Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:25 pm on 22nd January 2008.

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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.