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I visited Israel
in January, courtesy of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and have
three abiding images that are relevant to this debate. The first memory
is of going to northern Israel, to the southern Lebanese border, and
seeing an armed Hezbollah terrorist standing 50 yards away on the
border. That reminded me all too clearly of the presence of terrorist
organisations. That needs to be tackled. As my hon. Friend said, it
needs to be tackled by this Government
as well through the way in which we deal with Hezbollah. As hon. Members will know, Hezbollah was established by Iran and Syria as a proxy for attacking Israelas the spearhead for Irans export of terrorism. It seeks the destruction of the state of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon.
We need to recognise that Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, the United States and, indeed, the entire western world and we need to tackle it seriously. As the Foreign Secretary said in reply to a written question from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), we need to do that by calling on Hezbollah
to contribute to peace and security in the middle east by renouncing violence, disarming in compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1559, and entering into the democratic process on an exclusively non-violent basis.[Official Report, 29 November 2005; Vol. 440, cc. 126-127.]
We can all unite on the response to that question, but we need to go further. As other countries, such as the US, Australia, Canada, Israel and, recently, Holland, have done, we need to recognise that Hezbollah is a terror organisation and to treat it accordingly. We cannot go along with the European Union in seeking artificially to differentiate between the political and military wings of Hezbollah.
I saw the situation for myself when I saw the terrorist standing there armed, guarding the border. I ask the Minister to respond on this particular point: Hezbollah is a terror organisation and we cannot separate the political side and what is called the external security organisation. We need to join the countries that I mentioned and recognise Hezbollah as an organ of terror.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said, we need to recognise properly that Hezbollah is engaged in activities that are causing great damage to the region and instability beyond. It is threatening Lebanons own fragile democracy and independence from the Syrian occupation and it is causing instability and conflict to cross the UN-drawn Israeli-Lebanese border. It is a cause of instability in Israel and further afield.
We also need to recognise the activities of al-Qaeda in the region. I am referring not only to activities that we can see, but to the words of the al-Qaeda leaders bin Laden and Zawahiri. They have mentioned not so much Afghanistan or Iraq but Palestine as a higher priority. In recent times, they have carried through phases of operations in Afghanistan and beyond. Now we are seeing, particularly in Israel, the results of their activities.
In August 2005, the Syrian citizen Louai Sakra was arrested while planning to blow up cruise ships containing Israeli tourists. On 27 December 2005, nine rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for that attack. On 2 March 2006, Palestinian security forces caught al-Qaeda operatives in Gaza and the west bank, and the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, admitted that there was proof of the infiltration of al-Qaeda into the west bank and Gaza.
We need to
consider more broadly the war against terror, but inevitably the focus
is Israel and the Jewish
people. My second abiding memory is of Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial. When I visited it, I was reminded that even when the war was over and Jewish people were going out of the camps, the killing of the Jewish people continued relentlessly. That reminds me and should remind us all that anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish people continue to this day. We can see that in the words coming from Iran. As has been said, the Iranian President said that he wished to wipe Israel off the map. We should remember the words that have often gone in tandem with an attack on Israel and the Jewish peoplewords that constitute a denial of the holocaust, in which more than 6 million Jews were murdered.
Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman like to speculate on this issue in the context of what he has been saying and of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman)who, it is fair to say, is a political hero of mine, so I do not disagree with himon the behaviour of the Israeli Government? My right hon. Friend is the last person among us who needs a lesson in the history and travails of the Jewish people and the Israeli nation. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to speculate on whether the current behaviour of the Israeli Government, rather than merely being dismissed as terrorist behaviour, should be put in the context of the recent and longer history of the Israeli state and the Jewish people and the current situation, which the hon. Gentleman is discussing.
Mr. Burrowes: I am grateful for that intervention. It is important to put these issues in the proper context, which is why this debate is so important and welcome. We need to consider the context of the fight against global terrorism and the context that I am seeking to draw out, which is the battle and the need for the Jewish people to have a safe place to go. That contextis important and we should never dismiss it, because it is constantly under attack from terrorists. Indeed, it is constantly under attack in broadcasts of hate on the airwaves. That hate goes to the heart of the concerns for the Jewish people. It is anti-Semitic filth. We need to ask the Minister to consider how we can seek to tackle the funding for those broadcasts. We need to cut that funding off at supply, because it supports terrorist organisations. There are physical attacks on Israel and there are verbal attacks. We are dealing not just with a strategic battle, a battle of war, but with a state of mind that is built on hatred and evil. We need to ensure that the Government are at the forefront of tackling that.
brings me to my third abiding memory from my visit to Israel, which is
the words of Tommy Lapid, who was the last surviving victim of the
holocaust who was a member of the Knesset. He gave an account of his
experiences and what he saw as the rationale for the state of Israel.
