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18 Jan 2006 : Column 271WH—continued

Palestinian Territories (Israeli Policy)

2.30 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Mr. Bayley, I should like to thank Mr. Speaker for choosing this subject for debate and for appointing me leader of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to the Palestinian territories—the first ever such delegation—from which this debate arises. I thank my colleagues who were with me on that delegation, and I thank the IPU staff, Mr. Courtenay and his colleagues, for the remarkable care that they took in organising the visit.

I have been for very many years, and from long before he became Prime Minister, a critic of the policies of Ariel Sharon. I think it appropriate for all of us to express our deep sympathy to his family for the ordeal through which Mr. Sharon is going. Nobody, whatever their opposition to his policies, would have wished on him such dreadful suffering as he is now undergoing. It must also be said, however, that whatever the trauma through which Mr. Sharon and his family are going at present, it does not detract from the baleful effect of the policies pursued by the Israeli Government during the period of the second intifada, which began in 2000, and which was triggered by Mr. Sharon's visit to the Haram-esh-Sharif, which my colleagues and I visited when we were in the Palestinian territories.

Those territories are one of the smallest areas in the world, yet that tiny Palestinian territory must be one of the most militarised in the world. There are Israeli troops and checkpoints all over the Palestinian territories; there are more than 600 fixed checkpoints. Between mid-November and 3 January, there were no fewer than 824 flying checkpoints in that territory. My colleagues and I encountered those checkpoints everywhere that we went.

We were involved, through no provocation of our own, in several disagreeable incidents relating to the way in which Israeli troops either prevented us from moving, or harangued us, or from preventing us from trying to speak to Palestinians when we were paying our visit. As I pointed out to my honourable colleagues, although those incidents were disagreeable, the fact is that we were going home at the end of our visit, whereas the Palestinians had to live with much worse every day of their lives.

I have visited that area and those territories more times than I can count. Not so long ago, I was able to drive uninterrupted, from Natanya—where recently a terrorist bomb incident took place—right through to Cairo, without any obstruction. When I attended a conference in Ramallah, not many years ago, I was able, at the end of the conference, to hire a Palestinian taxi and drive right through to Aqaba in Jordan, again without being interrupted or prevented in any way whatever. To imagine that that might be possible for anybody, including an overseas visitor, today is absolutely chimerical. It is almost impossible to move about freely in those territories.

The latest information we have is that during the past few weeks, between 13 and 29 main roads in the Palestinian territories have been closed by Israeli troops, and the average number of roads closed in those territories every single day is 20. At every point of the
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way where one goes, there are the fixed checkpoints and flying checkpoints. Although we were delayed on occasion for 45 minutes simply trying to get into one town or another, the Palestinians can be delayed for hours. Although we were delayed simply while paying a visit, they are delayed or prevented altogether from getting to their jobs and to hospitals, schools and universities. Normal life in those territories is absolutely impossible.

I have visited Bethlehem many times. When we were there, Manger square was empty except for a small celebration of Palestine national day, and the church of the nativity, which used to be so crowded that one could scarcely move in it, had just two groups of visitors. At Christmas, when the number of visitors to Bethlehem used to be enormous, there was only a fraction of the number of visitors who used to go to worship in the church of the nativity. In any case, just as we were there, a new obstruction was erected by the Israeli authorities that makes access to Bethlehem difficult, if not impossible. That town's livelihood is being strangled, because it depends so much on pilgrims and visitors.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I met the mayor of Bethlehem just before Christmas in this place, and he told me that the Israelis had built the separation wall through the middle of one of Bethlehem's cemeteries. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning that action?

Sir Gerald Kaufman : Certainly. The obstructions, which are obstructions to worship among other things, in Bethlehem and other towns and cities are extraordinary and outrageous. When we were in Hebron, for example, a barrier was such that people within seconds of a mosque had to do a circuitous walk of 25 minutes to go and pray at that mosque; that is, of course, if they were allowed to move at all. The Israelis are making a huge fuss at the moment about ejecting a handful of foreign agitators who are assisting people who have settled illegally in the old city of Hebron. The centre of Hebron, which I used to visit and where I used to buy food and shop for the famous Hebron glass, is now totally deserted. It is a ghost city because of the walls, huts, turnstiles and gates through which people have to go if they are to get into Hebron, and the fact is that they do not get in.

When a group of Palestinians was showing us the situation, we arrived at a junction through which two busloads of illegal Jewish settlers had just passed with no obstruction whatever. We were met by Israeli troops, who pointed their guns at us. When I explained to them who we were and what we were seeking to do, they sought authority from an officer over the telephone and then told us, "You can pass; the Arabs cannot." Of course, we did not proceed.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I applaud my right hon. Friend for initiating this important debate. What he says about the suffering in the Palestinian territories is undoubtedly true. I visited Hebron with the Labour middle east council about 18 months ago—I thank the council for that opportunity—and the grotesque realities of what is happening there show the very worst aspects of what he is talking about.
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Does my right hon. Friend also appreciate what I believe to be true; that what is happening in Hebron is not indicative of the moderate opinion of the Israeli majority and that, frankly, we should be putting pressure on people to support changes in Israeli politics to ensure that such things do not happen?

Sir Gerald Kaufman : I would like to think that my hon. Friend is right; certainly hundreds of thousands of Israelis, if not many more, would be filled with revulsion at what is going on in the Palestinian territories if they were to see it for themselves. When I first visited the Palestinian territories and for many years afterwards, Israeli tourists would visit the towns and cities; but no Israeli in his or her right mind would go into Palestinian territories now because their lives would be in danger. The only Israelis who see what is going on now are the troops, including reserve troops. I am sure that there are vast numbers of decent Israelis who, if they saw what was going on, would be physically sickened by it.

Frank Cook (Stockton, North) (Lab): The very change in climate to which my right hon. Friend refers—that Israelis could visit those areas at one time but can no longer do so in safety—is surely indicative of the fact that a solution to the problem is running further and further away as a direct result of the measures that have been taken over the years.

