The Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:24 pm on 16th April 2002.

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Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East 9:24 pm, 16th April 2002

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 11 September. On 10 September when we met State Department officials they had no perspective on Israel and Palestine. It had no middle east policy and did not understand the demographic, geographic or economic factors of the region. Since 11 September, it has had to make up policy on the hoof. I do not believe that they can do that without our help. Do the Government really believe that they can influence the USA so that it takes seriously the one solution on the table—the proposal by the Arab nations which is almost the same as UN resolution 242—because that is the only way forward?

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 13 September and I am disappointed to get the fag end of the debate.