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9.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) on an excellent speech. I agree wholeheartedly that this has been an excellent, well-attended debate—the most thoughtful that I have heard since coming to this place nearly five years ago. I thank all those who have contributed. I express sympathy to those who did not even become the fag end of the debate—I refer to those who were not called, having waited six and a half hours.

The debate has rightly been dominated by the grave situation in the Palestinian territories and Israel. However, I shall refer first to Iraq, on which the Government have made their position absolutely clear. Military action is not imminent or inevitable. Both my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have made it clear that, if that were to be the case, there would be ample future opportunity for debate in this place. All Britain's efforts at the moment are in the direction of trying to get Iraqi compliance with United Nations resolutions and the return of weapons inspectors.

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I believe that the House is agreed that the situation in the Holy Land is extremely grave. The spiral of violence is intolerable, and it has the potential to set back the cause of peace by years. The recent policy adopted by the Israeli Government in defiance of world opinion has been wrong, counter-productive and futile. The failure of the Palestinian leadership to curb violence and stop the suicide bombings has made the job of those in Israel who argue for a better policy much more difficult.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members made powerful speeches, giving their analyses of the current situation. They included my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). Most of those Members, if not all, described themselves as traditional friends of Israel. However, they all expressed extremely strong concern that while Israel must have its right to security, it has done itself immense damage by its recent behaviour, which has been unacceptable and counter-productive.

Many Members listened in silence to the testimony of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who sadly is no longer in her place. It has been supported by a growing number of United Kingdom press reports. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear this afternoon that if we had our own official reports by now, we would give them to the House. I am pleased to tell the House that our defence attaché in Tel Aviv made a trip to Jenin today with two colleagues and has returned safely. His report states:

Israeli defence force—

I hope that I speak for the House in calling this evening on the Israeli Government to allow full and unrestricted access to international charities to the Jenin camp. I wish to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) that we are doing everything that we can to get the children to whom he referred out of Nablus. At present, we have been given no permission by the IDF to go there. However, we have received assurances from the Israelis that the children will not come to any harm.

We have rightly heard from a number of right hon. and hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) and for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) and the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), about the current psychological state of the Israeli people. It was right and proper that we heard from those Members. If we are to solve the situation, we must understand the Israelis' sense of vulnerability. I was pleased that the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk said that she agreed that Israel should take note of international opinion and comply immediately with UN resolution 1402. It was right of all the right hon. and hon. Members to whom I have referred to remind the House of the devastating psychological impact of the campaign of suicide bombings and their counter-productive effect on the hopes for peace.

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I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood said about the disappointment in Israel about the Camp David failure. I do not want to spend too much time dwelling on the past or going into claims or counter-claims about who was to blame for the failure of Camp David. For the remainder of my speech, I wish to try to point out a way forward.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Briefly, as chair of the all-party Britain-Palestine group, I had hoped to contribute to the debate but sadly could not. We have heard an alternative view from Israel in the House today, on which I would appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. Uri Avnery, the noted peace campaigner, was here and made it clear that we do the peace camp in Israel no favours at all if we ease up on our criticism of its abrogation of human rights. I am sure that he would welcome my hon. Friend's speech. It is important to recognise that there is an alternative view in Israel, which we should support.

Mr. Bradshaw: I recognise that.

In his extremely constructive contribution, the shadow Foreign Secretary asked whether there were parallels with Northern Ireland. I agree that there are some parallels, but not others. One parallel that he accepted was the need for political dialogue; there is no simple security solution to the problem of Israel and the Palestinian territories. In the absence of politics, extremists fill the vacuum. There are responsibilities on both sides, which have been clearly spelt out by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and in countless United Nations resolutions, most recently in the unanimous resolution 1402 adopted 10 days ago.

There are also responsibilities on the Arab states. The whole House welcomed the unanimous declaration of the recent Beirut summit in support of the initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and our Prime Minister's recommendation that it should be embraced in a UN resolution.

