Middle East

– in the House of Lords at 8:39 pm on 22nd January 2008.

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Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat 8:39 pm, 22nd January 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government whether they support moves towards developing an inclusive semi-permanent conference to address the problems of the Middle East.

My Lords, in the early 1990s the positive possibilities of the Madrid conference of 1991 and the Oslo process kindled some hope for progress, including in Northern Ireland where I remember many people saying to me that if they could do it in the Middle East and in South Africa, which was also on the road to peace at that time, then surely we could do something in Northern Ireland. While South Africa and Northern Ireland have indeed moved ahead since that time, the first Gulf War increased US involvement in the Middle East. Antipathy was stimulated to that involvement, not only in the regimes in Iran, Iraq and Syria, but also on the Arab street. The US war on terror, its response to the 9/11 attacks, further polarised opinion and strengthened anti-western sentiment. The Iraq war, which from 2003 brought Sunni governance in Iraq to an end, strengthened Iran and added a further dimension of Sunni-Shia tension.

A resurgent Russia and an emergent China—driven by strategic political and economic ambitions now, rather than by ideology—are also fashioning their involvement in the region. This creates an increasing complexity and instability in the region. The models which are generally used to guide our policy in such issues seem to be based on resource and commodity questions—oil and water in particular in that region—our relations with the United States and, in the case of the Middle East, the historic line of peace plans from Madrid to Annapolis.

These are important issues and some progress has been made in various areas. We can now speak about negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians towards a two-state solution without being laughed out of court, as would have been the case especially before Oslo. However, in overall terms the situation is grave and deteriorating. My own experience in the past two or three years of visiting many of the countries in that great arc from Indonesia to Morocco—where the majority of the population are Muslim—is that the antipathy towards the West has grown enormously in the past seven or eight years. The unresolved difficulties between Israelis and Palestinians have come to have a symbolic significance, especially in the minds of ordinary people. This is even the case in those countries whose leaders are tolerably well disposed to the West, but are increasingly fearful of the mood of their people. As an Egyptian Cabinet Minister in Cairo said to me some months ago, "The people walk on one side of the street and the Government walk on the other side".

In the 10 years or so since the Good Friday agreement, I have given a good deal of thought to the experiences of other processes which we drew upon in Northern Ireland, as well as the question of what of our experience was relevant and what was not transferable to other places and people. Especially since 2003 and my later time as Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I visited and studied experiences in various parts of Europe, especially the Balkans, but also various countries in Latin America, Africa, South-East Asia and the wider Middle East.

I have spoken from time to time about a number of conclusions about long-standing violent political conflicts and how to address them. While resource questions such as water, minerals and energy sources are important, it is how they lead people to deal unfairly with other people that is the cause of the conflict, rather than availability or scarcity. While poverty and deprivation lead to unhappiness, it is the relative injustice of their distribution which leads to conflict. Though, politically, disagreement may lead to division, it is a sense of humiliation and disrespect that predisposes to violence and terrorism. These general conclusions imply that it is the way we deal with disturbed relations rather than the particular solutions we propose which is crucial for a positive outcome. This is a different way of addressing such problems.

Take the case of post-World War 2 Europe, which initially took coal and steel, and later economic co-operation and trade in general, as the instruments through which historic enemies could find common ground. The key issue was not to come up with a clever plan for what to do with particular resources or the Common Market—indeed the plans changed constantly—but to create, as was the case, a set of institutions through which new ways of relating with each other were developed, and, in particular, ways of disagreeing without going to war.

That required everyone to be at the table—not just big and powerful countries, and not just the Governments and governing parties either. It was especially important that traditional enemies, as well as historic allies, engaged with each other. Of course, we think particularly of France and Germany, but not them alone in the EU context. Such processes involved a great deal of time. They are not the result of some weekend retreat or peace conference. The survival of any agreements that they reach is dependent on continued, long-term involvement together, and the independent monitoring of agreements reached—in the case of the EU, through the Commission and the court.

The arms control processes and NCSCE are further large-scale examples of inclusive, semi-permanent institutions that brought traditional enemies together over long periods and which have demonstrated a degree of success. In many ways, the much more localised but relatively successful processes in South Africa and Northern Ireland have also demonstrated those characteristics of inclusivity and sustained involvement, until and beyond agreement, both by those directly involved and by interested parties from outside—the maintenance of the process being extremely important.

One key region where I have spent a good deal of time during the past three or four years is the Middle East, where I have been struck by a profound fear of the slide into chaos—a capacity for and an openness to thoughtful engagement on all sides. The kind of things that have repeatedly been said to me by leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah are so reminiscent of my conversations with Gerry Adams and his colleagues in the early days of the peace process. The anxieties of the unionist leaders and people, with which I have been very familiar for many years, are strikingly mirrored by the profound and realistic fears of many people who may have met in Israel.

I do not believe that any such situation, including the Israel-Palestinian problem, can be solved by splitting people into good guys and bad guys, however persuasive and tempting such a view may be. The problems are problems of disturbed and damaged relationships. They can be resolved only by giving people on all sides a sense of confidence that their concerns are appreciated and will be addressed, and by finding a way to create a process in which all of the players can engage.

