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The noble Lord said: My Lords, our attention has concentrated for the past couple of months on the north-western edge of what one can usefully think of as the greater Middle East. For this reason, all of us--media, people and Parliament--have been losing the bigger picture. That is why I put down this Motion for discussion today on which I speak with some trepidation in the usual knowledge that in this House there are people present who know a great deal more about it than I do.
In the greater Middle East we see today's policies interacting with hugely powerful historical forces, several world religions among them, and the detritus of several empires; with the facts of geography--oil, growing water shortages; with an accumulation of weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, for which we ourselves are responsible; and with the vast and perennial fabric of lies, ranging from "forgivable" exaggerations to carefully crafted and many-layered misinformation uttered by governments.
The Middle East is where monotheism was--if you ignore the Pharaoh Akhnaton--first invented, and then twice more re-invented, and whence it was exported. A distinguishing mark of monotheism was, and often still is, intolerance, and the intolerance was exported too. The imperial polytheism of the West, Rome, drove the Jews out of their own land of Palestine. Islam then invaded and conquered not only the Levant and Arabia but north Africa, Sicily and southern Italy, Spain, and France as far as Tours. Roman Christendom responded, driving Islam out of Europe, and with the Crusades carried the war with pillage and dominion into the Levant, sacking Orthodox Christian Constantinople on the way.
Then the newly Moslemised Turkic peoples burst out of central Asia and conquered and sacked Constantinople, and Christianity split again. Turkey was the long-term gainer, settling and ruling the whole of south east Europe. No people which was ever in the Balkans does not have descendants there now. We think of the inherited hatreds of Ireland. In the Balkans, the history is longer. There are more peoples, and more religions. We have a government chief scientist and a government medical adviser. I think it is time we had a government historian, and perhaps also a government geographer, if only to remind Ministers where the North Atlantic occurs--not on the slopes of the Caucasus, not in central Asia where, in the name of NATO, the US is now sounding out the possibilities.
So much for the setting. In the heart of the Middle East we have another war still pounding along, the exploitation of superior technology in the almost nightly bombing and strafing of Iraq by two Protestant Christian powers from the further edge of the western world, against the judgment of the rest of the world. Here in Iraq we see, added to unresolved religious torments, the effects of our becoming--above all the United States becoming--addicted to the oil long hidden and unvalued beneath Moslem sand and sea. Thus a practical, bread-and-butter interest has joined the palaeo-endemic religious and imperial rivalries, the forceful incursions of foreign would-be exploiters of indigenous resources. The interest is an American one; their consumption of oil per head is many times ours. They even contemplate the break-up of Iraq, which they appear to be planning in London.
Now we, the West, are trying to get our hands on another oil province, the Caspian. Of all things, we--or rather the United States--are trying to use our good old defensive North Atlantic Treaty to do so. The ex-Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and even Kyrgystan, are all being given the once over and the glad eye, garnished with plenteous
In all this, the Americans give the impression that they are out to "do down" the Russians. And that is how the Russians see it. How could they not? These are destabilisations which can only seem directly engineered to furnish reasons for a later NATO presence. Azerbaijan is asking for a NATO base and accusing Armenia of obtaining missiles from China--today's fashionable demon in the US.
The whole Moslem world is watching Kosovo: the western Christians of NATO protecting Albanian Moslems against the eastern Christians of Serbia, and vowing to return them to their homes. No wonder Ariel Sharon deplored what he saw. Might NATO not think to return the Palestinians from the refugee camps to the homes from which they have been expelled? Israeli governments--we have to face this fact--have behaved precisely like the "rogue states" we claim to deplore: weapons of mass destruction, unlawful occupation of neighbours' territory; ill treatment of minorities, including "ethnic cleansing", and the removal of personal documents, state terrorism abroad, torture licensed by the supreme court, and multiple breaches of international law and conventions.
We all know that these things have been excused because there is no provision in US law or constitution to protect the Congress from lobbyists whose prepotency is hard for us in Europe to credit. Along with the tobacco lobby and the guns and arms lobbies, the Jewish lobby is hugely powerful, as President Bush discovered when he tried to stand up to it. Thus it is good news indeed today--if it is true--that AIPAC has decided to drop its opposition to a Palestinian state. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can give us some reliable news on that.
It is quite understandable that Israel should have decided to develop nuclear weapons. Milosevic must be wishing he had some, and others will read the lesson. Of course Israel's neighbours study how to balance Israel's nuclear weapons and establish "stable deterrence." How could they not? Proliferation may be deplorable in general, but in detail, as we ourselves found in 1945 and still believe, it may be a highly responsible national reaction to the threats others' nuclear weapons pose. That is not a mystery. But if we--the international community--want to curb proliferation in the Middle East we must deal with Israel's nuclear weapons, or we must get Israel to deal with her own nuclear weapons, and soon.