The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) asked specifically whether we had taken measures or had had recent conversations to try to dissuade some Governments in the region from supporting rejectionist groups. The answer is yes, we do so regularly. The Foreign Secretary has recently had conversations with his Iranian counterparts, encouraging them to play a more positive role. Colin Powell was no doubt in Syria and Lebanon to deliver similar requests.

Many hon. Members stressed the importance of third-party involvement and, above all, the importance of the engagement of the United States of America. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, North (David Winnick) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) and the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) all stressed the unique ability of the United States to make a difference in the region and its responsibility to engage there. We should all welcome the statement of President Bush last Thursday week on the eve of his weekend summit with the Prime Minister in Crawford. My right hon. Friend the

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Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) added sound advice on how best to sustain American engagement and persuade the Americans to fulfil their responsibilities in the region.

We heard an important contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), who expressed his growing feeling that the incremental approach of the past had not worked: the old models of Madrid and Oslo were not the way forward. The Government have some sympathy with that, which is why the Foreign Secretary spelt out in his opening speech more clearly than any other recent British Foreign Secretary what a final settlement would look like. He went into considerable detail, which I do not intend to reiterate, about what an Israel secure in its borders, with normal relations with the Arab world would look like, and what a Palestinian state, viable, recognised and respected by Israel, would look like.

That will not be easy, and it will require a number of myths to be debunked. Several of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have been doing a good job of that in the past few hours. One of those myths is that the right of return will mean in practice the return of all Palestinian refugees to green line Israel. That will not happen. On the Israeli side, such myths include the idea that there can be a viable Palestinian state without east Jerusalem as its capital, and the idea that there can be a peace settlement while the existing Israeli settlements remain in their present number in the occupied territories. The settlements are against international law and they will have to go.

Right hon. and hon. Members made a number of other suggestions for measures and actions. Let me say at the outset that it would be foolish for any politician to rule anything out for ever. What we do not want to do is detract or divert attention from the current important diplomatic efforts, particularly the mission of Secretary of State Powell.

On arms, contrary to what was suggested, the Germans have not implemented an arms embargo. There is no EU consensus for such an embargo. I understand that the answer which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife thought that he had received from the Foreign Secretary did not arrive in time, so I wish to put it on record that our current policy is that we will no longer take into account the Israeli assurances given to us in November 2000 that they would not use UK-originated equipment in the occupied territories. Those assurances have proved to be unsound. Nothing that could be used for internal repression or external aggression will get an export licence. In the current circumstances, those criteria will apply widely to military equipment destined for Israel.

On sanctions, I do not believe that that is a sensible idea at this stage. It would simply push Israeli public opinion further into the bunker in which it already is, as we heard from hon. Members. We do not want to do anything, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) said, to undermine Colin Powell's mission.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley suggested that we cut off diplomatic relations. I do not

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think that that would be sensible at this stage. It has not been done by Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel. It is vital that we keep those avenues of dialogue open. We may well feel better by suggesting such gestures, but the Government are interested in action that will make a difference on the ground and increase the likelihood of a settlement with justice.

I have endeavoured to respond to the points and questions raised by right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. If hon. Members feel that I have failed to do so, will they please speak to me afterwards? I shall happily write to them.

There is overwhelming agreement in the House that the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories is desperate, but I should like to leave the House with a ray of hope. A number of the ingredients that are essential for a peace settlement are in place in a way that they never have been before. That point was made by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) when he rightly said that minds have moved in the past 10 years.

There is unprecedented international agreement about what peace with justice in Israel and Palestine would look like. Despite the current situation, that is still supported by the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians. It is a vision that unites the Arab world, the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Nations. It is enshrined in the recent United Nations resolutions and in the unanimous declaration of the Arab summit in Beirut. Following President Bush's statement, America is more engaged than it has been before, and Colin Powell's mission is continuing. The signs give us cause for cautious optimism.

The parties in the region—the Israelis and Palestinians and their neighbours—must grasp this opportunity. They must show the courage and the leadership to achieve peace with justice, rather than condemn generations of Palestinians and Israelis to more death, violence and hatred. Britain, as always, stands ready to help.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.

LYNNE JONES, who acted as a Teller in Division No. 211, came to the Table.

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