Previous SectionIndexHome Page

7.27 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray): I am pleased to participate in this important debate on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. As hon. Members will recognise, both parties are committed to democratic constitutional change and self-determination for our countries. Therefore, recognising the right and aspiration of

16 Apr 2002 : Column 514

both Israeli and Palestinian people to national self-determination and security comes easy to us. Like many who have spoken, we want to put on the record our condemnation of acts of violence in the region—whether acts of state violence by the Israeli Government, or terrorist attacks by Palestinian factions and suicide bombers. We associate ourselves with the calls for an immediate cessation of all acts of violence.

We also support moves to codify the Saudi Arabian initiative: a resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations that would require the withdrawal of Israeli troops to pre-1967 boundaries, the Arab world's acceptance of the legitimacy of the Israeli state, and the establishment of a viable, self-governing and independent Palestinian state.

We have heard moving speeches throughout the debate. I was particularly struck by the testimony of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) concerning conditions in Jenin and elsewhere. If they have not already done so, I urge all Members to read an article in London's The Times today, by Janine di Giovanni, who writes from the Jenin refugee camp. She writes:

In a previous career, I worked as a journalist. For one of my assignments I spent a great deal of time in the former Yugoslavia reporting on Croatia, in particular, and on the cause of the civil war there. I saw a great deal of destruction. I have not been to the west bank or the Gaza strip, but like other hon. Members I have seen many of the pictures and much of the television coverage. Rarely have I seen so much destruction caused in such a short time. Although there was also terrible destruction in eastern Croatia and Bosnia, it was wrought over many years.

The Israeli Government justify the actions of their defence forces—so-called—as dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism. It is clear to everyone, however, that their aim is broader than justifiably dealing with the terrible suicide bomb attacks. It is instead an attempt to dismantle the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.

In preparing for the debate, I tried to find out what neutral observers on the ground have been saying. Other hon. Members have given various facts and figures. Today's update by the Palestinian Red Crescent confirms that it was denied access to the refugee camp in Jenin for 10 days. It was not allowed to remove the injured or the dead, and of course it is terrible for Muslims if they cannot bury their dead within 24 hours. Red Crescent was allowed in once but its movements were restricted to less than 10 per cent. of the camp area. In Bethlehem, Israeli forces continue to prevent ambulances and medical teams from gaining access to the Nativity church area, Manger square and the old city. In Jenin, Israeli forces continue to surround the town's hospital.

Oxfam writes today that it is concerned about the

including violence against civilians and humanitarian workers and the denial of access to meet immediate need. It fears that there will be a serious health crisis due to people drinking contaminated water. Oxfam is also aware that Israeli soldiers have failed to honour agreements made by

16 Apr 2002 : Column 515

senior officers to allow repair of water pipes. That and all the other points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House—I agree in particular with what was said by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson)—challenge us all to call for and bring into effect a step change in the international community's reaction so that it uses its leverage. I also agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that the time has come to think about the use of sanctions to effect that.

Mr. Simon Thomas: On sanctions, we have heard much about even-handedness and it is true that we have to take a mature approach to both sides. However, is it not supremely ironic that we are considering the use of force, even warfare, to deal with one country—Iraq—that has consistently broken UN resolutions, yet we are not prepared to consider imposing even limited arms sanctions against another country that has also consistently broken UN resolutions since 1967? Does my hon. Friend agree that unless the Israeli Government are prepared to trade land for peace, we will not see a resolution of the conflict in the land of Israel?

Angus Robertson: I agree with my hon. Friend and will deal with Iraq in a moment. On sanctions, however, it is important that we do not avoid mentioning developments at a European level, which have not been discussed so far. I note with interest that Members of the European Parliament representing the European Socialists, the Liberals and the Greens/European Free Alliance, of which our parties are members, recently voted overwhelmingly to suspend the EU's association agreement with Israel. I note with sadness that that was not endorsed by the British Government or many others at the meeting of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers yesterday.

It is also sad that the UK Government did not support the initiative that my party colleague and the Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer, presented to the Council meeting. Ironically, the plan embodied points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It called for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli troops, international peacekeepers patrolling a buffer zone, a declaration of a Palestinian state, an end to Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas and negotiations on Israel's borders and the status of Jerusalem. I agree with the Prime Minister when he says that inaction is not an option in the face of breaches of UN resolutions. For that reason, I very much hope that the UK Government will pursue those matters in the UN and with our EU colleagues and support a robust response.

I dislike Saddam Hussein's regime as much as anyone else in the Chamber, but we still wait for the famed dossier on the weapons of mass destruction programme of Iraq. Dossiers and intelligence on al-Qaeda were shared and briefings were done on Privy Council terms in the run-up to the situation in Afghanistan. Why is the same not true of the Iraqi information that we have been promised? We still also wait for a specific UN mandate should military options be undertaken on Iraq. What we are not having to wait for, however, are clear breaches of UN resolutions when considering the situation in Israel. Like the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), my comments are aimed at Israel in particular because it is a democratic, independent state and should be judged by a higher standard. However, like

16 Apr 2002 : Column 516

the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), I think that the extraordinary provocation and senseless killings by suicide bombers are a massive challenge to the Israeli authorities to protect their citizens.

