Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dr. Julian Lewis: Is my hon. Friend aware of the fact that one of the principal suicide bombers' organisations—the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade—is organically linked to Yasser Arafat and is indeed a militant arm of Yasser Arafat's own organisation?

Richard Ottaway: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. That is the problem. The latest reports in the past few weeks from Yasser Arafat show that he is perhaps beginning to appreciate that he has to do something about those links, but there is a long way to go.

The United States was right to lean on Israel by withdrawing its loan guarantee support. If there is a way to persuade Israel to review its policy, it is economic. The economy is not good in Israel. Strikes are widespread, and unemployment is high and rising.

My central point is that international intervention is needed. The present arrangements are under-resourced and have no power. The monitors report to their own Governments. Sustained and robust intervention is needed, as well as a third-party arbiter. We have seen that before in Israel—monitors have been in place ever since the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and they have worked very successfully—but who is the right party to intervene? The US is wary because it will be an election year and there is worry about upsetting the Jewish vote. Frankly, any one of the Quartet could step in to take its place. There is the EU or the UN—Kofi Annan has called for an intervention—but whoever intervenes must work to

27 Nov 2003 : Column 199

end violence. We need a conflict resolution mechanism, an exchange of security information and the creation of secure conditions that will allow economic activity and a return to normal life.

The challenge will be to inch the parties along on a parallel course so that confidence can be increased, in the same way as we have seen peace developing in Northern Ireland. It needs a robust engagement and I call on the Government to make it their No. 1 priority; otherwise global instability will continue, which is in no one's interests.

4.5 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), and I would like to start by developing some of his points about the middle east, which should also be viewed in the context of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), whose speech was a significant and powerful indictment of the Government's approach to Iraq. He began with a description of the wall that is currently disfiguring the occupied territories, and I concur with everything that he said about it.

We should not for one minute forget the fact that the position was wholly unacceptable even before the wall was erected. Roads have been built all over the occupied territories, to which the people who live there legally—the Palestinians—have no access. Access points to the new roads are denied to them. If they drive on the roads, their cars are stopped and impounded by the Israeli security forces. The illegal settlements in those areas dominate all the high ground, and all the Palestinian settlements have been subject to the most disgraceful intimidation—quite apart from the degrading treatment that they have received at check points when they try to cross within their own territory.

I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, and to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) who intervened to point out that the al-Aqsa Brigades were intimately linked to Yasser Arafat, that that is not remotely surprising. Anyone who has visited a Palestinian refugee camp, as I did last year, will know that the al-Aqsa Brigades and their supporters represent, frankly, the mainstream of Palestinian opinion in those camps. As I say, that is not surprising in view of their experience as a people over the last 50 years.

Dr. Julian Lewis: One problem is that many people friendly to Israel, such as myself, do not particularly admire the present Government of Israel, but have to ask themselves why that Government came to power. One of the answers is that the moderate Barak Israeli Government, who brought events to within a whisker of a two-state solution, were rejected primarily by Israel's Arab neighbours. That is probably the reason why the hard-liners came out on top in Israeli society.

Mr. Blunt: I commend to my hon. Friend, whom I know to be a fair-minded man, the work of the

27 Nov 2003 : Column 200

Palestinian negotiators support unit, which is funded by our Department for International Development and gives legal advice to the Palestinian leadership. The unit would provide a clear exposition on why that solution was not a fair solution in the eyes of the Palestinian people and could not be sold to them. My hon. Friend is right that we need to work towards a solution, and we must accept that any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be rejected by extremists on either side. After any agreement, terrorism remains highly likely to continue from either extreme in either camp. We have seen the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by an Israeli extremist, and I am equally certain that any Palestinian leader who signs a settlement with the Government of Israel will be putting his life in peril, as did President Sadat when he settled with Israel over the return of Sinai. It is simply no good for the Government of Israel to say that until there is no terrorism at all, there will be no deal. That is no basis on which to proceed.

