Gaza — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 12th January 2009.

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Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN) 3:45 pm, 12th January 2009

My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows.

"With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on the appalling situation in Gaza. The fighting continues, but the bald statistics of the rising death toll do justice neither to the scale of the suffering nor to the ramifications of the conflict. I said at the UN last Tuesday that the crisis was an indictment of the international community's collective failure, over years and decades—not just months—to bring about the two-state solution that offers the only prospect of lasting peace in the Middle East, but there are also more proximate causes of the current conflict.

The Gaza truce of June to December 2008 was less than a ceasefire. More than 300 rockets were fired into Israel. Eighteen Palestinians were killed in Israeli military incursions into Gaza. The humanitarian situation in Gaza went from bad to worse as the Israeli Government restricted the supply of goods, fuel and aid into Gaza. The political negotiations for a viable Palestinian state proceeded too slowly. The immediate trigger for Israeli military action on 27 December was the end of the truce. Hamas refused to extend the lull, and instead fired almost 300 rockets into Israel between 19 and 27 December. Those rockets and the hundreds fired since were a cruel choice by Hamas to target Israeli civilians and to reject again the fragile peace negotiations that had been taking place between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government since the Annapolis conference in late 2007.

However, whatever the trigger, the immediate consequence of Israeli military action over the past fortnight is also very clear. More than 800 are dead, many of them civilians, apparently more than 250 of them children—the most terrible statistic of all—and thousands injured: the horror of war on top of months of deprivation. The quartet envoy, Tony Blair, went so far as to call the situation in Gaza "hell". The shortages of food, fuel and medicine are acute. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has had to suspend its activities. The Swedish Foreign Minister told me yesterday that a church-run medical centre was bombed. The scale of suffering that is already evident is immense.

Today I met a group of leading independent NGOs which are active in delivering humanitarian aid in Gaza. Every day these NGOs have to decide whether it is safe for staff to work in Gaza. Tragically several have been killed or injured. Their concerns bear reporting in this House. Sixty trucks a day are currently entering Gaza, which is less than one-sixth of the 400 necessary. The current three-hour daily pause in fighting, while better than nothing, is deeply flawed in its practical effect. The blockages on people leaving Gaza for medical attention are profound. Extremely serious allegations about the conduct of both sides during this conflict have been made by the ICRC and others. These allegations must be properly investigated.

Since the beginning of Israeli military action in Gaza, both the Prime Minister and I have called publicly and privately for an immediate ceasefire. On the first day of the conflict the United Nations Security Council, with the support of the British Government, called for an "immediate halt to the fighting". The EU presidency also called for "an immediate end to hostilities" and described the use of force as "disproportionate". The British Government support this view.

The emergency meeting of EU Foreign Ministers called, with my support, on 30 December for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, urgent humanitarian steps, including opening of crossings, and action on the illegal traffic in arms and their components into Gaza. On 3 January we said that the escalation of the conflict to include a ground offensive would cause alarm and dismay, as well as more death and destruction.

These issues were at the heart of three days of negotiation last week at the UN. Our priority was for a loud, clear and unified message to come from the UNSC. This was achieved in UNSC Resolution 1860, introduced in Britain's name and the product of intensive unified work by Secretary Rice, French Foreign Minister Kouchner and myself, working to find common ground with the Arab League delegation, led by His Royal Highness Prince Saud of Saudi Arabia.

SCR 1860 is clear in its call for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire leading to full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. It also denounces all acts of terrorism. It summarises well the agenda of action of the British Government in the search for a ceasefire and sets out authoritatively what the international community expects to be implemented. This is what the Prime Minister and I have been working on over the weekend and will continue to focus on this week.

First, relief is needed for the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza. Emergency aid is essential, and Britain has added £10 million to its aid contribution since the conflict began. We will continue to support the United Nations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent and other international agencies that have the infrastructure and expertise to lead the humanitarian response in Gaza. But international aid agencies need the wholehearted support of the Israeli Government, and I urge the Israeli Government to provide it. In truth, only a ceasefire and opening of the crossings on the basis of the 2005 Israel/Palestinian Authority agreement can deliver sustained progress.