I am very much aware that even the word "process" is a bad word in the Middle East, because of the profound disappointment at the failure of the Oslo process. Perhaps we must find another word, but the fact is that that way of working over a period is critical. It is a long-term proposition, I know, but even starting on the road can begin to change the climate of opinion, because people who are given a chance to state their case sense that they, and those whom they represent, are being treated with at least a modicum of respect. That can in itself be transformative.

That is not the situation in the Middle East. The current process is not inclusive. It appears to hiccup along with an increasing sense of despair on all sides. The post-Annapolis process, for example, like what went before, is overseen by a quartet that represents only external powers—nobody who lives in the region. A first step in inclusivity could involve expanding that instrument to include the Arab League. When I raised that with Secretary-General Amr Moussa, he said, "Of course I would welcome that. At the moment, they do not even pay attention to our concerns at the United Nations, where we are represented".

Could Her Majesty's Government see their way to supporting such a development? The Syrian Government have made very clear on a number of occasions their preparedness to engage. Our response should be to engage with them, not with the diplomacy of finger-wagging and threats, as has, sadly, being the case before now. The same is true of that most complex society in Iran, where there are senior figures who do not at all hold to the wilder public remarks of the president, but to find little possibility of engagement while the country as a whole is treated as a pariah and an enemy.

In a recent private meeting in Finland, at which Jeffrey Donaldson, Martin McGuinness and I, along with some others from Northern Ireland, as well as "Mac" Maharaj and Roelf Meyer from South Africa, met with a couple of dozen Sunni and Shia parliamentarians and senior leaders. Martin McGuinness made a very interesting comment, which was that he and his colleagues had come after a number of years to the conclusion that, they eventually had to engage with those with whom they disagreed. They could postpone it for five, ten or more years, but, in the end, it was a political problem that would have to be addressed politically. He challenged the Iraqis there that they could do the same: delay for five, 10 or more years and, in the end, come to the table, or, move more quickly and with the help of others from outside.

I have been gratified that my proposals, over the past few years, for an inclusive, semi-permanent conference, have been taken up by a number of research bodies. The Oxford Research Group in this country, the Strategic Foresight Group in India and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Germany, have all developed this theme, although in some cases, such as that of the Oxford Research Group, they have taken lines that significantly differ from what I have proposed. I have emphasised the importance of governmental and political involvement, while others have focused on NGOs and experts.

I raise this with Her Majesty's Government because we are at an important juncture. On the down side, there are vulnerable leaders in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the US presidency is coming to a close. However, for the first time, for some time, we have a US presidential election in which neither the vice-president nor vice-presidential incumbent are candidates. There will be a new administration at the end of this year and the beginning of the next. This gives a key opportunity for Her Majesty's Government to be imaginative, to build on our experience in Europe, Northern Ireland and elsewhere and to project a view—a strategy or an approach—to this important region in the Middle East that is positive and creative in developing western policy, rather than simply espousing and following others. I trust that it is possible for the Minister to give us a positive indication of this kind.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 8:52 pm, 22nd January 2008

My Lords, when I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had secured this debate—and I congratulate him on having done so—I wanted to participate for two reasons. The first was the importance of the issue. The second was that I knew that he, with all his experience, would, even in the short time available, give us an opportunity to think more reflectively and profoundly about some of the issues we face than is always possible in the immediate pressures. He has certainly set the tone. I am sure he would, however, join me for a moment in wanting to put on record, at a difficult time, appreciation and really a tribute to my noble friends in government for the determined lead that they have been giving on trying to find a solution. That applies to the Foreign Office, but also very much to DfID. In this context, the £243 million pledged at the Paris conference, the unqualified calls for the restoration of Gaza fuel supplies and the condemnation of the counterproductivity of unacceptable and internationally illegal collective punishment are welcome.

I have spent a lifetime, outside this House, working in organisations very much caught up in this sort of situation. One of the things that I have learnt is that building peace is very different from imposing or fixing peace. There are no shortcuts. Widespread ownership is essential to the process and that has to be inclusive. Of course, outsiders can play a part as facilitators, but the moment that they begin to cross the line and start wanting to arrange it all and set the agenda, there are difficulties ahead.

At the time of the first Camp David initiative under President Carter, I was Minister of State at the Foreign Office. When I reflect on that period, I realise that the flaw in his highly committed, dedicated approach was that it was not inclusive enough. I remember saying to some officials in the Foreign Office, "The trouble is, at the bottom of the pile, there are still very significant Palestinian elements who are not being included. They don't feel any sense of ownership of what is happening". One has to give priority to trying to cast ownership and inclusion as widely as one can, and the real challenge is to bring in the most difficult, not the easy ones with whom it is possible to talk. As an observer of Northern Ireland from across the water, what I thought took tremendous courage—no one should underestimate what it took in that situation—was the willingness to start talking to the political representatives of the IRA.

