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Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), She said important things about the loss of trust in politics and about the way we went into war in Iraq, and I shall return to those issues. She gave the House a graphic account of the consequences of American policy at Guantanamo Bay for constituents and for the families of those constituents. I share her concern that Guantanamo Bay, with its complete absence of discernible legal process and the legal limbo in which it places people, is a dreadful advertisement for western values.

I shall come later in my remarks to the middle east peace process and Palestine. That has been the focus of the speeches of several hon. Members, and I shall pick up some of their points.

I welcome the Minister for Trade and Investment back to his place. I realise that he is not nearly as young as he looks, but I regret that he has not been in the
 
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Chamber for much of the debate. It has been a particularly good debate, and there have been some fine speeches. I want to follow two that happen to have been made by a couple of my hon. Friends, but they could have come from either side of the House. I refer to those made by my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), and I shall also try to examine the merits of armed intervention.

I was the special adviser in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office from 1993 to 1997 when the Bosnia crisis was at its peak. I remember listening in the House to urgent cries for us to ramp up the level of intervention in Bosnia, notably from the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick). He has taken part in this debate and was a constant advocate of our taking a more robust role.

I believe that our intervention in Bosnia achieved its objectives, which were clear and limited. They were to contain the conflict, deliver humanitarian aid and provide a platform for a settlement. We limited ourselves to those objectives under the United Nations mandate, and with United Nations forces largely provided by western European powers, we were able to achieve the objectives. As a result—messy and horrible though the course of that conflict was—we now have a settlement in Bosnia between three parties who were at each other's throats in the most appalling manner during parts of the crisis that is starting to be sustained for the long term. The prospects for Bosnia are much better than those for any other part of the world in which we have chosen to intervene since.

I was against the intervention in Kosovo for primarily military reasons because I did not believe that an air campaign alone could achieve the military objectives that had been set. We had 78 days of bombing, after which the United States and United Kingdom faced up to the extremely uncomfortable prospect of having to invade Kosovo with land forces to achieve the military objectives. If that had happened, NATO would have split down the middle because there was enormous resistance in the rest of NATO to committing ground forces to Kosovo. Ironically, NATO was rescued by the Russians' actions in persuading President Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo.

If we look back at the circumstances surrounding the occupation of Kosovo, even five years after the intervention, it is difficult to claim that it was a success. Some 200,000 Serbs have been in effect ethnically cleansed from Kosovo. I fully understand that we went in there because even more ethnic Albanians were leaving Kosovo at the time, but the fact is that our policy was largely manipulated by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The KLA deliberately started a campaign of terror inside Kosovo to provoke the Serbian security forces into overreacting, which they duly did with enormous stupidity, and thus bring about western intervention. Five years later, the state of Kosovo is administered by the United Nations and its future remains completely uncertain. Whether or not we find a settlement regarding partition, the activities in Kosovo of the KLA and Kosovo civil society—if that is what it ought to be called—are a cause for reproach. We in the United Kingdom are on the receiving end of a great deal of criminal behaviour and organised crime that flows through Kosovo, as are other European countries.
 
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I can barely remember hearing a dissenting voice in the House when the decision was made to intervene in Afghanistan to take out the Taliban Government who were providing sanctuary to the forces of al-Qaeda. The case for intervention was clear, but three years later we can hardly say that all the results of it sit in the benefit column rather than the cost column. We know of an interesting account of the relationship between General Dostum, a warlord whose support we needed to evict the Taliban Government, and an English drug dealer who now happily rests at Her Majesty's pleasure in the prison in the constituency of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). The figures on poppy production cited by the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) are an appalling reproach to the British Government because they have made it the United Kingdom's specific responsibility to try to bear down on poppy production, and consequent opium production, in Afghanistan.

We then come to the whole issue of Iraq. Having been in the House for six years before March 2003, I thought that I could tell when the Prime Minister was genuine. In that debate and in the one in September 2002, I believed him absolutely and voted for intervention in Iraq. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have done so, partly because the case for intervention was oversold, but mainly because of the way in which the occupation in Iraq has been conducted. The fact that Abu Ghraib is to be the image of the west that is engraved on much of the middle east is a symptom of how intervention has gone terribly wrong.

We have made a number of mistakes, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition recounted in an important foreign policy speech last week. It is important that we look back at the interventions that have taken place, either with or without United Nations authority, since the end of the cold war and learn the lessons of the difficulties of armed interventions. Even if the situation is crying out for armed intervention to achieve a legitimate objective, as it was in Afghanistan when we needed to address the problem of the Afghan Government giving sanctuary to al-Qaeda, it will be difficult to come out with a wholly positive result in the aftermath.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham eloquently made the case for an activist foreign policy to address the appalling situations in Burma, Sudan and North Korea. He was careful to make it clear that he did not want armed intervention, except, I think, in Sudan under the aegis of clear United Nations authority. I hope that we learn the lesson that armed force should be the last resort.