Our Prime Minister has made the achievement of progress on the middle east peace process an extremely high priority, but the tragedy is that he has failed to get real American pressure on the Israeli Government to come to a settlement. I shall return to the wider point about the Prime Minister and our relationship with the United States. However, the middle east peace process is a good example of an absolute No. 1 priority for the United Kingdom in the Prime Minister's eyes. He managed to get Mr. Bush's attention on the issue but, when it came to the US doing anything to exercise leverage over the Israeli Government, nothing effective happened. I shall return to the detail of our bilateral relationship with the US in a moment.

I want to follow up the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling about the reasons for the war. I wholly concur with his indictment of the Government about the false reasons that they gave for the war, but I point out to him and the House that the Government have form. They did the same over Kosovo. They took us to war over Kosovo without the benefit of a United Nations resolution, and they justified it in terms of the humanitarian catastrophe that then overcame the people of Kosovo and was caused by the bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo by the United States and the United Kingdom. That led to the expulsion of many Kosovans from Kosovo. The war then became justified on the basis of what had happened but, to a large extent, that was caused by our military action.

The Government have taken us to war five times in six years. With such willingness to go to war, perhaps it was hardly surprising that the Kosovo Liberation Army was wise enough to begin a campaign of terrorism inside Kosovo in 1996. The campaign followed the Dayton accords, and it led to Serbian repression and an incompetent, ill-managed over-reaction from President Milosevic's forces. That led directly to the Clinton and Blair Administrations being drawn into action in Kosovo without the UN's authority.

We should remember just how close we came to NATO breaking up. The air campaign was meant to work within 72 hours, but it took 78 days before the whole campaign was rescued by the Russians persuading President Milosevic to withdraw his forces

27 Nov 2003 : Column 201

from Kosovo. By that time, the Prime Minister had become convinced of the necessity for a ground campaign. He had to convince the Americans of the necessity for that campaign to rescue a military action that was not working. Had that campaign taken place to bring the war to a conclusion, NATO might have faced the most enormous difficulty, with other NATO countries being absolutely opposed to a ground invasion.

The lesson for the Government is that they have been far too willing to enter into military action without properly exploring all the potential consequences of that action. If they fail to justify properly the military action that they take, they will, as the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) made clear, take the most appalling risk with their ability to convince the electorate of the need to take military action when there is a real and absolutely pressing need to do so.

I wish to concentrate the rest of my speech on British influence and interests and to focus on the position of our Prime Minister. I believe that no Prime Minister since Winston Churchill has enjoyed such stature in the United States as the current Prime Minister does today. Even Lady Thatcher in her heyday did not enjoy the universal acclaim accorded to the Prime Minister, which reached its spectacular climax with that extraordinary joint session of Congress in July. That was not the first time that he had received a tumultuous reception from Congress. When President Bush addressed the emergency session of Congress in the wake of the events of 11 September, the Prime Minister was there. He received a standing ovation on his arrival in the Senate and during the President's address. The President addressed his remarks directly to the Prime Minister and said:

Twice in two years, the British Prime Minister has received a unique accolade that has been delivered with huge warmth and enthusiasm by the most powerful legislature that the world has ever known. Of course, the image favour was returned last week. The President made his state visit and had pictures taken with Her Majesty—no doubt the pictures have been safely banked for next year's election campaign.

All that makes it more galling to those of us who fundamentally believe in the Atlantic alliance that such influence and status have failed to deliver effective protection of British interests in the substance of American policy not only on post-war Iraq but in several other key areas of British interest. Our wider reputation in the rest of the world has suffered. Poodle is the term most frequently used by British ambassadors who report back on how Britain is viewed by their host countries.

A British Prime Minister who achieves great respect in the United States should be viewed as an important national success, but that achievement should be for something other than the self-image of the individual. The uncomfortable truth that we must face is that the Prime Minister has achieved his personal status, to an extent, at the expense of British interests. It has come to a pretty pass when the great achievement of our influence on the United States that is seen during the President's visit to this country is a hint—no more than

27 Nov 2003 : Column 202

that mind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that we might have the singular honour of having some of our citizens in Guantanamo bay returned to us for trial here.

The debit side of the bilateral relationship is rather more substantial. Under the current American Administration, farmers have been given such spectacular subsidies that the common values of global free trade have been appallingly violated and the hand of the French and the subsidisers in the European Union has been reinforced. All that has been directly contrary to British interests and led directly to the collapse of the latest world trade round, which was a disaster for a nation such as ours that relies more on free trade than any other large nation in the world.

