I have been pro-both, and I would do anything to steer the two sides down the path towards peace.
We have to understand history to understand the intensity of opinion which governs this debate, and it is so easy to be selective about history. Perhaps "understand" is not quite the right word. I saw on a wall in Jerusalem the telling sentence, which explains to the beginner in the middle east debate the simple truth:
"If you're not confused, you don't understand."
That confusion arises from the complexity of the issue, because it is complex in its history, in its geography and in the interaction of political powers. There is also the unfathomable complexity of some of the personalities involved.
Looking at the history, and perhaps at the risk of being slightly selective myself, I point out that the Foreign Secretary skirted slightly over the events of 1948, and so much stems from the war of Palestine between April and September that year. [Interruption.] I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for admitting that—I am obviously not being over-selective.
Of course, one can go back to the Balfour declaration, as Mr. Galloway did. In 1948, however, in the aftermath of a war in which Jews had been heinously herded and hounded towards intentional annihilation, their right to a homeland was widely recognised in principle, but the first steps to its inception also caused its subsequent problems. In 1948, the minority population of 600,000 Jews displaced about 1.4 million Palestinians. Perhaps above all it is that expulsion that has festered for over half a century. So now we have two sides, and we have heard the shades of debate today, as we have heard them in many comments on television and elsewhere.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although undoubtedly there were expulsions, it has also been accepted on both sides that many Palestinians fled, believing that they would return as successful invading forces?
That question perfectly illustrates the complexities that we have to unravel. I have to give credit to the Israeli Government, as a democracy, for releasing documents that add to a better understanding of history as academics try to look back to the events that unfolded 50 years ago.
We have two classic, distinctive polar points of view. The Arabs feel that they are second-class citizens; they feel dispossessed and permanently humiliated. They feel that 4 million Palestinian refugees are condemned to a life in camps. They feel—this is simple but true—that America is Satan. They feel that much of their land is occupied and that the world looks to them with double standards. At the same time, across the divide, the Israelis feel threatened too. They feel insecure, and they think that people want to drive them to the sea. They feel compelled to protect themselves because nobody else will, and they feel that some Arabs do not believe that they have the right to exist as a state.
We have seen all shades of that opinion in today's debate. I want to pay particular tribute to Ann Clwyd, so I am sorry that she is not here. All of us, while munching our cornflakes, have listened to her broadcasts on Radio 4 from Jenin. I think that they have been remarkable and I look upon what she has done over the past few days with supreme admiration. It takes a lot of courage to tread the rubble of a refugee camp such as Jenin in the middle of a conflict such as the one that we have seen, and it takes courage to look down the barrel of a tank. Perhaps in her absence, I can pay proper tribute by saying that she knocks the spots off Kate Adie.
We have had many contributions, and it is invidious to mention any of them, but I will mention some. My right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer said that Israel must behave like a legitimate state. My right hon. Friend Mrs. Shephard, speaking as the president of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said that Israel should withdraw, but urged us to remember the Israeli state of mind, which governs so many of its actions. I also draw attention to a remarkable speech by Mr. Kaufman. I cannot mention all the contributions, but what emerged from them is an acknowledgement of the need for a two-state solution in which there is mutual recognition and mutual security for both Israel and a Palestinian state.
What could have emerged more strongly is that there are in this vicious debate ingredients that give glimmers of hope. The essential ingredients of a deal and a settlement are present. In a way, the boundaries between the two states are almost the easiest bit, and recognition that the two states have to live side by side is growing. By and large, there remain only three main elements of a potential settlement: the large, concrete settlements in the west bank, the right of return demanded by the Arabs, and the vexed question of Jerusalem in whatever form is chosen. None the less, the ingredients are present, in a scattered jigsaw that needs to be assembled. The initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah is admirable—the first top-level collective Arab endeavour working towards peace and prepared to establish normal relations with Israel.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin asks the right question: how do we get there? Although one or two voices have been heard today dissenting from this view, much points to the Americans as the people who have to take the initiative if steps towards a ceasefire and further negotiations are to be taken. The USA is the key: it must keep up and prosecute its pressure on Ariel Sharon to withdraw from the west bank. It is American pressure and influence evenly applied on both sides that matters most.
In the minutes remaining to me, I shall focus on a further dimension to this intense debate. From the burning of one small match, an enormous fire can result, and the danger we now face is of a huge conflagration flowing from the Israel-Palestine conflict. The conflict has the capacity to inflame the wider Arab world, and far more besides. It is for understandable reasons that that has only been touched on in today's debate.