I think that the same is true of Hamas. I know that it will be difficult for my noble friend to agree to that, but I hope he takes the point. Hamas is not an absolutely frozen institution in which everyone is the same. There have been differences and there is pluralism in the organisation, although misguidedly the external pressures have done their best to eliminate that pluralism and drive control of Hamas into the hands of the extremists. Although it will take extraordinary imagination and courage by Israel, there needs to be a willingness to realise that securing the guarantees for Israel's existence—to which I take second place to nobody—may have to be something that comes out of the process rather than laying it down in tablets of stone as an unnegotiated precondition of any conversations or talks about how that objective can be achieved.

More widely in the region it means involving Syria and, yes, trying to involve Iran. I say that because, if I have learnt anything about conflict resolution, it is that one must avoid demonisation at all costs, and there have been some crassly insensitive and stupid things said about Iran. They demonstrate the total lack of a sense of history on the part of some of those who should know better. Iran is an extraordinarily significant regional power, at the moment feeling increasingly excluded. It will be a terrific challenge to bring Iran back into the fold, but if we really want stability in the region, what is the alternative? Incidentally, it has to be said that, in the polarisation, Iran is not the only potential nuclear threat in the region. Everyone knows that and to pretend to speak as though Iran is the only one does not help.

At this juncture I pay tribute to the courageous Israelis and Palestinians who see all this and stand for a negotiated, mutual approach, perhaps especially those brave personnel in the Israeli military who have refused to take part in operations which they think are unacceptable. In 1967, before I was in government, as a young Labour Back-Bencher, I was in Israel at the time of the war and became caught up in it. What impressed me at the time were the Israelis who said to me, "It's all right for some people to talk in these extreme terms, but we've got to build peace with these people in the future". I do not say that they were in the majority, but they were important voices. There have always been such Israelis, and we should seek all the time to strengthen their role.

The Middle East and the plight of the Palestinians is central to global security and recruitment for militant extremism, leading to terrorism across the world. Why is that? It is because there is a real sense of injustice, and to deny it is just stupidity. It is a sense of injustice compounded by frustration at what are seen as corrupt and at times brutal authoritarian Arab regimes with which we are prepared to deal. They are regimes seen by many of the Islamic faith as hypocritical in their religion. That again is an underlying truth we have to face. We may not like it but that is the reality, and perception becomes an important part of political reality.

All this is also underlined by what are seen as self-fulfilling prophecies about unreliable, ineffective government—for example, of the Palestinians—while fostering humiliation, instability and the impossibility of an effective, unified, well administered Palestine as a state, with the disruption and hardship caused by the wall, the attacks on centres of government, and all the adverse economic consequences of trade blocks and border harassment.

I declare an interest. I am a former director of Oxfam and remain close to it. Oxfam keeps me well briefed on its front-line experiences as of now—today—in this situation. The cuts in power have been having grave and far-reaching impact on water supplies, sewage systems, hospitals and healthcare in general. Like other NGOs in that area—as well as international institutions—my Oxfam friends have become exasperated at the consequences of violence and its total counterproductivity on both sides. It is absolutely counterproductive.

I will finish by quoting the present director of Oxfam, Barbara Stocking, whom I greatly admire. She has recently come back from the area and has been commenting on the most recent events. Her words are worth considering:

"The violence of the past week is a mark of the shameful failure of all parties to take the peace process forward. Blame can be endlessly debated. What must stop is the daily assault on the rights and security of civilians, Palestinian or Israeli".

If ever there were an example of the urgent indispensability of a co-ordinated European approach to these major international challenges, and of supporting those within the regimes who struggle to curb extremism and violence, this is it. We should be grateful to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 9:03 pm, 22nd January 2008

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for bringing about this debate tonight. We are all in his debt for doing so, and for allowing us the opportunity to have this discussion. The noble Lord played a distinguished role in the peace process in Northern Ireland as leader of the Alliance Party, as one of the negotiators involved in the Good Friday agreement, as Speaker in the Northern Ireland Assembly and recently in his work for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. He should know that in Grand Committee this afternoon in this House, Members of all parties paid tribute to the work of that commission and the progress it has made. He speaks with considerable authority and experience on these matters.

He has acknowledged that some of his views on the development of peace processes have changed. This evening, as on other recent occasions, he has made it clear that he is committed to the concept of the inclusion of the extremes as a necessary prerequisite. I think he would agree that this was not his starting point on these matters, but it is now his current position. There is no doubt at all, as I said, that he speaks with considerable knowledge of what has happened in Northern Ireland. I hope he will forgive me for also saying that he is perhaps influenced to a degree by his training as a psychiatrist in the ways he thinks about issues of human hurt and healing. If you take the Northern Ireland settlement as an example of community psychotherapy as it now operates, you can see that the noble Lord's work and training have not been in vain.

It is therefore with some reluctance that I question at least some of the assumptions that lie behind the noble Lord's argument today about the applicability of the Northern Ireland model to the Middle East. It is true that since Annapolis a kind of conference table has been constructed, even if it is not exactly along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, would like to see. The broad principles which underlie the approach of the quartet were summarised a long time ago, in the Rose Garden, by President Bush. Flanked by, among others, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, who is not as loved on the Liberal Democrat Benches as much as he might be, the president said:

"It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation. And the current situation offers no prospect that life will improve. Israeli citizens will continue to be victimised by terrorists, and so Israel will continue to defend herself ... My vision is two states, living side by side in peace and security ... The Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties, based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognised borders".