Secondly, there need to be security improvements—above all, a curb on the trafficking of illegal arms into Gaza. These armaments are the source of fear for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, some of whom I talked to in Sderot in November. They are also a threat to any prospect of Palestinian reconciliation, designed as they are to entrench the power of Hamas in Gaza in defiance of President Abbas's call for "One Authority, one source of security". I spoke twice yesterday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit on this issue and commend Egyptian efforts to develop further action on this front, and I urge that the direct talks between Egypt and Israel be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.

Finally, there is a political imperative to re-establish the unity of the Palestinian people under the leadership of the PA. I continue to be convinced that the division of Palestinian political authority needs to be addressed. Egypt and the Arab League continue to mediate between Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions. The aim must be a strong Palestinian Authority speaking for all Palestinians, committed to the two-state end and peaceful means upheld by the vast majority of Palestinians. So the resolution is clear. But the passage of the resolution on Thursday night New York time was followed within hours by its rejection by both sides to the conflict.

The resolution calls on all states in the region to support peace efforts. The Prime Minister and I have been in close touch with the Israeli Government since the onset of this crisis. The Israeli Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister argued strongly against any UN resolution. Their argument is that there can be no equivalence between a democratic state and a terrorist organisation.

There is and can be no equivalence. Hamas has shown itself over a number of years ready to be murderous in word and deed. Its motif is "resistance" and its method includes terrorism. Israel, meanwhile, is a thriving, democratic state with an independent judiciary. But one consequence of the distinction between a democratic government and a terrorist organisation is that democratic governments are held to significantly higher standards, notably by their own people. That is one reason we supported Resolution 1860—to uphold the standards on which Israel and the rest of us depend. As a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, Israel's best defence is to show leadership in finding a political solution to this crisis and to comply with the standards of international humanitarian law.

A week before the onset of a new American presidency, immediate issues of life and death need to be addressed. We are working with Egypt, the US, European partners, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, all of whom are playing a role in talking to various of the parties. The UN Secretary-General is in the region today. The focus of all our efforts is to implement the resolution.

Over the past 40 years in the Middle East, the immediate has become the long term. Short-term conflict has become long-term division. So while the current hostilities require urgent attention and action, so too do the medium term and the long term. War cannot address that.

The Government stand four-square behind UNSCRs 1850 and 1860, which call for renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace. Security and justice for a Palestinian state depends on a political settlement that defends its existence and cherishes its rights. Security and justice for Israel depends on the same political settlement that cherishes its existence and defends its rights.

Our vision must be of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, with secure and recognised borders. As the vision comes under threat, it bears repeating. The Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel recognition by, and normalization of relations with, the 22 Arab League states, and to which Israel's leaders had started at the end of last year to respond favourably, provides the right regional comprehensive vision for progress.

At a time of war on the current scale, these words can seem worthless, but it is the war that pushes them out of reach. That is one further reason why the current war needs to be brought to an end before further loss of life renders the vision unattainable, as those committed to necessary compromise are marginalised.

Mr Speaker, I hope that you will let me conclude on the following point. Peace benefits Israelis and Palestinians; war kills both. They are destined to live next door to each other. They can do so either as combatants or as neighbours. We are committed to help them do the latter. That is what Israelis need and Palestinians need; it is also what we need before it is too late".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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"The Gaza truce of June to December 2008 was less than a ceasefire. Over 300 rockets were fired into Israel. 18 Palestinians were killed in Israeli military incursions into Gaza... But the immediate trigger for Israeli military action on 27 December was the end of the truce."

This speech appears very confused and whether intentionally or not is completely misleading, even deceitful. Where is the timeline? It appears completely back to front.

Fact: Israel never abided by the ceasefire, it was continually attacking Palestinian farmers on their land and fishermen in their boats. Isreal was starving the Palestinians -this is called genocide, it is what Hitler did to his victims in the Nazi concentration camps. Israel was conducting air raids and ground incursions into Gaza and endless assassinations. Homemade rockets were fired in response to these attacks. It is Israel who triggered this Holocaust. If you are not sure of the timeline check out this collection of articles from the main stream press and Amnesty. http://www.creative-i.info/?p=3421

Submitted by Maha Aldoujaily

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:57 pm, 12th January 2009

My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the Minister for repeating this long, sombre, but very important Statement. I am sure that he accepts that we on this side of the House—and, I suspect, all your Lordships—fully share in the universal grief over the sickening, tragic and unbearable nature of what has occurred and is occurring—the dreadful fatalities and casualties among civilians, the 250 children dead as the Statement reminded us, whole families in the Gaza Strip wiped out, and the fear and deaths on the Israeli side brought about by the unending rain of rockets and missiles on people's homes and towns, bringing all normal life to a standstill. Indeed, as the Statement reminded us, 300 rockets fell between the 19 and 27 December alone, paralysing life in nearby Israeli towns.

