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Occupied Palestinian Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:03 pm on 29th April 2004.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 4:03 pm, 29th April 2004

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I would go a tiny bit further, and say that if what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians were being done by some external power to Jews the entire international Jewish community would rightly be up in arms demanding an end to such an oppressive regime. The hon. Gentleman had his bar mitzvah, so he will know the Hebrew word ts'dakah. It is an obligation of ts'dakah to do right. That is what Jews are supposed to do. That is why Sharon is the worst representative of a Jewish state that there could be.

I do not want to take up much more time, because I know so many hon. Members want to speak, but I want to say this. Given my experience as a Chairman of a Select Committee, reading the Government's response to the report, with all those paragraphs beginning "We agree", made me green with envy. I wish that that could be taught to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

There are just one or two things, as the hon. Member for Banbury pointed out, about which the Government are over-cautious. Their stance on the issue is fine. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that the reputation in the Palestinian territories of our Department for International Development stands very high. The reputation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development stands particularly high, as I found when I discussed the matter with Palestinians in Ramallah. However, the Government are over-cautious in not wishing to use the authority and power of the European Union to exert pressure in this matter.

Page 65 of the report, at paragraph 151, quotes one of the most degrading statements that I have read from the European Union for a long time. Last night, I was with other right hon. and hon. Members in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, listening to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister make a wonderful speech about the new Europe that will emerge on 1 May. However, hon. Members should hear this passage from what the European Commission told the Select Committee when it asked the European Union to use its power on preferences to put pressure on the Israelis to behave in a reasonable manner:

"The trade balance with Israel is very, very heavily in our favour. So when you say, 'What is the benefit or impact on Israel of these arrangements', at the moment the European Union is doing quite well out of them both in terms of industrial trade and agricultural trade . . . So I am not sure what would be the result of disrupting these or interrupting these. It may actually harm the European Union more than it harms Israel".

I am one of the Members of Parliament for Manchester. During the American civil war, the cotton workers of Lancashire were willing to give up their livelihoods in the battle to end slavery in the United States. They were poor workers in a poor area of England. The European Union is enormously prosperous. It has economic power. It has been suggested to me that it ought at least to set up a monitoring team to consider the human rights aspect of the preferential agreement. I believe that that is essential.

One may be asked what can be done. George Bush senior imposed economic sanctions on Yitzhak Shamir, and that is why the Madrid procedure began. The US held $10 billion of loan sanctions in order to push the Israelis to negotiate at Madrid. My hon. Friends talk about what the Israeli Government could do, and speak of a constructive engagement with Israel, but one cannot have a constructive engagement with a lout. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of decent, fine Israeli people want a free Palestine alongside a secure Israel. The Government of Israel should be pushed into negotiations. I believe that economic sanctions are the way to achieve that.

I thank the Select Committee for its report. It is not the end of the story. We are not going to rest until there is a free Palestine alongside a secure Israel.