Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 160-177)



Mr Hamilton

  160. Obviously the Middle East Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a running sore and it is a source of extreme anger to many people in the Arab and Muslim world. One of the many attempts at a way of bringing both parties back to the peace table has been the efforts of the French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine on 9 February. One of the things he has tried to do is support the Palestinian elections which he felt would uphold the Palestinian Authority's popular legitimacy in its efforts to crack down on extremists. His proposal is that there should be general elections or perhaps even a vote for a legislative council and that that would prepare for presidential elections once a Palestinian state had been established. Obviously part of that would mean troops on the Israeli side would have to withdraw to positions they held before September 2000. In your opinion, could Palestinian elections help to re-start a peace process or would they further radicalise Palestinians? Do you think the proposals set out on 9 February by the French Government are viable at all?
  (Dr Hollis) Calling for elections has two useful purposes even if they do not occur immediately. One is that it is a signal to the Israelis that they are not in charge of choosing who the Palestinian leadership is and that if they choose not to deal with Yasser Arafat, then the international community should indicate they will be ready to hold new elections. Then if he is re-voted in, you have to deal with him. It is useful to head off any notion that the other side in the conflict can determine who is acceptable as the leadership of the Palestinians. Also it serves a purpose in drawing attention to the fact that it would be very difficult to have free and fair elections under the current circumstances because of where the tanks are, because of the interruption in Palestinian communications. The Palestinians themselves tell me that they are fearful that the elections would not be free and fair.

  161. Why not? Is that because of the overwhelming power of Yasser Arafat and his colleagues, or is that because of the situation of occupation by the Israelis?
  (Dr Hollis) Both. They anticipate that there would be collusion. These are Palestinians who think that the Israeli leadership under successive Labour governments colluded with Arafat and his cohorts to do a peace deal which turned a blind eye to corruption, in fact probably encouraged corruption in the Palestinian Authority and expected of the Palestinian Authority that they would exercise police powers on behalf of Israeli security. So you have frustrations on the Palestinian side that they would like to express in terms of being able to vote for representatives who did not necessarily come from the Arafat camp. That does not throw them all into the Hamas camp either. There is a new breed of young leadership candidates who do not have this history of engagement with the Israelis, who do possibly represent a threat to the Israelis in that sense because they want to tough it out, they want to fight it out, but who also represent a camp which would settle for a two-state solution, which is not about the elimination of Israel.

  162. What do you think actually are the necessary conditions for achieving the two-state solution in this conflict?
  (Dr Hollis) I would suggest that there are those in the Israeli community, as well as in the Palestinian community, who would respond positively if Europe and the United States together could put some flesh on the bones of Colin Powell's suggestion that a two-state solution is required and that a viable Palestinian state is necessary for peace, could flesh it out a bit more. They could thereby invite those who would like peace on both sides to galvanise around such an initiative but not to impose a solution. I believe this could give a plank to those people frustrated with their leaderships on both sides. Israelis tell me that if Sharon ever got his seven days complete quiet, he would not know what to do with it. For the time being he can prevent it ever getting to that point by requiring something that it would seem that Arafat cannot 100 per cent deliver. He can get close, but he cannot do exactly what Sharon wants. Ideally one would entice populations to find leaderships that would galvanise around a plan that would represent a two-state solution.

  163. Israel is a democratic society, a democratic country. We have seen the recent peace rally in Tel Aviv—and not before time really. Do you think that support for Sharon's policies is waning? I know a recent opinion poll shows that. Is the evidence of 15,000 Israelis gathering in Tel Aviv for this peace rally and the revolts by the Israeli defence force soldiers recently evidence that Sharon's path is the wrong path and that there is a growing consensus inside Israel for the kind of two-state solution we have discussed?
  (Dr Hollis) The short answer is yes.

Mr Illsley

  164. One of my questions follows on from that. Are the refuseniks, the Israeli soldiers who refused to serve, having an effect within Israel?
  (Dr Hollis) I believe so. When it first came to light I heard from a couple of Israelis that this happened during the first intifada that reservists were refusing to do a second tour of duty in the West Bank or Gaza because they did not like it on moral grounds as well as practical grounds. That in itself told me that this is something which gains momentum. It is when they are called back for the second tour of duty, in other words we have to wait this out; facing a third tour of duty even more of them will refuse. The futility of suppression of the Palestinians without a political vision becomes increasingly clear over time and therefore this business of reservists being called back and refusing to go reveals that stage by stage.

