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Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the political situation in the middle east. Difficult though it may be at the best of times, I shall take a balanced and bipartisan approach to the debate. I hope that many colleagues from the Labour Friends of Israel and the Labour Middle East Council will participate in the debate. I am a member of both organisations, and I look forward to hearing contributions by Members of equivalent organisations in the Opposition parties. In taking a bipartisan approach, I run the risk of pleasing no one and offending all. I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to correct any imbalance that may inadvertently colour my introduction, as well as stating more boldly the case from either side of the Palestine-Israel divide.
One advantage in taking a middle way in discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict is that it is easier to resist the temptation to suggest that we can resolve the conflict by putting pressure on either side. I see no prospect of a return to the peace process unless the consent of both sides is freely given. One purpose of this debate is to explore what possibilities exist for moving Israel and Palestine away from conflict and back on to the path of peace. That will not be achieved by applying external pressure or by pulling levers of influence. The internal dynamic of the relationship must change.
We must recognise however, that the middle east peace process is in crisis. That is not just a matter for the Israelis and the Palestinians but a threat to international security. We must constantly dedicate ourselves to doing what we can to get the middle east peace process back on track. The situation in the middle east is explosive. One need only think of what might happen if there were another terrorist outrage along the lines of 11 September, and the risk of regional spill-over is very real.
We must recognise that relations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority have deteriorated markedly. Without dialogue, no negotiation is possible. Not just the prospect of a lasting settlement in the middle east is at stake, but the possibility of any kind of peace process at all.
I have called the debate, because I refuse to accept, and I do not believe our Government should accept, a counsel of despair. Despite the temptation to back away from the issue in the face of escalating violence and extremism, I believe that it is imperative for Britain, Europe and the international community to engage constructively with the middle east. I do not wish to focus on how we got to the present impasse or spend time looking at who is to blame. We must try to dissect the true nature and depth of the present crisis and examine the role that Britain, the EU and the international community can play in moving forward the agenda about the future of the middle east.
The elements of the present crisis in the middle east are clear. There is a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale, even for a region where bloodshed has been the constant companion of century-long conflict. Since the start of the second intifada, in September 2000, more than 1,000 people have been
As the number of deaths increases, so does the record of physical, economic and social damage on both sides. The number of Palestinians who live in absolute poverty on less than $2 a day has more than doubled and, according to the latest World Bank figures, is more than 50 per cent. of the population. Some 100,000 Palestinian jobs have been lost in Israel, and 60,000 jobs have been lost in the West Bank and Gaza strip because of the closures policy. One in five Israelis now live below the poverty line, a figure that has increased by 10 per cent. from last year. Unemployment in Israel has risen to nearly 10 per cent. as the Israeli economy slows down in the face of global recession and as a direct result of the political and security crisis.
The political and security crisis is the most important element of the current crisis. The Israeli deputy head of military intelligence, Brigadier-General Yossi Kuperwasser, visited the House of Commons yesterday with Rear-Admiral Meshita, head of naval intelligence. I asked him whether he had abandoned all hope of peace. He said that he had not, but that no peace could be made with Yasser Arafat. However, Arafat more than anyone symbolises, and even personifies, to the international community Palestinian hopes and dreams for a Palestinian state. He told me that Arafat ordered the Karine A boat directly from Iran in collaboration with Hezbollah. That serious allegation threatens to escalate further the violence and the security crisis in the middle east.
Sadly, I could not attend the meeting, but I received the report, of Shimon Peres's visit to the House of Commons last July. He asked us what Israelis could do in the face of such terrorist atrocities and to stop the suicide bombers. Even before the atrocities of 11 September in America, none of us had a reply. One more Palestinian, Raed Mahmoud Karmi, was killed in a car bomb explosion yesterday. He was accused of having killed six Israelis. Another Israeli was killed yesterday, and so the cycle repeats itself. However, the outcome of the Israeli reprisals is to push Hamas increasingly into the mainstream to the point at which they seem to enjoy support of almost 40 per cent. If the strategy continues, Hamas may become the leading element in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians fear that that is the Israeli Government's political objective. They believe that Israel knows that the international community will line up against Hamas but will not do so against Arafat. If that is the Israeli agenda, the prospect of a further deterioration in the security situation is great.
The nub of the political crisis is the crisis of leadership and the corresponding crisis of confidence on both sides in each other's leaderships. In the face of this crisis, the European Union External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, said in a statement to the European Parliament on 12 December 2001:
A pessimistic Palestinian view is that there seems to be no Israeli Government agenda for negotiation and peace. Instead, the agenda seems to be to undermine Arafat and the Palestinian Authority as a precursor to undermining the idea of a Palestinian state. However, it is Arafat himself who embodies the aspiration for a Palestinian state. The existence of a Palestinian authority keeps alive the prospect of achieving that state through negotiation. To lose sight altogether of the dream of a future Palestinian state or to destroy the organisationthe Palestinian Authoritythat could negotiate a lasting peace with the Israelis would plunge the Palestinian territories into a permanent state of anarchy, the middle east into a permanent state of war and would massively compromise Israeli security for years to come. If that is where the process is leading, it is leading towards the edge of an abyss.