"We will move quickly towards separation from the Palestinians: a united Jerusalem under our sovereignty. Jerusalem as the capital of Israel for ever, period: under no circumstances will we return to
I come now to something that is a mystery. Why do Her Majesty's Government claim to know nothing about Israel's nuclear weapons? The Middle East disarmament body set up after Madrid died, and more recently the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference nearly came apart, with the effective refusal of the US to make any effort to deal with Israel's nuclear weapons. Her Majesty's Government must be alone in doubting their existence. Here are double standards with a vengeance.
Today the Arab world sees us bombing Iraq for doing what we have not objected to Israel's doing. As to Iran, the United States stopped short only at an actual attack to prevent its developing a lawful, NPT-guaranteed, International Atomic Energy Agency-certified civil nuclear programme.
In all of this we come upon the hand-washing of our Government. Her Majesty's Government have no clear peer-reviewed evidence of the damage we are, by our sanctions, allowing Saddam Hussein to inflict on a generation of Iraqi children. "Peer review" is the language of peaceful laboratories. Who ever heard of a peer review of the effects of bombing during an armed conflict? Was there peer review of the evidence concerning the Al Shifa factory in Khartoum?
What is the news of the continuing low-level war in Iraq? How often have American British forces now flown? The doctrine under which these dubiously lawful attacks go on and on is the one recently introduced to the world by NATO: "averting overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe". Her Majesty's Government claim that the Gulf Arabs are not against our bombing Iraq. They have regularly stated that they are, most recently on 18th May, when the Arab League called on the US and the UK to stop all military operations.
Our Government claim also not to know that UNSCOM was penetrated by US and Israeli intelligence. The damage to international verification as an institution everywhere has been done. How can we deal with that inconvenient fact if we deny its existence? And the Government claimed not to know about the powerfully attractive US enticements offered to the KLA at Rambouillet. So much that is true thus becomes undiscussable, and that is a loss. For the future, we must try to achieve greater truth-telling all round. I mean truth-telling as opposed to silence, or ignorance, which must sometimes be faked.
Even more will depend on the United States, which should learn, and we may pray will learn, to have one single foreign policy, and that a good one. And much will fall on us, too, as usual, because we can speak to the United States without interpreters.
Lord Quinton: My Lords, I am grateful, as I am sure we all are, or should be, to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for raising this subject for debate. It seems to me a particularly apt moment for it, because we seem to see the beginnings of what might be called a changing of the guard in the Middle East.
First, there was the death, after 44 years of considerable ups and downs, of King Hussein. The end of his reign showed Jordan in a comparatively "up" position as compared with the state it had been in quite often during his tenure of the kingship. Anyone who travels from Jordan to Syria sees the merits of the Jordanian Government's way of going about things, as contrasted with the rigid police state of President Assad.
Then just recently there was the replacement of Mr. Netanyahu by Mr. Barak, which was alluded to by the noble Lord. That was the result, of course, of a free, open, fair, democratic election, a unique institutional occurrence in the Middle East, not found in any other part of that difficult area of the world. This is obviously some ground for optimism, as the noble Lord suggested, though I am not sure that my optimism would be couched in quite the same terms.
It seems to me that Mr. Netanyahu had a problem, only in a slightly different form, that he shared with many other Middle Eastern rulers. He was in some way under pressure from--in fact, he was seriously beholden to--religious fanatics, fundamentalists. His hold on power depended on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset. It may be that he was not anyway very willing to be non-provocative, but he was encouraged to be more than usually provocative by the fact of that dependence.
Mr. Barak has no such dependence, and we may hope that on the whole and in the long run he will prove to be less provocative, to be a little more emollient, to the Arab population within Israel and surrounding it.
But there are two other people whom we ought to take into account: the President of Syria and the President of Egypt. These, curiously enough when one reflects on what they both look like, are the same age; they are both 71. That is quite a normal age for the handing on of power to a successor, even if natural causes do not bring it about so that a successor has to be found in a hurry.
In the case of Egypt, the figure of President Mubarak is of course enormously robust. He looks like nothing so much as a back-row rugby forward at the summit of his career. I rather wondered whether he might be induced to replace the hapless Dallaglio on the England team. In other words, he does not look like fading away from physical causes. He would appear to be in greater danger from a possible fundamentalist assassin than President Assad would. Those, at any rate, would seem to be the most likely, but by no means certain in that part of the world or perhaps anywhere else, changes that will occur there.
