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Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) rose

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull) rose

Mr. Straw: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross).

Mr. Ross: On refugees, I find it strange that we should rely on an accommodation between the Arab states in relation to Israel's concerns when, throughout most of my right hon. Friend's speech, he has referred to international law. International law is quite clear on this matter. Resolution 194 establishes the principle of the right of return and the right of individual Palestinians to decide on that. It is not for the Arab states to decide on that. It is not even up to President Arafat to decide on it. Can my right hon. Friend clarify this matter?

Mr. Straw: Of course, we have to take full account of international resolutions, although resolution 1397—the most recent substantive one—recalls resolutions 242 and 338 in particular, rather than the one to which my hon. Friend referred. We also have to take account of where we are, and it is President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority who would be the key negotiator on the Palestinian side, for as long as he occupies that position. He has said that he accepts that there has to be some accommodation of the issue of refugees. If we are to seek a solution to this terrible conflict, that has to be the case.

Mr. John Taylor rose

Mr. Straw: I know that the hon. Gentleman has been desperate to intervene, so I shall give way.

Mr. Taylor: I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary. I take him back to the passage in his speech about the creation of two states. I would like to ask him whether, in his mind, there is any danger of a tragic repetition of history. Was it not the discharge of the League of Nations' British mandate that produced two

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states—Israel and Transjordan, as it was then called? Why did that not work? Why might the next move work, if that one did not?

Mr. Straw: There is a separate, and perhaps more academic, debate to be had about why the Balfour declaration did not work. Happily he was not a member of my party. [Hon. Members: "It included Attlee."] It was not Attlee; this was in 1917. I am talking about the Balfour declaration, not the mandate.

One of the many problems is that of raised expectations on both sides, partly through the use of diplomacy for the moment—rather than diplomacy for the long term—which cannot be fulfilled. However, it is my judgment that only through a two-state solution will we ever achieve a resolution of this conflict. The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) must bear it in mind that these communities must live side by side, or not at all. People who go to the occupied territories see very densely populated settlements that share water and other facilities. There is no future for the territories, or for Israel, unless they can reach an accommodation.

The attitude of other states in the region has to be a vital part of a lasting solution. Peace in the middle east will have to be comprehensive and include full treaties between Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Arab states said at their Beirut summit that they were ready to extend the hand of peace to Israel, if Israel would end the occupation of Arab territories captured in 1967. It is vital that the Arab leaders make that commitment believable. As a peace process develops, they must make strong efforts to quell incitement, to support moderation and, above all, to cut off funds to the extremists. They must aim to isolate those extremists, not glorify them. That includes dealing with the radical organisations in their midst that oppose any sort of peace agreement.

It must also be understood from the beginning that the aim has to be to achieve a genuine end to the conflict, settling all issues and ending all claims. Any such agreement would have to be underpinned by a UN Security Council resolution, and, if necessary, an international force to oversee the phased withdrawal of Israeli troops to the new border would need to be provided. Moreover, the international community has to stand ready to provide financial support for a settlement.

A state of Palestine would begin its life in very difficult circumstances. The violence of the past 18 months, and especially the current invasion of the west bank, have done immense damage to the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure. Many of the facilities provided by the EU and Arab countries have been wrecked.

We and our partners in the EU are now ready to help rehabilitate the Palestinian Authority and to help rebuild its infrastructure, but this must be on the explicit expectation that there are no further Israeli incursions. We cannot go on picking up the pieces.

A trust fund, under the auspices of the World Bank or the UN Development Programme, could channel resources to where they were needed. However, to return to a point that I made a moment ago, the two states would have a common interest in each other's stability, security

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and prosperity. There would have to be maximum openness in their economic relations, for their futures are inextricably linked.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I have taken many interventions, and many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

It is because of this mutual dependence that the more extreme solutions suggested recently—such as reoccupation, unilateral separation, and the forced transfer of Palestinian populations—could never deliver a sustainable peace. That can come only through negotiation and agreement. There is no sane alternative to a two-state solution and a broad vision of the sort that I have set out today.

I last visited Israel and the occupied territories two months ago. I have two abiding memories of that visit. One is of meeting a young Israeli volunteer at the main ambulance station in west Jerusalem. He was killed two weeks later by a sniper bullet while he was patrolling a checkpoint as a reserve soldier.

The other memory is of the faces of four young girls in Ramallah whom I saw as I drove in for a meeting with a representative of the Palestinian Authority. The girls were peering from a doorway. They were being held back for safety by their mother, but they were seeking a response from me to their waves.