From the Israeli side, a pessimistic view would say that Arafat has no game plan. Moderate Israelis feel let down; they hold Arafat responsible for encouraging support for extremist groups not just in the Palestinian territories, but in Israel as well. Moderate Israelis have lost faith in Arafat as a leader and potential partner in peace. They insist that he must go and that the international community should apply pressure on him to do so. They accept that Arafat may be under effective house arrest in Ramallah for years. If that pessimistic view prevails, it will be damaging from the point of view of trust. There will be more bombs, and the only people to gain will be the extremists.
I have tried to present the bleakest scenarios from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. I want now to turn to the question of whether it is possible to take a more optimistic view. That is not to take an unrealistic view, but to tell the story with a more optimistic sense of the potentialities that may yet be developed. Can we dare to believe that there is a way of going from a lose-lose situation back to a win-win situation? To put it another way: is there a way back to the peace process?
We can take some heart from the recent example of Pakistan. General Musharraf has impressed the Indians and increased his own credibility not just with what he has said as leader, but with what he has done and how he has behaved. Can we learn from that recent experience in trying to de-escalate a conflict and reduce violence, and apply that lesson to the middle east? A second reason to be optimistic is based on the idea that there is widespread consensus, even in Israel, about what the end point of the peace process should look like. Israel must have complete security guaranteed within its borders, and Palestinians must be able to live in peace and dignity within their own state, which will incorporate most of the West Bank and have shared sovereignty over Jerusalem. Most people agree that security for Israel and justice for all the historic peoples of the middle east are the essential building blocks for stability and peace.
One reason why many people, even on the Israeli left, do not trust Arafat is because they believe that he has talked too often about deals and temporary measures rather than fundamental reform. The Israelis do not believe that Arafat can deliver reform, and now is the time for him to show that he can. That will be difficult to do as he is under effective house arrest in Ramallah and does not have the authority and resources needed to carry out effective action. The little authority and
Sharon must show flexibility. He must release Arafat from house arrest. Arafat must show that he can restrain the suicide bombers and bring about a cessation of violence and a complete disbanding of all terrorist organisations. He will need to go further. We should examine textbooks and the approach to the curriculum in Palestinian schools, and look to revise history books to accept the existence of the state of Israel. We must monitor Palestinian television and media to ensure that suicide bombers are no longer glorified.
It is not easy to put pressure on either Arafat or Sharon and, in current circumstances, we are right to be cautious of doing so because it might have perverse effects. However, we must encourage Arafat and Sharon to realise that the way forward lies in their hands. Pakistan and India further illustrate the point. It is in the interest of both sides to de-escalate the conflict. Only then can we start to find a way back to the Mitchell process and the road to peace.
One of the most positive aspects of the Mitchell plan was that it linked Israeli security with the idea that Arafat needs a political lever to get out of this mess. The lever in Mitchell was to be the lifting of closures and a freeze on settlement buildingin other words, an end to taking any more land. The political levers to de-escalate the conflict are not yet in hand, but we must look for them or try to create them.
In the final part of my speech, I wish to comment on the role that Britain, the EU and the international community can and should play in creating the levers to help resolve the present crisis. Difficult though it is to act, the fundamental case for the international community taking action is clear. As I said, we should be cautious about the pressure that we seek to apply, but we should also resist the temptation to stand back completely.
Since the November suicide bombings, the international community has tended to pull back from engagement. We must resist, for that way lies a counsel of despair. It is not easy to know what we should do in such a crisis, but it is far better to act. The key issue is how, not whether, we should get involved. The crisis in the middle east is a threat to international security, not just an issue between Palestinians and Israelis. Other statessuch as Jordan, which has 40 per cent. of the refugee population, and Lebanonmay get sucked into the conflict. If there were another terrorist atrocity in the west, the situation could get much worse.
We should recognise that Britain has not just a humanitarian duty, but a strategic interest. If things go wrong, it may damage, perhaps irreparably, the international coalition against terrorism. We also have historic ties through the former exercise of the British mandate and through our role in the treaties that reshaped the middle east at the end of the first world war.
The Prime Minister has been active in the middle east in the autumn through his shuttle diplomacy. Since the latest waves of suicide bombings in November and early December, it has become more difficult to play that role, but it is important not to give the impression that our middle east policy is being blown off course by contradictory winds that seem to blow from Europe, America or indeed the middle east itself. We must show consistency and coherence. How can we expect Palestinians and Israelis to do so if we are not prepared to do the same?
A common Israeli complaint about the EU is that Europeans fail to understand Israel's need for a cast-iron security response and a security guarantee before it can act. It is not difficult to see why the Americans are left to play the leading role at the present time, and we should support General Zinni in his mission. However, the engagement of Britain and the European Union is essential to producing a balanced response from the international community and the influence of Britain and Europe could be the key to making the optimistic view that I have outlined prevail.
Part of the difficulty is that the EU is simply not seen as having the clout to influence the peace process or a return to it. It can be the financial backer of the Palestinian Authority, but only the US is seen as able to push things through politically. Despite the EU's economic might, it has not generally been thought to have enough political muscle to pull any levers in the region. Nevertheless, the EU has been trying, through the work of External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and the EU's High Representative Solana, to play a constructive role in retrieving the achievements of the Oslo process and bringing the parties back to the road to peace as outlined in the Mitchell report. It has sought all the time to take a balanced approach.