He sought to caution us about focusing only on the everyday occurrences
and concerns in Israel and about the need to look more broadly at what
Israel is about. He recounted how his family had in effect left him on
his own when he was fleeing the ghetto, because they wanted him to run
for it. He was completely isolated, fleeing from the ghetto, a place
where the Star of David had to be worn and a place of
great vulnerability. At the very moment when he was seeking a hiding place in a closet, he realised that a place was needed for him and the Jewish people to go. He reminded us that that need still exists today.
That is why we need to condemn properly the words of, for example, Mohammad Samadi, a spokesman for the committee for the commemoration of martyrs of the global Islamic campaign, who was seeking to recruit suicide bombers to the terrorist cause. His words in that recruitment drive are very pertinent:
The first target is Israel. For us, that is the battlefield. All the Jews are targets, whether military or civilian. Its our land and they are in the wrong place.
In relation to the fight against terrorism, we need to recognise that, at present, the first target is, sadly, always Israel. We need to hear the concerns of Tommy Lapid and others that they need a place to go. We need to stand four-square behind them to protect that place to go, so that we can tackle terrorism properly and support Israel and the fight for freedom and democracy.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. I hope to start the winding-up speeches at 12 oclock.
Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for securing this important and timely debate. In recent weeks and months, there have been several Westminster Hall debates on matters relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wider middle east regional context. I was fortunate to secure a debate a couple of weeks ago on the prospects for peace in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton(Sir Gerald Kaufman) initiated a debate on the subject a couple of months ago, and I seem to remember that the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire(Mr. Gauke) introduced a debate on Iran in recent months. I hope that this debate adds further strength to a request that I made to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a couple of weeks ago in business questions for a debate of a similar nature but much longer on the Floor of the House in Government time to discuss these vital issues.
The hon. Member for Lichfield raised some important points and I think that what he said about terrorism in Britain being similar to terrorism in Israel was accurate and appropriate. I also agree with him that there is no international terrorism without state support, and that is something that I want to discuss. Paying attention to the question of state-sponsored terrorism rightly puts the debate on Israel and the Palestinians in a regional context, which is necessary to understand the conflict properly. The conflict does not exist in a vacuum. It is played out on a regional stage, with global repercussions; the hon. Member for Lichfield and other hon. Members mentioned the role of Iran and Syria, and their contribution to the conflict through sponsorship and funding of terrorism, and it is right to raise those matters.
international community continues to exert pressure on the Hamas
Government to recognise
the state of Israel, it is important to remember that influential regional actorsIran, Syria, Hezbollah, all of which exert various degrees of influence on Hamashave also never recognised Israels right to exist, and continue to vie for its destruction. Iranian and Syrian state-sponsored terror undermines the peace process and threatens regional stability. Groups supported, bankrolled, armed and in some cases even controlled by Iran and Syria include Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.
Mr. Blunt: As far as I am aware, Syria is fully signed up to the Arab League position and the Arab League supports the peace plan of Crown Prince Abdullah, which, indeed, would have recognised the state of Israel within the boundaries of 1967, so what the hon. Gentleman says is slightly misleading, rather as the link between al-Qaeda and the Government of Iran, as presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, may have come as a slight surprise to the pair of them. We should try to use occasions such as Westminster Hall debates to arrive at a joint analysis, rather than to trade different sides of the story, and to understand why things are as they are in the middle east. If we can go forward on the basis of joint understanding, we shall be doing the House of Commons a favour.
Mr. Wright: I fully agree with the hon. Gentlemans comments, but the Hamas political leadership outside the Palestinian territories finds a safe haven in Damascus, with protection by the Syrian leadership, including Khaled Mashal, one of the leaders and founders of the Hamas movement and its charter. Syria, for example, hosted meetings between Mashal and the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad in January 2006. Iran, for example, is believed to be a major source of funding for Hamas, including its wide network of social and welfare institutions. Iran offered to send $50 million to the Palestinian Authority to alleviate the budget crisis after the election of Hamas, when the rest of the international community suspended funding and pressured the Hamas leadership to accept the responsibility of being a democratically elected Government.