That scenario imposes heavy costs on Israel. But it is also clear that in President Bush's mind there was no place in this dialogue for parties which continue to use terror and deny the right of the Israeli state to survive. That is the broad context in which we are moving forward. Those remarks were made in June 2002 and, five and a half years on, in terms of the definition of the tragedy of the situation, they were fairly accurate.

Members of the House will be aware of the remarkable think tank associated with the name of Mr Peter Hain, the former Northern Ireland Secretary and now Works and Pensions Secretary. We were impressed that it had not produced any pamphlets, lectures and so on, but that can be misleading because it has made us forget that Mr Hain, as Northern Ireland Secretary, produced one major lecture at Chatham House, which I was fortunate to hear, in which he outlined his vision of the lessons of Northern Ireland for the Middle East and elsewhere. His argument there—which has, to a degree, been argued by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, today—was that the key thing in the Northern Ireland process was the avoidance of preconditions and that, for example, to say that Israel's right to exist must be accepted may be not an enabling precondition for the Middle East peace process.

That is not my view of what happened in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. In effect, all the parties were told in political terms, "You can have whatever settlement you want as long as you accept the principle of consent, power sharing plus an Irish dimension". It was Henry Fordism in politics; that is what they were all told. It is true that preconditions as regards arms being handed over were flouted, but on the broad political structures both the British and Irish Governments made it absolutely clear that there were very firm preconditions. Indeed, it was very interesting that Mr Hain, in answering questions, respected this difficulty in the way he dealt with the matter in discussions at Chatham House on that day.

The media today stress the lack of optimism of both Israelis and Palestinians about the Annapolis process. In fact, this lack of optimism is not a particularly significant indicator of the prospects of success one way or the other. Both peoples have long and bitter experience of the other. The citizens of Gaza who are suffering because of Israel's decision to close the local power station can hardly be expected to like it. The people of Israel recall that Israel left Gaza in 2005 and since then Gaza has been used not as a platform for democratic and economic Palestinian uplift but for attacks on Israel. Since then, more than 1,000 rockets have been fired into their state.

What matters is something else. Most Israelis have for a long time, according to polls, been in favour of an historic compromise. The most recent polls, which I read at the weekend, showed that 71 per cent of Palestinians, too, want their leaders to seek a peace settlement with Israel. Interestingly, for what it is worth, the same polls showed a drop in confidence in Hamas. These are difficult matters. All of us who are familiar with Northern Ireland know that these polls can be misleading but, none the less, they represent a comparison of like with like within the same polling organisation over a period of time.

In the end, everything here depends on the role of political elites. It is not true, as it is often sentimentally said of Northern Ireland, that the people were ahead of the politicians; it was the political elites that drove the process and surprised the people by achieving a result. Achieving a settlement in the Middle East will be a far more difficult task than it was in Northern Ireland. In the past two months two remarkable books have been produced from within the Jewish tradition and the Palestinian tradition: Professor Ruth Wisse's Jews and Power and Professor Sari Nusseibeh's Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life. Both books are written with profound and deep culture and historical imagination, yet the differences between both writers on fundamental points of politics and religion are greater than the differences that existed in Northern Ireland, if you take two books written by representative intellectuals of the two communities in the 1990s.

We have to respect how difficult this is going to be, given the generosity and wisdom of both those writers. Indeed, if we are to use an analogy from Ireland, it is more the Troubles of 1921-22 than those of the 1990s that are applicable. At that time the British state made a decision, in dealing with a revolutionary challenge, to make a deal with a more moderate faction and then at a later date allow the irreconcilables of that deal to come into the process; that is, if any Irish analogy applies in the first place.

In the time that remains for me, which is running out fast, I shall make some brief points about other differences that exist. One has already been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice—selfish strategic interest. The Middle East is awash with selfish strategic interest: Iraqi, Iranian, Chinese, Russian, American and so on. In Northern Ireland the precondition part of the agreement was dealt with when the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, declared in 1990 that Britain had no selfish strategic interest in Northern Ireland. The Irish state, for its part, eventually moved to remove its territorial claim from the constitution. Again, there is no comparison in the state of play within these movements. We now know that British intelligence had a very high level of penetration of the IRA and therefore knew a great deal about its level of war-weariness, in a way that no one knows about where Hamas and Hezbollah are to this day.

Then there is the level of hatred. Noble Lords may have listened at the weekend to the report on the BBC website of the words of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the goading, ghastly, horrific language that was used, about Hezbollah's possession of the body parts of Israeli soldiers. No IRA leader, no matter how cruel or solipsistic, would ever have used such language. It is a simple fact; that would have been beyond the pale. Again, it is an indication that we are dealing with deeper hatreds here, and we have to respect that. The noble Lords, Lord Kilclooney and Lord Maginnis, have just reached their 70th birthdays—people will know that they are very lucky to have done so because they survived assassination attempts—and they would say that no IRA leader would use such language.