The Council of Ministers has called on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle Hamas and Jihad and to bring those who commit terrorist acts to justice. It has also called on Israel to withdraw its military forces, end the extra-judicial killings, lift the closures and restrictions on Palestinian people and end the bombing of property and infrastructure. However, its calls, especially to the pro-Palestinian side of the declaration, fall on deaf Israeli ears. There is nevertheless a lot the EU can do and has done in economic terms. In recent months, more than 108 million euros has been given to the Palestinian Authority, in addition to more than 3 billion euros that was invested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1994. The EU has also recognised the importance of backing the Palestinian Authority as the only structure capable of providing basic services and a minimum of security guarantees, and the only alternative to anarchy and increasing support for Hamas and Jihad.
The EU has done more than anyone else to promote elections, the fight against corruption and the rule of law in the Palestinian territories. It is right, especially at this time of acute crisis, that it should continue to seek to promote moderation and pluralism, trying not to let the
I want to leave plenty of time for other speakers to take part in the debate. There may be many points that hon. Members wish to make, both about the EU and Britain's role. I hope that they will also wish to make points about the role of international organisations and the international community. We have seen in the past that international observers and the fact-finding missions that were undertaken by the European Union under the Sharm el-Sheikh fact-finding initiative can play a particularly useful role. They can give a clearer, more objective analysis of what is going on in the middle east. Indeed, while they may not put direct pressure on the parties to the negotiation, they can shape the parameters of that negotiation.
The international agreements that have been made are just that: they are not simply agreements between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Not only do we have a stake in the outcome, but we are deeply involved in the process. The international community cannot walk away from that process. There may be calls for greater respect for international conventions by the Israelis as well as the Palestinians. Indeed, there may be calls for international observers to try to de-escalate the violence and to find the road to peace.
I have concentrated on the enhanced role which I believe the EU can play under British leadership, especially given the key role that Britain can play by linking European and American initiatives. I hope that colleagues will comment on the wider international dimension.
Perhaps I might conclude with the words of Henry Siegman, a respected middle east expert and senior research fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. In December, he wrote in the International Herald Tribune:
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) on securing the debate and allowing us to discuss an issue that most of us have spent all of our political lives trying to deal with. Listening to my hon. Friend trying to be even-handed, I was reminded of my party, which has always alleged that its position is even-handed and balanced. However, we are dealing not with two rights and two wrongs, but only with one right and one wrong. Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since its invasion in 1967. It is breaking international law. Until Israel ends its occupation, there can be no peace; that is as clear as the nose on anyone's face. All the attempts to try to talk around that fact and find some other way forward are nonsense.
Part of the problem has been that successive Governments, including previous Labour Governments, have tried to be balanced. One cannot be balanced with a country that does not accept the application of international law. We could spend hours reviewing and arguing about various events that have taken place since 1967: assaults, terrorist attacks, resistance to occupation, closures, demolition. However, Israel does not accept that it is breaking international law; therein lies the problem.
Unless and until we have an American Administration that will tell the Israelis in blunt terms that they must end their illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there will be no peace in the middle east. We all know that; it is time that we said it. The events of the past few months have demonstrated that we will not make progress unless we speak honestly in this place.
The Minister for Europe has more experience than most of us in arguing such a case. He comes from South Africa, a country in which grave injustice existed, and he grew up fighting the apartheid movement. If he were released from the chains that bind him, his comments this morning would be much more helpful to the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, the realities of his office mean that he will attempt to be balanced. There is no way that we can have a balanced debate.
The only occasion on which Israel has ever done what the international community recognised as right was when James Baker, the then United States Secretary of State in the Government of President Bush's father, told it in no uncertain terms what it had to do. He made it clear to an American-Israeli committee that there would be no $10,000 million for a housing programme unless the Israelis entered negotiations with the Palestinians, so we had the Madrid negotiations. The Israeli leadership who went to Madrid had no intention of making them successful, but at least they were forced to go by the American Administration's clear determination not to give that money otherwise. That forced the Israelis to accept some form of reality.
We should be trying today to point the way forward. Can there be peace? Yes, but only if Israel accepts the Palestinians as cultural, political and practical equals. The imbalance in the argument is overwhelming: Israel is the fourth or fifth ranked military power in the world. We see F16s used against a civilian population and the demolition that results. We see the Israelis' capacity to
The Israeli Prime Minister has a history, which we all know. He was in charge of Israeli defence forces when Israel invaded the Lebanon in June 1982, and it is worth reminding people of what happened. In a debate at the United Nations, Israel claimed that the Palestinians were responsible for 150 infractions or activities against Israel, despite the fact that George Shultz, the then American Secretary of State, had an agreement with the Palestinians that there would be no incursions into Israel from Lebanon. Despite the fact that there had been no incursions, Israel invaded Lebanon. What was the purpose of the invasion? As the leopard has not changed his spots, so the purpose was to try to get rid of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Arafat and to leave the Palestinians, who were living under occupation, without a body that could negotiate on their behalf.
That action did not succeed in 1982 and it will not succeed today. Yasser Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinian people, whether Ariel Sharon or, indeed, we like it or not. To our credit, we have always made it clear that any attack on Arafat would not have our support, but we are not doing enough to sustain his position. Picking up on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, how can Arafat exercise control over militants in the Palestinian community if he is locked up in Ramallah? Listening to Foreign Office spokesmen, however, we might imagine that he has a magic wand that he can wave. When the security forces that Arafat employs are attacked and the Israeli defence forces indicate that anyone seen in a uniform will be shot, how can he exercise control over the Palestinian people? The whole idea is nonsense.