It is not only Hamas that Iran and Syria sponsor. Hezbollah, to which Iran provides training, weaponry and expertise, not only threatens Israel along its northern border, but is increasingly active in the west bank and Gaza, where it supports and trains terrorist groups and provides financial incentives for launching attacks against Israel. Similarly, while Iran continues to support and fund terrorist organisations, President Ahmadinejad launches rhetorical attacks against Israel. That, together with its attempted procurement of nuclear weapons, surely constitutes an existential threat to Israel and raises the alarm for the future stability of the region.
Fabricant: I am enjoying the hon. Gentlemans
contribution, but in the context of the extraordinary intervention by
my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who tried to
exonerate Syria, I want to say that, in Iraq, let alone
Israel, we know of the operations of the Syrian Government and Iran, with respect to British and American troops.
Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. May we have short interventions now?
Michael Fabricant: In fact, that will do, Mr. Martlew.
Mr. Wright: I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
The international community must continue to use its influence to encourage dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. It is crucial to remember that the middle east peace process is just thata process for the middle east region, requiring Iran and Syria to stop aiding terrorist organisations.
Jeremy Corbyn: Will my hon. Friend give us an idea of what he thinks Israels borders are, and what position Israel is taking in negotiations on the matter of its borders and settlements?
Mr. Wright: I do not think that it is for me to say what Israels borders should be. I think that there is consensus that the 1967 border gives scope for discussion, and that would be the most appropriate step.
Mr. Newmark: Is not the core of the problem the fact that today, on the road map that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton was talking about, Israel does not exist for Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran? Therefore, Israel is in a position only to create a solution by itself. There is no one to negotiate with.
Mr. Wright: I agree. In the debate that I secured in Westminster Hall a couple of weeks ago on the prospects for peace in the middle east after the Israeli elections, I was struck by the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who said that we all know the solutionit is Israel and a Palestinian state working together, side by side, with mutual economic and social co-operation. People recognise that and it is important that everyone should recognise it as the end point of the process.
Israels war against terror will continue to undermine its efforts towards peace. The damage that terrorism causes is all too visible, and events in the region in the past week have highlighted how acts of terror can derail any positive trajectory for peace. In the midst of all the fighting that has been sparked since the attack on Kerem Shalom last week, and the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, Hamas and Fatah signed what is known as the prisoners document. We should be cautious about reading too much into that. The document does not require Hamas to recognise the state of Israel or to cease its armed struggle, but it does recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation assole representative of the Palestinian people, giving President Abbas the power to negotiate with Israel and put an end to factional in-fighting.
In an area as volatile as the middle east, pigeon steps are welcome, and that was a relevant and right pigeon step. However, Palestinian groups working against peace and intent on a terror agenda have ensured that that development has been obscured by the murder of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnap of a third. If any progress is to be made in the peace process, Israeli citizens need to feel secure. They need to feel that they can go about their daily business free from the threat of suicide bombersas, of course, do decent, ordinary Palestinians. They should feel secure as well and able to walk their children to school without worrying about being hit by a rocket launched from Gaza.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing the debate, which is particularly appropriate after the events of the past couple of weeks. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) on their contributions, which were very sound and full of a lot of sense, which is required if we are to help both sides in the middle east to go forward.
The hon. Member for Lichfieldto whom I apologise for missing the first sentences of his speechreferred to Israel as a victim of global jihad. That is true. There is certainly some evidence that there are jihad attacks on Israel. However, to imply, as that statement does, that the whole basis of the attack on Israel is religious intolerance is to misunderstand the debate. The Palestinians have been used and abused for a long time. They were first thrown out of what they considered their homeland and then abused by the Arab world, which left them, often, in camps with conditions that were not very good, when most of the Gulf was swilling with oil and there was plenty of money that could have been used to relieve some of their problems.
