My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is in his place, because it gives me the opportunity totally to ruin his weekend: not only did the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, commend him on his speech, but I found what he said particularly illuminating. I will study what he said in Hansard and deliberate over some very wise words.
I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, and the wise words she spoke. Along with various other Members of this House and the House of Commons, she has joined me in the Coexistence Trust going to various universities—we started with five—as a group of Muslims and Jews to discuss the issues common to all of us. We have kept the Middle East off the agenda; it is not an easy thing to do, but we have managed to talk about other issues to do with being British and Jewish and being British and Muslim, and how important it is for us to continue our work, with everything else that is going on in the world at this juncture.
I read the Jewish Chronicle this morning, although it is not my normal reading, and was horrified to hear of some of the activities at our universities. There is a quotation—I cannot believe it is true—where an Oxford academic said this week that in five years' time he was hopeful that Oxford would become a Jewish-free zone. Nice, yes?
We have heard a lot today about Hamas. There are a lot of rose-tinted glasses worn in regard to that organisation. I would like to say a little more about Hamas; they are really not nice people. Do not take my word for it; listen to their own words. The Hamas Charter is not what I would call bedtime reading but it is worth a glance, as it is interesting:
"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up".
"Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying".
This is in its charter. If it is not true and this is not what it believes, it should remove it from its charter.
Hamas is an organisation that says that it will not recognise Israel, renounce violence or adhere to past agreements that were negotiated by the Palestinian Authority. It has a single objective: a one-state Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean, with no Israel but no Fatah either. It wants its Palestine, and it wants it to be part of the Islamic caliphate. That is why it is categorised as a terrorist organisation by us, by the Americans, by the EU, by Canada, by Japan and by Australia, so to noble Lords who advocate a two-state solution and insist on adherence to the road map I say think again. While Hamas sticks to its charter, a two-state outcome is simply pie in the sky. How can Israel negotiate with a Palestinian people who are split into three pieces: one faction in Ramallah, another in Gaza and yet another living a gilded life and pulling the strings in Damascus.
This debate is bound to dwell on the terrible plight of the civilian population in Gaza, and so it should, but I commend the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in a recent debate, who said that we should wait for the evidence before we rush to judgment. In 2002, following a spate of suicide bombings that originated from Jenin on the West Bank, the IDF launched Operation Defensive Shield. Immediately, the world was up in arms. "The massacre of Jenin", was the cry of the world's media. "Three thousand civilians have been killed". Then the figure was reduced to 500. "They have been butchered by the marauding Israelis". A Times reporter wrote:
"Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life".
The Guardian—always the Guardian—said:
"Israel's actions in Jenin are every bit as repellent as 9/11".
Does it not all sound so familiar?
A few weeks later, the Palestinian Authority admitted that there had been 56 Palestinian dead, of whom all but three were combatants. There was embarrassment all round, but memories fade fast. When we hear all these condemnations of illegal white phosphorous and pre-meditated attacks on schools and hospitals, we should await the evidence. My Palestinian sources tell me of rockets and artillery located in their own homes, but they are frightened to go public because their lives and those of their families might be at risk.
I have another quotation:
"Hamas gangs are unleashed like packs of animals on the streets of Gaza against Fatah members. Because the military bases and the prisons have been destroyed, they have turned Gaza schools, Al-Nasser Hospital, the radiology department at Shifa' Hospital, the Al-Aqsa University, and other places, including mosques, into centers for the detention, interrogation, and torture of Fatah members and members of other national Palestinian factions".
Sometimes it is by their words that we can best detect where certain nations stand. On the subject of Hamas, there has been an eerie silence. In the recent war, where was the condemnation from Jordan, Egypt or Saudi Arabia? Indeed, where was the Palestinian Authority? They were all very quiet. Of course they voiced their concerns at the horrors of the destruction, but for Hamas there were no words. Why? Because they loathe Hamas.
Often in the Middle East, things become much clearer after a storm, and today we face a different world from the one that existed in December. Perhaps that is a positive sign. Four countries can have a key role in moving the region forward. The first, of course, is the United States, re-energised by a new President determined to engage in the region and supported by the wisdom and expertise of Secretary Clinton and regional envoy George Mitchell. Only America can bring Israel to the table, because only America fully understands Israel's concerns.
This time next week, there will be a new Israeli Prime Minister. It will probably be Mr Netanyahu, and I know how people feel about that, but Israel tends to withdraw and make peace only with a right-wing Prime Minister.
The second state is Egypt, which suddenly has become a diplomatic powerhouse. It has strong influence over Gaza, which it used to rule until 1967. The third state, Jordan, is 50 per cent Palestinian. It, too, ruled the West Bank until the Six-Day War. Finally, there is Saudi Arabia.
The 2002 Arab peace initiative offered Israel full diplomatic relations with all 22 Arab states if it withdrew to the 1967 borders. I believe that this document should be the platform on which all future peace negotiations should be based.