If there is to be peace, the Israelis must start treating their Palestinian opposites as equals. They need to sit down seriously and allow them to negotiate. Only then will peace be possible. The minimum action required to bring peace is an end to occupation. We need a clear statement from the Israelis, not one about some mythical land for peace that means that they want to retain large parts of the West Bank. We need a real determination to end occupation in its entirety. If the people who live in the settlements now want to stay there, the Palestinians would be happy for them to live there in a Palestinian state, but the Israeli Government must tell the settlers that either they come back to what we all accept and recognise is the state of Israel, or they will have to live in a Palestinian state, with all its implications.
The Israelis will have to stop the settlement building. Even Colin Powell, in his speech in Kentucky on 19 November, recognised that settlement activity has severely undermined Palestinian trust and hope. He said:
As anyone who is honestly trying to tackle the issue knows, the third and most difficult part for the Israelis is to recognise the right of Palestinian refugees to self-determination as laid down in resolution 194, the right to say that they want to return to the place that they came from. Our side has been trying to help the Israelis to understand that recognising the rights of Palestinian refugees is not such a big threat to them.
I recommend the report "Right of Return" that the joint parliamentary middle east Committees sent to all hon. Members. It quotes verbatim the words of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine; they accept that Israel exists and that some of the homes to which they want to return are in the state of Israel. However, the report also makes it clear that the Palestinians understand their rights as refugees; they want to live in peace but they want Israel to recognise their rights. I recommend the publication to colleagues who are members of the Labour Friends of Israel group and to other hon. Members; I ask them to listen to the voices of Palestinians living in the most abject conditions saying that despite many years as refugees, they want to live in peace with their Israeli counterparts. If an Israeli Government were brave enough to accept that, we could look forward to discussions taking place, and a settlement in the middle east peace process, which many of us have worked for for most of our political lives.
I have been to the part of the world that we are discussing several times in the past few years, most recently in October last year, when Israeli tanks were on the streets of Bethlehem, and I saw the devastation of homes and businesses. In Gaza, where olive groves once stood but which is now wasteland, I saw the contrast with the lush green Israeli settlements beyond. My party was mobbed by children in the town of Khan Yunis, where they lived and played in the wreckage of bullet and shell-scarred buildings that were once Palestinian homes. That never fails to shock me; however often I go there, I am not immune to it. It is strange for a politician to say it, but I was lost for words when people there asked me what we were doing to stop what had been happening to them, not for weeks or months, but for decades. When we come back to this country, we come back to the west. We know that it is important, but strangely the debate changes. The human tragedy, the actual effect on real people seems to diminish in importance, and it suddenly becomes a matter of high diplomacy, of what is possible and what is not possible among leaders. Remembering a Palestinian woman who asked, "What are you actually doing about it?" one becomes very humbled.
My hon. Friend is right when he says that, for an agreement to come out of this, both sides need to want it. I am reminded of the comment of the well-known Israeli peace campaigner, Uri Aunery, who was in
In an article in The Guardian in October, Polly Toynbee picked up the matter and compared the different treatments of two brutal and appalling assassinations: one by Israeli security forces of Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the PFLP, and one of Israeli Cabinet Minister, Ze'evi. Both were extremists, both were uncompromising and both were prepared to use violence. However, one was described as a human tragedy. Ze'evi may have been an extremist, but he had a family. He was a human being. As Polly Toynbee put it, he had a hinterland. When it came to the PFLP leader, however, he was just a political leader. The focus was not on himno one knew whether he had a family or a wifebut on the political impact.
Stalin once said that one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic. That is the problem with that part of the world: people on both sides have been responsible for appalling levels of violence. Let us work out the scale of that. Since the start of the intifada, 911 Palestinians have died. As a proportion of the population of the West Bank and Gaza, that is the equivalent of 16,000 people dying in the United Kingdom, or 75,000 people dying in the United States.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon rightly says that this issue should not be put on the back burner. But are we honestly saying that if 16,000 people died in this country, or 75,000 people in the United States, we would regard it simply as an issue of high diplomacy rather than as something that needed to be tackled urgently? We must be clear about such matters.
It is right that we call for an end to violence, but we need to say clearly to Israel that it cannot call for an end to violence on one side while continuing with an assassination policyanother assassination occurred yesterday. It is unacceptable and it undermines opportunities for peace. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon said, the actions of Sharon, and all too often the actions of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are each other's best recruiting sergeants.
Israel has an unconditional right to live in peace within secure borders. However, the international community must insist that Israel cannot demand that unconditional right for itself while assuming that it has discretion over whether anyone else has rights in that part of the world. Just imagine the outcry if a Palestinian group went into Israeli Government buildings in Jerusalem and took Sharon hostage at gunpoint in his office, and then said that they would not allow him to move out of that office unless he arrested those responsible for the assassination of Palestinian leaders. What would the international response be to that? Yet,
International law needs to be respected in that part of the world as elsewhere. My hon. Friend is right to say that that means an end to occupation. It also means that, while occupation is in existence, the provisions of the fourth Geneva convention need to be respected. The convention forbids collective punishment of people, yet the demolition of 58 homes in Rafah last week breaches that convention. Article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention prevents an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population to occupied territory. The settlements contravene that convention. The UK is a high contracting party to that convention, and in December some high contracting parties met, although the meeting was boycotted by Israel and the United States. It was good that most parties met and that they said that the breaches of the Geneva convention must end. However, non-governmental organisations were disappointed and argued that there is no enforcement mechanism. We must address that urgently.