The idea that the conflict is all religious is not true. I worked in Iraq in 1982 and was privileged to have lunch with one of the senior accountants. The gentleman concerned, whose name is long gone from my memory, was very articulate. He was educated in Great Britain, very western in his approach and very gentlemanly. We were having a very pleasant conversation, but as soon as we touched on the subject of Israel, he talked about pushing all the Zionists into the sea. Those remarks had nothing to do with religious intolerance; they had to do with a lot of other deep-seated animosities and a conflict that goes back not just to 1967 and the 1940s, but to the 1930s and, indeed, 1919. Ultimately, a lot of the responsibility goes back to the 1919 peace talks in Paris, which did many things, but did not secure peace in many parts of the world.
The Foreign Affairs Committee
has been looking at the causes of the war against terrorism, and I
recommend its report to hon. Members. I am not saying that I agree with
every word, despite being on
the Committee, but there is a lot of common sense in it. On the issue of Palestine, I refer hon. Members to a contribution from the Foreign Secretary. Paragraph 2.20 of the report states:
We asked Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett what the Government is doing to impress upon the Israeli government the need for a negotiated settlement. She told us:
We have made it extremely clear to the Israeli Government, and the Prime Minister did to the Israeli Prime Minister yesterday, that we are looking for negotiations and for a negotiated settlement and that we would view any unilateral action by the Israeli Government asI was going to say very much second best, but we would be reluctant to see such unilateral action because we believe that negotiation is the right way forward.
Mr. Newmark: The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question that I posed earlier: how can Israel do anything but be unilateral when the other side does not actually recognise the state of Israel?
Richard Younger-Ross: Memories are very short. Fatah never used to recognise the state of Israel, but, eventually, it was brought to the negotiating table and accepted a two-state solution. Recent discussions with Hamas indicate that it, too, was moving towards accepting a two-state solution and accepting that the Palestinian territories could exist on one side of the 1967 border. De facto, Hamas is recognising the Israeli state, although it has not explicitly said so. There is still a long way to goI am not saying that the problem is not significantbut the way to resolve it is to bring third parties in to talk to Hamas and to bring it to the negotiating table.
Mr. Gauke: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Richard Younger-Ross: I am not taking further interventions. We have only a short time.
We have only to look at the past to see how other Palestinians can be brought forward and to see that that can work. That is what we need to do. Hamas did not expect to win the election, but it has now found itself in a position of power. That was a shot out of the blue, and Hamas is coming to terms with it, but that will take time.
Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me time to intervene, but will he not accept that it is extraordinarily difficult to insist that Israel should negotiate with Hamas when we do not have a ceasefire because Hamas has broken away from it and declared its intent to kidnap people and use them as bargaining chips in what it clearly perceives as an armed conflict? How can we insist that Israel take only the route of negotiation when the people with whom we insist that it negotiates are not even prepared to bring about a ceasefire?
Younger-Ross: We can insist on negotiation because that is
the only way in which we can achieve a
resolution, although that is not always easy. History shows that, whenever there has been a terrorist insurgencyin Kenya, Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the worldthe Government at the time have said, We will not talk to terrorists. However, to resolve the conflict, they have always sat down behind closed doors in third-party negotiations and talked to the terrorists, and they have actually brought about a resolution by doing that. We will not bring about a resolution, however, by unilaterally attacking, destroying and alienating.
The Old Testament saying that one should take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is often linked to Israel. However, Israel and its supportersparticularly the United Statesshould consider another old saying, which is that one should divide your enemies if you wish for victory. If people take actions that unite their enemies, it will be far harder for them to gain peace and achieve victory in the longer term. Those who support unilateral action are the same people who supported the arguments for war against Iraq. It was argued that we had a big stick and could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but we did not realise the can of worms that we were opening. Our history and our actions teach us that, if we had had a bit more negotiation and a bit more time, we would not have the mess that we do in Iraq. We would not have British soldiers being killed on the streets of Iraq, where they should not be, if we had got the negotiations right in the first place and sorted things out.
We are prepared to renounce parts of the land of Israel so precious to us, in order to bring about the conditions for you
to bring about your own dreams and to live side by side with us in peace and tranquillity. The time has come for the Palestinians to adapt their dreams to recognise the reality of Israel.
From the Palestinian perspective, Olmerts intention to fix Israeli borders unilaterally by 2010 would mean the annexation of at least 46 per cent. of the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem. This would be accompanied by Israeli withdrawal from outposts beyond the security fence. Palestinian Prime Minister Haniya responded to Olmerts declaration by stating: We will obviously not prevent Israel from withdrawing, but this does not mean that we consider the borders they set to be those of the Palestinian state.