Sir Gerald Kaufman : I hope to refer to the point to which my hon. Friend draws our attention before I conclude. It is a fact that access to the towns through checkpoints makes things very difficult for Israelis. I had my doubts about doing so, but we were advised that it would be easier for us to move around the territories in a minibus that had Israeli licence plates. When we approached Tulkarm, however, the troops stopped us at the gates and told us that we could not go any further because we were in a vehicle with Israeli licence plates. They told us that we would have to get out and take taxis, but although one was extremely abusive, they subsequently backed down and allowed us to proceed.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman : I will readily give way, but there is a very good attendance at this debate and I do not want to take up too much time, because others wish to make a contribution.

Mr. Burrowes : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. I have a particular interest, having returned last Friday from a visit to Israel hosted by the Conservative Friends of Israel. The point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about security barriers and mobility for Israelis and Palestinians is well made. However, those barriers are in place not for the convenience of one side or the other. Indeed, they are inconvenient and, as one nears Jerusalem, they seem grotesque and ugly. Nevertheless, although they have reduced mobility they have also reduced terrorism, perhaps to the tune of 90 per cent. The reality is that 761 Israeli citizens have died as a
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result of terrorist activities, so the barriers are indeed a safety measure; they give no one any pleasure, but they are necessary because of the situation.

Sir Gerald Kaufman : They have not stopped a number of terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens in their own cities. They did not stop the recent attack on Israeli that killed five people in Natanya. In crude realpolitik terms, I suppose that the Israeli measures could be justified if they worked, but there is no indication that they do. What is more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) said, the prospect for the future is dread and dire, as I shall try to explain.

Several hon. Members rose—

Sir Gerald Kaufman : I am grateful for hon. Members' interest but, as I say, there is good attendance today, a considerable number of hon. Members wish to speak and I do not want to take up a disproportionate amount of the time. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not give way, at this point at any rate.

As I was saying, we went to Tulkarm to see the wall. The wall is not a barrier within the old green line. It would be ugly if it were, but it could be justified. However, it goes deep into Palestinian territory. It has divided Jerusalem and locked 55,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites out of Jerusalem. It has cut the west bank in two. Whereas what I personally regard as the melodramatic charade of the removal of the settlers from Gaza has taken place, removing 8,000 settlers, last year there were more than 9,000 illegal settlers in the west bank. Some 450,000 Israeli settlers are illegally settled there and the Israeli Government have no intention of removing them.

In Tulkarm we saw one of the most futile and obscene sights that I have seen even in that territory, which was called the back-to-back procedure. Palestinians wishing to drive goods along were made to unload their goods from the vans. The goods were transferred over a fence to other vans. That was absolutely futile given that the Israeli soldiers who tried to prevent us from talking to the van drivers did not even inspect the goods that were transferred. If there were any bombs or explosives in the goods, they could have continued to be there as they were moved.

Land has been confiscated. We happened by chance to meet a Palestinian who, from a hilltop, showed us one set of olive groves that had been confiscated from him without compensation by the Israelis and another set that was theoretically still owned by him but to which he would not be allowed access to for so long that he would not be able to tend the groves. Eighty per cent. of the wall—or the barrier, fence or whatever one calls it, as it is all those things—is inside Palestinian territory; 10 per cent. of west bank territory is being confiscated by the building of the wall. The checkpoints and the other obstructions mean that the rest of the tiny territory is being split up into tiny, ungovernable cantons.

What is the result? The result is poverty on a scale that is comparable to some of the worst third world poverty in Africa, and made more obscene by the fact that it is minutes away from people living at first world standards in illegal settlements on the basis of subsidies from the Israeli Government. There is poverty, malnutrition and
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deep discontent. Nobody in this room, in this House or, I hope, in this country would in any way condone terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens. As Israelis themselves have said, the festering hatred that is being built up among Palestinians as a result of the way that they are being treated inevitably breeds terrorists.

The situation is worse than that. The wall locks the Palestinians out, but it also locks the Israelis in. My parents came to this country from eastern European ghettos; the Israelis have now created their own ghetto in the Holy Land, because they dare not move beyond the wall, just as the Palestinians are not allowed to move beyond it.

The Palestinian elections take place next week, and they are extremely important. If Hamas does well, as it may well do, the responsibility for that will lie with the Israeli Government for nourishing the roots of Hamas. The sad thing is that Hamas and Likud and Kadima need each other. Each can point to the other. Israelis can say, "We've got to do what we're doing because Hamas and Islamic Jihad are so dangerous"; Hamas and Islamic Jihad can say, "We've got no alternative because the Israelis are oppressing us." Because of that, we must exert far more pressure on the Israeli Government. The idea of reciprocal measures—the idea that one of the most powerful military organisations in the world is comparable with the rag, tag and bobtail Palestine security forces and that one movement depends on the other—is absurd.

I do not condone any extremism among the Palestinians, nor do I condone the corruption that we all know has existed. Years ago, I pleaded with Mr. Arafat to accept the Camp David proposals. I am not saying that the Palestinians have behaved entirely sensibly and moderately, but the fact is that persecution and oppression breed recalcitrant behaviour, and that is what we are witnessing today.

Some of my hon. Friends and I went to see the Prime Minister about this matter last week. Let us be clear about it; let us set aside the human rights issues that are involved and just look at the fact that until the Palestinian issue is solved, the middle east will be a powderkeg. All extremist movements, as well as good and moderate Arab opinion throughout the region, will not allow settlements to take place until the Palestinians have the right to their own land, which the Israeli Government have, on paper at least, accepted. Our Government have a great deal of influence in the region, and I look to them to take even more action than they have already taken to try to bring a solution to what is one of the most tragic situations in the world.

Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): I must tell hon. Members that, assuming we have no further Divisions, I will start the wind-ups at 3.40 pm, which is in 37 minutes' time. There are 18 Back Benchers in the Chamber, so speakers will have about two minutes each. Members will make themselves more popular with their colleagues if they keep their remarks brief.

3.4 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I shall be extremely brief. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) on
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making a remarkable and moving speech. Unlike him, I have never had the privilege of visiting either Israel or the occupied territories, but I have often visited other parts of the Arab world.

