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Mr. Straw: I understand what the European Parliament has done, but it is not a decision-making body; it expresses points of view. [Interruption.] That is true; I am not seeking to make a point, but explaining the way in which its constitution operates. If I had accepted its agenda, I would have brought it before the House. The honest truth is that, with a bit of luck, we are engaged in the beginnings of a negotiation. In those circumstances, difficult and delicate though the process is, we should give it some time to operate rather than apply measures whose purpose, apart from an expression of anger, which will not get us very far, I have yet fully to comprehend.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): Many, especially in this country, who wish to see a Palestinian state as well as an Israeli one, feel very frustrated that while we put an onus on Yasser Arafat to deliver, we do not place quite the same onus on Israel to do so. As I have understood the successive international agreements, they have required an end to the making of settlements and negotiations about reducing their number. More significantly, it is now very important for Israel to recognise that it must agree in the next few hours to the entry of a United Nations team. The longer it leaves the issue, the more suspicious people will become. May I also
Mr. Straw: The Jenin inquiry was set up with the agreement of the Government of Israel. The formal position is that it was set up by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and it was welcomed by the Security Council. I still hope that Israel will acknowledge and respond to the international pressure, not least from the United Kingdom and the United States, to which it has been subjected, and will admit the fact-finding inquiry. I spoke with Shimon Peres last night, and it is fair to point out on behalf of the Israeli Government that they are anxious not about the possibility of any fact-finding mission, but about its nature and how far its inquiries will deal with the discipline of individual soldiers. I think that we understand that.
As to sanctions, we can if we wish get into the blame game, in which case many people on both sides might choose to drag up what happened at Camp David and at Taba and try to allocate blame to the Palestinian side as much as to the Israeli side. I am far from convinced that that would produce anything but further difficulty for both sides. It is important instead to accept that the current situation is desperate and to take small steps such as thiswhich has taken a huge amount of work by British and American diplomats, especially by Secretary of State Colin Powellto try to achieve some easing of tensions, then to get a peace process on the road.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I welcome the progress announced by the Foreign Secretary. Does he accept that one of the imbalances involved in the problem is that when Israel behaves badly, as it does from time to time, everybody knows who is responsible, but when Palestinian terrorism occurs there is much greater uncertainty? In that context, will he tell the House whether he believes that there is a direct link between the Palestinian suicide bombers, the Al Aqsa martyrs brigade, the Fatah organisation and Yasser Arafat himself?
Mr. Straw: It is true that because Israel is a nation state, a member of the United Nations and a democracy, it is expected to observe higher standards than any group of terrorists. That point was made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) in his speech on 16 April and it has been widely endorsed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We had to recognise that fact in respect of Northern Ireland too. Of course, democratic nation states that subscribe to the charter of the United Nations have to accept higher standards of behaviour than groups of terrorists. On the other hand, that does not meanI would be the last person to suggest thisthat we should indulge the terrorists or ignore their funding. It was I who, as Home Secretary, introduced the Terrorism Act 2000, which banned Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organisations in this country.
I cannot comment with certainty on precise connections between the different organisations and the suicide bombers. However, I can say that there must be a determination by everybody in authority in the occupied
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): It is now more than two weeks since I came back from Jenin, and I consider it an absolute outrage that the United Nations has been frustrated in its efforts to send a team to the area. It is disgraceful that people think that they can behave as though they were in a pick-and-mix shop, picking sweets as they like, and we have had enough of it.
When I came back from Jenin, I was very careful about what I said because I wanted to keep a sense of proportion, but now I would say that on the day we were in Jenin for eight hours many of us heard witness statements. We heard about people coming out of their houses in the refugee camp with their hands above their heads and being shot dead. We heard about people being injured and lying there to die without any help. While we were there, the humanitarian teams were denied access. I am therefore not surprised that Israel does not want people there to find out the truth. Those of us who heard some of the truth will be pleased to place it on the record at some time in the future if the team does not get in.
This is a test of the credibility of the United Nations and of the position of Kofi Annan. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). We take sanctions against other countries that defy UN resolutions; we should also take sanctions against Israel, which has perpetually defied UN resolutions.
Mr. Straw: I not only understand but share my hon. Friend's frustration about the Government of Israel's failure so far to make satisfactory arrangements to admit Kofi Annan's inquiry team. Following her visit to Jenin and the debate in the House on 16 April, I determined that the United Kingdom Government should take the initiative to get such an inquiry established. I was glad that we did that and that we gained support in the Security Council. My frustration therefore relates not only to my office but is personal.
My hon. Friend is right to talk about the credibility of the United Nations. It is important that Israel recognise that point and that its reputation is damaged as long as it refuses to admit the inquiry. Under its terms of reference, it is only a fact-finding inquiry. The people in the team have been carefully chosen for their experience, record of distinguished international service and, I believe, ability. For example, the former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross is a member. The membership of the team is balanced between the two sides.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): In respect of United Nations resolutions and Israel, are there any consequences for not complying? The Foreign Secretary argued that we should not apply sanctions to democratic countries. One could argue that it is more legitimate to apply sanctions to such countries because sanctions hurt many people apart from the Government.
We applied sanctions against South Africa, which had democracy for some of its citizens. In Israel and the country occupied by it, not all citizens are entitled to vote. And not all citizens who are entitled but not allowed to live in Israel can vote.
Mr. Straw: I understand that my hon. Friend feels strongly about the matter. He asks about United Nations Security Council resolutions that have not been accepted or followed in full by Israel. Elements of such resolutions have not been followed in full by Arab states that are expected to recognise the state of Israel. Of course, they have not been followed by those behind the terrorist activities. We should bear in mind the imperative of United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 against terrorism.
If my hon. Friend had listened to my comments, he would realise that I talked about Israel being a democratic state in the context not of sanctions but of having to accept a higher standard of behaviour than any terrorist organisation.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): May I recount to my right hon. Friend a story that was e-mailed to me last week by my constituent, Isabelle Bennett-Humphries, who works for a human rights organisation in Palestine? Last week, she spoke to an elderly woman in Jenin who described soldiers coming to bulldoze her house. She told them that she had a disabled son in the house and asked them whether they would wait for a couple of minutes while she got him outside. They refused and held her back. She had to listen to her son's screams as he was killed by falling masonry. Does not my right hon. Friend believe that, with such stories coming out of Jenin, it is in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians to get to the bottom of the matter as soon as possible?