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Does my hon. Friend agree that the peace process and the possibility of a settlement in the new year between Israel and Palestine would be greatly enhanced if Israel released Marwan Barghouti from prison, so that he could play the valuable and
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constructive role that he has always played in Palestinian politics and try to bring about a peaceful future?
David Winnick: I apologise to my hon. Friend. I agree that it would be useful if that person, who is clearly held in high esteem by Palestinians, were released and could play his part in the peace process.
The price for Israel's creation has been paid by the Palestinians, and it has been heavy indeed. They were not responsible for what happened to the Jews and one can therefore understand the plight of people who have been dispossessed over half a century. They live in refugee camps and their existence is abysmal. Day by day, they recognise that life for them and their children will not get any better. We understand why Israel came into existence. Should we no less try to understand the position of the Palestinians and the heavy price that they have paid? Justice cries out for a sovereign Palestinian state in the occupied territories. That means that Israel must content itself within the pre-1967 borders. Within those borders, of course, it should have as much right as any other sovereign state to defend itself.
The settlements in the west bank must go, like those in Gaza. We must move away from the feeling in negotiations that the Palestinians can be given a piece of land here and there and should feel grateful. When we talk about a viable sovereign Palestinian state, we mean precisely that. The Palestinians cannot be expected to be grateful for anything less. They argue that even if they were given the occupied territories, Israel would still have 78 per cent. of the original Palestine, leaving 22 per cent. for a sovereign state.
Much is made of the fact that the Palestinians should accept the right of Israel to exist. Of course that is true, and the PLO has done so. However, Israel also has a responsibilityand we hope that this will emerge from future negotiationsnot necessarily to encourage Jews to go to Israel. Common sense dictates that if Jews were actively encouraged to go to Israel, there would be even greater pressure on land, although I do not know how many Jews living in the free world in democracies would want to go and live in Israel, even if there was a peaceful outcome. A balance must be struck. If we have justice for Jews in the form of the state of Israel, it is essential that we have justice for the Palestinians.
If there is one country above all that can apply effective pressure on Israel it is the United States. That is why so many of us were disappointed recently by some of President Bush's remarks. If, in his second term, there is a change of mind in the White House, it will need a genuine wish to work with other countries to achieve a settlementas we saw when his father was president and also under President Clintonand to bring about a
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viable sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. That would be for the benefit not only of the Palestinians, but of the world order itself.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): This was one of the most cynical Queen's Speeches that I have heard presented to Parliament since I have been here, and that is in a competitive field. It was plainly intended to be a pre-election Queen's Speech and is loaded with huge numbers of Bills on crime and security, to add to the vast amount of legislation that we have passed on that subject in this Parliament. Indeed, many of the titles of those promised Bills seem to repeat the content of previous legislation. It is clearly a chosen political strategy to play on the fears of crime and security in this country and to present a huge programme of legislation in response.
That strategy was expressed most disreputably by the Leader of the House when he tried to suggest that if anybody had reservations about key parts of the Queen's Speech, they were being soft on terrorism and, therefore, people could feel safer with a Labour Government. That is a half-baked imitation of the successful presidential campaign by George W. Bush in the United States, but it is only the Government's latest attempt to try to change the subject matter of the debate in the run up to the election.
The Government are trying to change the subject matter from Iraq and the associated international problems. It is not the first time that they have tried to do so. They tried to change the subject for most of the summer. Over that period, we were treated to a series of initiatives to reform public services, which was supposed to be the agenda that would make the British look to home and away from the problems of abroad in the run up to the election. Sadly for the Government, that theme has played very badly with the Labour party, so it vanished as a subject from the Labour party conference and also as a subject for the Queen's Speech for this winter. Now the British public are expected to be afraid of terrorism and look to the Labour party to tackle that domestic problem. The Government hope that the British people will thus look away from the problems in Iraq and elsewhere, although many of us feel that those problems might be feeding the terrorism that we face.
I think that the Government may get it wrongand they are not the only politicians who hope that the next election will not be about Iraq. The next election could still be quite dominated by Iraq, because we do not know what fresh, horrific events could emerge from the middle east, affecting our troops and drawing our attention, between now and next May. Iraq keeps forcing itself back on to the agenda because it is such a huge and horrendous problem.
