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David Winnick (Walsall, North): Everyone should condemn the suicide bombers without any qualification, but is not the core of the issue the need for a viable and genuine Palestinian state, not a statelet, without which all the indications are that the sea of blood will continue and so many innocent people on both sides will lose their lives?

How far is the United States really committed to such a Palestinian state? We should bear in mind the fact that time and again Sharon has indicated his strenuous opposition—indeed, all his political lifetime, at least in the last 35 years—to giving up the territories occupied since 1967. Only the terrorists will triumph if we do not bring about the sort of state to which a Palestinian people are entitled.

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend: in the end, it is the political solution that will count. I believe that America is committed to the two principles that I described. Indeed, President Bush's recent statement made that very clear. The engagement of the United States now—especially the visit of Colin Powell—is extremely important. All the way through, my plea to everyone involved in the situation is that we must stay with it to get a result. The current situation has gone down so far—it is so bad—that only by continuous engagement, which I am sure the US will offer, will we have any form of solution. My hon. Friend is right to say that in the end it is the political solution that will work.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk): I speak as chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Like the Prime Minister, I have many links with the Jewish community in this country. He knows that among the principal concerns are guarantees for Israel. It is of course within the power of the Israeli Government to cease their military activity forthwith—Israel is, after all, a democratic state—but if they did, what guarantees would there be that the terrorist attacks would cease? Who is capable of delivering those guarantees? This afternoon, the Prime Minister hinted that there may be international policing and monitoring of the situation, but, for me, the nub of the problem is the question of guarantees.

The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Lady puts her finger on what is understandably the issue for

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Israel. The only truthful answer is that no absolute guarantees can be given about anything in this situation. However, what we can do is to look back two or three years when the current level of violence was not happening and a real political process was on track. I happen to believe that the offer made by Prime Minister Barak at the time should have been looked at in a different light—but it was not. We have to get back to a situation in which that political process is under way. The only reason why I offer the prospect of outside help in the initial stages is that I think that the thing is so bad now that I cannot see that there is even the basic minimum of trust for guarantees, which cannot be made without that. I totally understand—I have held this conversation many times, which is why I do not take the view held by some others. For example, some European leaders would probably take a less sympathetic view than I do towards the position of Israel. Knowing that its people are subject to suicide attacks and terrorist bombs—we know what that is like; we went through it ourselves in the 1970s—the pressure on Israel to act is enormous.

I understand all of that, but I come back to the basic point: unless there is a political process, the violence continues. Although the guarantees that can be given may not be absolute, we have a better chance of delivering security if there is a political process and if there is some outside help simply to make sure that the Palestinian Authority are actually doing what they said they would do.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): A former Israeli Cabinet Minister said of Mr. Sharon, during their last election, that he was a serial arsonist. That was because of the experience of Lebanon. Again, Mr. Sharon seems to be wedded to a purely military solution. Today, we heard from the secretary-general of the council of ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, that the only option left to any Palestinian was

That appears to be a clear incitement to suicide bombers and is wholly irresponsible. Given the gravity of the situation and the fact that it is getting worse, how can one force both sides to the table? Has my right hon. Friend, with President Bush and our US allies, considered using the threat of forms of sanction to force both sides to the negotiating table, which is the only way to find a resolution to this appalling problem?

The Prime Minister: I am not sure that in these circumstances that would provide the solution. In the medium term, we need agreement on basic security measures with, if necessary, outside help to monitor them.

I totally agree with what my right hon. Friend said about the remarks that have been made, but in the end the only way through is to restart the political process. I am repeating myself, but that is true. The trouble is that the political process cannot restart until minimum security steps are taken. My worry is that the two sides are so far apart that there is no prospect of a political process or of putting the parties round a table until we have begun a bridging process towards that, based on security.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell President Bush that many in this country are not yet persuaded that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is sufficiently great to

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justify military action, especially when the middle east is in such a turbulent state? Will he also tell Prime Minister Sharon that although suicide bombs are a particularly horrible way in which to carry out murder, from the point of view of the victim there is not much difference between a suicide bomb and a rocket, a tank shell or an air-launched bomb discharged from afar? They are equally undiscriminating in their consequences.

The Prime Minister: I really cannot add much to what I have said on Iraq. On the last point, that is precisely why the situation is as it is, and in a sense that is what the terrorists want. The original terrorist act is designed to produce a reaction; inevitably in the reaction that follows, innocent people die as well as those who may be terrorists, and the situation spirals downward from there. The only way out of that situation is the one that I have described.

What is happening on both sides is absolutely appalling, and what always strikes me about such situations is that both sides get themselves into a position where they cannot see that innocent blood is being shed on the other side as well as on their own. That is why external assistance is necessary to bring the parties closer together.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Going back to the Prime Minister's opening statement, he referred to his discussions with President Chirac. Did President Chirac tell him—I bet he didn't—that in 1977, when he was Prime Minister of France, he had as a guest the thuggish young vice-president of Iraq, and he took him on a detour in Provence to, of all places, Cadarache, the French equivalent of Aldermaston? It is to my discredit that I, like many others, turned a blind eye to the huge amount of arms being poured into Iraq in the 1980s by our country and others.

As late as January this year—between 26 and 30 January—Iraq was given a clean bill of health by the International Atomic Energy Agency. I concede that that is different from the inspectors. Nevertheless, the IAEA gave Iraq a clean bill of health on nuclear capacity. In those circumstances and given the fact that the Defence Secretary had an invitation to send a scientific delegation of his choosing to Iraq at the beginning of March, would it not be wise at least to go and talk to Iraq? If nothing comes of that, so be it, but is it not high time that we started serious discussions?

The Prime Minister: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I do not think that I will comment on President Chirac and whoever he may have had as a guest in the 1970s.

My hon. Friend's point is serious on two levels. First, in respect of sending a team out to Iraq, in my view that is best done through the United Nations. Saddam Hussein has the opportunity to prove that he has nothing to hide by letting the inspectors back in unconditionally; he should do that.

My hon. Friend says, fairly, that he and everyone else turned a blind eye to what was happening in Iraq in the 1980s. There is some truth in that, but what we are learning about our international community is that when we turn a blind eye, sooner or later the problems come

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back to us full frontally. That is precisely what happened in Afghanistan, and it is one reason why, although we must act carefully and sensibly, we should certainly not turn a blind eye to what Saddam Hussein is doing.

As for my hon. Friend's point about nuclear capability, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is still trying to acquire nuclear capability and ballistic missile capability. Furthermore, although we do not know what has happened, we suspect that the piles of chemical and biological weapons remain.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): When I met Chairman Arafat in the last few days of Binyamin Netanyahu's Administration, we spent about an hour and a half discussing all the outstanding problems in bringing a peace process to a conclusion. He said that there was at that time nothing that could not be resolved with good will, and that the main obstacle was the personality of Binyamin Netanyahu. When I asked him how that could be overcome, he said that if only he could deal with Ehud Barak, a deal could be achieved. It is therefore tragic that when he got a deal with Barak, he did not take it.

I am extremely worried that the documents that the Israelis claim to have captured in Ramallah and elsewhere, which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and which I saw yesterday, appear to show that at the highest level the Palestinian Administration have been sponsoring, organising and even funding terrorist acts. As a result, it will be all the more difficult to build confidence in any future arrangements. What does the Prime Minister think may be done to overcome that problem, and can he flesh out his ideas about the possible involvement of other, sensible Arab Administrations in that process?

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