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6.11 pm

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I have only a few points to make.

On occasions of this sort and in debates of this nature, it is easy for us to spend time beating our breasts and saying how terrible it all is, and then to engage in individual expressions of long-held views consisting mostly of a denunciation of the opposite view to the one we tend to favour. With respect to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), I must say that that is what we have just heard: a very one-sided view. Things—I was going to say "sadly", but as it is not sad I shall say "hopefully"—are, in fact, much more complicated.

It may seem absurd, when we are considering the terrible events of recent months, to sound a note of optimism. We should not forget, however, that what has happened over the last 20 months or so—since Camp David and the start, or renewal, of the intifada—has not returned us to the situation that existed before the Oslo accords. Minds have moved, and have moved decisively. I believe that that applies not just to a few moderates on both sides, but more widely.

When I was in Jerusalem in January last year, while the negotiations in Taba were still going on, I had the privilege of meeting Faisal Husseini, now sadly departed. He said something that I will never forget: "If we had been having this conversation 10 years ago, I could not physically have got the word Israel past my lips: I could not have said it. Now the negotiators at Taba are negotiating on whether the Palestinian state is to have 92 per cent. or 96 per cent. of the west bank."

The commitment of both sides to entitlement to the entirety of the land west of the Jordan has gone—for ever, we hope. So let us not lose sight of the fact that minds have moved in the last 10 years. We must hope that things do not slide back, and that we do not return to the extreme views that tended to be held before.

What has changed in that period of 20 months? We know that the process of the moving of minds, and the achievement of an intellectual consensus in favour of commitment to the new agreement, involve a huge amount of confidence and a huge amount of trust. During those 20 months, the trust has evaporated. It is not entirely pointless to ask why that has happened, and where the blame lies—not for the sake of settling scores and playing the blame game, but because it is important to understand and accept what went wrong if we are to remedy it.

Let us be blunt: there is blame on both sides. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who said that Israel should expect to be judged by a higher standard. Israel is a democracy; it is a fully established state. It is, in fact, a very argumentative democracy—and that is healthy, but it must nevertheless expect to be judged according to a higher standard.

I could wish that the Israeli Government had been much more restrained in their reaction to the intifada. At the time of the Gulf war, the then Israeli Government

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exercised what seemed to be almost superhuman restraint in not responding to Iraq's direct attacks on populated civilian areas in Israel. That superb restraint won them the high moral ground. I could wish that today's Israeli Government would exercise the same restraint. That, however, is easy for us to say in this well protected House of Commons, here in the United Kingdom. We are not the ones who face the daily threat of having our families—our children—blown up by suicide bombers.

It is obvious that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have been lamentably to blame in failing to control the terror, and indeed, in many instances, in positively encouraging it. It is easy for us to hope for restraint; but we should recognise that Ariel Sharon belongs to a strand of Israeli thought that has held for decades that Palestinians will only acquiesce in Israel's existence at the point of a gun.

If we are thinking about blame, we should also accept that the Israeli Government's decision to go on creating settlements on the west bank in the aftermath of the Oslo accords was highly provocative, and appeared to constitute a determination to ensure that the peace process did not reach a satisfactory conclusion. It looked like—again—an attempt to change the facts on the ground, so that residual matters not disposed of in Oslo could be disposed of only in a way that would be more favourable to Israel. It was contrary to the spirit of the Oslo accords.

It would be hugely helpful to getting the process back on track if the Israeli Government accepted that this is the case, and that mistakes were made. A statement to that effect would constitute an earnest of their serious intention to resurrect a peace process capable of resolution.

What about blame on the Palestinian side? I spoke of the Palestinian Authority's lamentable failure to curb the terror. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said that Israel had the trappings of a state and the status of statehood. That is true, but one of the obligations that goes with statehood is the obligation to protect citizens.

I do not know what I would want to do if terror was emanating from a neighbouring territory and the established authority in that territory refused, or was unable, to take steps to enforce the law and ensure that those behind the terror were brought to justice, other than going in there and enforcing order myself. That is not to say that everything Israel has done has been proper or proportionate. As is increasingly clear, we shall have to wait to find out exactly what happened at Jenin. It seems fairly clear, however, that what happened was well beyond the scope of any appropriate intervention in a neighbouring territory.

I think that we are right to expect Mr. Arafat to be unequivocal in his condemnation of suicide bombers. A Labour Member quoted something he had said, which included the comment, "This conduct is a deviation from the established policy of the Palestinian Authority". I do not think that that is quite the unequivocal condemnation for which we are looking.

We are all too used to Mr. Arafat's issuing some form of condemnation in English to appease his western allies—generally of a qualified nature—while at the same time, speaking in Arabic on the Arabic broadcasting channels, not only failing to condemn but positively

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encouraging such action. We should accept that that happens. If it carries on happening, it will perpetuate the nightmare.

We should also expect Palestine's Arab neighbours, and those states that support Palestine, to change their ways. The Saudi peace plan is encouraging, but it would be more credible if the Saudi Government did not at the same time positively tolerate the promotion of terror by Palestinians. Saudi Arabia is an autocracy, and one of the benefits of that is that the Saudi Government ought to be able to control terrorist activity, but they are not so able. It is very important that action be taken to condemn such activity.

