Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

9.1 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Even if the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) has little time or patience with the Foreign Secretary, there are plenty of voices on the official Opposition Benches who appreciate what the Government are trying to do and applaud the measured tone and balanced approach that the Foreign Secretary took this afternoon.

16 Apr 2002 : Column 535

I believe that the Palestinians played into the Israeli rejectionists' hands by refusing a generous deal with Ehud Barak at Camp David less than two years ago. I believe, too, that the Israelis have now played into the Palestinian rejectionists' hands by responding to terrorist bombings with a military offensive. Terrorism should be met by proportionate and effective measures, and that is not happening.

I hope that the House will not play into the hands of the rejectionists of both sides by adopting double standards. If ever there were a case of extremists feeding off each other, it is this one. It has reduced the prospect of rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians to the present dire straits.

I have been sad to see that double standards have explicitly been applied in the course of this debate. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that because Israel is a democracy, we expect a higher standard from it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) similarly said that because Israel is a state, we expect a higher standard from it. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who belongs to the Scottish National party, said that Israel is a democratic state and should be judged by a higher standard. What is this if not moral relativism? If we wish to condemn one side or another in a terrible conflict such as this, we must apply similar standards of morality to each side. We must not say that because one side in the conflict is a state or a democracy, it is unacceptable for it to overreact to terrorism, but because the other side is not a state or a democracy it is less morally reprehensible for it to embark on terrorism in the first place.

My view is that Arabs have consistently tried, over many years, to destroy Israel and, since 1967 at least, Israelis have consistently tried to colonise occupied Arab territory. After 1967, the Israelis were in a position—had they wished to be magnanimous—to conclude peace settlements with their erstwhile enemies. They were not magnanimous and when Sadat successfully launched the Yom Kippur war in 1973, it was an opportunity for the Arab nations to regain some self-respect and to negotiate realistically with the Israelis to bring about peace. Sadat and Begin seized the opportunity after 1973 and, as was said earlier, Sadat—whom I regard as one of the heroes of the history of the middle east conflict—paid with his life for his foresight, generosity and courage.

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh) claimed that nobody supports the suicide bombers. Tell that to the people who organise telethons in Saudi Arabia to raise vast sums for the relatives of those bombers. It is a fact—alluded to previously in the debate and not, as far as I know, denied—that many of the suicide bomb attacks have been carried out by the Al Aqsa martyrs brigade. That body is directly linked to Fatah, and there is little doubt that it would not continue those terrible activities if Yasser Arafat were not willing for it to do so.

There is an example of the support for the suicide bombers in an article published as recently as 1 April in the Saudi press—in a Government-controlled daily called Al-Jazirah. It says of the Passover bomber:

16 Apr 2002 : Column 536

The article uses similar words to describe the supermarket bomber, a young teenage girl. It states:

The article concludes by asking that Allah and the angels welcome both of them as religious martyrs and beseeches Allah to give them

Is it only Sharon who is the cause of the present situation? Many people have chosen to load him with all the guilt and to say that he is why the present situation is so disastrous. Only yesterday, however, The Times published an article written by Ehud Barak himself. He said of the missed opportunity at Camp David that the Arab states and Yasser Arafat had been offered

This is Barak speaking—not Sharon the extremist. He said:

Mr. Barak's view of Mr. Arafat is as follows:

That is the moderate voice of Israel speaking, not the extremist.

Several right hon. and hon. Members asked what drives a teenage girl to blow herself up and murder innocent civilians. The suggestion was that it is a form of desperation, caused by the Palestinians' plight. Yet, no one said anything like that about the suicide hijackers of 11 September—when the reasons were truly given: hatred, brainwashing and religious-based fanaticism. If the House applies one standard to Palestinian terrorism and another to the terrorists of 11 September, it will forfeit the right to be taken seriously on this life and death issue.