We are all assuming that the election will be on 5 Mayindeed, the date has practically been announced and put on the Order Paperso we know that a large number of the Bills in the Queen's Speech have not the slightest prospect of becoming law before we go into the election; they are mere decoration, designed to occupy the Chamber between now and the campaign next May. The horrific events that may occurI hope notbetween now and next May, and the continued damage
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to the Prime Minister's reputation and to the British public's trust in the Prime Minister, could still force him away from his chosen date of 5 May, and he may be driven into a further year in the hope that he can get the agenda back where he wishes.
Mr. Jones: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, but I cannot agree that the Government will be extremely vulnerable on Iraq in the lead-up to an election. My Government certainly would have been vulnerable if he had been elected leader of his party. In those circumstances, we would have been extremely vulnerable, but as that is not the caseperhaps it should have beenwe are not vulnerable at all.
Mr. Clarke: The issue does not depend on particular personalities. Plenty of Members, from all three parties, are strongly opposed to Iraq and they have struck a chord with the majority of the public; every time a fresh step occurs in Iraq, it reminds them of the circumstances in which the invasion was launched.
Like everybody else, I shall not go back over my reasons for having been so bitterly opposed to the war. I remain as strongly opposed to that decision as I was; it is one of the worst mistakes that any British Government have made in such a field since the Suez adventure, and its consequences could be far more damaging than the damage that flowed to British interests from the mistaken attempt to invade the Suez canal zone. However, we must all now accept that the argument has moved on from whether it was justified to invade Iraq and that, when a general election comes, we shall all have difficulty in addressing precisely what should happen to produce a satisfactory, or the least damaging, outcome to the problem that we have created.
By May next year, we shall still be deep in a political quagmire in Iraq and the middle east. Whoever wins the next election will have to deal with a situation that could last for several years, in which British troops and British interests are committed to a continuing attempt to resolve the problem in Iraq and to avoid the worst possible outcomea deep fissure between the Muslim world and the west, where the British would be cast as one of the villains of the piece for having got into that situation. It is extremely difficult for anyone to set out with even the slightest clarity what is likely to happen to lead us to that successful outcome.
As one of the most bitter opponents of the invasion, I do not think that the British can simply concentrate on getting our troops out. We cannot set a deadline. Indeed, it would not be reputable, having got ourselves into this chaos, to say that because we do not know what to do next, we shall simply contrive an opportunity to bring the troops home. We all realise that it is in our interests, and the interests of all our allies, that we
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continue to provideas best we cansecurity in Iraq until some stable and satisfactory outcome is reached, but that could take us a very long time.
From listening to the Government, I have not received the slightest impression that they have really thought through how they are going to reach that outcome. I do not criticise the brevity of the reference to Iraq in the Queen's Speech, because it is largely a ritual document; it merely talks about our need to maintain security and to help to ensure that the elections are held in January. I listened to the Secretary of State for Defence read his speech. It might have contained something; he gave the impression that he read it with perfect clarity, but I do not think that he had read it before he regaled the House with it. It contained nothing whatever about precisely where we were going in Iraq and what the Government thought would happen when we get to the elections.
In the United States and in the United Kingdom, we are continually offered the promise of false dawnan end to the difficulties that are going on. First, the arrest of Saddam Hussein was to launch the denouement and the move towards success. Then the appointment of the Interim Government of Mr. Allawi was a watershed, after which the whole situation was to improve. The danger is that all we are being told by the British Government, and, as far as I can see, by the American Government, too, is that on 30 January there will be an election and that a new Iraqi Government will emerge. Thereafter, presumably, a more satisfactory denouement will begin.
I hope that is true. I hope that the third thing proves correct, but I have absolutely no confidence that anything of that kind will occur. I hope that the election is held in reasonable and satisfactory circumstances, but that must still be very, very doubtful. I have no ideanor does anybody elsewhat kind of Government are supposed to emerge from the election in January, and I have no confident expectation that a peaceful debate about a new constitution for the independent Iraq will be satisfactorily progressed by a new Iraqi Government once they are in power, if indeed they succeed in taking power after the election.