When we talk about a secure Israel, we mean an end to wasted young lives, such as the life of the young Israeli volunteer. When we talk about a viable Palestinian state, we are talking about a future for those girls in which they do not have to live with the horrors that we have all seen on our television screens.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) rose

Mr. Straw: Those children and young people—everybody in Israel and the occupied territories—need peace. The world wants peace. Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat have a responsibility to deliver it. The passions and hatreds that are aroused by the Arab-Israeli conflict are so strong and so visceral that many on either side cannot bring themselves even to acknowledge that there is another side to the issue. Yet it is only through such an acknowledgement, only through negotiation and compromise that either side can achieve what it wants.

Only compromise can deliver a secure state of Israel, alongside a viable state of Palestine, whose citizens enjoy the same safety and freedom of movement and of life as those of any other state. Only through compromise and mutual recognition of needs and aspirations can the people of the region break out of the cycle of violence and reprisal and ensure that the future is not sacrificed to the grievances of the past.

4.35 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Over these past few weeks we have watched a tragedy of enormous proportions unfolding in the middle east. Not only has it brutalised the peoples of that region but it now threatens a wider conflagration that could end up burning us all.

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Five weeks ago, at the start of this latest escalation, I was in the middle east with my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). As we drove through that beautiful landscape down from Jerusalem to the River Jordan on our way to Amman, the body of a Palestinian was being carried, amid militant chants, to its burial. Not far away, the body of an Israeli soldier was being taken with military honours to its burial place. These were only the first of the funerals that day—each a victim of the other. Today, there are many, many more.

It is easy to claim that violence in the middle east is nothing new. That does not make the despair any less deep, the dangers any less grave or the need to find an answer any less urgent. That is why I welcome today's debate.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have in the past, in this context, drawn on the experiences in Northern Ireland. We must be careful—the two situations are materially and geopolitically very different. The nature of the terrorist threat and the response required are also different. I do not believe that we serve either process by drawing the analogy too closely. However, some general lessons can be learned, particularly on breaking an apparent impasse.

One of the first things that I learned in Northern Ireland is that there is nothing less helpful than third parties hurling accusations from the sidelines, giving moralistic lectures or veiled threats from a safe distance, or seeking to intervene in areas where they have no locus. Such actions entrench intransigence rather than resolving it.

We all share the horror at the current violence, but indulging in accusation and counter-accusation will not end it. We can bathe in outrage and become bogged down in it or we can learn the lessons of the situation and move forward. We need to know the truth. For that reason, I welcome the fact that the International Red Cross will investigate what happened, particularly in Jenin, and also the news given us by the Foreign Secretary that our military attaché is also in Jenin and that he will report to us in due course.

I also welcome Secretary of State Colin Powell's current courageous efforts to involve all the regional powers in a resumption of dialogue and a search for a genuine settlement. He is looking for them to identify those areas upon which the search for a settlement can positively proceed. I hope that everybody in this House will wish him well. He knows, however, as we do, that a lasting settlement cannot be achieved without genuine agreement by the parties themselves, and that genuine agreement cannot be secured under duress. One of the facts of history is that too many of today's burning territorial disputes, possibly including this one, were born out of imposed settlements, and I believe that that must be avoided on this occasion.

I learned also that it is unhelpful to be partisan. We have to break free of the political zero-sum game in which we are either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli but cannot be both. I am an unashamed friend of Israel but, equally, I have long been a supporter of Palestinian rights. I recognise the fears, aspirations and emotions that inspire both sides. Funnily enough, those fears and aspirations often mirror each other.

We have to be even-handed; we must be unequivocally clear in our condemnation of acts of terrorism and about the need to eradicate them at their roots. Equally,

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however, we must never dilute our criticism of military actions by Israel that overstep the mark, of the violation of human rights or of the humiliation and harassment of innocent citizens. Where those practices are established we must denounce them, too, without equivocation.

The strongest lesson that I learned was never to give up hope. I learned that, however dark the horizon, there can always be steps back from the abyss to the negotiating table. Those steps are neither quick nor easy but they carry hope, and hope is at a premium in the middle east at the moment.

The first step is to maintain dialogue. As the Foreign Secretary said, there can be no final military solution to the problem on either side. However hostile the political climate and however fierce the fighting, each side must keep talking. That talk may be at an extremely basic level; it can be about the most rudimentary issues, but it must maintain contact. The current proposal for a regional conference at ministerial level could offer an opportunity. It does not matter how unpromising it appears initially—it could be the thin strand from which the substantial rope of real negotiation can eventually be woven.

When I visited Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres in February, low-level contacts were being maintained, despite growing violence. I was very sorry that those contacts were broken; they need to be resumed—even before a ceasefire, or indeed before an Israeli withdrawal takes place.

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