Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:43 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 3:43 pm, 29th April 2004

At present, our forces are engaged in Afghanistan, with our American allies. Among other things, they are trying to find Mr. Bin Laden, Mr. Zawahiri and the other leaders of al-Qaeda. If we learned that, instead of those people being captured, they had been killed, most of us would rejoice and think that a desirable and thoroughly justified response to the problem. It is therefore hypocritical, if we are trying to take out the leaders of al-Qaeda, to protest against another Government seeking to defend themselves by taking out the leaders of a terrorist organisation that is directing violence at them.

The Northern Irish problem, to which my hon. Friend refers, is in a different category, because there is a negotiation in place. There is the Belfast agreement and, although there have been some difficulties with it and some backsliding, which I have referred to in other contexts, on the whole Sinn Fein-IRA have followed through the process that began in Belfast.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership did not follow through the process started in Oslo 2 and did not respond at all at Camp David. Hamas and the other terrorist organisations have not ceased their violence and there has been no attempt, as far as one can see, by the Palestinian Authority to stop that violence. One of the conditions—a prerequisite—for the road map was that violence would stop and that the Palestinian Authority would take measures to arrest those responsible for violence and bring it to an end, but they have not done so. I hope that that deals with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury.

I am glad, by the way, to have shocked a few people in the Chamber by saying some of the things that I have said. It is extremely important that we are prepared to confront reality here and to apply the same standards to the middle east as we apply elsewhere in the world.

I want, however, to focus on what should happen from now on. We need to get back to the road map—to the negotiating process. If comments such as the ones that I have made today make those who have the cause of the Arab—and particularly the Palestinian—peoples close to their hearts think again about the quality of the leadership that the Palestinians have had and the decisions that have been taken on their behalf over the past few years, and if that provokes a change of course and of attitude, I shall be more than relieved, as should we all.

The first step, if a negotiation is to take place, must be a ceasefire. If I may remind my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury of the analogy that he raised, there was a ceasefire in Northern Ireland. Violence stopped before negotiations began. We rightly insisted on that prerequisite. There has been a ceasefire, more or less, in Northern Ireland for the past seven years or so. We need to end violence; there needs to be a negotiation.

I am making my points without fear or favour, because I hold no brief for either side. I regret President Bush's statement the other day, and the Prime Minister's endorsement of it, on the frontiers and settlements, because it seemed to prejudge the negotiation that should take place between the parties. I do not want to say now whether I think that the frontier should be the same as or different from what it was in 1967 or whether some settlements should remain in the territories. There have been some Jewish settlements there, I think in Hebron, going back over the 2,000 years since the Jews were expelled from that area—we should not call it Palestine—by the Romans in AD 70. I recognise that there is a big issue as to whether there should be any settlements, and if so which ones and where, and which frontiers should be adopted. That must be a matter for the parties to negotiate. It is not helpful for outsiders, even outsiders as powerful as the United States, to make public comments that prejudice the negotiation that should take place.

Those negotiations clearly must cover refugees. That is a very important issue. It seems to me that the refugees who left in 1948 are entitled, in principle, to return, but they are not young and if there is a suitable alternative financial offer they will probably not do so. One can easily foresee a pragmatic solution to that issue, while recognising the right of return for those who left. I do not know that a right of return can be inherited by future generations. If it can, one has to ask for how long it can be inherited. Is it three generations or five? On that basis, perhaps the Jews can claim the right to return, because they were expelled by the Romans in AD 70. It might be more sensible to say that those who were physically expelled from, or previously lived in, a place have a rather more special status than others who may call themselves refugees or be called refugees by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or other bodies.

There is the basis for a negotiation, albeit a complicated one that has eluded the parties for decades. Nevertheless, it is as urgent as ever that that negotiation should take place. We do no service to anyone in the middle east if we suggest in the House that there is any other solution, or if we spend our time here criticising one party while being apparently oblivious to the failings of another.

I have criticised both sides in the process. I sincerely hope that they can find a way to ensure that future generations of Palestinians and of Israelis do not have to grow up and live their lives against the background of the terror and violence of which we have had far too much, particularly over the past few months and years.