When I ask myself where we are going and what we should be doing to reach a satisfactory outcome, I am extremely cautious about my own forecasts. If anybody knows how to move from where we are now to a stable, reasonably democratic and liberal Iraq, which might live in peace with its neighbours, that man or woman is the best qualified person to take the Nobel peace prize with bar. The problem is almost impenetrable, but what I am sure of is that our policy so far cannot continue, because it is making little progress.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said about the woeful lack of planning and the appalling errors that we made when we first took over. I also agree with all the criticisms that have been made, and which should certainly be made again, about where we have got so far. We are preparing for that election with a series of battles to achieve control of key cities, in the belief, as we heard from the Secretary of State in one of his few unscripted moments, that the grateful civilians will stream back to Falluja to take part in the election at the end of January. No doubt other cities will be conquered in the same way.
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The methods being used are heavy-handed and not calculated to win the automatic adherence of the population to supporting acceptable people.
Let us recall the real policy when the invasion was launched; it is now reasonably clear. I said at the time that it had nothing whatever to do with weapons of mass destruction. That claim was bogus and anyone fortunate enough to have had contact with neo-conservative Americans knew that weapons of mass destruction and UN resolutions had absolutely nothing to do with it. The purpose of the invasion was to change the regime in the belief that, democratically, an election would result that would produce a pro-American and pro-Israeli Government, preferably led by Mr. Ahmad Chalabi, or someone very like him, who had been in exile in the United States. I do not think that an election will produce that, and I hope that we are braced for it.
I hope that there is a new flexibility in our political policy that will enable us to respond to whatever happens when the election comes, when the Government will certainly have more legitimacy, because it will be elected, than the present Interim Government, which still contains far too many people who were living in exile before the invasion took place and does not contain any significant member who was opposed to the invasion or represents more hostile elements. We must have a policy that prepares for the election producing a much wider spread of opinion. It will produce people who are probably not regarded as terribly sympathetic to western interests, and there will be a strong clerical element in some parts of the elected representatives.
Far more than hitherto, we must be prepared to embrace, in our contemplation of the kind of Iraq that we will accept and protect until it is truly independent, a collection of people who are not the kind of people whom we would have voted for. For the first time, our politics will have to embrace serious dialogue and seriously take on board the views of those who are anti-American, probably more than they were, and anti-western, those who are clerical and have links with the world around Iraq, and those who will be slightly troublesome. I hope that we are prepared to take on board the fact that we must consider those people in our politics, and we must accept an outcome in Iraq that will probably be second best in the opinion of most hon. Members and would certainly be regarded as unacceptable by American neo-conservatives if they had known that that would happen when they embarked on their course.
The solution must come from the Iraqiswe all agree that nowand I look forward to the debates where the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shi'a talk about a constitution that is mutually acceptable to them all. Any attempt to impose a solution by the Americansor the alliance, if we prefer to call it thatwould be extremely counter-productive. We must accept that we must try to eliminate violence and maintain security in what is a confused and worrying situation, as the different Iraqi elements try to produce what they have to achieve if they are to keep the country in one piece at all.
This parliamentary Session will certainly go beyond the key date of 30 January. I trust that, between now and 30 January, the Government will give more thought to
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what they are doing than the Secretary of State betrayed in what he said today. Before we get to our election in May, we will see the newly elected Iraqi Parliament in action, and we will see what the behaviour of the Americans, ourselves and our allies is around them. That will call for far more flexibility and far less intent to support certain elements in the Iraqi community than we have shown so far. As for our military activity, I will repeat what I have said on previous occasions: we will require a far more politically intelligent approach to the use of the military in support of whatever happens that is positive and against whatever happens that is negative, while that constitutional debate goes on.
We still seem locked in a belief, certainly on the other side of the Atlantic, that by military power alone we can impose a democracy of the kind that seems desirable and that, if there are setbacks, we need to have a battle in which we are the victors. It is beyond doubt that the coalition forces in Iraq could be the victors in any battle against any organised military force that could be mustered by anyone in the entire middle east. So far, we have emerged from most of those battle honours with political defeat, and we will continue to do so unless we improve our approach. As I have said before, that is one British contribution that we could make. The British have a longer history of dealing with the politics and sensitivities of terrorism that arises out of support from a hostile population, and our approach to things should be given altogether much greater weight in what the alliance does than has been the case so far.
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