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6.31 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I hope that tomorrow the Foreign Secretary will invite the Israeli ambassador to come to his office—I do not say summon him—and give him a copy of Hansard. There is a message running through this debate. Parliamentarians who are deeply attached to Israel—some have an attachment going back many, many years—are deeply distressed by what is going on at the moment.

I cannot claim to have been a friend of Israel for as long as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who made a most moving speech. However, within weeks of entering the House of Commons in 1970, I got together with Lord Janner, as he now is, and others, and we formed the Campaign for the Release of Soviet Jewry. We worked hard to get people visas from the then Soviet Union to go to a land which, if not exactly flowing with milk and honey all the time, was a land of freedom, a true democracy, a country of which we could all be proud to be friends.

One of the first countries that I had the privilege of visiting as a Member of Parliament was the state of Israel. I went with a group of colleagues; the House must remember that it was just three years after 1967. We stood on the Golan heights, visited the other historic parts of Israel, and went to the holy places. We all came back conscious of the pioneering spirit of the Israeli people, conscious of their vulnerability and conscious that almost all their neighbours wished to push them into the sea or crush them one way or another.

Over the years, one has watched Israel develop and one has been extremely glad that a degree of normality began to come to the middle east. The way in which Begin and Sadat came together was deeply impressive; the part played in that by President Jimmy Carter was also extremely impressive. Now, of course, the situation is very different. Israel has, over the past two months or more, forfeited its right to claim the moral high ground. I find that distressing.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) spoke most movingly of her recent experiences. She brought home to us, in a way that nobody else has done, what is going on at the moment. However, we have only to watch our television screens and read our newspapers to realise that crimes are being perpetrated—I use my words carefully and deliberately—by a civilised state that are bound to forfeit the respect of the world for that state.

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Mr. Sharon has one great accomplishment: he has virtually united the world in condemnation of the enormity of his actions. He has created a situation in which many who were sceptical about whether there should be a state of Palestine now accept it and promote it as official policy. I am glad about that; I think that there should be a state of Palestine, side by side with the state of Israel—both within secure guaranteed borders, enjoying international recognition and a degree of international protection. Mr. Sharon has indeed taken the agenda forward, but he has behaved, as the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) said, as a Milosevic—a war criminal. He has used the apparatus of a mighty army and a civilised democratic state to crush.

Nobody in this House cannot but condemn the suicide bombing, but what drives a 16 or 17-year-old girl to go into a restaurant or to a bus stop and blow other people and herself up? I say to Members of this House that if they had been born where she had been born, if they had been taught what she had been taught and if they had been deprived of hope as she had been deprived of hope, they might have done the same. The true poor of the 21st century are those who have no hope. In Palestine, they do not have hope, and we must recognise that.

I yield to no one in my defence of the state of Israel, its right to exist, and to no one in my condemnation of any terrorist barbarism, but I say to the Prime Minister of Israel and his Government that they have brought many of these atrocities upon their own people by the way in which they have over-reacted and over-retaliated. They have forfeited the respect of their friends; they have made a great country into a pariah nation. They have behaved in a way that puts them beyond the pale of decency and civilised values.

It is not easy to say these things so strongly, but I say them because I believe them to be true. I hope that tomorrow the Israeli ambassador will convey to his Government just how many of his friends in this Parliament, on both sides of the House, feel about their actions. He should see, in particular, a copy of the speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, himself a Jewish Member, with an impeccable record in this regard. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—I hope that he is not blushing outside.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Not much chance.

Sir Patrick Cormack: That is wisely said. However, the right hon. Gentleman is, above all else, a friend of Israel. Let the Israeli Government realise what they are doing to civilised opinion in this Parliament at Westminster.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said, in a powerful speech, if the Americans do not take a firm grip, the whole substance of the fight against terrorism is undermined. Saddam Hussein is a brutal and terrible dictator who has done the most despicable things to his own people. I have great sympathy with everything that the Prime Minister has said about him, but I know that if action is taken against him while Sharon is in power and behaving in the way that he is, the middle east will go up like a tinderbox. All those who are inclined to join the coalition or who are uneasy members will desert it.

When I visited the United States with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs shortly before Christmas, I was impressed by much of what we were told. Nobody

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could stand at ground zero and fail to be deeply moved, but I was disturbed by the fact that many of the people we met did not seem to realise that unless the Palestine-Israel conflict is brought to an end, on sensible and civilised terms that allow the existence of both states, the breeding ground for terror will remain.

I hope, therefore, that the message will go out from the House today that there is no one who is not committed to an independent, democratic state of Israel; but also that there is no one who is not deeply disturbed by the way in which its Government are behaving at present.

6.41 pm

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the heartbreaking situation in the middle east. I do so on the eve of yom ha'Atzma'ut, the Israeli independence celebration, for which, this evening, my constituents will be gathering in a determined but solemn manner.

I speak as chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, as an avowed supporter of land for peace and—as everyone who knows me well is aware—as a passionate believer in a democratic Palestinian state existing alongside a safe and secure Israeli state, as a neighbour rather than as an enemy. I fully endorse the Prime Minister's statement that there is no exclusively military solution to this complex political problem.

I support the Tenet proposals, the Mitchell plan, the Camp David proposals and the most recent Saudi proposals. I endorse the idea that they could form the basis of a new UN resolution that would garner broad international support.