Already—without the regional turmoil that an invasion of Iraq might provoke—the entire region is a tinderbox. With 70 per cent. of its population restless Palestinians, Jordan is living on a knife edge. The Hashemite hold on the country is far from firm, and Jordan depends wholly on Iraq for its annual economic bloodstream of £850 million worth of oil. Saudi Arabia is a sort of Faustian pact between the al-Sauds and the clerics. Well in excess of half its population is under 30 and it faces a perilous period of unrest which is barely contained below the surface. Iran is in a state of transition, and critics provoke and offend it into enmity instead of choosing to draw it into bonds of friendship. Egypt—barely a democracy—is finding itself increasingly incapable of controlling the street. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain—for all its recent reforms—and Qatar are far from safe. Even Oman—perhaps the most stable and progressive of all the Gulf states—is wary of the growing mood of resentment.
If the regimes in those countries fall, an explosion of popular fury will push them rapidly into the hands of maniacal clerics whose intolerance and aggression will make the current activities of PLO militarists seem as nothing. It is not an exaggeration to say that the world would be pushed towards massive conflict if that were to happen. A series of regimes in the Gulf thrust into different hands would be far more perilous for the state of Israel. Currently, those regimes feel impotent, and their populations are on the edge of revolt.
The question of Israel and Palestine is crucial to the management of all that danger. For their sake and for the sake of the wider world we must now do all we can to walk down the path to peace.
I congratulate Mr. Duncan on an excellent speech. I agree wholeheartedly that this has been an excellent, well-attended debate—the most thoughtful that I have heard since coming to this place nearly five years ago. I thank all those who have contributed. I express sympathy to those who did not even become the fag end of the debate—I refer to those who were not called, having waited six and a half hours.
The debate has rightly been dominated by the grave situation in the Palestinian territories and Israel. However, I shall refer first to Iraq, on which the Government have made their position absolutely clear. Military action is not imminent or inevitable. Both my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have made it clear that, if that were to be the case, there would be ample future opportunity for debate in this place. All Britain's efforts at the moment are in the direction of trying to get Iraqi compliance with United Nations resolutions and the return of weapons inspectors.
I believe that the House is agreed that the situation in the Holy Land is extremely grave. The spiral of violence is intolerable, and it has the potential to set back the cause of peace by years. The recent policy adopted by the Israeli Government in defiance of world opinion has been wrong, counter-productive and futile. The failure of the Palestinian leadership to curb violence and stop the suicide bombings has made the job of those in Israel who argue for a better policy much more difficult.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members made powerful speeches, giving their analyses of the current situation. They included my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman, Sir Patrick Cormack, Mr. Gummer and Mr. Campbell. Most of those Members, if not all, described themselves as traditional friends of Israel. However, they all expressed extremely strong concern that while Israel must have its right to security, it has done itself immense damage by its recent behaviour, which has been unacceptable and counter-productive.
Many Members listened in silence to the testimony of my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, who sadly is no longer in her place. It has been supported by a growing number of United Kingdom press reports. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear this afternoon that if we had our own official reports by now, we would give them to the House. I am pleased to tell the House that our defence attaché in Tel Aviv made a trip to Jenin today with two colleagues and has returned safely. His report states:
"all the available evidence is that the"—
Israeli defence force—
"used disproportionate and excessive force. What we cannot say is how many people in the camp were killed, who they were and how they died. This may take some time to be established."
I hope that I speak for the House in calling this evening on the Israeli Government to allow full and unrestricted access to international charities to the Jenin camp. I wish to reassure my hon. Friend Mr. Smith that we are doing everything that we can to get the children to whom he referred out of Nablus. At present, we have been given no permission by the IDF to go there. However, we have received assurances from the Israelis that the children will not come to any harm.
We have rightly heard from a number of right hon. and hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) and for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) and Mrs. Shephard, about the current psychological state of the Israeli people. It was right and proper that we heard from those Members. If we are to solve the situation, we must understand the Israelis' sense of vulnerability. I was pleased that the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk said that she agreed that Israel should take note of international opinion and comply immediately with UN resolution 1402. It was right of all the right hon. and hon. Members to whom I have referred to remind the House of the devastating psychological impact of the campaign of suicide bombings and their counter-productive effect on the hopes for peace.
I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood said about the disappointment in Israel about the Camp David failure. I do not want to spend too much time dwelling on the past or going into claims or counter-claims about who was to blame for the failure of Camp David. For the remainder of my speech, I wish to try to point out a way forward.
Briefly, as chair of the all-party Britain-Palestine group, I had hoped to contribute to the debate but sadly could not. We have heard an alternative view from Israel in the House today, on which I would appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. Uri Avnery, the noted peace campaigner, was here and made it clear that we do the peace camp in Israel no favours at all if we ease up on our criticism of its abrogation of human rights. I am sure that he would welcome my hon. Friend's speech. It is important to recognise that there is an alternative view in Israel, which we should support.
I recognise that.