  165. In the evidence you supplied you gave three possible scenarios. One was a cease-fire, the second was years of the status quo in terms of conflict carrying on until people get fed up with the two leaderships and the third one was a complete escalation to involve Jordan and perhaps other countries in a much wider conflict. Which one of those three do you think is the more likely, bearing in mind what you said about leaderships? My own view is that Sharon is simply taking no notice of anyone internationally and is simply carrying on with his own agenda. I was interested when you said he would not know what to do with a seven-day cease-fire and I probably would agree with that. Is his ambition basically to destabilise Arafat to the point where Arafat is just destabilised as leader and cannot continue?
  (Dr Hollis) On the last point, I think he could never be brought to talk peace with Arafat personally. Secondly, it is not only worrying that he thinks he can determine who should replace Arafat, but I believe he is misguided in thinking that a replacement which has his blessing would have any street credibility. Yes, he is caught up in trying to change the Palestinian leadership as a tactical way out of the current situation, but I do not see it delivering any particular hope for the ending of the conflict. I really do not rate highly the chances of implementation of a cease-fire along the lines of Tenet and then the recommendations of Mitchell, and I think I made it clear in my written submission. It is clear that if we hold out for that we could hang out for a couple of years. In the meantime there probably will be a change in the Palestinian leadership and maybe in the Israeli leadership and not necessarily to the benefit of peace. It is a tossup between a long and drawn out conflict when they exhaust themselves or escalation. It teeters on the brink of both. Israelis have explained to me that as far as they are concerned escalation would be the re-occupation of Palestinian towns and these house-to-house searches which some members of the Israeli Cabinet are calling for. Disarm the Palestinians physically. My sense is that that actually does not produce peace either. Another version of escalation: The worst scenario for escalation being floated is that if there is a war on Iraq, this is the moment for those who would like to transfer members of the Palestinian population across the river to find some way of doing that in the chaos. That is pretty far fetched.

  166. Do you mean complete expulsion?
  (Dr Hollis) A new refugee crisis on the Jordan river, put it that way, which creates a crisis for Jordan, especially if it is facing a campaign to change the regime in Baghdad. Jordan's stability depends on having at least one stable neighbour out of Israel and Iraq. If both of them are in turmoil, Jordan's stability is increasingly fragile.

Mr Chidgey

  167. Just to pick up on your point about definition of escalation, could you give me your views on what you feel is the actual agenda of Sharon in terms of a military solution as you might see it or a military approach to the problem compared to a political approach? Would you subscribe to the view that Sharon's agenda might well be to reduce Palestine in its wider sense to just a number of enclaves which could then be militarily controlled and not really pursue at all any concept of two states living in harmony or whatever?
  (Dr Hollis) I have tried quite hard to visualise how Sharon might see this thing panning out. He does concede a Palestinian entity as part of a long-term solution, but that entity would be very much smaller than the 1967 lines and it would be disarmed and ideally the Israelis would still have some capacity to enter on search and destroy missions, maybe justified in the name of preventing car theft or something. No, that is putting it too far. They would expect to co-operate with the Palestinian police on that. But Sharon would reckon that the Palestinians can have their own civil state but they cannot have a normal sovereign state in the sense of having regular armed forces and capabilities. As a result of this intifada he would probably say they cannot even have firearms for the time being.

  168. I should like to ask a number of questions, if I may, just to expand on your comments about Europe and the United States and their effectiveness in trying to establish some peace process. Do you believe that the best prospect for making peace in the Middle East is in fact a united line of assistance between the EU and the US? Do you feel that is fundamental that the EU and the US have to work together in presenting a possible solution?
  (Dr Hollis) Yes, but the EU could shoulder more of the burden with the tacit support of the United States. It would be no good to go directly up against the US. They do not want to get heavily involved, they do not see any mileage in it, but at least if Europe were prepared to get more involved, they would need the US blessing as opposed to US opposition.

  169. Do you see any prospect of such a joint initiative?
  (Dr Hollis) Maybe with this ruminated Saudi proposal. The passage of time is producing a greater possibility of the Europeans and the United States saying more about what a solution would look like. We have been stuck for several months with everybody just piling the pressure on Arafat and that route has run its course and there is not much more to come from that source.