I wish to say two things. First, I will provide a further piece of evidence in support of the compelling speech I have just heard. Recently, the ambassador of one of the most moderate, decent, reasonable and pro-western Arab countries—I shall not name it—said something to me during a private conversation. It is a country I know extremely well and have visited many times, and where there is total religious freedom. He said to me, "Julian, you cannot imagine the sheer hatred that is overtaking our young people because of what is going on in the occupied territory. This is a sickness that is spreading right across the whole of our region."

My second point is that my father was in almost the last unit to leave Palestine in 1948, before the effective ethnic cleansing took place that pushed the Palestinians into the 26 per cent. of the country that is now nominally theirs. We all know the indescribable background to 1948—the deaths of 6 million Jewish people in the concentration camps and the generations of persecution before that, not least the murder of 300,000 Jews in the Ukraine only a generation or so earlier. However, it cannot be in the interests of anybody, whichever side of the ethnic divide in that part of the world, for this to go on. Men such as Moshe Dayan spoke of how they would act when they had won their victory, and our recent former colleague Winston Churchill said that peace must be our opportunity. When one has won the war, that is the opportunity to show a bit of leniency, to realise that one has to live with the others as neighbours.

Many of us have a long-term interest in that part of the world. I have a large number of friends in the Lebanon and have been there on many occasions—some of them rather uncomfortable. It is in the interests of people on both sides of the divide that we make the peace process work. However, in this case, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the stronger party has to move first.

3.7 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) on having secured today's debate and on what has aptly been described as a moving and powerful speech. I do not want to repeat his words, other than to endorse what he said about Ariel Sharon. Whatever criticisms I and others might have of Mr. Sharon's record over the years, none of us would wish on any human being the kind of suffering that he and his family are going through at the moment.

My right hon. Friend gave a powerful account of the impact of closures and movement restrictions, the wall and so on. I shall not repeat that, but would refer hon. Members on both sides of the House to the work of the Open Bethlehem project. That gives a graphic description of what is happening, not only highlighting the impact of the closures, but offering a message of hope about the fact that Bethlehem has to survive and that we all have a responsibility to do all that we can to ensure that it is open to the outside world.

I should like to raise two issues. If I go on for too long on the first, I shall drop the second, because I know that many other hon. Members want to speak. The first is the
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Palestinian elections next week. I am fortunate in being a member of the team of observers from the UK Parliament going there, and I should like to thank the Foreign Office and the Inter-Parliamentary Union for enabling that delegation to go ahead. I was there last year when the Palestinian presidential elections took place. Some of the lessons of that experience should concern us all in the run-up to next week's elections.

First, democracy is as important for Palestinians as it is for anybody else. They have the same right to exercise democratic choice as anybody else. Last year, I received two impressions of the way in which Palestinians reacted to their elections. One was that they had tremendous pride in the fact that they were breaking the caricatures that too many people paint of them and that they were holding elections. However, the other was a sense that they were not sure that anything was going to change. They seemed to wonder whether, given that they were able to exercise democracy only by the grace and favour of an occupying power, nothing particular would change afterwards. I found that second feeling most prevalent in east Jerusalem. That was partly because of the way in which the people were treated in those elections. It is good to hear that Israel is allowing Palestinians in east Jerusalem to vote next week. However, I have to say that we will all be looking for more co-operation with the democratic process than was seen in East Jerusalem last year.

Last year, the occupying authorities allowed only about 6,000 of the 120,000 Arab East Jerusalemites to vote in the city, the area known as J1. The rest were forced to travel outside to the area known as J2, sometimes having to run the gauntlet of Israeli checkpoints in order to exercise their democratic rights. The voting procedure in the city was chaotic; people were forced to vote in post offices, alongside people trying to post letters. The choice of post offices was not accidental. The image was that the voters were guests in their own city, and that they were absentee voters casting postal votes for an election about somewhere else—the west bank. The voting was on the level, but in the post offices, the slot in the ballot boxes was not on the top of the box but on its side, so that it looked as though voters were posting a letter, not casting a ballot.

We look for a better performance than that next week. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) will say more about Jerusalem if she catches your eye, Mr. Bayley, and I ask hon. Members to pay attention to what she says. Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. In the meantime, it is occupied under international law. Israel has no right to pre-empt international law. The international community and, indeed, all of us have a responsibility to make sure that Palestinian democratic rights are respected next week.

I certainly endorse what my right hon. Friend said about how Hamas came to be as prominent as it is. Partly, it is as a result of the Palestinian Authority's failings—corruption and so on—which are very much to do with the kind of policies that Israel has pursued in recent years. I ask hon. Members to look seriously at the article in The Guardian today by Chris McGreal. If Hamas does well in next week's election, as is likely, it will present everyone in the international community, but particularly in Israel, with some hard choices.
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If hon. Members read the article, they will find that there are changes and debates going on in Hamas. That does not alter the fact that it has been responsible for some utterly appalling attacks over the years, and may be responsible for attacks in future. However, if we are to achieve political change among Palestinians, and are to get into a situation in which the broad mass of Palestinians wish to recognise Israel and to live side by side with it—as I believe the majority of Palestinians do—it will involve understanding the changes in political Islam and encouraging the voices of change within it, rather than writing off those involved as an undifferentiated whole, made up of terrorists. The article in The Guardian makes that point well.

My last point about Hamas is that we should not confuse terrorism with refusal to recognise the state of Israel. There are Palestinian groups that recognise the state of Israel that are involved in terrorism, and there are Palestinians who do not recognise the state of Israel who are entirely non-violent. Although I want every Palestinian to recognise the state of Israel, I also want every Israeli to recognise that Palestinians have no fewer rights than they do. If we do not say that it is a precondition for participation in the Israeli political process that every single Israeli political party should recognise that there should be a state of Palestine, it makes absolutely no sense and is unjust to say that every single political party in Palestine should have to recognise the state of Israel to participate in the elections. As I say, I want there to be mutual recognition, but the way to achieve that is to be even-handed, not to load on one side conditions that we would not, and should not, impose on the other.