Fundamentalism is a menace all over the Middle East, but it is also a menace in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox refuse to perform military service, do not pay taxes and, I think I am right in supposing, do not really recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel--that is, they are anti-Zionist. This huge lump of people, afforced by excited and zealous students from the United States, are a serious danger. They led Prime Minister Netanyahu into all kinds of provocative action. It is to be hoped that the Jewish communities of the United States--the main ones to pick up the bill--and also of this country will exercise some pressure towards rendering Israeli policy towards Arabs more emollient. It is a serious problem. The decision of the people of Israel in the recent election gives grounds for reasonable hope in this field.
My time is nearly up but I wish to make one final point. In former Yugoslavia we see NATO efforts--not perhaps very successful ones--being made to protect Moslem populations from the brutal atrocities of that militant and zealous orthodox Christian, President Milosevic. I have not noticed, on the part of the Moslem communities of the rest of the world, any great enthusiasm for that. There has been not a squeak of moral support or a parcel of material support for what, if Moslem cohesion and sense of fraternity mean anything, must surely appeal to them. They do not do so. One wonders whether their indurated anti-Westernism is not so great that it applies even to the Moslems of former Yugoslavia, because they are, after all, Western.
Lord Archer of Sandwell : My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, in congratulating my noble friend Lord Kennet both on securing the debate and on his comprehensive and succinct review of the problems of the Middle East. Fifteen minutes is a brief time to offer solutions to so many long standing problems; five minutes, of course, is even briefer. I propose to confine myself to one topic. Like the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, I believe that the new Government of Israel, pledged to renewing the peace process, which I believe is urgently desired by the vast majority of the peoples of the Middle East, have brought renewed hope where previously there were so many repeated disappointments.
How, then, can we help? Not, I believe, by judgmental strictures and not by seeking to dictate to the parties the terms of the final peace accord. It is they who have everything to gain from a peaceful future. It is each of them who must make concessions if there is to be a meeting of minds. The whole purpose of entering into negotiations is frustrated if anyone seeks to prescribe in advance what the outcome should be. I believe that that applies to the parties, too, and that if, as we can now reasonably hope, they bring the interim process to an early conclusion, neither side should impose constraints on the final negotiations before they begin.
It will not be easy. The new government clearly appreciate that any agreement must be one which the people of Israel in general, and the Jewish part of the population in particular, are prepared to accept. That is part of the price for democracy. The other part we have already seen. In order to secure election, they have had to indicate something of what they have in mind as a bottom line. A democratic government have, perforce, to play much of their hand with their cards facing upwards. But the good news is that each side knows the value of peace, for security, for economic prosperity and for the quality of life.
I share with my noble friend Lord Kennet the hope that Israel will in time feel able to renounce its nuclear capability. He and I have long looked forward to a time when there will be an end to nuclear proliferation and when the world may turn to general nuclear disarmament. But we need to be realistic and begin the journey from where we are. At the moment there are those whom Israel is justified in perceiving as its potential enemies, with populations far larger than its own. Unless and until it can be satisfied that none of them seeks to possess weapons of mass destruction, it would be fanciful to suggest that Israel should renounce the weapons which it already has. In this situation, peace must precede disarmament. While Syria and Iraq lend support to Hezbollah rocket launchers, the confidence building process which might lead to peace is bound to be frustrated.
I believe that Europe can encourage the process by the role which the EU is playing with its very substantial contribution to the development of the Palestinian territories. Seven hundred million ecus is a fair amount of money to put where your mouth is. It is to be hoped that the new government will show greater enthusiasm for the opportunities of peaceful co-operation which those resources offer. The Britech Scheme shows how much Britain and Israel can contribute to each other's prosperity.
History dealt a rough hand to both sides in the Middle East. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian nations were born of tragedy. The irony is that each side has behaved precisely as we might have behaved in their place. I suspect that what we here have to say will count for less than their own recognition that they have more to gain from co-operation than from conflict. But if we cannot mend the divisions, at least we can ensure that nothing we say will make them wider. May the message which goes out from this Chamber today be that we wish the process well.
Lord Jacobs: My Lords, this is a significant moment to have a debate on the Middle East. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for introducing it. I must here declare an interest. I have been a strong, almost virulent supporter of Israel since its foundation in 1948. Nevertheless, I believe that there have been very good arguments on two sides for the past few years and I shall try to give my own balanced assessment of the situation.