9.10 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I am grateful to the House for the chance to contribute to this very timely debate. This is a grave period for people in the middle east. Colin Powell's intervention is welcome, but he has much to do before he is seen as even-handed. Ariel Sharon suggested an international peace conference, excluding Yasser Arafat, when he met Powell on Sunday. The US Secretary of State now states that Yasser Arafat would not need to attend such an event, which serves only to undermine his leadership among the Palestinians.

According to a statement by the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, Palestinians now identify more strongly than ever with President Arafat. Mr. Powell told reporters that President Arafat

16 Apr 2002 : Column 537

He added:

It is difficult to imagine a key leader being excluded from genuine peace talks anywhere else in the world. It is even more difficult to picture the fair-minded Secretary Powell agreeing with such an unreasonable demand.

New Israeli calls for peace talks will be empty rhetoric if President Arafat cannot leave his front door in Ramallah. Prime Minister Sharon has also omitted the European Union from prospective delegations to such a conference. Discussions will be extremely short if the Israeli leader wishes to talk only with those who agree with him.

I welcome Mr. Powell's recent engagement with other Arab leaders to avert the conflict widening throughout the middle east. The Lebanese Government have said that they will attempt to restrict attacks to the disputed Shebaa farms. President Lahoud also called on Mr. Powell to view the middle east situation with "objectivity and realism" and not to be influenced by Israel's presentation of events. We must all heed that warning.

In particular, we must exercise extreme caution over yesterday's arrest of Marwan Barghouti, the west bank Fatah leader, a view I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). Mr. Barghouti denies charges of stoking violence and encouraging the suicide bombers. He must not simply be a scapegoat for Israeli retribution against acts of terrorism. The evidence must be openly presented against him. In the same way, the evidence of the horrendous conditions in Jenin must be presented to the world.

According to The Independent today, a monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed in Jenin refugee camp. The International Committee of the Red Cross has finally been allowed into the west bank refugee camp after the Israeli onslaught. The ICRC has found destruction and a terrible smell in the camp. Israeli tanks and bulldozers have reduced much of it to dust. Workers from the Red Crescent and the Red Cross have begun to treat the injured before bringing out the remaining dead. Their task is enormous. The Palestinians say that hundreds died in Jenin, but Israel denies that. Our Government must join with others to uncover the truth.

The indiscriminate force currently being used by the Israeli army in the west bank against a civilian population is a form of collective punishment. According to Oxfam, there has been systematic targeting of medical personnel, denial of medical care to the injured, and threatened violence against clearly identified ICRC staff, Palestine Red Crescent Society staff and UN staff. Damage to water lines and pumps has left approximately 400,000 people in Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Tulkarm without access to running water. Almost all hospitals in the west bank are now surrounded by Israeli tanks, which compromise the free and safe movement of staff, patients and emergency vehicles. Hospital generators, electricity and telephone lines and water supplies have been deliberately damaged by Israeli soldiers. United Nations organisations including the UN Development Programme, the UN Fund for Population Activities, the World Health

16 Apr 2002 : Column 538

Organisation, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Relief and Works Agency issued the following joint statement on 10 April:

The UN resolution accusing Israel of "gross violations" of international law must be acted on. Our partners in the European Union have a pivotal role. I am disappointed, however, that European Foreign Ministers have rejected calls for trade sanctions against Israel. However, I understand the reluctance to act while Colin Powell is in the middle east pushing for peace, for fear of undermining him.

I welcome Germany's decision to suspend its supply of military equipment to Israel and urge our Government to consider a similar gesture. The EU, not America, is Israel's largest trading partner. Under a special agreement between the EU and Israel, the latter enjoys preferential trading under an association treaty. The European Parliament has already voted to suspend this agreement. If there is no sign of real progress following Mr. Powell's intervention, will the Minister assure me that the British Government will consider again the issue of trade with Israel?

Ariel Sharon must recognise that there has to be a political solution, which cannot be imposed by force or by killing innocent men, women and children. Israel has been ignoring or breaking UN resolutions for the last five decades, and still enjoys blind support from the United States of America. The USA must adopt an even-handed approach to deal with the UN resolutions if President Bush wants to bring peace and stability to the region.

Next Section

IndexHome Page