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4 July 2006 : Column 215WH—continued

While the international community continues to exert pressure on the Hamas Government to recognise
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the state of Israel, it is important to remember that influential regional actors—Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, all of which exert various degrees of influence on Hamas—have also never recognised Israel’s right to exist, and continue to vie for its destruction. Iranian and Syrian state-sponsored terror undermines the peace process and threatens regional stability. Groups supported, bankrolled, armed and in some cases even controlled by Iran and Syria include Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.

Mr. Blunt: As far as I am aware, Syria is fully signed up to the Arab League position and the Arab League supports the peace plan of Crown Prince Abdullah, which, indeed, would have recognised the state of Israel within the boundaries of 1967, so what the hon. Gentleman says is slightly misleading, rather as the link between al-Qaeda and the Government of Iran, as presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, may have come as a slight surprise to the pair of them. We should try to use occasions such as Westminster Hall debates to arrive at a joint analysis, rather than to trade different sides of the story, and to understand why things are as they are in the middle east. If we can go forward on the basis of joint understanding, we shall be doing the House of Commons a favour.

Mr. Wright: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but the Hamas political leadership outside the Palestinian territories finds a safe haven in Damascus, with protection by the Syrian leadership, including Khaled Mashal, one of the leaders and founders of the Hamas movement and its charter. Syria, for example, hosted meetings between Mashal and the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad in January 2006. Iran, for example, is believed to be a major source of funding for Hamas, including its wide network of social and welfare institutions. Iran offered to send $50 million to the Palestinian Authority to alleviate the budget crisis after the election of Hamas, when the rest of the international community suspended funding and pressured the Hamas leadership to accept the responsibility of being a democratically elected Government.

It is not only Hamas that Iran and Syria sponsor. Hezbollah, to which Iran provides training, weaponry and expertise, not only threatens Israel along its northern border, but is increasingly active in the west bank and Gaza, where it supports and trains terrorist groups and provides financial incentives for launching attacks against Israel. Similarly, while Iran continues to support and fund terrorist organisations, President Ahmadinejad launches rhetorical attacks against Israel. That, together with its attempted procurement of nuclear weapons, surely constitutes an existential threat to Israel and raises the alarm for the future stability of the region.

Michael Fabricant: I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, but in the context of the extraordinary intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who tried to exonerate Syria, I want to say that, in Iraq, let alone
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Israel, we know of the operations of the Syrian Government and Iran, with respect to British and American troops.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. May we have short interventions now?

Michael Fabricant: In fact, that will do, Mr. Martlew.

Mr. Wright: I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

The international community must continue to use its influence to encourage dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. It is crucial to remember that the middle east peace process is just that—a process for the middle east region, requiring Iran and Syria to stop aiding terrorist organisations.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will my hon. Friend give us an idea of what he thinks Israel’s borders are, and what position Israel is taking in negotiations on the matter of its borders and settlements?

Mr. Wright: I do not think that it is for me to say what Israel’s borders should be. I think that there is consensus that the 1967 border gives scope for discussion, and that would be the most appropriate step.

Mr. Newmark: Is not the core of the problem the fact that today, on the road map that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton was talking about, Israel does not exist for Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran? Therefore, Israel is in a position only to create a solution by itself. There is no one to negotiate with.

Mr. Wright: I agree. In the debate that I secured in Westminster Hall a couple of weeks ago on the prospects for peace in the middle east after the Israeli elections, I was struck by the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who said that we all know the solution—it is Israel and a Palestinian state working together, side by side, with mutual economic and social co-operation. People recognise that and it is important that everyone should recognise it as the end point of the process.

Israel’s war against terror will continue to undermine its efforts towards peace. The damage that terrorism causes is all too visible, and events in the region in the past week have highlighted how acts of terror can derail any positive trajectory for peace. In the midst of all the fighting that has been sparked since the attack on Kerem Shalom last week, and the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, Hamas and Fatah signed what is known as the prisoners document. We should be cautious about reading too much into that. The document does not require Hamas to recognise the state of Israel or to cease its armed struggle, but it does recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as sole representative of the Palestinian people, giving President Abbas the power to negotiate with Israel and put an end to factional in-fighting.

