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Mr. Straw: I understand how strongly my hon. Friend feels. I hope that he, in turn, understands that throughout our years in office we have tried to be even-handed in the pursuit of peace. However, it is impossible to excuse the use of suicide bombers. Recent UK history has many

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instances of explanations being offered for various terrorist outrages on both sides of the Irish sea, but whatever the motives or background of those who committed the atrocities, one simple, terrible fact remained: innocent people were killed and that was wholly unjustified.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): The Foreign Secretary will command widespread support for the tenor of his remarks. Will he use Britain's undoubted influence in the region, especially at this stage, in the face of appalling provocation of the Israeli Government, to distinguish between targeted action against the terrorists, which is completely justified and with which no one can quarrel, and reprisals pure and simple, which cannot be justified and perpetuate the cycle of violence?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is now a question mark over whether Yasser Arafat is still a viable partner in the peace process? Either he has the ability to control and influence, and to stop these dreadful outrages taking place, in which case he is wilfully culpable for not doing so, or he is incapable of exercising that influence and control, in which case he is not much use.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He makes an important point about the difference between targeted action and untargeted reprisals. I will ensure that his remarks are drawn to the attention of the Government of Israel. They are important.

In some ways, I wish that the position of President Arafat were as simple as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. However, it is not, as ever, in the occupied territories of the middle east. The simple fact is that President Arafat is the elected senior representative of the people from the occupied territories, and it is a matter for those people, and not for us, to determine who their representative is. Meanwhile, it is fair for us to point to failures by the Palestinian Authority to meet its international obligations to the state of Israel, which it has recognised, and its people. In my judgment, in failing to do so, it has failed, in turn, properly to protect its own people.

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East): Does my right hon. Friend agree that while we should condemn the Israeli military attacks personally on Chairman Arafat, we should recognise that he often speaks with one voice in English to the outside world and with another voice in Arabic to his own people? Until he speaks with the same voice to both his own people and the outside world, there can be no return to the peace table.

Mr. Straw: I speak only a few words of Arabic, and I shall not try them out now. My hon. Friend knows well that any remarks made by President Arafat in Arabic can be translated quickly into English. All the important statements that he makes at his press conferences are in Arabic and not English, as I and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister know, having been alongside him on such occasions. I do not think that there is a great deal in that point. However, it is important that we see action taken by the Palestinian Authority to detain those who are causing outrages and who are daily flouting and challenging the authority of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that however great the injustice that has

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been done to the Palestinians—it is a very great injustice—absolutely nothing can excuse the sort of behaviour that we have seen in the past few days? Does he agree also that this cycle of violence must end and that the European Union, sovereign Governments and America must bring every ounce of influence that they have to bear to secure a ceasefire?

In wholly endorsing the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) about reprisals, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that until there is a ceasefire no process can begin, and that without a process there is no possible hope of the end of these wicked activities? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore agree to speak to his colleagues in the United States of America to ensure that the most severe pressure is brought on both the parties to this dispute for an immediate ceasefire?

Mr. Straw: I shall see Secretary Colin Powell tomorrow in Brussels. This afternoon, I shall speak to, among others, Hubert Vedrine and Joschka Fischer, the French and German Foreign Ministers, with the precise aim of achieving what the hon. Gentleman wisely set out. I agree with him, with just one caveat. I agree that no serious peace process can begin until there is a ceasefire, but we need a process to achieve a ceasefire, and need it rapidly. Although that is difficult, I hope that General Zinni and Ambassador Burns will be able to assist with it.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is it not clear that the terrorists responsible for Saturday's atrocities—crimes against humanity, as the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has just said—have no regrets about the Israeli military retaliation because they believe that it will deepen the anger of the Palestinians and create a breeding ground for terrorism? Will my right hon. Friend take up the point about the United States? Is it not clear that the one country that can have some influence on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but especially Israel, is the United States? Every effort should be made by the United States to bring about a viable Palestinian state, which, while it will not eliminate terrorism—no one has any illusions about that—will certainly help to undermine terrorism in that area.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right that the terrorists who caused the outrages—and, even more so, those behind them who did not volunteer as suicide bombers and continue to organise those outrages—have no regrets about the loss of civilian life or the provocation to Israel. However, I am afraid that that cannot lead us to assert that Israel should do nothing in response to those threats. There were plenty of occasions when we were fighting Irish terrorism when extremists in the Provisional IRA and others deliberately sought to provoke a reaction from the British Government and security forces; we had to make a proportionate reaction, but we had to react properly.

The United States should be commended by both sides of the House for the efforts that President Bush and Secretary Powell have made since 11 September and, indeed, before that date. The Tenet and Mitchell reports were produced well before 11 September, but there has been an acceleration of effort since then, with the important statement by President Bush in his speech to

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the United Nations General Assembly on 10 November, followed nine days later by Secretary Powell's speech, which led to the appointment of General Zinni and Ambassador Burns. I know that the United States is ready to do everything that it can, but it believes, as we do, that the first steps out of the terrible situation must be taken by the Palestinian Authority to ensure that those terrorist suspects from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups are locked up and stay locked up.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I associate my party and our colleagues in the Scottish National party with the condemnation of the atrocities and the sympathy expressed in the House to those who have suffered on all sides. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the Israeli Government are seeking to make a direct comparison between their actions at the moment and those of the western coalition against terrorists in Afghanistan. Will he take the opportunity to reject that comparison and remind us both of the peace process that has taken place as a result of hard work in the middle east and the need to return to that process? Does he also accept that the Palestinian Authority's failures, of which there have been many in the past, are manifest, but that there is no viable alternative for the Israeli Government other than to discuss and negotiate with President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority?

Mr. Straw: In all terrorist situations, there are differences in the discrete causes, but there are also similarities. I am afraid that the most dreadful similarity is that innocent people end up getting killed. Action that needs to be taken will vary; plainly, given the scale of events on 11 September, that action was different from the action required in the middle east.

As to viable alternatives, everybody in Israel, the occupied territories and the region who supports a peaceful future for the middle east understands what needs to be done. It is all there, in Tenet and Mitchell. It is laid out in great detail in Secretary Powell's speech. Working out what ought to be done is the easy part; ensuring that it is done is the more difficult part. I come back to my point that if there is to be a pathway first to a ceasefire, and then to peace in the middle east, President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must take action now—today—to lock up those terrorist suspects.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Since any onslaught would make an appalling situation even worse, may we take it that the British Government are doing everything possible to deter certain Americans from the folly of attacking Iraq?

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