Does he Minister agree that, at least at this moment, there is little to be gained from the blame game of how the truce of last June came to such a violent end? The New Statesman must be right in describing the resumed Hamas firing of rockets into Sderot, Beersheba and other Israeli towns as "a grotesque and pointless provocation".

We welcome UN Security Council Resolution 1860 and the work that went into achieving it, but does the Minister agree that the central and urgent task now is a ceasefire on both sides, of which the main components are very obvious; namely, a firm halt to the rocket and missile attacks and the smuggling-in of new and more sophisticated missile weapons on the Hamas side, and the end of the fearsome bombing and an opening of the borders on the Israeli side, allowing humanitarian emergency aid at last to go ahead full steam where it is so vitally needed?

Is not the first move on both sides one of psychology, almost of states of mind? Do not the combatants, any mediators and the international community have to stretch their minds? This requires big minds to look with compassion both on the terrified and besieged people of Gaza, among whom the militant Hamas has embedded itself, and on the people of Israel, who live in fear or have been destroyed by the awful randomness of rocket fire. That said, since Israel is clearly the dominant military power, is it not bound now to have to make the first unblocking move by stopping the bombing and the ground raids, whether or not it thinks that it has crushed Hamas, which is probably a completely impossible objective anyway? Does not any such move have to be followed immediately by an end of the rocketry and, after that, by Israel's lifting of the sanctions on Gaza to allow in food, water, electricity and vital supplies—and, on the Hamas side, a halt to the constant smuggling in of weapons from the tunnels that have their entrance in the Sinai desert?

Beyond that, can the Minister say more on what is envisaged for the all-important role of the international force, which will be necessary to supervise this initial agreement and open the way for more agreements and, eventually, a massive rebuilding of ruined Gaza? What are the particular British skills, diplomatic and technical, that can be brought to bear in constructing that pathway? Does the Minister agree with the wise words reported yesterday of Prince Turki-al Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador here, known to many of your Lordships, who has counselled not only a stronger American line from the new Obama Administration but a new security co-operation body for the region, which would include not only the United States but also the EU countries as well as Russia, India, China and Egypt, along with the Gulf Co-operation Council states and those of the Arab peninsula? Might it not be this grouping, not just another western line-up, that could then press successfully for a major reconstruction and a reunification of the whole of Palestine, which has been split by the Hamas-Al Fatah rivalry, and for the Israelis finally to curb their more extreme settlers and tell those living in what will patently be Palestine that they must become citizens of a Palestinian state and live by its laws, or go?

A climate of discourse simply must replace the climate of hate and extremism that now dominates. That is the only way in which Israel will ever get security and the only way in which a united Palestine will come into being. It is also the only way in which the rest of the region can ever hope for stability, rather than war without end, hatred on the streets and the deliberate promotion of nihilist revolution and chaos by Iran—even though Iran is Shia and Hamas are Sunnis—and by Iran's other surrogates.

We have unique experience and understanding to contribute to this better future and we therefore hope that the Government are putting forward to the Obama team ideas and perspectives that can lead America to play a much more constructive role and help to prevent the whole scene cascading into a wider and even more dangerous zone of war and total destabilisation.

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The actual quote from the Newstatesman which you took out of context was:"..the first recorded incident of the latest stage of the war occurred on 4 November, when Israeli special forces entered the Gaza Strip and killed six militants. On 5 November, Hamas resumed its rocket attacks and Israel increased the severity of the blockade, which it had never fully lifted, and which has turned Gaza into a kind of open prison, a place of misery and hopelessness. Supplies of food, fuel and medicine were cut off and it was plain that a humanitarian disaster was developing. In the circumstances, that Hamas continued to fire rockets into Sderot and other towns in south-west Israel was a grotesque and pointless provocation.." What the Newstatesmen and you do not mention are that Gaza and its people as I mentioned in previous comment have been continuously under attack. What else can they do but try to defend themselves, do you suggest they lie down and die?