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In an area as volatile as the middle east, pigeon steps are welcome, and that was a relevant and right pigeon step. However, Palestinian groups working against peace and intent on a terror agenda have ensured that that development has been obscured by the murder of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnap of a third. If any progress is to be made in the peace process, Israeli citizens need to feel secure. They need to feel that they can go about their daily business free from the threat of suicide bombers—as, of course, do decent, ordinary Palestinians. They should feel secure as well and able to walk their children to school without worrying about being hit by a rocket launched from Gaza.

Israel needs to win its war against terror with the help of the international community, so that the cycle of violence can be replaced with moves towards negotiation, reconciliation and peace.

11.58 am

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing the debate, which is particularly appropriate after the events of the past couple of weeks. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) on their contributions, which were very sound and full of a lot of sense, which is required if we are to help both sides in the middle east go forward.

The hon. Member for Lichfield—to whom I apologise for missing the first sentences of his speech—referred to Israel as a victim of global jihad. That is true. There is certainly some evidence that there are jihad attacks on Israel. However, to imply, as that statement does, that the whole basis of the attack on Israel is religious intolerance is to misunderstand the debate. The Palestinians have been used and abused for a long time. They were first thrown out of what they considered their homeland and then abused by the Arab world, which left them, often, in camps with conditions that were not very good, when most of the Gulf was swilling with oil and there was plenty of money that could have been used to relieve some of their problems.

The idea that the conflict is all religious is not true. I worked in Iraq in 1982 and was privileged to have lunch with one of the senior accountants. The gentleman concerned, whose name is long gone from my memory, was very articulate. He was educated in Great Britain, very western in his approach and very gentlemanly. We were having a very pleasant conversation, but as soon as we touched on the subject of Israel, he talked about pushing all the Zionists into the sea. Those remarks had nothing to do with religious intolerance; they had to do with a lot of other deep-seated animosities and a conflict that goes back not just to 1967 and the 1940s, but to the 1930s and, indeed, 1919. Ultimately, a lot of the responsibility goes back to the 1919 peace talks in Paris, which did many things, but did not secure peace in many parts of the world.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has been looking at the causes of the war against terrorism, and I recommend its report to hon. Members. I am not saying that I agree with every word, despite being on
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the Committee, but there is a lot of common sense in it. On the issue of Palestine, I refer hon. Members to a contribution from the Foreign Secretary. Paragraph 2.20 of the report states:

I hope that the Minister will confirm that, despite the events of recent weeks, we are still committed to negotiation and bringing other parties on side, rather than to unilateral action.

Mr. Newmark: The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question that I posed earlier: how can Israel do anything but be unilateral when the other side does not actually recognise the state of Israel?

Richard Younger-Ross: Memories are very short. Fatah never used to recognise the state of Israel, but, eventually, it was brought to the negotiating table and accepted a two-state solution. Recent discussions with Hamas indicate that it, too, was moving towards accepting a two-state solution and accepting that the Palestinian territories could exist on one side of the 1967 border. De facto, Hamas is recognising the Israeli state, although it has not explicitly said so. There is still a long way to go—I am not saying that the problem is not significant—but the way to resolve it is to bring third parties in to talk to Hamas and to bring it to the negotiating table.

Mr. Gauke: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Richard Younger-Ross: I am not taking further interventions. We have only a short time.

We have only to look at the past to see how other Palestinians can be brought forward and to see that that can work. That is what we need to do. Hamas did not expect to win the election, but it has now found itself in a position of power. That was a shot out of the blue, and Hamas is coming to terms with it, but that will take time.

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me time to intervene, but will he not accept that it is extraordinarily difficult to insist that Israel should negotiate with Hamas when we do not have a ceasefire because Hamas has broken away from it and declared its intent to kidnap people and use them as bargaining chips in what it clearly perceives as an armed conflict? How can we insist that Israel take only the route of negotiation when the people with whom we insist that it negotiates are not even prepared to bring about a ceasefire?

