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11 Mar 2003 : Column 202—continued

2.53 pm

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) has pretty effectively exposed most of the chinks in the Government's case. I listened with interest to what he had to say, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down that path. I wish to deal with two aspects of the Select Committee's report in relation to development in the Arab world and the Arab-Israeli peace process, but before I do so, I should like to follow up a point that I made with the Foreign Secretary yesterday.

One of the things that bothers me about all that is going on with Iraq—by and large, I support the Government's policy on Iraq—is the damage that it appears to be doing to the western alliance. We have the spectre of a German political leader running his general election campaign on an anti-American platform. We have the absolutely preposterous fact of a French Foreign Minister travelling the world, drumming up opposition to their main and supposed allies.

It is easy to indulge in a lot of French bashing about that, but we must rebuild some of those bridges. If we believe in multilateralism, all of us have to play our part in that. One can lay some of the blame at the door of the United States for not mounting a big enough diplomatic effort before it launched this policy. The policy seems to have come first and a lot of diplomatic effort came second. That was perhaps a mistake. There should have been more diplomatic effort earlier. It seems that the policy was led not by the State Department, but by the Pentagon. If it had been led by the State Department, perhaps there would have been more diplomatic bridge building beforehand, and perhaps the French and Germans would not have behaved in quite the way they have done.

It is difficult to understand what the French are trying to achieve. My belief is that the Germans will come back on side fairly quickly—they have gone rather silent recently—but I do not know how the French will extricate themselves from this mess. There seems to be a delusion in the Elysée palace—perhaps if someone is going to have delusions, that is the place to have them. Nevertheless, there seems to be a delusion that France is still a great power. It certainly has not been a great power since 1918; it certainly has not been a world-beating great power since about 1815. That is an extraordinary policy for France to pursue, and it has left the common foreign and security policy in ruins.

The likelihood of France being the leader of European foreign policy, particularly in the new European Union with 25 or 26 members, is now completely unrealistic. That may put us in a rather stronger position, although it may make the common foreign policy meaningless. By and large, I am not a huge supporter of that policy, but European countries need to do some things in common where they have common interests. The prospect of that has been seriously damaged. Perhaps more worryingly, NATO has been damaged. The Select Committee is going to visit NATO tomorrow, so perhaps we will return with a better impression of what is happening.

After this is over, we have to try to rebuild the western alliance. If we succeed in Iraq at the expense of permanently damaging the western alliance, it would be

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a very high price to pay indeed. I hope that the Government will devote considerable effort, along with our American colleagues, to preventing that, and I sincerely hope that the French and German Governments will realise that they have damaged themselves and the western alliance in pursuing their policies and that they will participate in that effort, too.

Mr. Tyler: The hon. Gentleman's thesis is perfectly proper, but does he agree that it is no more acceptable to bash the French than to bash the Americans if we are trying to rebuild the bridges, as he suggests? Does he accept that the Americans also have a responsibility in this matter?

Mr. Maples: I thought that I had said that. I tried to be fairly even-handed by saying that the American diplomatic effort should have come earlier and been stronger.

Mr. Tyler: That does not seem to be the hon. Gentleman's colleagues' view.

Mr. Maples: I am speaking for myself in this debate. One of the luxuries of being a Back Bencher is that I can be dangerous and irresponsible if I want to be, but I do not have to express anyone else's views. Of course multilateralism requires everyone to behave like a multilateralist.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): My hon. Friend is a very valued member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but does he not agree that many of us believe that the French have behaved utterly disgracefully, and it is not the first time that they have endangered NATO either?

Mr. Maples: I thought that I had said that; I did not put it in quite the words that my hon. Friend uses, but I said that it was pretty preposterous for the French Foreign Minister to be doing what he is doing, that I do not understand how the French will get out of the mess, and that that has seriously damaged the western alliance. However, after this is over, we have to try to rebuild the alliance, so we cannot indulge in bashing anyone; our Government and those of the other countries involved will have to start rebuilding the bridges.

I turn now to the development of the Arab world, which we addressed in the report and in the previous one, too. The Government have responded positively to the concept of needing to help our allies in the region to become more stable and better allies. We believe that that needs to be done through political and economic development in those areas. A lot has been said about that recently, and the United Nations Development Programme report on Arab human development is a damning indictment of a part of the world that democracy and free markets seem to have bypassed completely. We have had a revolution in the past 13 or 14 years, in which the world has been overwhelmed by democracy and free markets, but somehow the Arab world has been exempt from that—it has bypassed it—and we have to ensure that that does not continue.

The report highlights deficiencies in the education system and in the involvement of women, as well as the lack of basic, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

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It highlights the problems that are being presented by demography. An incredible percentage of the population is under the age of 20. Gross domestic product per head, even in a prosperous country such as Saudi Arabia, is half what it was 20 years ago.