Submitted by Maha Aldoujaily

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 4:03 pm, 12th January 2009

My Lords, we welcome the Government's Statement and the constructive role that they have taken in drafting and securing UN Security Council Resolution 1860, calling for a ceasefire and withdrawal of the Israeli forces from Gaza. It is a much more satisfactory approach from the Government than what we first heard at the beginning of the conflict a week ago.

This is a tragedy for Gaza and, as it seems to many of us, a strategic disaster for Israel. Those of us who are committed to the long-term security of Israel within a two-state solution recognise that that can be built only on the consent and co-operation of both sides. We now see how Gaza is clearly a problem that must be part of the peace process. Clearly, neither Israel nor Egypt wants to have to inherit the 1.5 million people stuck in Gaza, heavily concentrated and suffering from effective economic siege over the past three years. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has just said, Israel has been the occupying power in Gaza for much of the past 40 years. It therefore has to accept some of the responsibility for the current state of Gaza and for the current bitter attitude of its population. The deteriorating situation for these people of course drives them towards increasing radicalism. All the evidence we have from Vietnam and from studies of British and German people in World War II is that bombing promotes radicalisation. Bombing does not encourage people to give in and accept whatever terms they are offered by the other side.

In the process of this war we are also seeing radicalisation across the Middle East and less willingness on the Arab street to accept a two-state solution or a permanent presence for Israel in the Middle East within its 1967 borders. Therefore, the British Government, with their European partners and with the United States—after all, as part of the EU we are a member of the quartet—need to promote conversations with Syria and other Arab Governments; take up again the Saudi peace offer; work with the new Obama Administration; and re-launch a realistic Middle East peace process which must involve both a withdrawal of Israel's settlements and army posts within the West Bank and a solution to the multiple problems of Gaza.

We also recognise that this has a backwash, as we have already seen this weekend, within the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that communities within the United Kingdom with interests or faith connections to the region are encouraged to promote moderation and compromise and not to give their support to the more partisan, radical and intransigent elements on both sides in this conflict. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can establish long-term peace and security without the co-operation and consent of the other in a shared land. The tragedy of Israel's intervention is that it is based on the belief that peace in Israel can be maintained through repeated humiliation of its neighbours.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN) 4:07 pm, 12th January 2009

My Lords, I thank both Benches opposite for the support they offered to British policy. I think that all recognise just how difficult this is—the cover of this week's Economist said it all, describing this as a 100-year conflict. The roots go deep. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, while the blame game is not the way to go when we need to look forward, the difficulty is that both sides expect to hear us touch certain bases before they are willing even to open their ears to any proposal we have. My colleagues the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have done a very good job in recent days of walking through this minefield in trying to arrive at a balanced position.

However, as would perhaps be the case for a conflict of 100 years' or longer duration, balance is not always welcome. The reaction in Israel to Resolution 1860 has been negative, to put it mildly, across most shades of political opinion as well as in public opinion, where levels of support for the war remain high. There is a feeling among Palestinians that it is too little, too late. In Palestinian eyes, the long bias of western policy is not corrected by this resolution. Therefore, we in government—indeed, all noble Lords who care about the Middle East—must fight hard to make heard our voices as well as our calls for moderation and the end of violence, at a time when passions are high and people immediately revert to more extremist, violent positions in both language and deed.

We support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the process must start on both sides with the stopping of the bombings and the rockets attacks. Certainly, if we are to proceed successfully towards a sustainable ceasefire, the sheer size of the Israeli arsenal means that Israel needs to demonstrate clearly that it has suspended its aerial and ground operations. However, as many have said both in Israel and outside it, the difficulty with Resolution 1860 is that a ceasefire alone may not be sustainable: it must go to the broader agenda of opening the crossings as well as steps to prevent arms smuggling and the renewal of Hamas' weapons supplies. Israel must have confidence that its civilians will not come under rocket attack again and that any ceasefire will hold.