Hon. Members mentioned Israel and Palestine. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde said that we know the nature of the settlement and all we need is a process. I hope that someone tells the Israeli Government what the settlement is because there is a myth that the Palestinians have been offered an acceptable settlement not once but twice—first at Camp David and then at Taba—and for some quixotic reasons decided to turn it down. It is important that exactly what happened at Camp David goes on the record because it would give some understanding of what is required to find a solution.
 
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The hon. Gentleman is, however, right that a solution was negotiated through the Geneva accord by Israeli and Palestinian politicians of good will, but that was not the case at Camp David. The outcome of Camp David was the most impressive piece of United States and Israeli spin, implying that Yasser Arafat turned down a brilliant deal for bizarre reasons of his own. For a true and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, two viable and independent states must live together as equal neighbours. That should be anyone's starting point, but the Camp David proposal denied the Palestinian state viability and independence by dividing Palestinian territory into four separate cantons, entirely surrounded and therefore controlled by Israel. The proposal also denied Palestinians control over their borders, air space and water resources while legitimising the expanding illegal Israeli colonies in Palestinian territory.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend has, in the nicest possible way, provoked me. Of course he is right to say that land for peace and the two-state solution are of the essence. However, I gently put it to him that few people have seriously argued that there was a brilliant deal on offer to the Palestinians at the beginning of 2001. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and I went there in January 2001. Our complaint, and that of many people committed to the peace process, was that an offer was on the table and in January 2001, in an historic error of bad statesmanship, Arafat refused even to negotiate over the offer. That is the criticism.

Mr. Blunt: The idea that Yasser Arafat refused to negotiate is, with great respect to my hon. Friend, a little wide of the mark and unfair. It was the culminating point of a significant lengthy period of negotiations. One of the problems about the way in which Prime Minister Barak approached the negotiations is that they were not negotiations at all. Palestinian support for the peace process was undermined by the way in which Israel presented its proposal. Prime Minister Barak, before entering the first negotiations on the permanent status issues, repeatedly threatened the Palestinians that his offer would be Israel's best and final offer, and if not accepted Israel would seriously consider unilateral separation, a euphemism for imposing a settlement rather than negotiating one.

The Palestinians felt that they had been betrayed by Israel, which had committed itself at the beginning of the Oslo process to ending its occupation of Palestinian land in accordance with UN resolutions 242 and 338. It was against that background of growing Palestinian disenchantment and economic collapse that the Camp David talks took place.

There is no doubt that Yasser Arafat was comprehensively out-manoeuvred and out-spun at Camp David. It suited Israel and the United States to turn him into the bogeyman who was responsible for the collapse of the negotiations. So he remained until his death, being presented as the obstacle to peace. The myth of Camp David has not been debunked. Thus Arafat's passing presents an opportunity simply because that apparent obstacle in the eyes of Israeli and American public opinion, and as put forward by their
 
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policy makers, has seen a change. There is now an opportunity although we should appreciate that the fundamentals will not change for the next Palestinian leader who, it is hoped, will be the negotiating partner of Israel.

The need now is to convince Israeli public opinion that their neighbours are not a bunch of psychotic killers who are incapable of compromise, but a people who have themselves been the victims of appalling injustice arising directly out of the even greater injustice visited upon the Jews by Europeans in the first half of the 20th century.

I challenge the view that this is somehow a matter for the United States to put pressure on Israel about and that therefore our role is to put pressure on the United States to put pressure on the Israelis in order to compromise. If there is to be a deal, it will have to be supported by public opinion in Israel, as it will have to be supported by the majority of public opinion of the Palestinians. That will require enormous leadership skills from both sets of leaders. I do not believe that in the end outside leaders can impose a settlement. The need is to bring the majority of Israeli people to the understanding that the Palestinians are reacting in the way that any people without hope who have suffered similarly would.

Asking Israelis to understand the rage that produces suicide bombers does not ask them to excuse the criminality or stupidity of such actions as a tool of policy. It asks them to consider the merits of treating their neighbours with respect and the potential benefits of restoring hope. The end of the Arafat era is another chance for hope to return.

I welcome the Prime Minister's priority on the middle east peace process. He must properly engage not only with the Americans but with the Israelis and the Palestinians. I note that the Israelis have rather unhelpfully said, as far as No. 10 is concerned, I understand, that the Prime Minister will visit the region in December.

The bogeyman of Arafat was a myth but he was, by the end, an old, tired and disenchanted leader who would not delegate control. That was a reality. In death, he becomes what he should have concentrated on being while confined in his compound in Ramallah: the symbol of the Palestinian people. Whether Arafat becomes a symbol of hope or a symbol of despair and continuing resistance will be down to the Israeli people and their leaders, as well as Arafat's successors.

6.4 pm


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