We are seeing the difficulty of rentier economies living off oil incomes, trying to convert themselves into industrial economies. They are simply not setting about that in the right way. We are seeing corruption, the confusion of Governments with ruling elites, as well as the confusion of their money, and the complete absence of democracy, although we are seeing tentative steps to change that in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan; perhaps those steps can be built on and will be examples to others.

There are 260 million people in the Arab world, but they produce less than 40 million Spaniards do. The Arab world represents only 1 per cent. of non-oil world trade. Those are damning figures for countries that, on the whole, have long histories of being civilised and educated, and of having educated elites.

As I said, we have raised these issues twice, and the United States has started to address them. Both Richard Haass, the policy director in the State Department, and Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, have made interesting speeches recently on this subject. The US-middle east partnership initiative has been established. I hope that we are supporting that, and perhaps we could even have one of our own. Colin Powell said:

He continued:

That is a long list of things that need to be done.

What worries me, however, is that Saudi Arabia seems ripe for an Iranian-style revolution unless it mends its ways. In those circumstances, it is not a stable ally. We want it to remain a friend and an ally, but sometimes we must tell our friends that they must change their ways if they are to be useful in that partnership. We are seeing possible developments in Iran that are very encouraging: we do not know whether the democratic forces will win out in the end; I suspect that they will, but it may take longer than we think. Perhaps, however, we are seeing the development of the rule of law and democracy in Iran. It has taken 24 years since its revolution to even start to see the glimmerings of that, but we need to encourage those moves. We need the Arab word to start to feel some self-confidence and pride in developing its economy and institutions. It must not identify itself with Osama bin Laden, terrorists and suicide bombers in Israel.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will tell us in greater detail and more specifically what the Government are doing, in conjunction with European

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Union partners, in conjunction with the United States initiative that I mentioned, or on their own, to encourage this process. They responded in warm but generalised tones to our report on the matter, but I would be interested to hear a more specific response.

Thirdly, I want to ride a hobby-horse that I have been riding for some time, but there is no harm in repeating such points—I am sorry if anyone present has been in the audience before. The Arab-Israeli peace process is going nowhere. Anybody who thinks that the Quartet group, its road map, all the other pretentious trappings that go with it, and its international conferences, will get Ariel Sharon and Arafat to do a deal that could not be done by Barak and Arafat at Taba in the spring of 2001 is deluding themselves. There is some diplomatic value in pretending to go through a process, and appearing to take it very seriously, but a solution to the problem will not be achieved through the Quartet group. People say that it will come only through dialogue, agreement and confidence building. It will not come through any of those things. It will come if it is imposed by the rest of us. It is time we addressed that as a serious alternative to years and years of international conferences, initiatives, and confidence-building measures, none of which have worked.

President Clinton devoted an enormous amount of the time of his Administration to trying to solve this problem. The talks at Camp David collapsed—or did not succeed—and they were reinstated at Taba a few months later. We all know that the deal on the table at Taba is the deal that is going to be done: two states; capitals in Jerusalem; and a limited solution to the refugee problem. All those were on the table, but Arafat and Barak could not do that deal. The reason Arafat could not do that deal is domestic; it has to do with his constituency. Either he is terrified of getting assassinated if he does the deal, or he does not want to be the Palestinian leader who finally sells out and agrees to a permanent state of Israel in the middle east.

If Barak could not persuade Arafat to do that deal, it is highly unlikely that Sharon will persuade him to do it, as my guess is that there is no way Sharon will ever offer as good a deal as Barak offered. We are therefore stuck. The idea that the Quartet group will solve the problem by marching through the diplomatic niceties of international conferences is not realistic. Some very serious arm-twisting will have to be done.

I do not feel that I am taking sides by proposing that we should seek to enforce the deal that was on the table at Taba. It is as fair a deal for both sides as it is possible to conjure out of the difficult history and strong feelings that abound in this dispute. I suggest to the Government—the Minister has heard me make this point before—that it is now time for us to use the United Nations to pass a mandatory resolution under chapter VII imposing that settlement. More negotiation could go into the niceties of which settlements are in or out, and whether the borders are 1 km this way or that way. Basically, however, we know what the deal will be, and we need a UN Security Council mandatory resolution passed under chapter VII saying, "That is the deal. You can decide whether you accept it or not, but you can no longer use some minor negotiating point as an alibi for not agreeing or implementing it." That is what they all

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do at the moment. They say, "We couldn't agree with that because it didn't deal with this settlement," or "We couldn't agree with that because it didn't deal with the refugees." If all those issues were dealt with in the resolution, the parties would then have to consider whether to implement it or not. If we had the United Nations Security Council and the leading countries in the Arab world on side—in this context, that means the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt—that would be enough diplomatic pressure to twist their arms into accepting it.

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