In advocating anything that would bring the two sides closer together in a just settlement, I believe that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want a peaceful resolution of the problems. Both communities have hurt, bled and died for far too long. Both communities accept the painful need to make difficult concessions.

From my background as an avid supporter and chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I am happy to associate myself with all the proposals that advocate the creation of a democratic Palestinian state. I was in Israel when the secrecy about the Oslo talks was broken and the accord became public. I joined tens of thousands of Israelis from all political backgrounds in an almost spontaneous Peace Now demonstration in the enormous public square in Tel Aviv. That square has now been named after the late Yitzhak Rabin as, tragically, he was assassinated there. I admit to breaking a small council byelaw when I was there by joining many hundreds bathing in the public fountains, such was my joy in the belief that a new opportunity was on the horizon. Sadly, we are where we are now.

It is easy to apportion blame, but in my short comments I want to try to put my perspective in context. It is clear that a generous offer was made at Camp David. Our Prime Minister made that point, as did President Clinton. The deal was not ideal for either side. It involved painful concessions, but I believe that they would have been built on if peace had been maintained. It was a continuing process rather than a permanent settlement.

We must all be honest about what a minority of terrorists hope to achieve. There has been a lack of perspective about that. Some hon. Members have said

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that the peace process was destroyed by the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, but in fact when Shimon Peres was the caretaker Prime Minister and the Labour Government were trying to negotiate a peace settlement, there were regular terrorist bus bombings. When Ehud Barak was trying to negotiate during the build-up to Camp David, bus bombings and suicide attacks were a regular occurrence. While the peace process was going on and hope was at its highest, terrorists continued to bomb innocent civilians in an attempt to undermine the process.

Neither of the last two Labour Governments of Israel were brought down by differences between the left and the right over the economy or other factors of that nature. Those Administrations were supported by the people of Israel in the hope that they could deliver peace and security, but history will judge that, unfortunately, that was not the case.

For people in Hamas and Islamic Jihad and for some of those in Al Aqsa—the so-called martyrs brigade—no concession would be good enough. We all know that drastic action is needed on Israeli settlements, but even if not one settler remained, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some in Al Aqsa would continue to bomb innocent Israelis. Even if there were the most expansive Palestinian state, those people would continue to bomb innocent Israeli civilians.

Many Israeli civilians do not believe, or are unconvinced, that there is a partnership for peace. Israel, under a Labour Government, rightly withdrew from Lebanon. Although that took far too long, it was in full compliance with UN resolution 425, yet Hezbollah continues to mount terrorist attacks and launch rockets across the border. We have to accept that there is a hardcore coalition of organisations, and, yes, states, that does not believe in Israel's right to exist. It includes Syria, Lebanon and elements in Iran, Iraq and, sadly, in the Palestinian Authority. Arms shipments from Iran are delivered to the Palestinian Authority. There are strong allegations—although an independent assessment has yet to be made—that the Authority is providing funds for the families of suicide bombers. Elements in the Palestinian Authority glorify the suicide bombers while describing their activities as outwith its agreed policy or strategy.

The difficulty for all of us who want to see the two states living alongside one another is that while the majority of Palestinians and Israelis accept a peace settlement—albeit with painful concessions—a hardcore minority will never accept one. Who will guarantee the ceasefire for the people of Israel? Who will protect them against Hamas or Islamic Jihad? Will Chairman Arafat—or, in a Palestinian state, President Arafat—give that guarantee? It cannot just be willed in English or in Arabic, on television or radio; it must be given through action, not merely in words of equivocal condemnation or criticism. Until that guarantee can be delivered, I have substantial fears that Israel will be unable to make the essential and difficult concessions that are necessary.

The coalition of terror, which involves states and individual benefactors throughout the region, has killed 126 innocent Israeli civilians in the past month alone—Jews and Israeli Arabs alike. In this debate and on other occasions, hon. Members have drawn parallels with Northern Ireland. During the horrific dark days of the troubles there was disgraceful bloodshed and mass

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slaughter in Northern Ireland, to the eternal shame of those in the IRA and other organisations who carried out those deeds.

On average, every year, 31 innocent civilians were brutally murdered by the IRA and their friends, yet in only one month, 126 innocent civilians were killed by suicide bombers in Israel. In one month alone, Palestinian terrorists killed more civilians than the IRA managed to kill in four years of the troubles at their darkest. That tragic loss of life has led the majority of Israelis, who are peace loving and wish to reach an accommodation with their neighbour, to turn to alternative means.

There is pain and suffering on both sides—we all know about the deaths of Palestinian children, mothers and grandmothers—but I shall cite just one terrible example: the recent slaughter in which a suicide bomber killed 28 innocent Jewish civilians as they celebrated Passover, including Frieda Britvich, 86 years of age; Anna Yakobovitch, 78 years of age; and Eva Weiss, 75 years of age. All three were survivors of the holocaust, and all three lost their lives to a suicide bomber on the eve of Passover.

We have to ask ourselves honestly how we would react as a democracy that wishes to reach an accommodation and accepts the need for painful concessions. How would we choose to react? I say that not as a friend of Ariel Sharon in any sense, as everyone knows. In conclusion—

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