Nevertheless, on balance, the time has come for the countries that can influence Israel to act decisively. We have a responsibility to use the political and economic leverage that we possess to influence change. Although I welcome the recent change in tack by the United States and the mission of Secretary of State Powell, it is time for the US Administration genuinely to press Israel to withdraw from Jenin and the other occupied areas. It is also high time for the EU and the people in Europe to lead by example.

7.37 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I have visited Jerusalem only once, in 1965, when I was a very young woman. It was an incredibly interesting visit and I was struck everywhere I went by the ability of the young people whom I met to speak English. I was amazed by their wonderful grasp of our language. I remember what an enormous impression it made on me at the time, when I was still ill-informed about the history of that region, when they got out their ID cards and said, "I am a Palestinian."

I have thought many times in the past few weeks about those young people and a young woman in particular to whom I spoke. Now, of course, they are probably grandparents if they are still alive. They, their children and their grandchildren have lived through a terrible time in which they have suffered goodness knows what deprivations or humiliations. They have all lived out that history in a way we can only imagine.

There have been many courageous people in those generations who have struggled for self-determination and many who have done despicable acts, but it is extraordinary that the struggle has taken so long and has come to this. If I am shocked by what has happened and find it utterly unbelievable, then how much the more so those people of the middle east?

I have no special expertise or associations in the context of the debate, but I want to join all those who have spoken in expressing my wish to see an independent state for Palestine and a state of Israel that can live in peace and security.

I join with all who condemn the suicide bombings. There can be nothing more terrifying for people than going about their work and ordinary daily events not knowing whether they may stand or sit next to a person who is about to blow himself or herself, and them, to destruction. Undoubtedly, we would all find it impossible to live with such a threat and not feel the need for revenge. Nothing can justify the suicide bombing, but equally no military action can eradicate it. What is so shocking about the current events is that we can, as many people have done in this debate, almost track them back to a time when lasting peace was within our grasp.

There has been a debate among Opposition Members about what happened at Taba. I have had sight, as others may have done, of the paper that is called, in EU-speak, a non-paper and is the account of the EU special

16 Apr 2002 : Column 517

representative to the middle east, who wrote at the time that although there were serious gaps and differences between the two sides,

Furthermore, in that contemporary account, the EU representative records that both sides had agreed to the 4 June 1967 lines in accordance with UN resolution 242, as a basis for borders. Both sides had agreed in principle on land swaps, on refugees, on Jerusalem and on the involvement of an international force. Both sides had reservations and, tragically, neither side was prepared to commit at that time, when the intifada had already started, Israeli elections were pending and there was uncertainty over the future of Ehud Barak. We will never know whether, given the time and opportunity, that peace process could have concluded successfully.

What we do know, however—this is why I cannot be even-handed in this matter—is that the election of Ariel Sharon, on 6 February 2001, ended all hope of that settlement. He said that he would insist on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, that there had to be Israeli control over security areas on the west bank, and that there could be no right of return for Palestinian refugees. It is that attitude that has denied justice, peace and, perhaps even more importantly, any hope to the Palestinians who have carried out the madness of suicide bombing.

When we unreservedly condemn the suicide bombers, we must equally condemn the 70-odd political assassinations carried out by Israel. Of course Israel has an absolute right to take steps to protect its citizens, and it must, but the actions that have been taken in the past few weeks go far beyond that aim; as somebody said today, Ariel Sharon is a fool to believe that they could have any meaningful result for those young people.

Professor Paul Rogers of the Bradford school of peace studies has said that the military operations have a different purpose, which has become clear as the effects of the war have become apparent. He says:

Those sentiments were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick). The international community cannot allow those sentiments to prevail. It cannot allow this impasse to continue.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the Mitchell and Tenet proposals and the Saudi peace initiative provide an international consensus on the best way forward for securing an end to the cycle of violence and a return to negotiations. As others have said, we can no longer wait for those two old men to cease their quarrel and come to the table. We, the international community, have to bring that about. I am not sure, as others have said, that a ceasefire has to be a prerequisite. We have seen previously how a demand for seven days' continuous cessation of violence prevented negotiation. There is the difficulty that Chairman Arafat undoubtedly faces of policing any ceasefire, if indeed he agrees to one.

It is for the leaders, under the influence of the international community, to start talking now even while the violence continues. We cannot go down the

16 Apr 2002 : Column 518

confidence-building road proposed by Mitchell which will take so long. This is so urgent that it has to happen now. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I have no time, and others may not have time, to go through the dossier and the briefings sent by Amnesty International and Oxfam to Members of Parliament today, but the Government must read those documents to see just how horrific the conditions have been. Clearly, the aid agencies have seen those conditions at first hand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) so movingly demonstrated.

In conclusion, we must do more than we have already done. I applaud the attitude of our Government, but we must put an absolute ban on any export of arms to Israel at this time. We could do more, perhaps within the European Union, to consider other sanctions. We must continue constantly to put the maximum pressure on the United States of America because as others have said, it is the one nation that holds the key to the solution of the crisis. It must accept its responsibility; we must ask that of the USA. It must get the two sides in the dispute to rise to their responsibilities as well.

Next Section

IndexHome Page