Richard Younger-Ross: We can insist on negotiation because that is the only way in which we can achieve a
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resolution, although that is not always easy. History shows that, whenever there has been a terrorist insurgency—in Kenya, Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the world—the Government at the time have said, “We will not talk to terrorists.” However, to resolve the conflict, they have always sat down behind closed doors in third-party negotiations and talked to the terrorists, and they have actually brought about a resolution by doing that. We will not bring about a resolution, however, by unilaterally attacking, destroying and alienating.

The Old Testament saying that one should take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is often linked to Israel. However, Israel and its supporters—particularly the United States—should consider another old saying, which is that one should divide your enemies if you wish for victory. If people take actions that unite their enemies, it will be far harder for them to gain peace and achieve victory in the longer term. Those who support unilateral action are the same people who supported the arguments for war against Iraq. It was argued that we had a big stick and could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but we did not realise the can of worms that we were opening. Our history and our actions teach us that, if we had had a bit more negotiation and a bit more time, we would not have the mess that we do in Iraq. We would not have British soldiers being killed on the streets of Iraq, where they should not be, if we had got the negotiations right in the first place and sorted things out.

To conclude, the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, declared:

the Palestinians—

To an extent, that sounds very good and very reasonable. However, writing in Jane’s on 1 June 2006, Lawrence Davidson responds:

That is one reason why the contention that religious war is the primary cause of the present problems is wrong. In many ways, the Palestinians are fighting an old-fashioned war over territory, not religious belief. If we forget that, we do both sides a disservice.

12.8 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I, too, warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on securing the debate. As the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) said a few minutes ago, this is not the first time in the past few months that we have gathered to discuss the wider aspects of the middle east. Rather like Captain Renault in “Casablanca”—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) will
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appreciate this analogy—we could be said to have rounded up the usual suspects, and the passionate speeches that we have heard have been similar to some that we have heard before. They have been passionate, of course, because the issue divides not only the people of the middle east but colleagues in the House of Commons.

I was very much taken by the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who said that we should try as far as possible to look ahead and decide what, if anything, we in Britain, and particularly the British Government, can do to help resolve what appears an almost intractable issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield stated very strongly that he wanted to make it clear that Israel was participating in a global war on terror and that it was therefore up to the British Government to back the Israeli Government at every possible level. I adopt a slightly more subtle approach on this. We know that the Government and my party resolutely stand by Israel’s right to exist, and to take measures against those who carry out acts against it. Indeed, the British Government and our intelligence and security forces regularly co-operate with the Israeli Government. However, that does not mean that we think the Israeli Government have the right to take complete, unilateral action whatever the consequences.

Many people in Israel and within the Israeli security establishment realise that a proportional reaction is more likely to achieve the desired overall results, the first of which is to ensure that there is wider support within the region and the western community. The second aim, which we are partly debating, is to resolve the immediate issue of extracting alive the Israeli soldier who is being held somewhere in Gaza. That is the objective of his parents and the Israeli community. I can well understand why the Israeli Government have always refused to compromise on any form of prisoner exchanges, but we need to keep that measure in mind.

In relation to the war on terror, the British Government rightly have to work in conjunction with other Governments in the middle east. The political, diplomatic and intelligence relations that we have—imperfect though they sometimes are—with Israel’s neighbours in Egypt, in Jordan and in the Gulf are of absolute, fundamental importance.

I spent much of my life, in a previous existence, teaching British military personnel, and learning as much from them as they ever learned from me, about counter-insurgency, insurgency and terrorism. In one sense, the wheel has come full circle. One thing that I learned was that one cannot take out the narrow, military-intelligence, police action against terrorism without thinking about the wider political and economic context. That is summed up in the understandable logic behind Israel’s defensible border strategy, which I recently saw on the ground from both the Israeli and the Palestinian perspectives, which is to secure Israel against suicide bombers. That is a laudable and understandable action, but as Israeli security officials said to me, it will not resolve the issue. At the end of the day, the resolution will be a political one, in one way or another.

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