I would like to address my last point to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. Israel has preferential trade relations with the European Union, under the EU-Israel Association agreement. It imports into the EU goods, under preference, produced in settlements in the occupied territories: settlements that are illegal under international law. That breaches the EU agreement, as Ministers have acknowledged several times. When Israel has been questioned about those imports, it has not answered fully requests for information from the EU. I have tabled several questions to my right hon. Friend and other Ministers about that agreement. In November, the EU-Israel Association Council met to consider those matters. I know that my right hon. Friend and the EU are concerned about the matter, but what are we doing about it? If Israel is refusing to answer questions fully, what are we doing to monitor what is coming into the EU that may be illegal under the agreement? If it is not possible to monitor that process properly, and it relies on the co-operation of a state that is prepared to breach the agreement in such a flagrant manner, the EU should consider whether the EU-Israel Association agreement can continue. I hope that my right hon. Friend will address that matter when he sums up.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon on securing the debate. The matter is of huge importance to world peace, and to our credibility in large parts of the world. If we want to bring about a just peace, it is time to move on from simply demanding talks and an end to the violence. We must do that, but we must also call a spade a spade. We must consider the essential elements of peace, and apply to the middle east the sort of standards that we apply to many other parts of the world.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) began the debate by questioning whether there was a way forward. I agree with the last two speakers. We cannot move forward as long as the Israeli Government have a political agenda to destabilise the Palestinian Authority
In the short term, everyone wants an end to violence and a willingness to return to talks, but that will not happen as long as peace moves are accompanied by impossible demands or artificial timetablesfor example, saying that talks will not begin until seven days without violence have passed, in the knowledge that assassinations will continue regardless. If we had taken that approach to Northern Ireland and said that we would not enter into any political discussions as long as there was violence from whatever source, we would still not have started negotiations or made political progress.
Something may be gained in the short term from trying to persuade both sides to accept international observers in the occupied territories. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) was right to say that the United Kingdom must be plain about the possible terms for any long-term settlement. Simply saying that we need to return to the terms of the Oslo agreement is not the basis for a long-term agreement. That long-term agreement would have to be on the basis of UN resolutions and international law, and is not just about an end to settlement building.
We are still at the stage of talking about the need to end the expansion of settlements. However, we need to return to the fundamental fact that every settlement in the West Bank and Gaza is illegal. There are only two options: either those settlements go or, as my hon. Friend said, their inhabitants live in a Palestinian state and under the control of that state rather than that of some occupying army that believes that it can walk in at any time and do what it likes.
Anyone who has visited the region, seen the settlements on the hilltops in the West Bank and the water that is being taken, and has contrasted that with what happens in Gaza and the conditions there, knows that peace will not happen while those conditions prevail. There have been suicide bombings, but much of the fighting and many of the killings over the past few months have occurred around those settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. They are the focus of the problem.
The other big issue that must be addressed in the long term is refugees. My hon. Friend and I were involved in the report to which he referred. People have lived in refugee camps in Lebanon and Gaza for years and see no prospect of getting out of those terrible conditions. It is evident that unless something is done to deal with the problem, there will be no lasting peace. We must recognise the imbalance. It is no good saying that we will be even handed in a situation that is not even handed by its nature. Rather than talking simply about what is needed in the short term to get negotiations going again to achieve a ceasefirewe are doing too much of thatwe must speak plainly about what is needed in the long term.
Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) for securing the debate at a crucial time. The Government must address the injustices that empower those who use political extremism and violence to advance their cause. The Taliban's defeat does not make
Since the tragic events of 11 September, there have been widespread violations of basic human rights by Israeli security forces against Palestinians. Settlements continue to be developed on disputed land, while tanks have rolled into Gaza and the West Bank. Since 1967, Israel has continued to contravene the United Nations charter and resolutions, but successive US Administrations have ignored it. It is the single biggest obstacle to peace in Palestine, with American policy causing resentment and fuelling terrorist violence and bloodshed.
In the west, we rightly criticise nations with no respect for human rights, but are reluctant to criticise Israel. Last month, young children died in Israeli missile attacks aimed at a Palestinian extremist wanted by Israel. Ariel Sharon has exercised force with no concern for casualties among the wider population. Innocent bystanders are always the victims, whether they are caught in the latest missile attack on the Gaza strip or trapped by a suicide bomber on a bus or in a café. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary assured us that Britain would remain even handed. To achieve that, our Government must not remain blind to the Israeli abuses exposed in recent weeks.
Amnesty International has shown the clear failure to halt torture of Palestinian prisoners, and the United Nations children fundUNICEFhas expressed concerns about 160 children held in Israeli jails who regularly suffer violence. I fully support the condemnation of the sickening suicide bombers, but it should not be followed by a grudging acceptance of Sharon's actions. Will the Minister assure me that the Prime Minister's goal of recognition for a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel remains a genuine aspiration for the Government and not one that has been shelved?