I want to talk about the conflicts forum. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is a distinguished member of its advisory board. I have looked at some of Dr Assam Tamimi's texts. Dr Tamimi is controversial because some sections of the media have raised the issue of his views on suicide bombing, but I was more concerned about the general political tone: glee that earlier peace deals had failed, a sense of catastrophism and pleasure in the mounting catastrophe in the Middle East. That is really worrying. It is something the Israelis would find it difficult to cope with.

I understand and respect the good intentions behind the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. More than most people in this House, I know how much he has contributed to the peace process in Northern Ireland. However, inclusivity is not in itself a magical solution. It depends above all on the mood of the revolutionary movement you are dealing with. Is it war weary? Is it resigned, which was the case with the IRA in the 1990s, or is it maximalist, enthusiastic and increasingly bitter, which looks to be the case with Hamas and Hezbollah in the first decade of the 21st century? I regret that there is no sign that the resigned, war-weary mood that overtook the IRA in the 1990s is taking over Hezbollah and Hamas in the first decade of the 21st century.

Despite its great importance, we can at times overemphasise the Arab-Israeli dispute. We must remember also the work of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, on the Arab Human Development Report when he was the UN. It stressed the general issues of economic failure in that region, some of which are not fundamental consequences of Israeli policy. That was very important work by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, which also is worth placing in context. I thank again the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for giving us the chance to have this discussion this evening.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 9:16 pm, 22nd January 2008

My Lords, this debate is partly about Northern Ireland as well as the Middle East, and I am conscious that I am one of the participants who is less expert on Northern Ireland than most. I have some strong memories of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, on which the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, partly bases his proposal. It was a Soviet initiative, intended to hold to the status quo of Soviet domination over eastern Europe and cleverly used by the Germans above all to begin to change the nature of the discussion between hostile states in western and eastern Europe. It left us with the problem of how we dealt with states and dissident groups. The Charter 77 groups, which used the Helsinki final act as a lever and a rationale for standing up against their Governments, were not something with which western Governments found it easy to deal. Did we deal formally with the socialist states, or did we support those who opposed them? It is not such an easy model on which to base this proposal.

However, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Alderdice in his suggestion that we need to build a broader group in which to operate, that we need to treat the region as a whole, and that we have to bring the Arab League more formally into the discussion about the future of the Israel-Palestine peace process. At my own party conference, we passed a resolution on the Arab-Israeli negotiations in which we called for the quartet to be expanded into a quintet, bringing in the Arab League. It is clear that the Saudis are key players. What Prince Turki said yesterday in Germany about opening up the rest of the Middle East to the Israeli economy after a settlement was a very positive step forward. We do not know how much it represents the views of the rest of the Saudi Government, but there are ways in which we clearly need to grasp at everything which is possible.

The CSCE included powers from outside the region—the United States and the Soviet Union. It is clear to all of us that, in any move towards a process for negotiations about the region, Israel will not accept being left on its own. The United States, the European Union and probably Russia have to be engaged as counterweights to the Arab League. I take it as given that the United Kingdom cannot usefully act alone—that we have to make the best of our role as a player within the European Union, which is part of the quartet.

As noble Lords have already said, there is also the problem of movements and what we do about those powerful, non-state actors, particularly Hezbollah. Whether we regard Hamas as part of the Palestine Government—it was elected as so—or as a hostile movement is a question with which we have to grapple. It is a huge mistake of the Israeli and American Governments to attempt to delegitimise Hamas, which is what they are doing, in the hope that collective punishment in Gaza will reduce popular support for Hamas, relegitimise Fatah and so provide a more reasonable Palestinian authority with which to negotiate. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, will remember the long history of British Governments preferring to choose the more reasonable people in Northern Ireland with whom to negotiate rather than negotiating with the less reasonable people. It was not always very successful there, unfortunately.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has talked about some of the immediate issues. We shall get nowhere if Gaza collapses. The immediate humanitarian crisis there has to be dealt with. I was briefed today by a distinguished Israeli academic on the current situation there. I have to say that he is remarkably optimistic that President Bush's recent initiatives and the clear change of direction from the US Administration is going to take us forward relatively rapidly towards the beginnings of a settlement. I hope that he is right, but we will not achieve that if Hamas collapses into civil war and disorder in the next few weeks. We have to grapple with that—which means that we cannot entirely ignore Hamas.

I am happy to understand that there are informal conversations going on between the Americans and Syria. That is very positive. When we look at it, we all understand that there is a basis for an agreement between the United States and Syria. One knows what the only acceptable settlement between Israel and Palestine could be in outline, but I fear that reaching even the heads of agreement of that between now and next January 20, when President Bush leaves office, leaves us very short of time.

We also agree that we must be inclusive with regard to the current Iranian regime; nothing would do more to weaken the power of President Ahmadinejad than for us to embrace the Iranian regime, offer it security guarantees and show the Iranian public that the West is not fundamentally hostile to Iran. We have to hope that we get over these short-term disagreements. I desperately hope that President Bush is able to push things forward, that Prime Minister Olmert can carry his Government—having lost the right, holding on to the left—and that there are a Palestinian Government able to respond with the positive support of the Saudis, a more constructive response from Syria and a constructive response from Egypt. The question is how we make that stick.

