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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I visited the countries of the middle east peace process last month. In the course of three days, I twice visited Prime Minister Barak and twice visited President Arafat. In all my meetings and in every public statement, I appealed for an end to the bloodshed and a return to the negotiating table.
Britain continues to press these two urgent priorities on all parties to the peace process. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister received the Foreign Minister of Israel. This afternoon, after Question Time, I shall meet Nabil Sha'ath, the foreign spokesman for the Palestinian National Authority.
No one should underestimate the challenge to the peace process from the bitterness and hostility created by the recent bloodshed. Both Prime Minister Barak and President Arafat have agreed to visit Washington over the next week. We hope that this can pave the way for substantive talks on a peace settlement, without which there will be no secure peace for the peoples of the middle east.
Mr. Laxton: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that what has happened over the past five weeks clearly demonstrates that the Palestinian people want the removal of 33 years of military rule over the occupied territories? Does he agree also that the Camp David agreement appears not to be working? Will he join with me in calling for a peace negotiation that is based upon UN resolutions 242 and 338, and following from that the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the west bank and Gaza?
Mr. Cook: The peace process, which was launched at Oslo, is built upon those resolutions. Britain played a key part in the drafting of resolution 242, and is cognisant of its terms. Unfortunately, no agreement was reached at Camp David. However, we came much closer to it at Camp David than we have ever been during the other eight years of the peace process. The area of territory that was still in dispute at the end of the Camp David talks was down to 2 or 3 per cent. I hope that the bloodshed of the past two months will not prevent us from returning to where we were after Camp David and completing the task. If we do not, it is difficult to see an outcome in which there can be any permanent guarantee against future bloodshed.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the right hon. Gentleman, acknowledging the great difficulties that exist, nevertheless, with all his support and authority, impress upon the Israelis the essential nature of a more proportionate response to these difficulties? Will he agree that all of us who understand the awful history, difficulties and tragedies of the Israelis over the years, find it impossible to understand how they can use heavy guns, machine guns and heavy weapons on children?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the sensitive way in which he has approached a difficult issue. I can assure him that we have already raised in our high level meetings with leaders of the Israeli Government our concern about the need for a proportional response to crowd control. We will continue to do that.
Many people throughout the world, whatever their view may be of the peace process, have been moved by the death of, and injury to, young children, often those who may not have been taking part in the throwing of rocks. It is important that we find a way forward in which we
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for the current situation has been the failure to increase the living standards of the Palestinian people? How much of the blame for that does he attribute to the Palestinian National Authority, and Yasser Arafat in particular, for diverting aid intended for education and economic development to other activities, including training terrorists?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend correctly draws attention to the fact that, during the peace process, the living standards of residents of Gaza and many west bank towns went down, not up. There are many reasons for that.
Israel has to accept its role in the development of Gaza and the west bank. An immediate problem involves the closure of access to the Israeli labour market--more than 100,000 residents of Gaza have been put out of work. If the residents of Gaza and the west bank are to move away from violence and street demonstrations, it is important for them to find a way back to employment and to give them the opportunity to have an occupation.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Although the security of the state of Israel is of paramount importance, does the Foreign Secretary agree that equality of treatment between the Palestinian state--the Palestinian authority--and the state of Israel is critical? In my view, the Palestinians believe that they do not get a fair deal.
Mr. Cook: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall of course make early contact with the new Administration, who will not take over until the end of January. President Clinton will remain in office until then, and I am sure that any incoming President will support his work in the middle east peace process. His knowledge of and commitment to the peace process is wide and deep. During his remaining two or three months in office, I hope that both sides will use his commitment and expertise to find a way forward.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): I support all my right hon. Friend's efforts in the peace process. Does he agree that Israel's determination to dominate, control and set out the future of the Palestinians is the biggest obstacle to peace in the region? Does he also agree that if there are to be future negotiations, the Israelis should treat their partner in those negotiations--the Palestinians--as equals? That failure to do so made it clear to Palestinians--young and old, and angry and moderate--that what was achieved at Sharm el-Sheikh, Camp David and Oslo was not good enough. A successful future must be based on the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton) and,
Mr. Cook: I have already discussed with the Israeli Foreign Minister the importance of including refugee return in any overall package. I stress that good progress was made at Camp David. I strongly suggest to the House that we return to first principles in the peace process--we should pick up from the progress that was made and appreciate how far we got at Camp David. In the immediate future, we must try to secure an absence of bloodshed, which will enable the negotiations to recommence. That is why it is important for both sides--not simply Israel--to honour the commitments that they made at Sharm el-Sheikh to put an end to violence.
Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): The whole House will share a common concern about the recent, tragic turn of events in Israel and the occupied territories, and the Foreign Secretary's hope that the agreements made at Sharm el-Sheikh will be implemented. We of course recognise Israel's right to live in peace and security and the right of Palestinians to self-government.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that one lesson of the past few weeks may be that it might be unhelpful to press impracticable issues--I refer in particular to the final status of Jerusalem--further and faster than the parties feel able to move? With hindsight, the situation may have moved too far, too fast, with the result that events have moved decisively backwards and the peace process has taken a turn for the worse.