3.14 pm

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): First, I should say that I visited Israel and Jerusalem last week, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), courtesy of Conservative Friends of Israel.

I wish merely to make two, brief comments. First, let us not doubt the enormous difficulties faced by the Palestinians; the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) made a passionate and moving speech, highlighting that point. However, we must not forget that since the second intifada began, more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed as a consequence of terrorism. Given that Israel's population is a tenth of the size of ours, it is not surprising that that has had an enormous impact on Israeli society. Let us consider the impact that the 7 July bombings had on our country. It was an enormous tragedy and about 50 people died, but it was one instance and relatively small compared with what Israel has had to suffer.

In my visit last week, we travelled up to the Lebanese border. In doing so, we stopped off for a coffee. As we went into a supermarket area of shops, the level of security that was in place was striking. Israelis live with that all the time, because they live constantly with the threat of terrorism. That is not to condone everything that the Israeli Government have done and every action taken by Israelis, but we must bear in mind the extraordinary circumstances in which Israel finds itself and the extraordinary threat of terrorism that it faces.
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My second point is about the security barrier. There is no doubt that it is horrendous, ugly and disruptive and places enormous burdens on the Palestinian people. However, it has been effective in reducing the number of deaths. I will give some statistics. In the 34 months from the beginning of the intifada until August 2003, when the first part of the barrier was put in place, there were 73 terrorist attacks in Israel and 293 people were murdered. In the following 11 months—from August 2003 until the end of June 2004—there were three terrorist attacks and 26 people were murdered.

I will give the number of casualties in each year. In 2003, 214 Israelis were killed. In 2004, the figure was 117. In 2005, 45 Israelis were killed. In saying that, I am not supporting every aspect of the security fence and the particular locations in which it is placed—we should acknowledge that the Israeli Supreme Court has forced 30 changes to the position of the fence—but it has saved lives. We met politicians of many persuasions in Israel, but there is widespread support in broad principle for the fence, because it saves Israeli lives. This House should not be too critical of a country that tries its hardest to do precisely that, because it is the responsibility of every Government.

3.17 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I will not repeat points that other hon. Members have made. I commend the opening speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

I will simply respond to the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) by saying that nobody suggests that Israel does not have a responsibility to protect the security of its citizens. Every sovereign state has such a responsibility. In protecting its citizens, it should remain within international law and should be mindful of the rights of others, particularly the Palestinians.

The impression that I have gained from my travels in the region—both in Israel and in Palestine—is that this Israeli Government's policies take no account of the Palestinians' rights or of their well-being. The Israeli Government respond only to Israeli citizens' security concerns and Israeli interests, whether or not those Israeli citizens are within the international borders of Israel or are illegally expropriating other people's land on the west bank.

I want to discuss the concerted attack on Palestinian institutions and civil society, and the naked attempt in Jerusalem to push out any Palestinian institution, to obstruct any such institution and to alter the demography of east Jerusalem by reducing the number of Arabs and increasing the number of Jews. The concerted attack on institutions in east Jerusalem is longstanding; at its most extreme, Orient house was closed down immediately following the death of Faisal Husseini and all the records that lay within were confiscated. They were the only records of Palestinian property rights in east Jerusalem.

The process continued. At every opportunity, the Israeli Government confiscated the computer hard discs of Palestinian non-governmental organisations and
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humanitarian organisations. That was done in order to compile a massive register, as far as I can tell, of every Palestinian, how they are related to each other, who they know and with whom they are connected.

In Gaza, the Israelis control who is registered as a Palestinian; so much for Gaza's apparent sovereignty. The economic life of Arab east Jerusalem is being deliberately strangled by the Israelis; they are demolishing houses and making businesses unviable by cutting them off from the hinterland that would otherwise support them. Employment and income levels in east Jerusalem have gone down, but the taxes that the Israelis impose have gone up. That is a deliberate economic attempt to squeeze east Jerusalem Arabs out of their city and alter the demography to the advantage of the Israelis.

My final point is about the family reunification law, introduced through the Knesset. It violates international law and is wholly discriminatory. It bars family reunification for Israelis if they marry a Palestinian woman under 25 or a Palestinian man under 35. An Israeli can marry a person of any other nationality and bring their husband or wife into Israel, but if they marry a Palestinian in those age ranges they may not; they have to go to live with them in the Palestinian territories.

That is a nakedly discriminatory law whose only purpose is to discriminate, primarily against Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin—largely citizens of the Galilee and those towns with Palestinian-Israeli citizens; 20 per cent. of Israeli citizens are Arab citizens—and against Jerusalem Arabs. That law says to such people that if they choose to marry a Palestinian from the west bank, or one who may live in Jerusalem but does not have a Jerusalem ID, they must go to live outside Jerusalem.

As I say, that violates international law. It is being challenged by Israeli human rights groups in the Israeli courts, but our Government should be making it absolutely clear to the Israelis that they must abide by international law, and that that sort of law should never have gone through the Knesset. It should have been blocked. It is a disgrace to Israel and its credentials as a liberal democracy that it ever conceived of such a law, let alone passed it.

3.22 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): For 13 years or so, I have been friends with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), whom I congratulate on securing this debate. We disagree on only two things; the future of the BBC and the subject of this debate.

One of the sadnesses of this type of debate is that it always ends up rather polarised. People always try to apportion blame and assign a monopoly of guilt or virtue to one side or the other. True life, of course, is far more complicated than that.

I am certainly not here to condone the fence per se or its route, but we have to set on record why the fence has been built. Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have already spoken about the need and right of a sovereign state to defend its own people. Whether we accept the fence as a good idea or not, it was interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that in Hebron
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there are walls, huts, gates and turnstiles; he was right. He also talked about the difficulty in moving freely; he was right.

However, in the 1980s, when I worked for the BBC in Belfast, one had to go through precisely the same sort of procedure if one wanted to shop in Royal avenue. The fences, gates, huts and turnstiles were put there not because of some ill-intentioned regime in London, but to protect the citizenry. In fairness, we have to accept that the motivation for erecting the fence was not to try to destroy the Palestinian economy, as has been claimed, but to try to protect Israel's citizenry.

Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Fabricant : I shall not, because others have not given way and others want to speak as well.

It is fair to examine and explore the gravity of the offences being committed against the Israeli people at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) has said that more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed; in fact, 1,084 have been killed since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada. In 2005, when there was supposed to be a period of peace, 45 Israelis were killed—of whom only eight were members of the Israeli defence force and 37 were civilians—and 406 were wounded. Twenty-three of the 45 killings were caused in seven suicide attacks. In 2005 alone, there were 199 bomb attacks, 848 mortar attacks, 377 Kassam missile attacks and 1,133 shooting attacks.

Of course, I appreciate that there is anger among young Palestinians and accept that there have been injustices, but apportioning blame against the state of Israel for erecting the fence and not acknowledging that it is there because someone has to move first and say that the attacks will end simply is not being realistic about the middle east, let alone Israel and the occupied territories. Several hon. Members have spoken about the possible illegality of what Israel has done and that claims are being made against the Israeli Supreme Court. That is so, but let us at least recognise that Israel has a Supreme Court, which can and does override the Government and the army, and that Israel has been a democracy since 1948. If only some Arab countries were the same. Thank God that, due to our intervention, Iraq is heading in that direction. I hope that Iraq will be successful in that, too.

I do not defend the route of the fence, and I am sure that there will be cases of injustice. When answering an intervention, the right hon. Gentleman rightly said that the fence has not prevented a number of terrorist attacks. He has spoken about attacks in Natanya, a town that I know well on the Israeli coast. How many more Natanyas would there have been were it not for the fence? I remind hon. Members that resolution 242 said that all land disputes should be settled by a negotiated peace. Bombs, rockets and suicide attacks are not negotiation. Israel has every right—indeed it has a duty—to protect its citizens.

3.28 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): No one participating in the debate disputes the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself. That is not the issue. This
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shows my age, but I took the view in 1948, when I was quite young, which seems a long time ago, that in all the circumstances it was right for the international community—it was the international community—to bring Israel into existence. Nearly 2,000 years of Jews being demonised, persecuted, tortured and murdered laid the basis for what the Nazis did, which has already been referred to. This was the systematic extermination of 6 million because of their race; it was nothing to do with religion. All of that justified Israel coming into existence, but the price that the Palestinians paid for that should not be forgotten. If we understand why Israel came into existence, surely we have an equal responsibility to understand the Palestinian case. If we were Palestinians living at that time, I doubt whether we would have taken any other attitude than that taken by them.

I mention the long history of anti-Semitism. All of us have a responsibility—especially, perhaps, without being misunderstood, those who take a particularly strong view on the middle east, opposite to Israel, so to speak—to dissociate ourselves in every way possible from some of the poisonous anti-Semitism that we have seen in Europe for centuries and which is now surfacing, surprisingly, in countries such as Egypt, for example, through such documents as the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a notorious tsarist forgery that states that the Jews will dominate the world. I do not know when that domination is going to start; maybe in 2020 or 2021. I have not been given the exact date. Moreover, we have seen the sheer obscenity—there is no other way to describe it—of the Iranian President organising a conference on what is described as "holocaust denial". There is a responsibility in that regard.

I want to bring us away from the idea that what happened last year in Gaza was the start of a process whereby Israel intends to withdraw from the occupied territories. I accept nothing of the kind. Whether the removals from Gaza were stage-managed or not, it was never the intention of Sharon or his Government that that withdrawal—which, however unilateral, we all welcome—would start the process of withdrawal from all the occupied territories, something we all want to see.

I have a note from the Library about settler occupation in the west bank from 1972 to 2004. All the settlements are illegal and exist in defiance of the international community; the very community that brought Israel into existence in 1948. In 1972 there were 800 such settlements; by 1990 there were 78,600; by 2000 there were 192,976. At the end of 2004 the figure was 234,487. That demonstrates that over the years, Israel has been determined to build such settlements in defiance of international opinion. That is totally unacceptable.

I endorse everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said about the daily misery and humiliation that Palestinians face. If Jews were facing that sort of tragedy and being treated in that way, would we not be raising our voice? I hope so. I would be doing so, as would my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). Have we therefore not a responsibility to raise our voice loudly and clearly about the way in which the Palestinians are being treated? We should make no apology for doing so. I see the hon. Member for Lichfield smiling. He well knows the history
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of anti-Semitism and he should be concerned about the way in which Palestinians are being treated, as described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey). We must be evenly balanced; for heaven's sake, it is no good taking a one-sided attitude.

We know that the quartet exists. I accept that the British Government wish to see a fair solution, though I do not know whether that is the view of every hon. Member. The fair solution is a Palestinian state no less independent and viable than Israel itself. The one country that can put sufficient pressure on Israel is the United States, which has the muscle and the influence. I am dismayed that in the last few years, under President Bush, there has been no wish to use that influence to bring about the right and just solution.

I do not believe that if the issue were to be settled it would mean the end of international terrorism. That would be a very naive view. Bin Laden and his murderous fanatics would find many other reasons, as they do now. It would, however, take so much poison out of the middle east. It would not only be right in itself but would help to stabilise the position in the region. That is why I hope that the British Government will try to persuade the American Government to do what is right.

3.34 pm

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): For the record, the other members of the delegation to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) referred were my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and me, as well as two colleagues from another place. It was my first time in the middle east; I particularly wanted to go there because I have some general sympathy with the Palestinian cause—although I do not have a lot of knowledge on the subject—and an interest in what the Department for International Development is doing there. I went there and speak today in a personal capacity, not as a representative of DFID.

I thought that occupation was a static process, but what we saw was much more active; the occupation not only moves on but gets worse. Particularly in Hebron, we saw how illegal settlements were being linked together by new security measures. We saw how the economy of that town was being destroyed by the policy of allowing traffic in and out of the city for only six hours a day; we had to leave the town illegally by driving a minibus across fields. The issue was summed up for me when I was shown a Palestinian medical centre in Hebron that had been taken over two weeks earlier by Israeli forces and was now an Israeli army post. Local Palestinians no longer had an available medical centre.

