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Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I have looked forward for a long time to an opportunity to take part in a foreign affairs debate with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his place, so that I could enter into dialogue with him. On this occasion, I am pleased that he is not in his place, because instead he is in the middle east pursuing the road map and the peace process, which is exactly where I would want him to be. I have the consolation of my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe being in his place. With modern technology, I am sure that it is possible for the Foreign Secretary to hear what is said in this Chamber in Sharm el-Sheikh or wherever, so that we can enter into dialogue with him while he is engaged in the peace process.
 
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The point that I would most want to make to my right hon. Friend is that the biggest inhibition to peace in the middle east is not so much the problem of Palestinian terrorism, as territorial expansion by the Israeli Government in the west bank. I asked him recently about the case of an Israeli settlement called Ma'ale Adumim, which is halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho, in the middle of the west bank and a long way from Israel. The mayor of that settlement has said that he hopes to more than double the size of Ma'ale Adumim to provide homes for about 70,000 people. Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, to whom the Foreign Secretary has made protests about this matter, is on record as saying that Jerusalem must grow to include Ma'ale Adumim.

A settlement right in the heart of the west bank is therefore to be incorporated into Israel, which to me demonstrates more clearly than anything the extent of continuing encroachment on Palestinian territory while the road map is supposed to be in progress. No wonder that even the United States Government have condemned the Israeli building in Ma'ale Adumim, although that seems to have made little difference. The Israeli Defence Minister has even said that this new expanded settlement in the middle of the west bank should be on the Israeli side of the security fence that Israel is building. Again, that demonstrates clearly the extent of the continuing territorial encroachment on the west bank by the Israelis while they are saying that they want a peace settlement.

Now that the International Court of Justice has established that the route of the security fence is contrary to international law, we must ask ourselves seriously what will happen if Israel fails to abide by its findings. What sanctions can the Foreign Secretary apply to Israel, given that it has already made it clear that it will not pay any attention to the court's findings? I should like to share the optimism of the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) about peace settlements in conflicts around the world, but if we are to achieve such settlements we must give careful consideration to the instruments that we, as a country, have in our hands. I urge my right hon. Friend to do that.

So far, dozens—indeed scores—of UN resolutions have been passed on the subject of Israel and Palestine. Israel is in contravention of nearly all of them, and they are all resolutions under chapter VI of the UN charter—that is, resolutions placing responsibility on both sides in the conflict, which are bilateral and mean that no single country must comply with them unless the other country involved does so as well.

The charter also contains chapter VII, under which it is possible to impose unilateral obligations on countries to abide by resolutions irrespective of what other countries do. That is the chapter under which the resolutions on Iraq were passed, and under which the UN alone can take international action. I have asked my right hon. Friend before now to accept that while the peace process requires action from both Israel and Palestine, the settlements in the occupied territories are illegal in and of themselves. If we do not take action against the illegal settlements with the same urgency and
 
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under the same chapter of the UN charter, we are effectively abandoning the moral high ground and undermining our own case on Iraq.

I have tabled a question asking my right hon. Friend if he would

In his answer, the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), recited some of the Security Council resolutions that already state that all the settlements are illegal, and reiterated that

Indeed, that is part of the road map. He also said that the Government

It is understandable that we should pursue the chapter VI resolutions as far as we can, but at some stage we must convince Israel and the United States that overwhelming military power will not in itself be an answer to terrorism. John Glubb, the great authority on the middle east, says:

I think that that describes the point that we have now reached in the middle east. Another authority on the subject has said:

Those are the words not of a UN or western politician, but of Nahum Goldman, president of the World Jewish Congress.

All parties to the conflict must understand that a wrong done by force of arms can also be undone by force of arms. They are living in a fool's paradise if they think that Palestinians believe that 150 million Arabs will simply forget, or if they think that the 800 million Muslims throughout the world will abandon the ambition of an independent and viable state of Palestine. For them, it is a choice between peace with justice or perpetual war. The role of all members of the United Nations, with the help of the United States, should be to assist Israel in coming to the right conclusion.

The hon. Member for South Antrim said that the death of President Arafat creates an opportunity. It might in some ways, but he is wrong to imply that the President was the blockage to making progress with the road map. The opportunity that we are now presented with has far more to do with the re-election of a US President—who, being in his second term, will have nothing to fear—and with the elections in the Palestinian territories on 9 January, which will enable the Palestinians to give a fresh mandate to a new leader. Whoever that leader may be, it is clear that they will not have the same authority that President Arafat enjoyed by virtue of his experience and longevity; nevertheless, the election will give them a mandate to negotiate. If the Israelis and Americans are equally determined to reach a settlement, now is a good opportunity to do so.
 