In the end, there must be compromise, and negotiation; otherwise, nothing like a satisfactory conclusion will be reached. However, both sides must acknowledge that there have been serious mistakes along the way.

Neither Ariel Sharon nor Yasser Arafat would be anyone's choice of dining companion, let alone of negotiating partner, but they are the ones who are in place. They may be bloody fools, as someone once said, but they are their own bloody fools, and we cannot choose to change them. We—the west in general, although Britain has a particular influence in the area—must use our influence to persuade Sharon and Arafat that, in the circumstances that obtain in the middle east, true leaders must accept that some mistakes have been made, and move forward.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

6.21 pm

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): This debate has been characterised by some excellent speeches, and some passionate ones as well. I do not want to talk about Iraq other than to pick up a comment made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Referring to Saddam Hussein, the right hon. Gentleman said that we should deal with the world as it is and that, having dealt with the world as it is, we should decide to do nothing. I do not think that that is an option. The possibility that weapons of mass destruction might pass from Iraqi hands into the hands of international terrorists means that, in the end, we will have to do something.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) offered an important and sobering—chilling, even—account of recent events. It was all the more important for coming so early in the debate.

I have no hesitation in agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), who said that at the heart of the conflict lies the gross, offensive, unacceptable and intolerable denial of human rights for the Palestinian people. It may be true that those people are led poorly and weakly, that the Palestinian Authority—which, by all accounts, is riddled with corruption—presides over them in an inadequate manner, and that too many Palestinians have absorbed the mindset and methods of the terrorist organisations that hold sway. However, although that complicates and clouds matters, it does not alter the basic, salient fact that the conflict will not end until the Palestinian people have a free, independent and viable state of their own. Everyone's efforts must be directed towards achieving that outcome.

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One key point that I wish to make is that the creation of a state for the Palestinian people is as important for the Israelis as for the Palestinians themselves. Of course, Israel must take all reasonable measures to protect its citizens. Only the most partisan and one-sided advocates of the Palestinian cause would expect anything different. When people cannot take buses, sit in cafes or go to family weddings without there being a possibility that they will be blown up, they must of course act to defend themselves. However, we must also understand that long-term security for Israel can be achieved only if the Palestinian people form a state, and move on from what they are at present—a rag-bag of refugee camps, isolated and deteriorating towns, and terrorist cells.

The Palestinian state, once formed, would become part of the international community and system. It would have to play by the rules. It would be deterred from wrongdoing, in the same way that every other state in the international community is deterred. It would have to invest in peace and neighbourly relations, like any other state, because that is what economics and trade would dictate. The Palestinian state would also have to build up the security apparatus required by any normal state.

I believe passionately that Israel must work towards establishing that Palestinian state. At present, Palestinian policemen and gunmen operate hand in hand. That would no longer be possible in a state that was internationally and legally constituted.

I shall not engage in the blame game. That would be sterile, as we all know what has happened in the years since Oslo. Oslo was about building peace, but Israel built peace with one hand and settlements in the occupied territories with the other. Similarly, the Palestinian leaders built peace on good days, but hate on other days, and they have armed and trained terror units.

We now have two very angry old men who are unsuited to creating peace on behalf of the people whom they represent. They are going at each other with weapons of war, destroying any semblance of trust that ever existed, and deepening the hatred between their peoples.

I do not believe that the Israelis embrace Ariel Sharon as their natural leader. I think that they support Sharon and his policies because they feel that they have no option. Everyone involved—and all the Arab nations, as well—must work on creating an alternative option for the Israeli people to embrace.

The Israeli state was founded on principles of social justice, democracy and respect for other people. That is why Israel has always been able to draw on a well of sympathy and support in the British Labour party. That sympathy still exists, because the founding values of the state of Israel still exist, however much they might be obscured by current events.

In their apparently contradictory attitudes, the opinions of Israeli people continue to reflect those founding values. The mass of Israelis support a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. However, although 76 per cent. of Israelis favour the creation of a Palestinian state, a similar proportion—74 per cent.—support the current security policy. That is what happens when decent, civilised people are terrorised to within an inch of their wits' end.

We must accept that many people in Britain would react in the same way if bombs—twice the size of the ones at Birmingham, Warrington, Omagh, or Enniskillen—were to explode twice a week in our country. Yet however

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desperate we might have felt, we would have known that the answer did not lie in our Army seeking not only gunmen but what appear to be reprisals against innocent citizenry, as seems to be the case in Jenin.

My last point is about the Americans. Any success in creating a peace process will require strong external pressure. The only source for that pressure will need to come from the Americans, who need to be engaged, full scale and full-time, and win the trust of both sides. That means putting aside their supporter's scarf if they are to go between the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Arabs. We will not persuade the Americans to take on that role by bleating and complaining about them or cutting across what they are doing. Our job is to persuade the Americans to stop wavering, acquire resolve and resume their international responsibilities to play the role that only America can play in these terrible conditions.

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