Palestinian leaders are vital allies in the struggle against terrorism. By offering no support at this vital time, Britain and the US help only those who seek to marginalise and weaken Arafat. That is not only Sharon and hardliners in his Administration, but the violent extremists among the Palestinians and wider Arab communities. We are fast losing the trust of the Palestinian people, and rebuilding that trust will require swift action and genuine gestures of support. We must tackle injustice in Palestine and elsewhere. It is patently obvious that sanctions on Iraq have not been successful. The Iraqi people have been weakened, but Saddam Hussein has been strengthened. How can sanctions benefit any of us when their impact bolsters a dictator while children suffer and die in poverty? The continuing dispute over Kashmir presents a real threat to peace and stability. It must be addressed by not only India and Pakistan but the wider world. My hon. Friend the
We will never win the hearts and minds of the oppressed people in any of those countries without facing up to our responsibilities as a key partner of the United States and a leading nation in Europe. The Western allies let down people in the middle east after the Gulf war, and they must not be let down again. The consequences will be terrible if Britain and our allies in the west fail to engage fully with nations in the region.
Key allies of the US such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are growing increasingly frustrated at the United States' failure to exert pressure on Israel to implement UN resolutions 242 and 338. Crown Prince Abdullah stated that Saudi Arabia stood at the side of the US around the globe, but recently told President Bush that he had made no effort to rein in Israel. I welcome the Prime Minister's renewed commitment to tackle terrorism and its causes, but urge our Government to redouble their efforts where injustice fuels violent extremism and threatens us all.
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) on securing this debate on a crucial issue at a crucial time. He made a thoughtful contribution and explained the development over time of the many intricacies of the conflict. We have heard passionate contributions from hon. Members who have taken issue with the notion of even-handedness, and have made powerful arguments about the difficulties that have befallen the Palestinian communities in the middle east. I hope that I shall not depart from an even-handed approach as I develop my brief thoughts and set out the Liberal Democrat position on the current crisis.
We have witnessed a cycle of despair, hope and renewed despair over many years with gruelling regularity. Over the weeks, months and years, the cycle has a familiar ring to it. The latest reports have struck a depressing note. The optimism felt before Christmas when Yasser Arafat's clampdown of 16 December was announced has given way in the past couple of weeks to more killings and revenge. It seems a long way from the hopes expressed by the Mitchell commission and the Oslo agreement before it.
On the face of it, the Mitchell commission did not seek very much. It saw the restoration of trust as essential, and wanted an unconditional cessation of violence and the resumption of security co-operation with cooling-off periods and confidence-building measures. Confidence on either side is now at a low ebb. Even-handedness has taken a pasting in the debate, but it is essential. The Government of Israel should recall that it was agreed at the Mitchell commission that all settlement activity, including the natural growth of existing settlements,
The difficulties facing all sides seeking a peaceful solution to the middle east crisis are not insignificant. We heard earlier about how many deaths have accompanied the crisis: more than 600some say more than 800Palestinians and nearly 200 Israelis have died. Those are shocking figures, both proportionately and absolutely. The trust mentioned by Mitchell clearly does not exist.
In recent months the international position has exerted an increasing influence. The cloud of 11 September still lingers, and the events of that day have been used by both sides to exploit middle east politics. The tragedy of 11 September was not the cause of conflict in the middle east, but has been used as an excuse and makes the need for a solution all the more pressing.
Concern remains about the spread of the conflict beyond Afghanistan and the middle east, perhaps to countries such as Iraq. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, we must make it clearespecially with our Government standing shoulder to shoulder with the United Statesthat we would disapprove of any extension of the conflict beyond Afghanistan in the absence of incontrovertible evidence, particularly of the consequences for the middle east.
In the sharp focus of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the prospects for peace might seem blurred. However, for all the worries about it, proper dialogue is the only solution. In seeking peace, we should consider the steps set out by Senator Mitchell. Peace should be based on core principles and United Nations resolutions. We must recognise, as must the combatants, that Israel has the right to live in peace in secure, recognised boundaries, free from threats and acts of force, and that the Palestinians are entitled to justice, land and a viable state.
We have heard requests for plain speaking, which is vital with Israel. Israel must freeze settlement building and desist from armed incursions into Palestinian areas. If we are to resolve the murderous disputes, Israel must not continue to undermine Arafat. For its part, the Palestinian Authority must sustain efforts to root out terrorists in its own areas and put its own house in order. The responsibilities for those outside the middle east are enormous, and the international community must not lose sight of that.
In the past, expectations have been raised, only to be dashed. The primacy of international law has been proclaimed in Afghanistan, but has often been ignored in the middle east. After the Gulf war, significant progress was made. After 11 September, it was hoped that more progress would be made, but in recent days that optimism has faded away. Our Government, acting with EU partners and in alliance with the United States, have a responsibility to ensure a return to dialogue and to keep striving for peace.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I thank the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) for securing the debate. It reflects well on the House that Members take an interest in a vital region: the greatest of Gordian knots in foreign affairs. I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said.
I come to the debate having worked for 20 years in the oil trade, conducting extensive business in the Arabian Gulf and Pakistan. Members will find a full list of my past connections in the Register of Members' Interests. More recently, I spent the new year in Oman as a guest of the Government, and I discussed the present middle east situation with many prominent Ministers, catching the end of the Gulf Co-operation Council meeting, which was held in Muscat. My background puts me in the unusual position of being a Front-Bench spokesman at severe risk of knowing what he is talking about.