Steel tariffs have been imposed, with a direct cost for British steel producers and at the expense of a growing trade war between the European Union and the United States, in which Britain will lose the most. Kyoto was denounced by the Americans. The International Criminal Court has been made largely worthless by American non-participation. On the Prime Minister's central plank of policy in the middle east, as I have said, the Americans have failed to use their leverage to help to find a solution for Israel and Palestine. Indeed, the policy was actively derailed by supporters of Prime Minister Sharon in the United States Administration. We should not forget that the Prime Minister's efforts to persuade President Clinton to commit ground troops to the war in Kosovo failed.

We now see the consequences of our full-blooded support for the United States in the war on Iraq with the tragic consequences of the attack on British interests in Turkey. I accept that that was the inevitable consequence of a policy that I support, but it forms part of the debit side of the bilateral relationship. Our interests should be protected in return for the risks that we run and the investment that we put into the relationship.

People will say that, although there are overt signs of limited British influence, underneath that, during direct discussions between the Foreign Secretary and Colin Powell, and Sir David Manning—in his previous capacity—and Condoleezza Rice, some real, sophisticated British guidance is effectively being given to the naive and heavy-handed Americans. If that were true, the occupation of Iraq would not be such a mess, but the UK is tied to a Pentagon-led occupation that has experienced dreadful and avoidable misjudgments. Frankly, we should have prevented the Pentagon from being in charge in the first place. It should have been possible for a Prime Minister with huge public status in the United States decisively to influence the American Administration's internal debate in our interests, not to mention their own, but he failed to do so.

The early plan was for the State Department to lead the administration of the occupation and the change from coalition to Iraqi control. Eight months of State Department planning ended in an internal American Administration victory for the Pentagon. All the expertise on the region and the need for a political process to take precedence were handed over to the Pentagon when security priorities were put in the lead—a direct rejection of British experience for the past 100 years or more. It led to the two most serious misjudgments: the dismantling of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi civil administration. Saddam Hussein had

27 Nov 2003 : Column 203

largely removed the zealots from the Iraqi army by creating the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard. Any country needs an army, not least one the size of Iraq. The decision to put 300,000 men on the streets with no pay and to create Iraqi security forces from scratch was a dreadful mistake. We should not wonder why there is significant, well-organised resistance to coalition forces.

All that could have been avoided had the UK exercised real influence within the American Administration. The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence implored their American counterparts to put far greater resources into dealing with the aftermath of war on Iraq from July 2002. It is true that the Department for International Development was working to rule on preparing for post-war Iraq during 2002. Despite the fact that the rest of the Government were prepared for the inevitability of war, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) refused to believe that it would happen.

The problem for the UK is that a junior partner that is taken for granted has no influence. That is how the UK is now regarded around the world. The Prime Minister is seen, to a degree, as President Bush's Foreign Secretary who simply travels rather more than Colin Powell in pursuit of American policy goals. The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that the Americans are pragmatic. They will work with those who give them something useful in return. Britain's support is of enormous value, and that is why our Prime Minister is so highly regarded in the United States, but if in dealing with the Americans we do not follow the basic principle of negotiations—that we are prepared to walk away—we can hardly complain if our interests are walked over.

The Prime Minister's status is personal. It reflects the very personal way in which he conducts foreign policy. He believes not only in his ability as a mediator, but in the moral purpose of his mission. That is why we have gone to war five times in six years under his premiership. His beliefs have led to Britain being caught up in an American policy based on a new doctrine of American primacy and pre-emption that is the product of only one part, although the dominant part at the moment, of the American Administration. Under the Prime Minister, Britain has bought in completely to that approach, yet it is highly questionable whether the strategy will survive engagement in Iraq, let alone whether it is in the interest of the UK. Never have we been so committed to United States policy; never have we been so taken for granted. The irony should not be missed: our Prime Minister has all the appearance of influence—the image of importance in the US—yet that influence is a chimera, never effectively deployed to advance British interests. Style has triumphed over substance again.

Next Section

IndexHome Page