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Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to the House to make the statement and support him in calling for an end to suicide bombings and for withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied towns. I should like to put two points to him. First, the sort of action that is being taken by Sharon and the Israeli Government has not brought, will not and cannot bring an end to the appalling suicide bombings. Secondly, while the international community has called for Israel to withdraw, it has not done so. It has been flouting the will of the international community.
It is not only mistrust that is a problem, but the fact that an illegal occupation is going on. On Saturday, I spoke to a Palestinian friend in Ramallah who had not been able to step outside her front door for more than a week. If she had done so, she would have risked being shot. Food and medical supplies were short; indeed, even ambulances could not get to the sick and wounded. Is there any other part of the world where, faced with such circumstances, we would think it suitable or sufficient only to call for withdrawal rather than ensure that that is backed up by some form of action? While I am unaware of the west supplying any arms to the Palestinian Authority or, indeed, to any Palestinians, an awful lot of military hardware is being supplied to Israel. May I call for an arms embargo on Israel while it is behaving like this? Secondly
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is drawing attention to the fact that some 1 million Palestinians are now living under curfew, and that is precisely what is happening. Many hundreds of the Palestinians who are losing their lives are innocent. The problem, however, is that innocent Israelis are dying, too, as the bomb at Haifa showed. The Israelis believe that these people are coming from the occupied territories to commit acts of terrorism. We have to recognise, therefore, that we are required to be even-handed, and that means being genuinely even-handed.
That cannot be done simply by condemning one side or the other. Who could possibly see the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem being treated in the way that it is being treated and not feel a sense of tragedy about what is happening? All I will say to my hon. Friend is that, on the other side of the argument, he must realise that if, in his constituencyor that of any other hon. Memberpeople were going into cafés where families were sitting having a meal, and suicide bombs were going off and children were being killed by a deliberate act of violence, the anger of that community would be huge and intense as a result. We can take a position, one way or another, in condemning this side or that side. We have said what should happen on both sides, but I honestly believe that it will not happen until the things that I have described take place. I promise my hon. Friend that no amount of pressure will resolve this properly without external assistance to get over the problems.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I welcome most warmly the Prime Minister's statement. Would he not accept, however, that while terrorismfrom wherever it comesmust be not only defeated but eradicated, the perception at the moment is that Prime Minister Sharon has declared war on the Palestinian people as a whole, not just on the terrorist organisations Islamic Jihad and Hamas? Is there no opportunity to get an international world community coalition together to guarantee a meaningful Palestinian statenot one involving Bantustansand to guarantee the state of Israel within its traditional boundaries?
The Prime Minister: It is precisely that to which the United Nations resolutions are supposed to give effect. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need both those things to happen. My point is simply that, unless the Israelis are sure that there is at least some means of being secure from terrorist attacks, it will be very difficult to get them to stop doing what they are doing. That is why it is so important that we put both things together. Some external assistance is necessary precisely to allow each side the confidence that someone objective is trying to assist them to do the things that they both know they must do.
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): May I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that the maintenance of the breadth of the international coalition against terrorism remains an important priority for him and for President Bush? On the point that my right hon. Friend made at Question Time about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds, may I say that it is important to try to ensure that those who have already been victims of Saddam Hussein will not suffer a second time in any action against Iraq? Indeed, we should not repeat the mistakes of the past, in which one evil regime was replaced by another, but try to create as far as possible the conditions for a multi-ethnic, religiously tolerant, representative regime in Iraq, if and when Saddam Hussein's regime is changed.
It is important to proceed in a measured way. As I said in my speech in Texas, I have been involved in three regime changesMilosevic, the Taliban and the gangster group that took over Sierra Leoneand I can honestly say that we should not regret any of them. Let us proceed with care, and pay attention to my right hon. Friend's sensible warning that we must ensure that, if we ever get a regime change in Iraq, what follows is an improvement on what is there now.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I welcome the impending visit of Secretary of State Powell, despite the length of time he has taken to arrive. The Prime Minister spoke of seeking an early United Nations Security Council resolution, which is most welcome. Will one be sought before any further action is taken against Iraq?
On the humanitarian side, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the 400,000 people currently without running water in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and other areas? Will he spearhead a humanitarian effort to ensure that the lives of those people, who are being denied their Geneva convention rights as non-combatants, are not at risk due to a lack of basics, including running water?
The Prime Minister: The time for debating any legal basis of action against Iraq is when we take such action. The Foreign Secretary will speak to Shimon Peres later today about the situation in Ramallah. It is important that basic facilities are put back in place for the people there, and that the wounded, some of whom are seriously injured, are given proper medical attention.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I welcome my right hon. Friend's evenhanded approach to the middle east. Given the Israeli attack on the university in Bethlehem, and given the specific British interests and concerns, have discussions been held with the Israeli ambassador in London? Have instructions also been given to our ambassador in Tel Aviv?
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): Will the Prime Minister keep in mind at all times the fact that it is now 35 years since the Security Council passed resolution 242, and that the failure of the international community to impose that UN territorial demand has inevitably led to the present tragic and dangerous situation? Until something along the lines of resolution 242, which is not
The Prime Minister: No, I did not discuss that particular possibility, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, without a political solution based on resolution 242 and the other UN Security Council resolutions, there will not be lasting peace. The question is how we get to the position in which negotiations take place to ensure that that happens and is successful. I am afraid that at present that is a very long way off.