The deterioration in relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority last December turned the eyes of the world once again to a dispute that is the backdrop to all middle eastern affairs. It is a dispute with energies and passions that we would prefer to see channelled into efforts for peace and stability. Millions of Palestinians feel humiliated and stateless; millions of Israelis feel threatened and insecure. We must address that reality and look across the Arabian peninsula to a groundswell of dangerous resentment against regimes unwilling to adapt to the times. In our attitude towards Israel and Palestine, we must beware of taking up entrenched positions that we refuse to revise subsequently. We must find a way of diluting the polarisation of opinion between pro-Israelis and pro-Arabs. In a world where conflict resolution should be a top priority for us all, it is not nonsense to declare that one is pro both when faced with a choice between Israelis and Arabs. If one is pro peace, there is no alternative. Such a view is in no way incompatible with condemning violence by whichever side against innocent civilians.
In December, the Conservative party and President Bush condemned the sickening suicide bombings in Israel. We called on Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to act swiftly, not only to detain those directly responsible for terrorist acts, but to ensure that all suspects were immediately brought into custody. We did so because such terrorist actions can only put the peace process at risk. The de-escalation of terrorist attacks after Yasser Arafat's call to militants on 16 December shows that he still has influence, which he must be committed to wielding. The Palestinian Authority must accept its responsibilities and show that it will not hide behind a smokescreen of excuses for inaction. Similarly, there can be no progress without security for Israel within clear and internationally recognised borders, an unreserved recognition of the state of Israel's right to exist, and a Palestinian willingness to place the Palestinian right of return to Israel on the agenda for reconsideration and modification. There can be neither progress nor peace without a halt to the suicide attacks and terrorist outrages or a genuine will to make concessions and build trust.
The events of 11 September were tragic, and the horror echoed around the world. However, we may find some good in that day if we learn the lessons. We must strive to persuade those who feel deeply disillusioned
He calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, for Palestinians to crack down on terrorism and for Israel to freeze all new construction of settlements. The plan has a framework for peace and progress. I have already stressed the vital importance of the guaranteed security of Israel, but in recognising the need for a Palestinian state we must make it clear that the process is two-sided.
All too often, Palestinians feel humiliated and stateless. Israel's frequent incursions into Gaza and the West Bank make them feel powerless and vulnerable. The Palestinians are a proud and historic people, and there can be no long-term peace until that wrong is put right. Self-determination was mentioned earlier, and is often touted as the answer to easing concerns. However, without a clear definition of what a viable Palestinian state would entail, self-determination risks becoming meaningless.
The hope that was evident on 16 October, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that he would agree to an independent Palestinian state if Israel's security was guaranteed, has faded. I have no intention of apportioning blame, as that would serve no purpose. Instead, I look forward with hope that such proposals will resurface and that steps will be taken to define such a state. A viable state is one that is sufficiently large to meet the needs of its people, with a guarantee of sufficient resources from its neighbours, if not from within its own borders. Thus, Israel would have to make a commitment to maintain water and power supplies. It also means a state with maritime access, which, in this case, can only be through Gaza. The issue requires careful thought. Similar proposals were proffered at Camp David, and I hope that they are still in the minds of all parties.
However, a debate cannot begin until a full ceasefire is in place. Only that would provide the minimum level of trust needed for a peace process to recommence. The Palestinian Authority cannot renege on its responsibility to rein in terrorists who choose not to recognise Israel's right to exist and who choose not to allow Israel the security from neighbouring states that it has a right to expect.
I commented earlier on the potential instability of the Arabian Gulf. We should remember that the term "middle east" includes the Gulf. The states are all geopolitically linked, and instability in one part
Iran is undergoing a transition, but it risks being messily derailed if the United States and the west misinterpret its progress and provoke a retrograde turn of events. We must be critical when necessary and continue to press for human rights, but we must also welcome attempts at modernisation and progress that could lead to Iran's becoming a stable and unthreatening neighbour in the region.
By comparison, Iraq is led by a tyrant who, in addition to subjugating his own people, seems determined to threaten others. We must not flinch from tackling terrorism wherever it exists, but we must be wary of provoking instability and the possible disintegration of Iraq in a post-Saddam Hussein era. We must always be mindful of the strategic balance in the Gulf between a weakened Iraq and a resurgent Iran.
My experience of the Gulf Co-operation Council reveals a growing sense of the need for economic unity and freer markets to access the political and economic benefits of prosperity in the Gulf countries. Economic stability is vital to political stability in the region, and the uneven distribution of economic reward must be addressed, especially for a growing younger generation.
We must recognise Israel's right to exist; we must detail its recognised borders and guarantee its security. For the Palestinians, we must have a proper debate about what would constitute a viable Palestinian state and accept its right to exist. Only when deep-rooted grievances are tackled will the stability that is so vital to every country return to the middle east. It is up to our Government, as much as any other, to do everything that they can to further the process.
