Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:26 pm on 31st March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld Labour 4:26 pm, 31st March 2004

My Lords, I join in complimenting the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on her choice of subject for today's debate. It is appropriate because it is so necessary to keep the issues of the Middle East before Parliament, the Government and the country. This debate helps to achieve that.

I should state that I am chair of the Britain-Israel Parliamentary Group, which is in effect the all-party group concerned with all matters pertaining to Israel and its relations with the United Kingdom.

The problems and issues of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have been with the world for decades. It is not to the credit of the world community that the problems continue and seem as far from solution as ever they have been. The road map on which so much hope was invested seems to have led nowhere. Agreements and concordats brokered by the United States have not, regrettably, had a continuing momentum. However, the search for a just solution must go on and the policy of Her Majesty's Government must be to support that end. We cannot have further decades of conflict.

The largest single hindrance to the peace process is the terrorist war waged on Israel. Over the past three years, there have been 21,033 terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, claiming the lives of 916 people. That is the equivalent of 16 terrorist attacks per day. Of those attacks, 425 have been carried out by Hamas, murdering 377 Israelis and injuring 2,076.

The figure of 377 murdered Israelis equates to 8,621 British people, or 43,136 citizens of the United States, or 58,963 citizens of the European Union. That puts in true perspective the appalling carnage wrought by a merciless terrorist organisation owing nothing to humanity or civilisation. No political objective can justify such inhumanity.

I was amazed to hear the BBC describe Sheikh Yassin as a "spiritual leader"—although nothing that the BBC says about the Middle East should amaze me. No real and genuine spiritual leader could surely preside over such a murderous record. He encouraged the cult of martyrdom in Palestinian society—a notion that for decent people is totally abhorrent and beyond comprehension.

There is an international war on terrorism and Israel must be allowed to fight it. Prosecution of the war is not confined to the United States of America and western democratic powers. Israel has to fight it, for it is surely in the front line. Its civilian population is targeted by Hamas and the other terrorist groups.

Yassin and his like stand in the way of any peace process. His position was impossible to achieve. Israel cannot be eliminated from the map either as a geo-physical entity or as a people. The world community will not wear that ever and at last there are signs—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, made reference to this—that more moderate counsels are beginning to make themselves heard within the Palestinian community. We must pray that they prevail.

Last week my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer instructed the Bank of England to direct financial institutions to freeze any funds they hold on behalf of five senior members of Hamas. Those people are believed to facilitate acts of terrorism. Mr Brown is to be congratulated on that action which, it is to be hoped, will be replicated in the financial capitals of the free world. For too long we have differentiated between the military and political wings of Hamas. The Foreign Secretary played a key role in ensuring that both wings were outlawed in EU policy determined last September, and now we have frozen the financial assets of those whom we believe are involved in terrorism. At least three of those individuals would be classified as members of the political wing of Hamas.

The time has come for us to take the additional step of including Hamas in its entirety in the list of terrorist organisations outlawed by the Terrorism Act 2000. We must take that action as a matter of haste, before those who support the goals of Hamas find further British men or women—I mean British men or women—who are willing to follow in the footsteps of the two British suicide bombers who killed three and injured 55 in a bar in Tel Aviv on 30 April last year.

Her Majesty's Government have a record to be proud of in working for a peaceful, just and lasting settlement to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Last week I chaired a meeting of the Britain-Israel All-Party Parliamentary Group here in your Lordships' House. The speaker was His Excellency Her Majesty's Ambassador to Israel, Simon McDonald. He gave an upbeat, optimistic and hopeful expose of the problems facing the world community in seeking to resolve the conflict. It was an encouraging experience to hear him. We are fortunate indeed to have such an outstanding diplomat in such a difficult and sensitive posting. I wish to place on record the thanks and appreciation of our group for the time that he gave to us.

The arguments surrounding the Middle East and in particular the Palestinian/Israeli conflict have been well rehearsed in this Chamber over many years—probably from the time of the Balfour declaration onwards. We know, as the world knows, what needs to be done. The two-state solution that gives each state secure borders and a viable infrastructure, most notably in the provision of water supply, can be achieved. The way forward is clear, but without an end to Palestinian terror little can be achieved. Prime Minister Sharon has stated his willingness to withdraw fully from Gaza. The Government should welcome that plan, support it in every way possible, and encourage the Palestinian leadership to work with the Israelis to make this move an opportunity for peace, within the road map, and not an opportunity for terrorists like Hamas.

This country has a history in the region and now must make history again by encouraging an end to terror and every possible route to peace. Fences, walls and settlements are removable; human lives lost to terror are irreplaceable.