I certainly take the point about the "rebuilding of Gaza". My shoulders, like those of other noble Lords, slump when I hear that phrase. How many times have we already "rebuilt Gaza"? As a UNDP administrator, I opened a civilian airport building at Gaza airport. As I did so, a Palestinian official whispered into my ear, "You'll be back. You'll have to reopen it again—and probably several more times after that, because it will be knocked down, you know". For a Government such as ours who have been extremely generous in our financial support for the reconstruction of Gaza, there must be recognition on both sides that we cannot continuously go through this cycle of political failure and violence followed by a big Western cheque to get the economic infrastructure back on its feet. The fact of our economic support gives us a right to sit at the table and bang it hard, to insist that this cycle be broken once and for all. In that sense, I suspect that all noble Lords would strongly affirm what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said about bombing encouraging radicalisation.

Of course there is a role for an appropriate response to attacks on Israeli civilians. Nobody would deny that Israel has the right of self-defence, a right properly enshrined in the UN charter. However, that requires proportionality and the pursuit of the rules of war in ensuring that, as much as possible, only military targets are hit. Those same requirements of course fall equally on the shoulders of Hamas.

The Government will continue to pursue hard that which was called for in Resolution 1860. As noble Lords heard me repeat in the Statement from the other place, diplomacy is carrying on at an intensive pace. There is a recognition that the solution lies not just in New York but among the parties on the ground. That has now become the focus of our efforts.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 4:13 pm, 12th January 2009

My Lords, if we are so concerned about conditions in Gaza, why cannot a coalition of forces from the international community combine and break the blockade? I understand that that would not require the UN's permission.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I hesitate only because the logical and military difficulties of what my noble friend proposes are considerable. Parties are at war on the ground and any intervention would require full international legitimacy. While there is a role for an international force in helping to ensure that any ceasefire is agreed to and arms smuggling and other things stop, it is very hard to imagine that it would be possible to use force where politics and diplomacy have failed to open up humanitarian relief.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Spokesperson for Health

My Lords, the Minister may know that I was in Gaza—

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, I endorse what others have said in thanking the Minister very much for repeating the Statement. I also endorse the congratulations offered by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on the role that the Government played in drafting and passing the Security Council resolution and on such influence as they may have been able to bring to bear on our United States friends in their rather unfamiliar act of abstaining from the resolution after the depressingly familiar tendency of the Bush Administration to veto every helpful resolution on the Middle East that has ever come to the Security Council.

I should like to ask the Minister two questions. I am afraid that the Statement again draws a familiar distinction between democratic governance—ie, Israel—and terrorist organisations, ie, Hamas. However, does he accept that the democratic Palestinian elections two years ago resulted in a majority for Hamas members, 40 of whom were immediately arrested by the Israeli authorities and as far as I know are still in Israeli jails? I do not wish to enter into the blame game, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Howell, but does the Minister accept that the behaviour of both sides needs a serious rethinking by the international community as regards balance in this distressing conflict? Finally, can he give us an assurance that no British arms, equipment or munitions have been made available to either side in this conflict? If he is unable to do so, will he investigate whether such an assurance is justified?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words about the British diplomacy that led to Resolution 1860. There was hope, which I can comment on because it was publicly speculated on in the media, that we might even have obtained a 15:0 vote for the resolution. While he is right to observe that a US abstention was a significant change in US policy, we feel like the deep-sea fisherman who almost hooked the big one but had to make do with second best. It is still a sizeable catch but not what we had fully hoped for. However, it is still an important advance on where the international community as a whole stands on this issue. While he will not expect me to go all the way with him in his recasting of Hamas as a democratically elected movement as against a terrorist organisation, I certainly do not quarrel with him that Hamas was elected on the basis of popular support in Gaza. On his second point, while, indeed, there are very modest British arms sales to Israel, they do not comprise lethal material. He is well aware of the export licensing system and both EU and British rules on this and we can say with relative confidence that what we provide has not been used in the offensive attacks and has not cost the life of anybody in Gaza.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for the transparent way in which he engages with us on these sensitive issues, which is hugely appreciated. Does he accept that people in our country feel a growing distress and even anger about the apparently disproportionate use of force in Gaza and that, whichever way we do it, there is an urgent need to bring this violence to a swift end? Does he also accept what representatives of the United Nations and the World Bank said to me in Jerusalem more than a year ago, which was that Gaza is in effect a very large prison? What are we to say to the Palestinian people in Gaza who for generations have lived with the abuse of their human rights and an attack on the fundamental principles of justice? What hope can we bring to them to enter into a conversation that brings them into the game? Is not this a further illustration that, if we do not address the fundamental issue of justice in the Holy Land, we shall go on having this festering sore burst out in these very unhappy ways with innocent people being caught up and losing their lives in its midst?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, first, obviously in a situation where fatalities are running at something like 100 to one in terms of the loss of Palestinian life to Israeli life, it is not surprising that British public opinion and international opinion more broadly consider the situation disproportionate. It is extraordinarily important for all of us who care deeply about the democratic credentials and reputation of Israel that we use every means that we have to make it clear to the Government and people of Israel that no fair-minded people anywhere can accept that that is just or right.

