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Mr. Straw: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, one of the most striking features of the middle east conflict is

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the extent to which people can be partisan even in their analysis. It is almost impossible to find a single work that presents both sides of the argument fairly. Like the Irish question or the Kashmir question, one can argue about the matter for ever and a day. Who cast the first stone? It depends on one's point of view. In all those conflicts, many stones have subsequently been cast and we must end that in the interests of the people concerned.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, it is neither appropriate nor helpful to try to compare one group of terrorists to another. I repeat that if one is killed or maimed by a suicide bomber, it does not matter whether that person was ordered to act by bin Laden or Hamas; the victim is still dead or injured. When I was Home Secretary, I proposed to the House that the military wings of Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas, among other terrorist organisations, should be proscribed. The House agreed to that.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): We all condemn the appalling atrocities that took place on Sunday, and acknowledge that Palestine needs to do more to tackle the problem of terrorists operating from within Palestine. The difference, however, between those atrocities and the excessive reprisals taking place from Israel is that those reprisals are being carried out officially by the state of Israel. We must remember that at all times. Does this not make it much more difficult for us to open the window of opportunity and get back to where we were last year, when a negotiated settlement was within reach? Since then, violence has escalated, and it has become increasingly difficult to keep that window of opportunity open.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right to assert that the cycle of violence that has taken place, particularly since the intifada began on 28 September last year, has made restraint more elusive on both sides. We all wish to see restraint. It has also led to the circumstances described my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in which those who seek to be a moderating or restraining element in the politics of Israel or the Palestinian Authority have less authority than before.

My hon. Friend is also correct to say that an important opportunity to secure lasting peace was missed last year, and that what has unfolded since has its origins in the failure to achieve a settlement at that stage.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Surely we must urge restraint on both sides even-handedly—as has been said—and recognise that for a state to commit indiscriminate acts of reprisal and revenge can be just as morally reprehensible as terrorism, and can provoke escalating violence. Will the Government seek diplomatically to impress on our US allies that for some members of the Administration to make partisan or inflammatory statements can only exacerbate the conflict, undermine the international coalition against terrorism and endanger world security?

Mr. Straw: Of course everybody wishes to see restraint exercised and action taken proportionately—a point made by the right hon. Member for Horsham earlier—and properly targeted. We must also recognise, however, that a proportionate response is determined by the proportion of the outrage that occurs before it. That is the difficulty that we face in this situation.

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So far as United States policy is concerned, I tend to follow the official statements of Secretary Powell and President Bush, rather than newspaper reports of what somebody is supposed to have said to somebody else. So far as the official statements of Secretary Powell and President Bush are concerned, they have my full support and the full support of Her Majesty's Government.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): While condemning absolutely the suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa at the weekend, may I ask my right hon. Friend what pressure the British Government can bring to bear on the Israeli Government to withdraw from the west bank and Gaza, as demanded officially by the United Nations in 1967?

Mr. Straw: As President Bush spelled out in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, we are all seeking a secure and safe state of Israel, operating within internationally and regionally recognised borders alongside a viable state of Palestine, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. All of us in the international community subscribe to the implementation of those resolutions, but to get to what is laid out in resolution 242—and subsequent resolutions—requires action on the ground by the parties. I have suggested to the House today how some of that action might be achieved.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the perpetrators—and their backers—of the continuing atrocities against Israeli citizens are people who want the elimination of Israel, rather than a just solution to the conflict on the basis of two secure and viable states?

Does my right hon. Friend recall that a year ago it was the Palestinians who walked out of negotiations? Does he feel that the continuing messages of hate broadcast by the Palestinian Authority and taught in Palestinian schools over the years, including recent months and weeks, provide some justification for Israelis' fears that they are now fighting for their existence, not for a just solution based on Israel and Palestine?

Mr. Straw: I accept what my hon. Friend says: almost all those who are behind, and claim to speak for, the suicide bombers, and other terrorists, want Israel to be eliminated. That cannot happen; it must not happen. It is completely inconsistent with any sense of humanity, and with international law.

As for what happened last year, there are many arguments about who did what, and who caused the negotiations to fail. All I know is that, according to what I have seen, they came within an ace of success—and if they had succeeded, the conditions of the people of Israel and those in the occupied territories would be very much better.

I also accept what my hon. Friend said about the way in which children in some areas of the middle east are being incited with parodies of Israel, although I must add that a measure of restraint should be exercised in regard to similar things that have been said by some Israeli politicians.

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It is the Palestinian Authority that has signed up to a proper recognition of the state of Israel, and we look to it to put that recognition into effect.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): My right hon. Friend said that Israel had a right to take steps to protect its security. Does he accept that its long-standing policy of the targeting and assassination of Palestinian activists simply cannot be justified? While no one seeks to excuse suicide bombers, was not the Government of Israel's deliberate choice to assassinate a well-known Hamas leader just before the arrival of the American peace envoys guaranteed to provoke a violent response of some sort, to continue the cycle of violence, and to prompt a suspicion that it was designed to do precisely that?

Mr. Straw: I have condemned such killings in the past when I have felt it justified, in the terms used by my hon. Friend, and I shall continue to do so when it is appropriate. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has done the same. I understand what my hon. Friend is saying; but what we—Members on both sides of the House—must do is ensure that one act of violence is not excused by what happened immediately before it.

There was no excuse for the terrorism that took place at the weekend. Had it not taken place, there would have been a good prospect of Zinni and Burns being able to restart the peace process. The result of its taking place was the understandable reaction of people in Israel, described by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). It greatly increased the levels of fear in Israel, which are already palpable and which mean that many people in Israel simply cannot go about their normal lives as they would wish. Their children cannot go to school without being worried that they will be killed. Similarly, there is a cycle of fear and suffering in the occupied territories.

We must say to those who are triggering the violence that they have to stop. As I have said, we must also say to the Palestinian Authority that it must take steps to apprehend, arrest and detain for a long time the terrorists who are causing these atrocities, while asking the people and Government of Israel to show a proportionate response in the face of such huge provocation.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): May I pursue the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)? Is my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary as concerned as Shimon Peres appears to be about the dangers inherent in what is now the potential collapse of the Palestinian Authority? If so, will he communicate his concerns to Mr. Sharon?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I have made clear our opinion on the Palestinian Authority. President Arafat is the elected constitutional head of the people in the occupied territories, and we believe that it is important that, as long as he enjoys the confidence of the people of the occupied territories and of the Palestinian Authority, he should remain in that position and we should deal with him. However, that is in no sense to justify some of the Palestinian Authority's failures, as I have spelled out today.

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