Mr. Cook: In reality, the peace process has reached the stage of final status talks, to which all the difficult issues were reserved, including that of Jerusalem. It is important for Israel that any peace settlement should include a statement of an end of the conflict by the Palestinian side, but it is difficult to see a Palestinian leadership making such a statement without a resolution to the division of Jerusalem. That is why we may now be in a position in which those difficult issues have to be resolved as part of a package, and both sides will have to recognise that they will not necessarily obtain everything that they want on every element of the package, but that the package itself offers them security, stability and peace for their people, which is the greatest prize of all.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): We continue to take the lead in alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi people at the hands of a ruthless dictator who cares nothing for their welfare. Under Security Council resolution 1284, the oil for food programme will provide more than $16 billion for the Iraqi people this year alone, paying for a wide range of
Mr. Anderson: Will my hon. Friend confirm that the solution to sanctions is in the hands of Saddam Hussein by his complying with the relevant United Nations resolutions in respect of informing the international community of his weapons of mass destruction? My hon. Friend has mentioned the sums available to Saddam Hussein, but to what extent is that being spent for the benefit of the people or on self-aggrandisement and palaces for the dictator himself?
Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend. Britain wants to see sanctions suspended, but the only vehicle for achieving that is the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1284. In return for allowing in arms inspectors--a new team headed by the widely respected international diplomat Hans Blix--who will check on the capabilities in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, sanctions could be suspended within a matter of months. We should all unite--critics of sanctions as well as supporters of the United Nations policy in international law--in achieving that, rather than playing Saddam Hussein's game and allowing him to score cheap propaganda victories by humanitarian flights. We should also bear in mind that, while his people have been suffering over the years, he imports thousands of bottles of whisky, wine and beer and cigarettes by the million, and surrounds himself in obscene luxury.
Mr. McCabe: I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that Saddam Hussein must bear considerable guilt for the suffering experienced by the poor people of Iraq, but does my hon. Friend the Minister believe that it is right for Britain to pursue an open-ended sanctions policy against Iraq, which results in suffering for innocent children and others, while simultaneously pursuing a preferential trade arrangement with the authorities in Iran? Is my hon. Friend aware of the extent to which the mullahs in Iran are acquiring weapons of mass destruction?
Mr. Hain: We are concerned about Iran's capability in weapons of mass destruction, especially its acquisition of large numbers of missiles, and we continue to press the Iranians on that matter. But I do not think that my hon. Friend will compare the Iranians' relations with their neighbours and with their own people with Saddam Hussein's record, which is uniquely brutal.
I must disagree with my hon. Friend on sanctions. Our commitment to sanctions is not open-ended. We want to see the sanctions suspended. We spent eight to nine months at the United Nations in New York achieving the new resolution which provides for that very opportunity.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Is not it obvious that policy towards Iraq is based on containment by utilising the deterrent effect of credible military force? What possible contribution do non-military sanctions make to that policy? They do grievous harm to the ordinary people of Iraq, they have no effect on Saddam Hussein, his whisky or his brutality, they give him an enormous propaganda advantage and they cause grave disquiet throughout the Arab world. Ten years after the end of the Gulf war, is not it time for the United Nations to lift the non-military sanctions?
Mr. Hain: I respect the right hon. and learned Gentleman's record on the matter, and his broad support, which I acknowledge, for the policy of the Government and the United Nations. However, $16 billion of oil for food money is now available to alleviate and end the suffering of the people of Iraq. That sum, per Iraqi, is equivalent to three times the amount that each Egyptian spends on food and medicine each year. It is a massive amount of money, and we must work to ensure that Saddam Hussein stops blocking it and allows all of it to reach his people.
On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point about targeted sanctions, lifting commercial sanctions could allow the entry of dual-use goods, and allow Saddam Hussein to re-equip his infrastructure and rebuild the weapons of mass destruction, which he has used against his people in the north--the Kurds--and his neighbours.
Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): The Minister said that sanctions could be suspended provided that United Nations weapons inspectors were allowed back into Iraq. Will he confirm that that is the unanimous view of the Security Council?
Mr. Hain: It is the policy of the Security Council, which Britain will work extremely hard to implement. There is no hidden agenda; if we can get Saddam Hussein to comply with admitting the arms inspectors, we shall work tirelessly to implement the full Security Council resolution. I am confident that we shall be able to achieve that.
Mr. Hain: We implement sanctions that contain his ability to threaten his people. He has done that repeatedly, for example, by inflicting chemical weapons on the Kurds. He has also threatened his neighbours by invading Iran and Kuwait. From oil smuggling--equivalent to a small proportion of his total oil production--he has been able to surround himself with a considerable security blanket and amass considerable wealth. However, like Slobodan Milosevic, all dictators learn that they cannot survive for ever.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Does the Minister agree that Iraq's humanitarian predicament must be viewed in the light of its treatment of 605 mostly Kuwaiti prisoners, including women and students? What pressures can be brought to bear to get the Iraqis to provide information, even information such as whether those prisoners are dead or alive? Does he agree that humanity and decency demand that?
Mr. Hain: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I pursued it with the Kuwaitis when I visited Kuwait last week. Hundreds of Kuwaiti families are in the dreadful position of simply not knowing what has happened to their relatives who have disappeared. The Iraqis have shown no accountability. We continue to take all opportunities to press them to deal with the issue, and to discuss with Ambassador Vorontsov his work on behalf of the United Nations to resolve the problem.