Judging from everything that we saw, I felt that Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories was absolutely clear. First, it was to hold on to economic control of the Jericho valley; secondly, to resettle Gaza settlers in the west bank; thirdly, to protect other settlers and encourage them to come in illegally, settlers not just from Israel but from fundamentalist Christian groups around the world. Fences would immediately be put
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around those illegal settlements, military posts would be put in to guard them and new roads would be built for them and barred to Palestinians. Settlers will also get to vote in the Israeli elections in March, although many of them never lived in Israel previously. One can imagine which way they are likely to vote.

The next tactic is clearly to take all of Jerusalem, the key city for three of the world's major religions, into Israel and then extend it eastward through the Ma'ale Adumim development, dividing the west bank into two. With 10 per cent. of the west bank already behind the wall, some of the most fertile and economically productive land and most productive water sources have effectively been taken into Israel. That is clearly what is happening. The tactic is being used for economic destruction in the west bank. In Tulkarm, where there is a no-go area of about 100 m alongside the wall, thousands of square yards of greenhouses had been destroyed; not to build the wall, but to maintain that no-go area.

The remaining part of the west bank, which consists of less than 50 per cent. of what should be the west bank under the 1948 agreements, is criss-crossed by roads that act as barriers. When those roads are policed so that Palestinian vehicles may not use them, they are barriers to communication and not agents of it. If one adds to that the 600 permanent roadblocks, one sees not only that those circumstances make the Palestinian economy virtually unworkable, but that they will thwart the Palestinian people's democratic aspirations as well.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Levitt : I am going to sit down in just a moment, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

The next few days will be crucial. If an election in the Palestinian territories does not take place a week from today that can be seen to be credible and that returns a Government capable of doing something—bearing in mind that the entire Palestinian Authority's budget each year is about the same as what the Israelis are spending on building the wall—that election will be of very little value. If anything, it could polarise the issue even more if, as others have said, Hamas takes more than a foothold in the democratic process.

We are in very difficult times. I do not believe that the international community has done enough to ensure that next Wednesday's election will be credible. In the Israeli elections that follow, I hope that the 70 per cent. of Israelis who support withdrawal will vote for it. I hope that we can get something out of the situation, but I came back from my visit to the Palestinian territories much more depressed about it than when I went.

Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): We now have to move on to the winding-up speeches. It is pleasing to see that so many hon. Members have attended the debate, and I apologise to those whom I have not been able to call.

3.40 pm

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): In keeping with other hon. Members, I will try to make my observations and comments brief. So much has been said about this fraught and difficult issue that is of great
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value and derived from far greater insight, experience and expertise than I possess. I shall just supplement what has been said with four observations.

First, I visited the region in late November with the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), and went to areas such as the west bank, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Hebron when the political drama in Israel was unfolding; the day after I left, Ariel Sharon announced the establishment of his new political party, Kadima. It was obvious to me, as a first-time visitor to the region, that something terrifically significant was happening in Israeli politics. Since then, I have been asking myself a question that has been made more acute by Mr. Sharon's tragic stroke; does Kadima represent a new shift in political trade in Israel, or is it, as is alleged by some, nothing more than a sleight of hand by Sharon's supporters who are trying to pursue an agenda that has not changed over the years, but in a more politically acceptable manner?

I shall state my provisional view as a question, as the answer is dependent on the events of the months to come. However, my hunch is that Kadima is a more significant development in Israeli politics than suggested by some. The notion that the party is merely a Machiavellian sleight of hand, with the same agenda of brutal unilateralism as was pursued before, stretches credulity, not least because the party has gathered around it the centre ground of Israeli political opinion. Kadima seems to have broken a taboo; it has explicitly accepted that a Palestinian state should be established on the basis of land for peace.

I have an overarching question about where that development will take the peace process. Will it still rely on a unilateral decision by Israel about the terms of the negotiated land for peace settlement? We then come back to the age-old question of whether unilateralism works in a region where one side feels so aggrieved by the other.

My second observation, which has been made before, is about Hamas. No doubt other hon. Members have read about the intriguing signs that Hamas has softened its stance on the status and existence of Israel; it has even indicated that it would be prepared to negotiate with Israel. If that is the case, it would appear to be a glimmer of hope in the context of continuing and profound concern about the military and terrorist activities sponsored by Hamas.

However, the response of the international community to what looks like an almost inevitable increase in Hamas representation after the elections on 25 January needs to be delicate, sensitive and intelligent in order to extract the best from those elections; otherwise they may be used merely as an excuse to accelerate a continuing spiral of antagonism. I would be grateful to hear the Government's thinking on the issue; it must be quite advanced given that the election is only a week away. How will they act—both alone and in the context of the European Union—when confronted by a precipitate decline in the political power of an increasingly illegitimate Fatah movement—to be frank, it appears corrupt at times—and the rise of the increasingly popular Hamas movement.

My third and penultimate observation is that when visiting the region with the hon. Member for Bristol, East, I was naturally struck, like many visitors, by the
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existence of the wall. Yet I had simply not appreciated, until making our visit, that the most insidious and destructive effects on the everyday livelihoods and fortunes of Palestinians in the west bank are, obviously, though the closure regime, but also through various invisible controls. The permits to retain one's home, if one has been studying abroad for two years, are often withdrawn unilaterally. The licences required merely to move from east Jerusalem form a Byzantine, complex system; the permits needed may be yellow, blue or orange. That is in order to visit families or to work in parts of the west bank or east Jerusalem.

I still simply cannot understand why reducing the west bank to a socially and economically dysfunctional state is in Israel's own interest. That is neither a political nor a polemical statement; it is a logical one. You cannot make peace with chaos, nor with grinding poverty. You cannot make peace where people cannot meet their families, nor travel to work where moving even a few metres or kilometres is made impossible. I literally find incredible the suggestion that such a degree of dysfunctionality somehow serves the wider, legitimate security objectives of the Israeli state.

My fourth and final point in this fairly arbitrary list of observations is said with a continued sense of regret; that the EU did not choose to publish, shortly before Christmas, the report drafted by its own diplomats on the ground in east Jerusalem about conditions there. It reminded me just how inconsistent, weak and politically vague the EU's role in the region appears to have been, and for far too long.