The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain) : I very much welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). It is the first time that I have had the pleasure of agreeing with everything that an Opposition spokesman says. Along with my colleagues, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) for initiating the debate. Sadly, we have all seen the cycle of violence and bloodshed in the middle east during the past 16 months, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) spoke eloquently about its tragic consequences. There have been far too many funerals, broken families and shattered lives. Unfortunately, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have contributed to the crisis, and both have the responsibility to take steps to end the violence and resume political negotiations towards a permanent settlement. We, our European Union partners, the
We are encouraged by the engagement of the US in recent weeks. We support the vision of a two-state solution that was detailed by President Bush and developed further by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on 19 November. We welcome the strenuous diplomacy of US envoy General Anthony Zinni with both parties. His recent mission from 3 to 6 January opened up the opportunity for progress and raised some cautious optimism among those who have been closely involved. We have urged the US to continue its efforts. The Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), are urging the parties to do everything possible to prepare for the next stage, which is the implementation of the security plan proposed by CIA director George Tenet, as agreed by both parties. The Foreign Secretary has been in almost constant touch, by telephone and in person, with other Foreign Ministers throughout the world during the past few weeks, including during the Christmas and new year break.
We were concerned by the evidence that Palestinian officials were involved in the smuggling of weapons on the boat, the Karine A. However, it is important that the parties do not allow that affair to deflect them from consolidating the progress of recent weeks. We were concerned also by the recent attack by Hamas on Israeli soldiers on the edge of the Gaza Strip, although it is vital that that act does not lead to the renewal of the cycle of violence that we have seen hold the region in its bloody grip for most of the past 16 months.
Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): While I accept that we cannot use the activities of Hamas as a reason to retrace our steps, will my right hon. Friend restate our Government's position that the Palestinian Authority should be doing more to clamp down, arrest and detain the extremists who are causing so much terror in the region?
Israel is entitled to ensure its own security, and Israelis must be able to live their lives without fear. However, Israel's actions must be proportionate to the threat. We urge it to act with restraint and look beyond the desire for revenge to a vision of a region at peace, which can be achieved only through negotiations. We urge Israel to resume such negotiations soon, andthis is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy)the Palestinian Authority should at the same time deliver on its promise to end the violence and create the conditions for peace.
I realise that that is difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) spoke about the problems faced by the Palestinian Authority, and he has selflessly promoted justice for the Palestinians over the decades. However, the Palestinian Authority must make a 100 per cent. effort to prevent further instances of violence. It must degrade the terrorist infrastructures of
There is a recognised route back to the negotiating table, which we and our European Union partners support. Despite all the setbacks of the past eight months since the publication of the Mitchell committee report, it remains the best and, indeed, only option. Both parties have accepted the recommendations of the Tenet security plan and Mitchell committee report, and they should be implemented without delay. Ultimately, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will come only through a political process on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and the principle of land for peace. That would deliver security for Israel within recognised borders, end the occupation and allow the emergence of a viable, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state.
I am happy to give the assurance requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar): the British Government remain unequivocally committed to an independent and viable Palestinian state, on which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) argued.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we are fully engaged with the United States and our European Union partners in diplomatic efforts to move the peace process forward. The Prime Minister's special envoy, Lord Levy, has been involved in tireless diplomacy. He visited the region in December, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is there now.
European efforts are energetically led by Mr. Solana, the EU High Representative, who followed the Zinni mission with his own visit to the region between 6 and 9 January. He works within the framework of the Laeken European Council declaration, which reaffirms the package approach. It calls on the Palestinians to deliver on their commitments to end the violence and make arrests, and on Israel to cease actions such as the attacks on Palestinian infrastructure, which undermine the Palestinian Authority's ability to deliver.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) called for international observers, and we, the US and our EU partners believe that third-party monitors could help to overcome obstacles to the implementation of the Mitchell committee recommendations. For monitors to be successful, both parties would have to agree to their presence, and we hope that they will do so.
It has been suggested that we should have suspended the EU-Israel Association agreement because of concerns on rules of origin and human rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield asked what we were doing. We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Israeli Government on political, legal and humanitarian grounds. We did so again with our EU partners at the EU-Israel Association council on 20 November in Brussels. There is evidence that goods from settlements are imported as of Israeli origin. With our EU partners and Israel, we have been working for a speedy and comprehensive solution to that issue in a way that is compatible with European Community law.
We have called on Israel to end its policy of incursions and declare an end to its practice of assassinations, which are illegal under international law and promote tension on the ground. I am sure that we all agree that that is not in Israel's long-term interests. Under the terms of the Tenet plan, Israel is required to end proactive security operations in the Palestinian Authority, and we hope that it will do so.
My hon. Friends have raised a number of issues that divide the two parties and that will need to be resolved in the final status negotiations, leading to a settlement that allows the emergence of a viable Palestinian state and that provides security for Israel. As I have said, two states existing peacefully alongside each other are the two pillars of any solution. The issues still to be resolved are many and include the status of Jerusalem, the right of return for refugees, and borders and natural resources.
This has been a sombre and serious debate, befitting the deadly seriousness of the issues. When I listen to or participate in such debates, I think that in our domestic politics we use words such as "emergency" or "crisis" rather too easily, compared with the awful difficulties encountered by people trying to resolve the problems of violence in the middle east. The Palestinian and Israeli people have suffered from violence and fear for far too long. Sooner or later they must return to the negotiating table, as the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) said. That is the only means of creating peace in the region and ending the terrible violence that blights lives and guarantees that generation after generation will grow up with a sense and feeling of hatred.