  170. Looking at how the United States is reacting or active within this scenario and how the EU is at the moment, what impact do you feel there is on this prospect of a joint peace initiative, the fact that the US is backing Israel politically whilst the EU is to a degree funding Palestine? Are those mutually exclusive or are they in fact compatible? Do you feel there is some way that could be managed in pressure or encouragement or whatever to both sides?
  (Dr Hollis) Since it is so much the case, it is probably better to try to find advantage in that division of labour than to wish it were different. My sense is that actually with the suicide bombings of 1 and 2 December US sympathy for the Israelis was so profound that that was the moment at which they decided that the Palestinian suicide bombers were part of the same enemy that they were fighting themselves. Unless there is another episode like that, the trend is towards the Americans feeling that Sharon really does not have a plan and that however great their sympathy, they are looking for more constructive leadership on the Israeli side and with time I see that the trend is towards the United States offering less uncritical support and perhaps more critical support of the Israelis even if they do not say it very loudly and openly.

Mr Maples

  171. May I bring you back to Saudi Arabia and Egypt because they seem to me to be the two key Arab countries in the region? We and the United States are trapped into a policy which we have often got trapped into of supporting pretty unattractive regimes for fear of something worse. No doubt if you said to President Mubarak or the leaders of Saudi Arabia that they should liberalise more and have more democracy they would say "See what you get. You get these fanatic extremists". It seems these people in both those countries are tied into al-Qaeda, that most of the muscle came from Saudi Arabia, the leader of the four pilots came from Egypt, the leader of the Islamic Jihad in Egypt is bin Laden's deputy, a lot of money comes from Saudi Arabia. It is in our interests, it seems to me, to make sure that regimes evolve in these countries which do not provoke this kind of extremism. You said yourself that they really have nowhere else to go but the mosque in either Saudi Arabia or in Egypt, they are politically disenfranchised, Egypt is a failed state in terms of providing any standard of living or work opportunities for its people and Saudi Arabia seems to me to be going in the same direction. We were told by a witness here that the GDP per head had halved or worse than that in Saudi Arabia and job opportunities for young people are really non-existent. Is there an alternative to propping up the two regimes that are there? Is the only alternative that the religious extremists take over or is there a channel—and I realise it would be a long time frame—by which one could promote the gradual bringing in of freedom of the press? For instance in Egypt the United States have to put up with these diatribes in official Egyptian newspapers against the United States, yet it is pouring billions of dollars in to keep the regime alive. Is there an alternative to this? Are there factions which one might call liberal or more enlightened, who over a period of time one could encourage?
  (Dr Hollis) We have left it a bit late. For what it is worth, George Bush senior came up with a plan for the region at the end of the Gulf War which if it had been followed could have left us in a better state than we are now. It called for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of 242 and 338 and it was for ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and then seeing it re-integrated in the region. It was to do with the US providing help from over the horizon for the local defences but not doing it for them and imposing it on them. It was about economic development and growth and boosting that. If that were still the objective, if that set of objectives was still on the table, plus consistency in the upholding of human rights and democratic norms ... My perception is that the populations of most of the Arab countries have no concept of the American values that the Western world saw under attack on 11 September, no concept of the benefits to be defended in defending America because they have no experience of this, but it would constitute genuine revolution if Western governments were now to reach over the heads of authoritarian governments and say they are in favour of the human rights and self-expression of the populations of these countries. That by itself would do no good at all. It would alienate the governments and it would not liberate the people unless all the other items on the agenda, attributed to foreign intervention and in which the West assumes having some responsibility, were addressed as well.

  172. Things you mentioned like the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  (Dr Hollis) Yes.

  173. It seems to me that if you do start down this path you have to start slowly. As you say, you cannot reach over the heads of the regimes, but surely we have considerable leverage, particularly the United States, definitely on Egypt because it pays to keep the regime alive and I suppose in a way that becomes a reverse leverage and then they threaten catastrophe if you do not continue to keep them alive. Nevertheless the aid the United States is pouring into Egypt must give the United States considerable leverage with that regime. Saudi Arabia slightly more difficult.
  (Dr Hollis) As of 11 September the Egyptians said "Told you so", "Could have told you so", "You in London give safe haven to the kind of terrorists we are dealing with now. We have always told you that you have to clamp down and worry about terrorism". There is no meeting of minds there. The Egyptians if anything would say that the lesson of 11 September is not that we need more democracy, it is that we need to be tougher on terror.