In his extremely constructive contribution, the shadow Foreign Secretary asked whether there were parallels with Northern Ireland. I agree that there are some parallels, but not others. One parallel that he accepted was the need for political dialogue; there is no simple security solution to the problem of Israel and the Palestinian territories. In the absence of politics, extremists fill the vacuum. There are responsibilities on both sides, which have been clearly spelt out by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and in countless United Nations resolutions, most recently in the unanimous resolution 1402 adopted 10 days ago.
There are also responsibilities on the Arab states. The whole House welcomed the unanimous declaration of the recent Beirut summit in support of the initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and our Prime Minister's recommendation that it should be embraced in a UN resolution.
Mr. Ancram asked specifically whether we had taken measures or had had recent conversations to try to dissuade some Governments in the region from supporting rejectionist groups. The answer is yes, we do so regularly. The Foreign Secretary has recently had conversations with his Iranian counterparts, encouraging them to play a more positive role. Colin Powell was no doubt in Syria and Lebanon to deliver similar requests.
Many hon. Members stressed the importance of third-party involvement and, above all, the importance of the engagement of the United States of America. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, North (David Winnick) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) and Mr. Lansley all stressed the unique ability of the United States to make a difference in the region and its responsibility to engage there. We should all welcome the statement of President Bush last Thursday week on the eve of his weekend summit with the Prime Minister in Crawford. My right hon. Friend Mr. Mandelson added sound advice on how best to sustain American engagement and persuade the Americans to fulfil their responsibilities in the region.
We heard an important contribution from my right hon. Friend Donald Anderson, who expressed his growing feeling that the incremental approach of the past had not worked: the old models of Madrid and Oslo were not the way forward. The Government have some sympathy with that, which is why the Foreign Secretary spelt out in his opening speech more clearly than any other recent British Foreign Secretary what a final settlement would look like. He went into considerable detail, which I do not intend to reiterate, about what an Israel secure in its borders, with normal relations with the Arab world would look like, and what a Palestinian state, viable, recognised and respected by Israel, would look like.
That will not be easy, and it will require a number of myths to be debunked. Several of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have been doing a good job of that in the past few hours. One of those myths is that the right of return will mean in practice the return of all Palestinian refugees to green line Israel. That will not happen. On the Israeli side, such myths include the idea that there can be a viable Palestinian state without east Jerusalem as its capital, and the idea that there can be a peace settlement while the existing Israeli settlements remain in their present number in the occupied territories. The settlements are against international law and they will have to go.
Right hon. and hon. Members made a number of other suggestions for measures and actions. Let me say at the outset that it would be foolish for any politician to rule anything out for ever. What we do not want to do is detract or divert attention from the current important diplomatic efforts, particularly the mission of Secretary of State Powell.
On arms, contrary to what was suggested, the Germans have not implemented an arms embargo. There is no EU consensus for such an embargo. I understand that the answer which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife thought that he had received from the Foreign Secretary did not arrive in time, so I wish to put it on record that our current policy is that we will no longer take into account the Israeli assurances given to us in November 2000 that they would not use UK-originated equipment in the occupied territories. Those assurances have proved to be unsound. Nothing that could be used for internal repression or external aggression will get an export licence. In the current circumstances, those criteria will apply widely to military equipment destined for Israel.
On sanctions, I do not believe that that is a sensible idea at this stage. It would simply push Israeli public opinion further into the bunker in which it already is, as we heard from hon. Members. We do not want to do anything, as my hon. Friend Mr. Sarwar said, to undermine Colin Powell's mission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley suggested that we cut off diplomatic relations. I do not think that that would be sensible at this stage. It has not been done by Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel. It is vital that we keep those avenues of dialogue open. We may well feel better by suggesting such gestures, but the Government are interested in action that will make a difference on the ground and increase the likelihood of a settlement with justice.
I have endeavoured to respond to the points and questions raised by right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. If hon. Members feel that I have failed to do so, will they please speak to me afterwards? I shall happily write to them.
There is overwhelming agreement in the House that the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories is desperate, but I should like to leave the House with a ray of hope. A number of the ingredients that are essential for a peace settlement are in place in a way that they never have been before. That point was made by Mr. Maude when he rightly said that minds have moved in the past 10 years.
There is unprecedented international agreement about what peace with justice in Israel and Palestine would look like. Despite the current situation, that is still supported by the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians. It is a vision that unites the Arab world, the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Nations. It is enshrined in the recent United Nations resolutions and in the unanimous declaration of the Arab summit in Beirut. Following President Bush's statement, America is more engaged than it has been before, and Colin Powell's mission is continuing. The signs give us cause for cautious optimism.
The parties in the region—the Israelis and Palestinians and their neighbours—must grasp this opportunity. They must show the courage and the leadership to achieve peace with justice, rather than condemn generations of Palestinians and Israelis to more death, violence and hatred. Britain, as always, stands ready to help.
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.