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We must be very careful to avoid doing things that strengthen the extremists and undermine the moderates. In my view, the moderate Palestinian politicians are in fact very moderate. When the British mandate in the Palestinian territories ended, the Jews constituted some 7 per cent. of the population and owned about 6 per cent. of the land. Now, Israel constitutes 78 per cent. of Palestinian mandate land. So those politicians who have accepted the scaling down of their ambitions from governing the whole territory to governing only 22 per cent. have already demonstrated that they are in every possible sense moderate. In fact, according to the detail of the offer made to them under the terms of the Oslo proposals, they would not even get the remaining 22 per cent. of the original Palestinian land.

John Barrett: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what matters is not just the overall percentage of land but the area that supplies water, which is a particularly vital commodity in that region? As a result of the wall's construction, a huge part of the Palestinians' water source has been taken away from them, which has stretched their tolerance even further.

Martin Linton: Indeed. Area and population are both very rough guides and I fully accept that viability owes much to economic factors, such as the water supply. However, whichever measure one uses, the Palestinians are now happy to negotiate on the basis of having a very small part of the land and its economic potential, and we should give them credit for that.

Of course there are Palestinian extremists, but there are extremists on both sides. We have all heard about Hamas and those Palestinians who would happily throw every Israeli into the sea, but we should also consider Israeli extremists such as the Gush Emunim. They talk about

in much the same way as 750,000 Palestinians—three quarters of the population—fled in 1948. Such talk is offensive and we must condemn it, but in doing so we must find ways to support those politicians in both communities who are prepared to seek a compromise and to take a moderate stance.

We might reach an agreement, given the favourable circumstances that are in place, but we must also ask ourselves what happens if we do not. The fact that both countries, Israel and the Palestinian territories, are democratic and are the only two true democracies in the middle east is, sadly, no guarantee that a resolution can be found. In fact, democracy sometimes makes it more difficult because the people have to be carried in a democratic regime, which does not apply in less democratic regimes. The distance between the expectations of the two sides is still huge. The Israeli Government have withdrawn, or are in the process of withdrawing, from their settlements in Gaza, but it affects only 7,000 people compared with 200,000 on the west bank.

We will need every ounce of American pressure to bring about a sufficient change of heart in the Israeli Government for a withdrawal from west bank settlements to take place. Even then, would that be a sufficient withdrawal to satisfy the expectations of the
 
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Palestinians? I cannot help thinking that, at the end of the day, it will not be sufficient to bring the Palestinians happily into negotiation. In the end, we may have to think of other ways of bringing that about. UN action is, of course, the one that should spring to mind.

This is no minor problem—it is probably the biggest problem in international relations that the world has ever known. Two peoples, not to mention three of the world's religions, all co-exist in the same small territory. The two peoples now living there, the Israelis and the Palestinians, both arrived 3,000 years ago as the Hebrews and the Philistines and have existed in that area ever since. Ironically, they have now settled in one another's heartlands, with the Israelis living in towns such as Ashkelon and Ashdod, which were Philistine towns even in Biblical times, and the Palestinians living in towns such Nablus and Hebron. As we find from reading the Bible, they were the heartlands of Hebrew settlements in Judea and Samaria. That results in the ironic position of those peoples living in one another's territories while having a legitimate claim on one another's land. A great leap of faith has to be made by both sides to understand that they must enter a dialogue that results in allowing the other side to have permanent security within the borders.

We need to be careful not to make it a precondition of progress on the road map that there should be a complete stop on acts of terrorism. It is not that we should not desire such a stop, but making it a precondition is to put a veto in the hands of suicide bombers. We should try to proceed with an unconditional withdrawal from settlements in the occupied territories. It has started in Gaza, but will be much more difficult to achieve in the west bank. Unless the withdrawal is unconditional, it can be halted at any stage by just a tiny minority of Palestinians, or even Palestinian sympathisers who might launch suicide bombs or some such act.

We must consider other means of achieving that end, which should include using chapter VII of the UN charter. I do not see how we could be certain of achieving that objective without it. It is all very well being optimistic in world affairs and hope that people will see sense, but we need an alternative strategy—a plan B—in case it does not happen. I believe that using chapter VII of the UN charter and the imposition of unilateral obligations on countries should be done to a greater extent in any case—to stop genocide, for example.

Born in such high hopes more than 50 years ago, the UN has, to my mind, proved a huge disappointment. Only twice in its longer than 50-year history has it ever agreed to take military action: once in Korea in 1950 and once in Kuwait in 1991. The rule against any interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states has paralysed the UN into inaction. For example, it could not act in Rwanda, even though the commander of the UN force there, Romeo Dallaire, pleaded with his superiors in New York to be allowed to stop the genocide that he knew was going to take place. The UN contingent stood helplessly by as 400,000 people were butchered. In the end, the commander was reprimanded for trying to disobey UN orders and stop the genocide.

A similar thing happened in Bosnia. No action was taken, even though it was known that the genocide of 250,000 people was taking place. The inquiry into what
 
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happened in Bosnia said that the UN was paralysed by the "institutional ideology of impartiality". That rendered it simply unable to take any action.


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