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The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman's point about the proposals made by Ehud Barak is a good one: it is a tragedy that they were not acted on properly at the time. As for what can be done now, if the Israelis can be persuaded to withdraw and the Palestinians to take the necessary action—with outside help if necessary—to control terrorism, the principal thing the Arab states have to do is get behind that initiative. In other words, they have to make it clear that they do not support terrorism; the states that are, either tacitly or openly, supporting terrorism must cease; and they must explicitly recognise—as Crown Prince Abdullah's plan does—Israel's right to exist.

Sometimes, people do not sufficiently understand Israel's sense of insecurity in circumstances in which a significant part of the Arab world overtly does not accept its right to exist. That is why it is important that we act on Crown Prince Abdullah's proposals. If there is a ray of hope in this ghastly situation it is that increase in recognition. All countries have moved their position. Countries that were hesitant about accepting the notion of a viable Palestinian state are now saying that they want it, including the United States of America. The European Union and the United Kingdom have stated it explicitly. Secondly, the Arab world is prepared to recognise Israel's right to exist. Those two principles are now accepted.

As the hon. Gentleman says, rightly, the problem is that mistrust is so great—how on earth can negotiations ever start again? That is why the minimum security steps are vital.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): Since Saddam Hussein is the spectre at our debate, will the Prime

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Minister put the subject with which we are dealing into context? He will recall that in 1988, Saddam Hussein rained down chemical weapons on Halabja, that 5,000 people died within half an hour, and that thousands of others were blinded or suffered severe side effects. For 17 months, poisonous gases were used on outlying villages, and 4 million people living in northern Iraq and Kurdistan were affected. Can we not remind ourselves of how important it is that Saddam Hussein lives with UN resolutions, and the sooner he does so the better?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to remind us of the nature of Saddam's regime and the way in which it deals with its political opponents, with routine political executions. We should remember that. When they think about it, most people realise that this person constitutes a threat. We must be careful how we deal with it.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): First, on behalf of my colleagues, I endorse everything that has been said in appreciation of the work of the Serjeant at Arms and his colleagues over the past few days.

On the middle east, I agree that there must be an end of terrorism, that there must be Israeli restraint and withdrawal, and that there is a need for a political strategy. However, I am a little concerned about some of the parallels that are drawn with Northern Ireland. Between 1970 and 1995, we had many different political initiatives, none of which succeeded. Among the reasons why the process after 1995 was more successful—there were many—were two that seem to me relevant. First, the terrorists became convinced that their campaign would fail. Secondly, there was a change in the underlying ideology. Even Irish republicans realised that the blood and soil nationalism that they had been attached to was wrong.

I do not see any sign of a similar ideological change in the middle east. We cannot look at Palestine apart from the rest of the Arab nation. While I appreciate what Prince Abdullah has done in recognising Israel's right to exist, the situation would be much more hopeful if the Saudi authorities were to start to try to redefine the particular brand of Islam that is the ideology of their state, because that has provided many of the wellsprings of the violence and the particular forms of terrorism that we have seen.

Of course we must deal with the symptoms, but until there is a willingness among the Arab states to get to the ideological roots of the problem, we cannot have very much optimism.

The Prime Minister: I always understand the right hon. Gentleman's hesitation about the parallels with Northern Ireland. However, I believe that there is a parallel. I do not believe that it would ever have been possible—everything that the right hon. Gentleman says is right, of course—to have a process unless there was continuous engagement in a detailed proposal to work our way out of the impasse, and a political vision to go alongside that, which was there in the Belfast agreement.

It is worth pointing out that two and a half or three years ago there was not the present level of violence. What has changed, first, is that a political solution was rejected. There then appeared to be no political strategy. In some ways the situation is not entirely dissimilar. Leaving that aside, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must judge the situation in the round.

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I think that the Palestinians know perfectly well that the state of Israel will not cease to exist. The Arab world knows that Israel is not going to go away. Whatever the Arab world says and whatever ideological hangover there is from the past, it knows that that will not happen. The trouble is that while no political process is under way, it is reluctant to say that. That is why Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative was important.

If we could envisage a situation, difficult as it is now, where real progress was being made and where the Israelis and the Palestinians were working through a proper process, I think that a series of things would start to change in the middle east. For a start, many of those countries that have effectively reared their people on fairly poisonous anti-Israeli and often anti-Semitic propaganda would have to change. I think that there is a recognition among some of those Governments that people who are reared on that type of propaganda often turn into the sort of political extremists who ultimately come looking for the Governments of those very states.

There is a clear sense in which the region could change. For example, if people like Saddam Hussein were not in power any more, the situation could change. There are these prospects but they all depend on the basic political strategy being reinvigorated. Until that happens, the hatreds just get worse.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): Everyone will agree with my right hon. Friend on his view of the Saddam Hussein regime: the world would be better off without it. Nevertheless, on 27 September last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), stated that the objective of British foreign policy was to remove the threat of Iraq's weapons and not to replace the Iraqi Government, which was described as a matter for the people of Iraq. On the other hand, as long ago as 1997, President Clinton stated that sanctions against Iraq must remain for as long as Saddam Hussein lasted. What is the current view and policy of the British Government? If they take the latter position, there is no incentive to get the current regime in Iraq to change tack and allow inspectors in. I happen to remember that, initially, the inspectors left of their own accord; the difficulty now is to get them back in.

The Prime Minister: Of course, the policy is to protect ourselves against weapons of mass destruction, but obviously that cannot be divorced from the regime, because it is the regime that is responsible. In respect of the comments made by President Bush, and indeed President Clinton before him, regime change in Iraq has been the policy of successive American Governments, but that is the case precisely because of the fear of weapons of mass destruction. All I would say to my hon. Friend is that it is for that very reason that the international community has said to Saddam Hussein, "Let the inspectors back in." That is what I am saying, but it must be done unconditionally.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): In wishing the Prime Minister well in his immense task, may I ask him to consider two points? First, will he tell Mr. Sharon clearly and unambiguously that the way in which he has conducted his regime has not helped his cause and has made many friends into doubters, and that while we are

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all committed to the existence of the state of Israel, we do not believe that the current regime is acting in a very civilised manner?

Secondly, to reinforce the bipartisan nature of the approach, which has been very evident in today's exchanges, will the right hon. Gentleman consider asking his predecessor John Major whether he would be prepared to play a part? He could perhaps act as a roving envoy and go to the middle east to talk to people. He has immense experience and a little more time than the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister take on board that suggestion?

The Prime Minister: I am certainly happy to consider that suggestion. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, which was about Prime Minister Sharon, I think that I have said all that I have to say. I understand the concerns that are being expressed. My view now is that the important thing is to try to get the process re-begun. Frankly, I am more interested in doing that than in condemning particular people for what they have done. The position that we have set out in respect of Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories is very clear.

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