However far these negotiators get in the nine months, they can achieve only the beginnings of a different peace process. That is where the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has some very useful things to say about a collective continuing conference for the region, with outside support, which will open up economic exchanges and encourage social interaction and educational interchange. The Middle East already has some advantages over a wider Europe in the 1970s and early 1980s, when we had great difficulty communicating across the east and west of Europe. Western television reached only parts of East Germany and western radio was jammed, but television carries all the way across the Middle East, and multichannels with different programmes and points of view are already beginning to transform the discussions within some of those authoritarian regimes.

We need to bring together Iran and the Arabs across the Gulf region and the Arabs and Israelis across the Fertile Crescent. Whether we can also include the countries of the Maghreb I am not entirely sure; it saddens me desperately that that Algerian border remains closed with Morocco and Tunis. Both those neighbours of Algeria should be trading actively and interacting tremendously closely, or the Maghreb simply does not work, never mind sorting out the detail.

I urge the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, to outline support—to encourage us to believe that the European Union would like a more active and continuing multilateral process rather than just have the external quartet handle the immediate problem of the Arab-Israeli process and the longer-term problem of how we build a more peaceful and economically integrated Middle East.

Photo of Lord Trimble Lord Trimble Conservative 9:25 pm, 22nd January 2008

My Lords, I join other noble Lords who have offered their congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, on bringing about this debate. The noble Lord and I have a similar background and we have worked together, so I also wish to acknowledge the considerable contribution that he made to the positive developments that have taken place in Northern Ireland over recent years. Although he may not be aware of the full details, one thing I remember fondly from the final day of those talks nearly 10 years ago was the occasion on which I managed to prevent a member of my party from physically assaulting him.

It is natural, given the positive experience in Northern Ireland, for us to look at other areas in the world to see whether there are ways in which the example can help or lessons can be drawn. But we must approach this very cautiously. We may be dealing with similar issues, but in every situation there are different circumstances and different histories and we must treat each case on its own merits. We must not approach a situation with a vision that is conditioned from somewhere else. Reference was made to respect for the parties. If we approach a situation such as the Middle East and say, "We did this in Northern Ireland therefore you should do it", we would not be paying respect to the parties there. We should follow through what we mean in that situation.

I was fascinated by the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, about 1920 being a more relevant comparison with regard to the Middle East than 1998. I can see where he is coming from, as they say, but I do not want to get involved in a detailed discussion. It would make an excellent seminar to be held in another place, but cannot be included in speeches limited to a few minutes, as we have here.

I emphasise that we must be careful about drawing analogies and about reading over from one situation to another, but I see some points of similarity. Again, referring to comments that were made about respecting the parties and individuals, that ties up with the centrality in the Northern Ireland situation of the principle of consent. That was not fully followed in practice by successive British Governments in the early days, when they sought to impose their views, but in the latter stage, the existence of the respect for that principle was crucial in giving parties the confidence to enter into discussions, which might otherwise have been quite difficult, and to fashion their outcome.

Equally important—and this should help to clarify some of the issues with regard to participants in the situation in the Middle East—was the emphasis on having a democratic basis for involvement. That determined that parties should have a mandate, and that only those parties with a mandate could be involved. We were dealing with parties inside a state whereas in the Middle East there are competing states and non-state parties as well. There are differences and we should be cautious in terms of how we proceed.

I am with the noble Lord, Lord Bew, on the question of the conditionality of the process and in expressing scepticism about the suggestion that one should drop preconditions and engage in inclusive dialogue with everyone, no matter how unpleasant and nasty they appear to be. In Northern Ireland, the process was highly conditional—not only on there being a complete cessation of violence, as the noble Lord suggested in a Question the other day; there were also the conditions summed up in the Mitchell principles and preshadowed in the Downing Street Declaration of 1993. The endorsement of the Mitchell principles by the republican leadership led to a major split in that organisation and bound it into a democratic and peaceful process. As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, from the Downing Street Declaration right through to the framework document, there was a degree of conditionality as to outcome. Stating the consent principle and requiring people to endorse it also conditioned the outcome because that meant there could be only one outcome to the basic underlying constitutional issue. But we have to be careful; this was a more conditional process than some people now recollect.

Reference was made to the paper published in, I believe, July of last year by Peter Hain. Some noble Lords may know that I responded to it in a paper published at the end of September entitled Misunderstanding Ulster, in which I went into detail on these matters. I refer noble Lords to that and if they have difficulty finding it they can obtain it on my website free of charge. In fact, it is free anywhere you get it, but that is by the way.

I note the proposal that is made regarding the development of talks in the Middle East but I am not sure that it will be helpful at present. We have a process which has been going on for a long time although it is episodic. It started at Oslo. To my mind the crucial thing that happened at Oslo was that a significant section of the Israeli body politic came to the conclusion that it had to divide the land and that there had to be a two-state solution rather than Israel continuing in occupation. As we know, that decision at Oslo was controversial at that stage within the Israeli body politic. But by the time of Camp David there was a clear majority within Israel for a compromise solution, and the conversion of Sharon to that view was hugely significant. While Likud might stand a little detached from the process at the moment, in view of what Sharon did I very much suspect that it will come back into it on the same terms that Sharon would have done. So I think there has been a sea change in politics in Israel.