There are glimmers of hope. It is encouraging that European Union observers, principally Italian and led by an Italian general, are overseeing the implementation of the Rafah border agreement. By financing projects in the west bank and elsewhere, the EU is doing much extremely good work, not least to develop the capacity of the Palestinian police forces to operate effectively. However, in the absence of clear leadership from Washington on the issue, it is incumbent on the British Government—and, certainly, on all other Governments in the EU—to try to come to a more coherent, collective political view, however difficult that is.

The European Union is the economic giant in the neighbourhood. It has enormous leverage; would that it wished to use it more coherently. I am keen to know whether the Minister agrees with that analysis. What does he feel the British Government could do to develop a more coherent and organised EU role in the region?

3.48 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) on his ability to acquire this debate. As he has proved during it and many others held in the House, his knowledge of the area is deep. He speaks with great passion but also with great feeling, and I congratulate him on becoming leader of the IPU delegation to Palestine.

Our debate has produced a number of speeches articulated with enormous passion. All too often, we come to debates in the Chamber or Westminster Hall to find so many people reading out briefs of one kind or another and taking up party positions. Nearly everyone who has spoken did so with great passion. Interestingly,
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on the whole they had fixed or relatively fixed positions. Let us be quite clear; this is a divisive subject. It is probably only the Minister and, in theory, the Front Bench spokesmen who have to try to straddle it who take an objective view. The people who live in the area, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians, have passionate and deeply held views.

The subject is so divisive that when I was first appointed Conservative Front-Bench spokesman on the middle east, people's first words were not to congratulate me—someone commiserated and said that I could have got Europe—but to ask, "Are you pro-Arab or pro-Israeli?" That is how divisive the subject is. I hope that I am pro-British and that I can take an objective and constructive view.

I will not list the contributions to the debate like a laundry list, but what came through from them was that Britain still has a role to play. We have a responsibility because we were a great power there 80 or 90 years ago and because of some of the things that happened as a direct consequence of successive British Governments, Liberal—when we had Liberal Governments—Conservative, and Labour. We look to the Minister to tell us what the British Government will try to do to resolve the issue.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton rightly sent Mr. Sharon his commiserations. Part of me is filled with gloom, first, because whatever his many faults—Mr. Sharon is not known as "the bulldozer" for nothing—he is a strange combination of a very brutal, hard-nosed soldier and politician with quite a subtle man who, in his fourth decade, could recognise the changes that had to take place. With his incapacity, I wonder what will now happen to Israeli policy.

Secondly, I am filled with gloom by what appears to be the chaos and confusion in the Palestinian territories, the political divisions and the fact that today the EU has suspended £25 million of aid because of financial irregularities in the Palestinian territories. Somebody might say that is indeed an irony coming from the EU. Israelis and Palestinians may frequently be overcome by gloom but if they want to come to a constructive conclusion they have to keep working at it.

My party and the other two political parties represented in the debate believe that Israel has a right to exist, just as there is a right to a Palestinian state. All hon. Members agree on that, but the problem is how to achieve it, because there are vastly different definitions between Israel and Palestine on what each state should consist of, and the overlap is absolutely enormous.

I listened to what the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members said. There is no doubt in my mind, given my background, and the mention made of Northern Ireland, that with the best will in the world the most sophisticated counter-insurgency and counter-terror measures never, ever work on their own and frequently can be counter-productive, whether they are put in place by democratic countries such as ours or by the most fiercely totalitarian regimes. There is a danger that while trying to protect your own citizens you will provide recruits for the future.
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However, I do not resile from the fact that large numbers of those actively involved in politics in Palestine wish to destroy the state of Israel and kill Israeli citizens, but there has to be a political rather than a military solution.

Finally, I want to ask the Minister two or three brief questions and I hope that he will have time to give an opinion. Can the Minister assure us that the Government are doing everything possible to address some of the issues identified by hon. Members today that are frustrating the peace process? Have the British Government tacitly accepted the de-Palestinisation of east Jerusalem, cited by the UN and, as is likely, by their own consulate in Jerusalem? What discussions have been taking place about Jerusalem's future status? Has thought been given to the implications that that will have for the future of peace negotiations? What are the Government doing to encourage economic regeneration in the west bank? Finally, what is the Minister's assessment of progress made in dismantling settlements built since March 2001?

3.55 pm

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells) : I join other hon. Members in thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) for bringing this issue to the House for discussion. He has been my guide in many areas. I shall be frivolous for a moment and say that he has especially been my guide in cinema and in the American musical over the years, but he has also been my guide on this subject, and the House listens to his words with very great and special respect. I am not quite as old as him, but we were both brought up to believe that there was every possibility that the dream of people living alongside one another in the Holy Land would be realised. Over the years, it has irked my right hon. Friend as much as it has irked all of us in this Chamber to see that that has not happened and that the bitterness has continued.

Let me say before I come on to Palestine that this is a difficult time in Israeli politics. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend and others by saying how saddened I was to hear of Prime Minister Sharon's illness. We wish him a speedy recovery. He certainly turned Israeli politics upside down in his determined efforts to withdraw Israeli settlers and defence forces from Gaza and parts of the west bank. Few people could have predicted just two years ago that Ariel Sharon would have instigated and led so unilateralist a movement, because that is what I think it is. It is a move against the religious right and the expansionists in Israeli politics.

It is possible that Sharon's other, in my view, unilateralist policy—the building of the barrier, the wall, the fence; call it what you will—allowed him, by being seen as strengthening Israel's physical defences, enough political slack in Israel to disengage from Gaza. Disengagement has been the right policy for Israel. Although not part of the road map, it has made an effective contribution and it is important that the parties and the international community continue to build on that opportunity. We must try to understand how we might do that.

On a recent visit to Israel and Palestine, I was encouraged by signs that there are influential elements in Israeli society who understand clearly that what Israel
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does not need, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) pointed out, is an economic basket-case on its borders. What possible benefit could that bring to anyone? That is why the agreement on movement and access, reached between Israel and the Palestinians on 15 November, was a significant step and should go some way towards ensuring that Israel's disengagement from Gaza at least gives the Palestinian people a chance to mount an economic revival.