Secondly, I agree with the right reverend Prelate that there is a long history of the abuse of the human rights of the Palestinians of Gaza and that the economic conditions for many—two, three, even four—generations, as habitants of refugee camps, have been such that it is very hard to reach them and offer hope. However, we must offer them hope. We must make sure that there is a silver lining to this conflict and that Resolution 1860 is not only implemented but is the beginning of a process that addresses, in an urgent, ambitious and full way, the grievances of both sides. It is not just a matter of recognition and peace; it is a matter of creating a viable Palestinian entity and state that allows for both the return of Palestinians and, for those who cannot return, proper arrangements to deal with compensation. We have to finally grasp this nettle and deal with the fundamentals of this conflict. How many more times otherwise will we face this cycle of violence?

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords,

"Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph".

That quotation from David's lament for the deaths of Saul and Jonathan cannot be more appropriately said than now. We have to go back—have we not?—to the root causes of the problem, which were 2,000 years of Christian guilt at their treatment of the Jews, culminating in the Russian persecutions of the late 19th century and the ghastliness of the Holocaust. What do Christianity and the western world do but impose on the Arabs and the Palestinians to make the redress and pay their fine? They have put on the Arabs by terrorist means, through Likud and Haganah, the bombing of Deir Yassin, the murder of people in Lydda and outside Mount Carmel and the forced evacuation of over 1 million people from Palestine in 1948. We cannot go back over that, but somehow we have to redress that dreadful series of injustices. If we do not, as everyone else has said, this will go on and on and on, and one day a Hamas or Hezbollah chap will get hold of a dirty load of nuclear weapons and lob it into Israel and Israel will use nuclear weapons. The situation can get worse. We have to make both sides realise that a terrible injustice was done to the Arabs, who have to be compensated in some way for that injustice done by Christianity to the Muslim world.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the noble Earl is correct about the centuries of injustice, for which we all carry our share of responsibility. That is why the Middle East keeps on pressing its way back on to the global stage, not as an annoying regional problem but as something that separates us all globally and whose solution similarly would unite us all globally. Let us all hope that the change of Administration in Washington, coming as it does on the heels of the start of this conflict, offers a chance for us all to combine to address the fundamental, root causes of this conflict.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Spokesperson for Health