It is not so clear whether there has been a similar sea change within Arab or Palestinian politics. I note the opinion poll that was referred to. We see the commitment of the Palestinian Authority leadership at the moment, but there must be huge reservations about whether Palestinian, let alone Arab, opinion is ready for a two-state solution at this stage. But there is a process even if, as I say, it has been episodic. It went from Oslo to Camp David, to the attempt a couple of years ago to start talks, to the talks that are now taking place. While one may regard the quartet as being outside it, or in some way supervising it, those are essentially talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But the talks will go wider. Reference was made to Saudi Arabia. Because the talks will necessarily have to deal with the Temple Mount, the Saudi Arabians, as the keepers of the holy places, will inevitably be involved, as they were involved at Camp David in giving approval to the regime for the governance and administration of the Temple Mount.

If there is a prospect of agreement, Syria will want to come in because it will want Golan, but there cannot be a resolution of the situation with Syria unless the Lebanon is sorted out because while the frontier on the Golan is quiet, that is mainly because Syria is conducting a proxy war through the Lebanon, so it involves sorting out the Lebanon as well. It comes back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made about the importance of the Israel/Palestine issue. It has general symbolic status but trying to resolve it involves going broader and wider, and that will inevitably happen.

I do not want to spend too much time commenting on the particular situation. The position of the Conservative Party is clear. We believe that the peace process ought to be based, and concluded, on the basis of a two-state solution. The final settlement should be the outcome of negotiations and envisage a secure Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state. The Conservative Party remains opposed to steps by either side that would compromise the two-state solution, which remains the only hope for a lasting peace in the region. However, a two-state solution does mean that the parties are prepared not to seek victory, but to accept an accommodation. While people may criticise the quartet conditions on accepting the state of Israel and all the rest of it, it really comes down to that issue: are they prepared to have a compromise outcome or are they still seeking victory?

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, quoted Martin McGuinness in a recent meeting at which he said the republican movement eventually came to the conclusion that it would have to engage with others. Decoded, that means that the republican movement came to the conclusion that it could not achieve a victory over others and that it would have to settle for the continued existence of the other and, therefore, accommodate itself. The republican movement came to that conclusion because its violence had failed; not only had it failed but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, it had become so thoroughly penetrated by intelligence that it faced defeat. It is not polite to say that, because we had a negotiated outcome with which I am very content, but the reality lying behind that is that the republican movement came into that process with a degree of reluctance, because it had nowhere else to go. We have had so many difficulties with the implementation of that process since 1998 because of that same degree of reluctance. That is true not just of the republican movement but of the Democratic Unionist Party. We now see two parties that perhaps would have preferred something else ending up together because they had nowhere else to go.

We may find a similar situation in Israel and Palestine, because, at the end of the day, Israelis and Palestinians have to accept that the other is not going to go away and they have to find an accommodation, which will be a two-state solution. When we see the full account of what happened at Camp David, we will discover how very close it came to a successful outcome and how, when we get a successful outcome between Israel and Palestine—which may happen this year, but may not be until some subsequent point—it will turn out to be very close to the arrangements and final offers made to the Palestinians at Camp David regarding the borders of the state. Those offers have not been fully disclosed, but enough broad hints have been dropped to enable one to work out what they are.

At the end of the day it will come down to both those parties being prepared to accept the other and then to work out a modus vivendi. That will take time, particularly in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, on the degree of antipathy that exists in that situation. But there is no other place for the parties to go. We should do what we can to assist them in doing it, but we will not do anyone any favours by glossing over the need for one to accept the other and to move away from an attempt to achieve a total victory.

At present, there are some groups in some states that want that situation. We do not do them any favours by encouraging them to stay in that position. We do them favours by reminding them of the broad basic principles that have to underlie the settlement and the need for them to accept those principles.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN) 9:38 pm, 22nd January 2008

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for initiating the debate. I suspect that I share with all those who have spoken who are neither Northern Irish nor Arab or Israeli the view that we have been allowed to sit in on a very special discussion between three fine Northern Irishmen. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, that this was not the time for a seminar, every now and again I wanted to close my eyes, lean back and think that I was back in the best kind of graduate seminar where we had three extraordinarily well informed points of view on what were or were not the lessons of Ulster for the Palestinian-Israeli problem of today.

For those of us not wise enough to be able to conclude who was right and who was wrong on the lessons drawn, there was nevertheless one common conclusion: that, for those of us who remember both conflicts, in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, and the frustration that we all felt in seeing so many of the world's other conflicts resolved, these two intractable stubborn ones just sat out there, refusing, it seemed, to bend to reason or solution. We were all struck by the statesmanship and vision of those men and women of Northern Ireland who brought that conflict successfully to port and to peace. We can draw the general conclusion: if Northern Ireland, why not Palestine and Israel? This discussion gives us cause for hope. There should be no conflict from which we cannot find a peaceful way forward. We all support the peace process in the Middle East. But we are also aware—as we heard from three noble Lords tonight—that it is the parties themselves that make the key decisions. There was a discussion about which side drew their conclusions for peace when and where. But in some ways the British, while vital to this process, nevertheless were secondary to the decisions of the immediate parties in Northern Ireland. The lesson here is that without the buy-in of Arab neighbours, of different Palestinian groups and of Israelis, no approach can be effective. The international community must stand ready to help where it can, but ultimate responsibility for the details of the negotiations must be taken by the parties themselves.