The EU, under the UK presidency, launched, with a very short lead time, the EU border assistance mission at the Gaza-Egypt border, enabling the Rafah crossing to open on 25 November. Thousands of Palestinians have since used that crossing. It is vital that the Palestinians and the Egyptians make a success of Rafah and try to replicate its lessons elsewhere; for example, for the Gaza seaport and airport and perhaps for crossing points in the west bank.

However, as we have heard, although some developments since Israeli disengagement have been encouraging and have given us cause for optimism, many other Israelis policies in the occupied territories have not. As my right hon. Friend has told us, restrictions on freedom of movement, and the occasional disproportionate use of force—sometimes very disproportionate—by the Israelis remain real matters for concern. As has been said, the world is particularly concerned about the hardship that the route of the barrier is causing in the west bank and, especially, Jerusalem. That route threatens the possibility of the creation of a two-state solution and has led to the tragic saga of which we have heard so much this afternoon.

According to the United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, from which I was lucky enough to receive a briefing in Jerusalem, Israel's closure regime is the primary cause of poverty and economic depression in the west bank. Closures restrict Palestinian access to medical personnel; make it difficult for children to travel to school; hinder ordinary Palestinians on their way to work—I saw that on a number of occasions—and impede trade and economic development. We remain extremely concerned about the humanitarian and economic consequences of closures, both internally and on the borders. The imposition of curfews and tight access controls is also, as we have heard, having a very detrimental effect on the quality of life in those Palestinian areas. We continue to call on the Government of Israel to do all that it can to ease movement restrictions.

We have also seconded a senior army officer to lead a team to help UNOCHA, and the mission seeks to work with the IDF to try to reduce the number of obstacles to Palestinian freedom of movement.

Roger Berry : Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that, in the past five years, the income per head in the Palestinian territories has fallen by 50 per cent. and the number of people living in poverty has risen from 20 per cent. to 61 per cent.—according to DFID figures—suggests that we should act with great urgency to remove the barriers to economic activity and human life?

Dr. Howells : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The eastern shore of the Mediterranean should not be a poor
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part of the world. I have said before that I am not one of those who feel that the situation cannot be remedied, or that there cannot be a viable economy in Gaza and the west bank. Why should there not be? Israel has proved that it can be done, and many projects have taken place in Gaza, some of which I have seen, that demonstrate that it is possible to have a vibrant economy there. I agree that the issue is urgent. Call me old fashioned, but it seems to me that if there is a vibrant economy there, we will see less resentment and fewer problems. That is something that we have to work hard to achieve.

Michael Fabricant : The Minister is very generous in giving way. Does he not also accept, given all the points that he has made, that one cannot just remove the barrier, even though it is causing huge difficulties for Palestinians and subjecting them to a lower economic growth rate? That would result in even more killings in Israel.

Dr. Howells : I would certainly agree that there has been a palpable reduction in the number of deaths and murders by suicide bombers in Israel. There is also a sense inside Israel that people feel safer than they did previously. However, that does not make the route of the barrier right. That is the whole point, and that is why we continue to protest to the Israeli Government.

I am very glad to see that the Israeli courts often agree with us about the route of the barrier, and that non-governmental organisations and Palestinians have been pursuing that route through the Israeli courts to try to stop the incorporation of Palestinian land and the absurd instances that I saw in east Jerusalem of people being prevented from going to their places of work when they lived minutes away from them, so that they suddenly faced a journey of an hour, if they could get there at all. That is absolutely crazy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton made an interesting point. I wrote down his comments; he said that "persecution and oppression breed recalcitrant behaviour" and that terrorists are feeding off the festering resentment generated by the detrimental effects on Palestinian lives of repressive Israeli measures in the occupied territories. That is not the Israel that we dreamt of, nor is it the Israel of the people I met when I was last in that country a few months ago. I went to a kibbutz and people communicated to me their regret that this situation had come about.

The point has also been made that Israel has an absolute duty to protect its own citizens. Although that is not an excuse for routing the barrier as it has been, it should be said that the Palestinian Authority must get a grip on security. I heard last week that it had released one of the people who had kidnapped a British aid worker. That will not do. The road map has a number of duties attached to it; one of them is that the Palestinian Authority gets a grip on security in the west bank and Gaza, and it is clearly not doing that.

The Palestinian Authority is not short of money. The Government are giving a lot of money to the Palestinians; they gave it in the past and they will give it in the future. Members know my views about the corruption that was the curse of the Arafat regime. A lot
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of money was filched off into bank accounts in Zurich and God knows where else, instead of going into rebuilding Palestinian communities. To say that is not in any way to excuse the measures that the Israelis have taken and that my right hon. Friend gave examples of, but we must bear it in mind.

There are duties on both sides. It must be ensured that the immediate answer to people's desperate situations is not thought to be to praise suicide bombers. I believe that mullahs and imams should stand up and say that suicide bombers go straight to hell, but all too often they keep their heads down and do not say such things, and in some places they talk about them as being great heroes; as exceptions. They are not exceptions. They are blowing young Palestinian men and women to pieces with their poison, and they are blowing young Israelis to pieces with their poison as well.

I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) say that we have to straddle both sides. My party colleagues believe that, too. Everybody in this House believes it. We would not be here otherwise. We believe in democracy, and we believe that there is a way out of this situation. The way out is for us to press very hard for the road map. I cannot think of another way out. People tell me, "Well, we must revise it." How many times have these plans been revised? How many times have we heard Israelis and Palestinians say, "You do that; we'll do this"?

I can understand why Sharon and the movement in Israel involving Giladi and others have decided to become unilateralists, but will it result in a two-state solution? Will it result in a viable Palestinian state? It will do so only if both sides understand that murder and oppression feed resentment and terrorism.

That is the conclusion that we must draw. The Government understand that, and we will do our utmost to press all sides—the quartet, the Israelis and the Palestinians—to get together and to find a solution to this most pressing and historic of problems.

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