That is one reason why the contention that religious war is the primary cause of the present problems is wrong. In many ways, the Palestinians are fighting an old-fashioned war over territory, not religious belief. If we forget that, we do both sides a disservice.
Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I, too, warmly
congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael
Fabricant) on securing the debate. As the hon. Member for Hartlepool
(Mr. Wright) said a few minutes ago, this is not the first time in the
past few months that we have gathered to discuss the wider aspects of
the middle east. Rather like Captain Renault in
Casablancathe right hon. Member for Manchester,
Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) will
appreciate this analogywe could be said to have rounded up the usual suspects, and the passionate speeches that we have heard have been similar to some that we have heard before. They have been passionate, of course, because the issue divides not only the people of the middle east but colleagues in the House of Commons.
I was very much taken by the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who said that we should try as far as possible to look ahead and decide what, if anything, we in Britain, and particularly the British Government, can do to help resolve what appears an almost intractable issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield stated very strongly that he wanted to make it clear that Israel was participating in a global war on terror and that it was therefore up to the British Government to back the Israeli Government at every possible level. I adopt a slightly more subtle approach on this. We know that the Government and my party resolutely stand by Israels right to exist, and to take measures against those who carry out acts against it. Indeed, the British Government and our intelligence and security forces regularly co-operate with the Israeli Government. However, that does not mean that we think the Israeli Government have the right to take complete, unilateral action whatever the consequences.
Many people in Israel and within the Israeli security establishment realise that a proportional reaction is more likely to achieve the desired overall results, the first of which is to ensure that there is wider support within the region and the western community. The second aim, which we are partly debating, is to resolve the immediate issue of extracting alive the Israeli soldier who is being held somewhere in Gaza. That is the objective of his parents and the Israeli community. I can well understand why the Israeli Government have always refused to compromise on any form of prisoner exchanges, but we need to keep that measure in mind.
In relation to the war on terror, the British Government rightly have to work in conjunction with other Governments in the middle east. The political, diplomatic and intelligence relations that we haveimperfect though they sometimes arewith Israels neighbours in Egypt, in Jordan and in the Gulf are of absolute, fundamental importance.
I spent much of my life, in a previous existence, teaching British military personnel, and learning as much from them as they ever learned from me, about counter-insurgency, insurgency and terrorism. In one sense, the wheel has come full circle. One thing that I learned was that one cannot take out the narrow, military-intelligence, police action against terrorism without thinking about the wider political and economic context. That is summed up in the understandable logic behind Israels defensible border strategy, which I recently saw on the ground from both the Israeli and the Palestinian perspectives, which is to secure Israel against suicide bombers. That is a laudable and understandable action, but as Israeli security officials said to me, it will not resolve the issue. At the end of the day, the resolution will be a political one, in one way or another.
We are always in danger of reliving Major-GeneralJ. F. C. Fullers constant tactical factor. I apologise for bringing in a bit of an anorak element here. Dear old Major-General J. F. C. Fuller believed that any advances that are made in strategy, operational planning, organisation or technology that aid the offensive or the defensive will always be countered. What happened with Israels defensible borders was that a Palestinian group decided to dig a tunnel; they decided to operate Major-General J. F. C. Fullers constant tactical factor. In the war against terror, whether in Israel or in the wider war against terror facing us today, there is no complete military-intelligence solution. There will always have to be a political one.
In the context of this debate, the bottom line for my party is that we stand by Israels right to exist. We are absolutely firm on that, but we also recognise, as do most Israelis, that peace will come about in that part of the middle east only when there is recognition of an independent Palestinian state that is not a security threat to Israel and that provides a decent standard of living and security for its people. If we do not have that, there will be endless terror and counter-terror operations of one kind or another.
I recognise that it is incredibly difficult to imagine negotiating directly with Hezbollah, Hamas or any other such organisations, although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) that invariably negotiations do take place, often at third hand. However, the objective, at least in the long termfor many Israelis the long-term objective is actually the very short-term objective of securing the release of this particular Israeli soldier and preventing the attacks that are taking placemust be to bolster the activities of those living in the Arab world, to make certain that they are not prepared to support such terrorism, as it is not in their interest to do so. It may well be that taking purely military action against them is not the most subtle way to do that.
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