This Government work hard to help the peace process become sufficiently robust to survive any setbacks. The bedrock of our approach to the Middle East peace process remains our unstinting support for the principle of a two-state solution. We give every support to those who are committed to peaceful progress in the region, and we support economic and social development across the Occupied Palestinian Territories. First under Jim Wolfensohn and now under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, we have been proud to support efforts to build that economic self-interest that was referred to earlier in the context of the European Union—where driving self-interest allowed political institutions to be built on top of it, and conflict could be contained within peaceful debate around a table—and to encourage people no longer to resort to violence. Similarly in the Middle East, we hope to create the underpinnings of a peace that will provide a basis on which political trust can be built.

Although we remain open to initiatives and certainly to the ideas that were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in terms of the table, we want to make sure that we do not displace or confuse the existing initiatives that are working towards a two-state solution. We have great hopes for what began at Annapolis. To those who have pointed out that the peace process in Northern Ireland was heavily conditioned, I say that we still look for the commitment of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah to peaceful progress in the region. We continue to call on Hamas to adhere to the quartet's principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map. We still consider that these principles are not unreasonable and remain the fundamental conditions for a viable peace process. A political dialogue is impossible so long as one party is dedicated to violence and the destruction of the other. The option for engagement is in the hands of Hamas and Hezbollah. In saying that, we in no way condone Israel's blockade of assistance to Gaza and its continued building of settlements that we consider illegal. In that sense, we appeal to both sides to hold back in order to create the space for peace and to learn the lesson of Northern Ireland that peace talks must be built on acceptance by both sides of the principle of the other's right to exist. There is no way round the fact that they share a geographic space and must learn to live with each other.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, raised the question of the quartet's representativeness—a point echoed by others—and asked whether there should at least be room for it to become a quintet with the addition of the Arab League. Obviously, in its original conception the quartet was exactly that—outside. The idea was to provide a group of outside friends to try to encourage the local parties and neighbours to move forward in a peace process. They were the external guarantors, and it was deliberately intended that the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN should not be privy to the conflict.

However, the Annapolis process, which is much wider but therefore much more inclusive because it contains essentially everyone with an interest in the conflict, wherever they are geographically located, is an attempt to create a more inclusive situation while allowing the United States, as the country that everyone looks to as being critical in the whole situation, a lead role, even beyond the one that it has played in the quartet.

Going forward, the question is: how do we find a balance between the external guarantors and drivers of the process while allowing space not just for the Israelis and Palestinians but for the neighbours in the Arab region to play an adequate role and, indeed, for the peace process to touch not just on the Palestinian/Israeli issue but at least on Syria and Lebanon as well? Although the matter has not been raised tonight, I know that there are those in the House who think that the Middle East region needs to organise itself into something like an OSCE in order to provide the opportunity for it to set, and monitor, its own standards in human rights, governance and peaceful coexistence.

In that regard, I am very grateful for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, on the Arab Human Development Reports. In commissioning those reports, it was my hope that they would spur the Governments of the region to take the quality of governance and human rights and the political and economic progress of their region into their own hands. The message of the reports was, rightly, that you cannot blame everything on the Arab/Israeli conflict. Indeed, you need to look wider and understand that history is passing you by because you have chosen to allow yourself to be caught in the rut of ancient conflicts as the rest of the world moves on.

Prime Minister Fayyad was in London earlier today and met my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. It is through leaders such as him and President Abbas on the one side and Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni and Minister Barak on the other that we have seen in the past few months a real glimpse of progress. We hope that what began at Annapolis will follow through to real peace. In that regard, I devoutly hope that the unexpected optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, around an American diplomatic initiative is well placed and that it will lead to progress this year. None of us can doubt the real commitment of President Bush and Secretary of State Rice to try to notch up a success in this area before they leave office at the end of the year.

As I have said, the role that our Northern Ireland colleagues and Peers have played tonight reminds us of both what is possible and how high a mountain we have to climb. Nor is it a static mountain, as my noble friend Lord Judd and others have pointed out. This is a time when the humanitarian situation in Gaza only worsens. The level of deprivation for the people of that stricken area only grows. This is not a situation that can wait for ever for peace.

Therefore, we need to take inspiration from the three Peers of Northern Ireland who have spoken tonight. Perhaps I may quote one other great leader of that province. As John Hume said in his Nobel lecture in 1998, before any of us knew that peace would conclude successfully, at a moment when, perhaps, it looked almost as distant as peace in the Middle East looks today:

"The challenge now is to grasp and shape history; to show that past grievances and injustices can give way to a new generosity of spirit and action".

That is the real measure and spirit of what our colleagues said tonight. They reminded us that where there is a will, there is a way.