  174. You do not think this is a viable route to try.
  (Dr Hollis) Possibly the only way through this mire, given that advocating democracy has a lot of mileage in theory but in practice I do not see it happening, I think is via WTO and economic restructuring. In other words, all the members of the European Union as a key market for the Arab states should offer as much help as possible in adaptation to the requirements of WTO and trade liberalisation and greater transparency and accountability within their domestic economic arrangements and hope that some of that will free up some of the local population to exercise their own rights as opposed to having it done for them from the outside.

Mr Pope

  175. We touched on the possibility, indeed the likelihood of America engaging Iraq militarily with a view to seeing the regime change. It seems incredibly likely to me that will happen at some point this year. What effect do you think that would have on neighbouring states? Is there any chance that there is a credible alternative government for Iraq? It seems to me that one of the advantages we had in Afghanistan was that there was a ready-made government waiting to come in and there does not seem to be an effective Iraqi opposition in Iraq for obvious reasons, but even the exiled Iraqi opposition seems disorganised, fragmented, incapable of running the country.
  (Dr Hollis) Part of the problem we are facing now is that there is a psychological war going on so it is difficult to read the signals we are getting from the United States as to what their intention is, because part of the plan is to pile on the pressure on the Iraqi regime as is. I would imagine that they would look for an alternative government from within the Iraqi population as opposed to from any of the existing opposition groups and that if they were to try to topple the regime they would be seeking a way to invite those who already hold power at the mid level to fill the vacuum, I would think. The attitude of Iraq's neighbours is, certainly this is what the governments say, first of all that you cannot attack Iraq because it is a sovereign state and you have no basis on which to do it and it sets a very bad precedent. If pressed, well supposing the Americans are going to do it anyway, they say please do it quickly and painlessly. They have not been asked the question "Supposing it takes a year and it is extremely messy and it looks as if it is going to go wrong before it goes right, how will you react then?". They have not been asked that question. I suspect if they were asked that question, they would say they would fear for their own stability.

  176. Do you think what the Americans are doing in Afghanistan can change perceptions, not so much of America's motives but what the outcome might be in Iraq? If the Afghanistan adventure turns out to be a success and the new government is clearly an improvement on what went before, it adds to regional stability, it is delivering a better economic life for citizens in Afghanistan, then neighbouring states might think that it has worked in Afghanistan and they could see an improvement in Iraq and this would be a good thing? Would what happens in Afghanistan make any difference at all to perceptions of America in the region?
  (Dr Hollis) So far the war in Afghanistan encouraged the view that a lot can be done with existing US technology and local support on the ground. I do not believe that the problems with nation building, as the Americans call it, which are emerging in Afghanistan are so far a deterrent for other actions in part because I think they rely on the allies to do that job.

  177. A simple question on Iran. There seems to be a split between the European approach to Iran and the American approach and interestingly this is a split in which the UK is on the side of the Europeans for once rather than on the side of the Americans. We seem to be wanting to engage with Iran and encourage reform. President Bush has said clearly that it is part of the axis of evil and the Americans point to the shipment of arms which was intercepted. What difference has it made to the balance of power in Iran? Are the reformers now in a worse position since President Bush's axis of evil speech? Is there anything we Europeans can do to assist the reformers in Iran or are they now really on the back foot?
  (Dr Hollis) Contrary to what the Americans expected, that speech did actually play into the hands of the hardliners in Iran and made it more difficult for the reformists. The Iranians were tremendously helpful in the campaign with Afghanistan. It is difficult to see how the US could contemplate a campaign in Iraq with Iran totally hostile. Maybe there is an idea here that they can be bullied into a more co-operative attitude, but I think there is a complete misunderstanding of where the Iranians are coming from. They are now beginning to feel they are surrounded by the Americans. What the Europeans can do is very much as you say, to keep the lines open and indicate that it would be most unfortunate if the Iranians thought that everybody in the West really did think that they were no better than the Iraqi regime. That would be a disaster.

  Chairman: You have covered a very wide canvas. May I thank you very much on behalf of the Committee.

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