My Lords, I was in Gaza six weeks ago. Now, as a result of the impotence of the international community, not just in Gaza, but, as my noble friend said, over 40 years of occupation of Palestine by Israel, those institutions that I visited are rubble and many of the children with whom I played are dead. Is the Minister aware that Mrs Pillay, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has spoken of war crimes being committed in Gaza? Will the Government, therefore, show leadership and call for the immediate—and I mean immediate—establishment by the United Nations Security Council of an independent fact-finding commission to Palestine to investigate all breaches of international law?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, let me say to the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that I did say, when repeating the Statement that the Foreign Secretary made in the other place, that there would need to be an investigation of these allegations. Let me be clear that Mrs Pillay's charges seem to refer to some very specific actions; they refer not to the general conduct of the conflict but to particular incidents that have been reported. Those incidents, as the Foreign Secretary said, cause great concern and will require investigation. The issue is the timing of that investigation. In 2002, the incidents in Jenin similarly provoked an international investigation. In a sense, that investigation failed, because it was denied access and became politicised as a propaganda tool in the conflict, used by both sides. There is a question of timing and of hard evidence needing to be assembled, but I can say confidently that clearly some of the incidents in this conflict on both sides will be the subject of intensive international human rights investigation.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend about the current political impact of what is going on within the region, from which I returned late last week? I was struck by the fact that many people thought that the role of Hamas was being strengthened by Israeli action, that the outcome of all this undermined moderate Palestinian opinion, which would talk to Israelis sensibly about the future, and that this action has put much more opinion behind the very extreme views held by Hamas. Does my noble friend agree that that is happening not only within Palestine, but on a broader basis throughout the Middle East, because moderate Arab opinion is enraged by the constant television pictures? We do not see on our televisions the sorts of pictures of broken bodies that I witnessed last week; we see them camouflaged. However, in the region you see the unalloyed horror of what is going on, which has enraged opinion there. The Statement talks about the vision of the two-state solution, but I have never before heard, as I heard last week in the region, people denying that a two-state solution was the way forward. That almost follows the logic of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, but comes to the horrifying conclusion that the state of Israel should no longer exist. That is what is happening politically in the region. I do not know whether my noble friend agrees with me, but I was more worried, concerned and frightened by what I heard last week than I have ever been.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, my noble friend brings to us all an important observation from her week in the region. This has been a terrible time for moderates in the Middle East, whether they are Palestinian, Arab or Israeli. You are seeing the classic consequence of conflict. Everyone is reverting to hard-line positions and we need to regroup before some point of no return is passed. Therefore, I absolutely endorse the insights that my noble friend gathered during her visit.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister not go a little further in relation to the US vote on the resolution and admit that it was pretty deplorable that the US abstained at the last moment? That sent completely the wrong signal, particularly to Israel but also to Hamas, that the United States will not press very hard on a resolution. Will the Minister accept my gratitude for the Statement, which I thought excellent? Will he say whether the encouragement for a national unity Government, which I very much welcome, implies that, if a national unity Government are formed, the British Government will not again refuse to talk to the Hamas members of that Government?

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Niki Constantinou Even humanitarian attempts to supply aid to the dying and injured, who are mostly civilians, is being actively prevented. The boat `Dignity’ carrying aid has set sail from Cyprus on yet another second attempt to deliver the much needed aid. It’s first attempt failed when it was violently attacked by Israel. No doubt the UN are also facing similar problems. There have...

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Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord's first point, of course the resolution would have had greater authority if the US had voted for it and it had been passed 15:0. It is disappointing that ultimately that was not the case. However, with the mood of both parties, I am not certain that even with a 15:0 result we would have achieved the end of hostilities that we so deeply desired. We very much hope that, as we move forward, we will be able to demonstrate a united international community. As the noble Lord, Lord Wright, observed, the United States has moved significantly, as reflected in this resolution, and the challenge now is to keep everyone moving in the same direction. The United States is working as strongly as the other partners mentioned in the Foreign Secretary's Statement to bring pressure to bear on all parties in the region to end the conflict as soon as possible. In that sense, behind the vote, whatever its result, lies an international community devoted to securing a ceasefire at once if it can do so.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

My Lords, I apologise that I was not present at the outset of these proceedings—all the more so because of my present intervention. I congratulate—if that is not too strong a word—the Minister on the way in which he has skilfully reflected the near unanimity from all corners of this House, from Front Bench and Back Bench alike. Many noble colleagues must have been put in mind of an event that occurred almost exactly 30 years ago. The Venice declaration was the first time that the European Union, under the leadership of my noble friend Lord Carrington, drew itself together and expressed a unified view on what needed to be done, reaffirming the integrity of the state of Israel but reasserting that Palestinians also had rights. The tragedy is that there has been insufficient unity since then to carry matters forward. Of course, we should like to see the United States play a stronger and more positive role, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, identified, but so too we should like to see a truly united expression of opinion from the European Union, with our country playing the leading part in putting across the strong, unanimous judgment of this House.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I think that there has been a great growth of unity during the past few weeks, as was implied in some of the opening comments in this debate. The international community was rather all over the map when we began this crisis, but we have come together to form a solid and strong position. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, very much for his observation on that. So that I do not lose my reputation for frank speaking, I should respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, concerning Hamas involvement in a Government of national unity. Were that to come about as a result of Egyptian or other mediation, I have no doubt that we would welcome such a Government and deal with their membership.