Most of the countries in the Middle East have inter-related problems connected with Israel. These include Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinians themselves. Following the Wye agreement, progress was rather slow. In my opinion that owes more to the internal difficulties with Israel than the problems posed by the other Middle Eastern countries. Indeed, for the Palestinians and for Chairman Arafat, the Wye agreement was a great success and they gained immense self-respect from it. Chairman Arafat also accepted the absolute necessity for him to control the internal security of his country. Everyone recognised that if Hamas continued as before, no peace agreement in the Middle East would be possible.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak has achieved a mandate of landslide proportions. But, faced with a window of power, he must not delay the peace negotiations for as we all know, in politics, windows fade very quickly. Fortunately, the attitude of the Israeli people themselves towards the peace process has undergone a significant change. Two recent polls are most illuminating. First, 65 per cent of the population said they believe that one day there will be an independent Palestinian state. What is surprising, however, is that the second poll showed that 55 per cent believe that there should be an independent Palestinian state. That is an increase from 30 per cent in the past three years. I think we can now hope that the Israeli people as a whole are firmly behind the peace process.
Today the difficulties within Israel are much more inward looking and relate to the divide between the religious orthodox Jewry and those who believe that Israel should be a secular state. The chances for peace in the Middle East have never been greater but many commentators greatly under-estimate the difficulties. Prime Minister Barak has already stated that he wants to withdraw his troops from Lebanon within 12 months, which is a simple and clear statement. To achieve that, he must have the agreement of President Assad of Syria, so that President Assad will be able to ensure that Hezbollah, who frequently launch Katyusha rockets across the northern borders of Israel, have their power curbed. President Assad will in turn insist on an agreement about the Golan Heights, which in practical terms means Israel giving up the entire Golan Heights, removing Israeli settlements and perhaps having a small demilitarised zone. I strongly support that principle, and the overwhelming majority of Israelis support that agreement.
I am sure none of your Lordships doubts that any agreement with the Palestinians must include full recognition of and full agreement to an independent Palestinian state. I have been led to believe that before
The most critical issue would be Jerusalem. I do not see any possibility of Israel agreeing to give up part of Jerusalem unless perhaps to create something like the Vatican City within the city of Jerusalem. The reality is that if the new peace-minded government of Israel were to divide Jerusalem, the government would be brought down quickly and we would all be back to square one.
Can we be optimistic of the outcome of all the negotiations? Is it easier to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians than between the IRA and the Ulster Protestants? The answer must surely be yes, for at least there can be a physical exchange of land and statehood in return for peace. Both sides have something to trade. Israel needs peace with security and the Palestinians need and deserve statehood.
The peace bonus for all those countries in the Middle East would be significant investment and economic development in all those countries surrounding Israel. Growing prosperity is undoubtedly the greatest guarantee of continued peace in the Middle East.
Lord Rea: My Lords, in five minutes it is sensible to concentrate on one point. In my case, it will be the humanitarian situation in Iraq. But first, I will break this principle and ask my noble friend the Minister two questions, of which I have given notice, relating to Turkey--the south-east corner of which at least forms part of the Middle East.
The trial of Abdullah Ocalan, the captured PKK leader, is shortly to begin. The Turkish authorities are only allowing a limited number of observers to attend the trial. Can my noble friend say whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been successful in its efforts, through our ambassador, to have a presence at the trial? If not, have suitably strong representations been made? An international presence at that trial is the only hope that it will at least have the semblance of justice as we know it.
On a different topic, can my noble friend the Minister say whether Export Credits Guarantee Department support will be given to British firms involved in the design and construction of the proposed dam and hydroelectric scheme at Ilisu on the River Tigris in Eastern Anatolia? That is mainly a Swiss-financed project. The criticism has been made that the criteria adopted for the design and construction of that dam have not met World Bank standards. The 20,000 or more mainly Kurdish people who will be displaced by the reservoir have not been consulted. Neither has attention been paid to the historic towns that will be inundated. There is strong opposition to the dam from Syria and Jordan, which are downstream and whose economy could be held to ransom by Turkey.
Turning to my main topic, my noble friend the Minister will be aware of the report of the Humanitarian Panel of the Security Council, No. S/1999/356, which was published on 30th March. Among the many points that it makes is this:
The humanitarian panel report makes a number of constructive proposals--too many to go through as my time is nearly at an end--that would help to alleviate the current disastrous situation while retaining some of the sanctions. Can my noble friend the Minister say whether the Government are studying those proposals closely and will respond positively? We already have plans for postwar reconstruction in the Balkans while the war there is still going on. The war in the Gulf has been over for more than nine years. Surely it is time that the suffering people of Iraq got a little attention.
Lord Weidenfeld: My Lords, for more than 25 years I have listened with great interest to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on diverse issues and regions. It seems to me that when the noble Lord speaks on the Middle East, his remarks have a slight flavour of redemptionist oratory, with the sermon on hell reserved for the state of Israel.
There is little doubt that the election of General Barak, who has a freer hand and a clearer mandate than any of his predecessors, ushers in a definite change in tone, new vigour and a genuine reaffirmation of a will for peacemaking. However, it is not only his own public that he must gather around him for peace. General Barak must be able to count on a greater willingness among
There are still some grim realities in the Middle East. Fear and hate are still rampant. Twice in the past 12 months an Israeli Cabinet had to meet in an emergency session to review possible doomsday scenarios in the event of Saddam Hussein, reacting to American air strikes, launching missiles with conventional or even unconventional warheads against the conurbation of Tel Aviv. Now that UNSCOM no longer functions in Iraq, that country's unpredictable dictator could still wreak unimaginable havoc.
A wall of hate still exists not only in the rogue states of the Arab world but even in those countries that are at peace and whose political establishment avowedly and sincerely wishes to co-operate with the Jewish State. Not so long ago, when attending a conference sponsored by the Jordanian authorities in Amman, I went into a leading bookshop next door to my hotel and looked at the main counter of current books. I saw brand new editions of Hitler's Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and rows of books on current affairs displayed with garish and ghoulish covers depicting caricatures of perceived Jewish archetypes, of a stridency and odiousness which took me back to Julius Streicher's racist rag, Der Sturmer, in Hitler's Nuremberg. And that was in Amman, in Jordan, a country which has been the friendliest of Israel's neighbours with by far the longest and safest of all her frontiers.
It is said that Iran sincerely wishes to mend fences with the West. President Khatami stands for a policy of a "thaw". Is he the Kruschev or the Gorbachev of the Islamic revolution? If he were the former let us not forget that Kruschev's idea of "thaw" also included the dispatch of tanks to Hungary and missiles to Cuba. A few days ago, President Khatami was in Damascus addressing leaders of Hezbollah and 12 other terrorist organisations which have their headquarters in the Syrian capital. We do not know what he told them.
There is a tacit consensus that eventually the Palestinians will have their state. But the limits of its defence capabilities as well as its borders must be contractually agreed upon first. The right of the Palestinians to such a state is indisputable, but it must not become a base for other hostile powers and drastically impede and subvert Israel's security. It must not become, as Lebanon did, a staging post for terrorist organisations. Opponents of statehood in the past have claimed that if Israel were to retaliate against transgressions originating on Palestinian soil any operation would instantly become an act of aggression under international law. But that can all be sorted out contractually with goodwill. There are many precedents.
The question of Syria is very important. The noble Lord, Lord Quinton, mentioned President Assad and also the inevitable probable dynastic successions in various parts of the Gulf and the Middle East. The degree and pace of the return of the Golan Heights is clearly linked to the degree and depth of the peaceful intentions of Syria's leaders. For President Assad that decision is extremely difficult, and especially so for domestic reasons. It is not merely a question of coming to terms with a hated opponent but of opening a closed window, letting fresh air into a country that is tightly controlled. The future of his regime and his succession are at stake. It will be interesting to see what happens if, as Mr. Barak promises, Israeli troops withdraw from Southern Lebanon. Would Syria continue to be the occupying power of a country that, once the security issues seemed resolved, would yearn for the recovery of independence?
The most important and difficult problem relates to Jerusalem, and should be left to the last in negotiations. For nowhere else is imaginative vision and goodwill more needed than in a city which Palestinians claim as their capital and Jews the world over regard, in the words of a distinguished Protestant theologian, not just as a holy shrine of Judaism but as Judaism itself. Moreover, the modern city of Jerusalem has three-quarters of a million souls, over 70 per cent of them Jews. Thus, on purely statistical grounds, Israel considers it to be the undivided capital of the state. There are many imaginative models for a solution. There have been unofficial negotiations between members of Likud, members of the Israeli labour party as it was then called, and important Arab leaders. There have been denials about the agreements that might have been reached, but there are working models. Paradoxical as it may sound, I believe that the problem is capable of solution if there is good will, and an assured atmosphere of surrounding peace.
Perhaps I may briefly mention the important, heightened role of Turkey in the region. Turkey is destined to play a very important part. Secular and western in outlook, it stands for stability and is a solid counterpoise against adventurist policies from the rogue states in the region. It firmly supports the independence of Jordan--
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