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5.9 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I should like to repeat the call for another urgent debate on international affairs. The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) mentioned two other international issues, but there are also problems in Tibet, North Korea, Nigeria, the Caribbean and other places, and we need time to debate those issues as well as returning to the incidents in the middle east.

I shall concentrate my brief comments today on the middle east. We all feel resentment when we are slighted. There are Back Benchers here who were once Ministers and who are still seething that they no longer hold that position. That anger can last for years and sometimes blight their lives. But what resentment must people feel when they see their land cut off by a wall so that they can no longer get to their stock? What resentment must people feel when they see their shops and premises destroyed by shellfire? What resentment must people feel as they stand and watch bulldozers moving over their homes? And what resentment must someone feel when the child in their arms dies as a result of an attack? To balance that, what resentment must an emergency worker in Israel feel when they have to clear up the wreckage and carnage caused by a suicide bomber on a bus?

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I do not expect a country to react to such circumstances in an emotional way. I expect a rational response. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was right to say that we in the House are friends of both Palestine and Israel. It is the duty of friends to say, “Hold on. We understand your anger. What is happening to you is wrong, but your response has to achieve an end. You have invaded Lebanon before, and it has not worked. Your reaction now might bring temporary respite, but it will make things worse in the long run. You are destroying the bridges and infrastructure that were improving the quality of people’s lives and bringing economic success to the country, which would have done a lot to ameliorate that anger and resentment.” I urge everyone to say clearly to Israel, “Cease. Stop. Pull back from what you are doing. Use surgical attacks if necessary; we understand that you have a right to self-defence. But what you are doing now is not going to help you in the long term.”

5.12 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): I shall restrict my remarks to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict. As many speakers have mentioned today, more than a third of the victims are children. They are the voiceless ones in this tragedy, and I hope that we will all remember them in our considerations.

I totally condemn the actions of Hezbollah, but all sovereign Governments have a duty to minimise the risk to civilians and the damage to civilian infrastructure. The United Nations human rights spokesperson, and its humanitarian co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, have both referred to the tragedy that will soon emerge as a result of people being trapped in their homes and cities, which they are not allowed to leave. Their water and electricity supplies are being cut off, and they face an utterly horrific humanitarian disaster.

The international community needs to re-examine its role in this dispute. We were scheduled to discuss the Department for International Development White Paper today, some of which is relevant to our debate. It reminds us that all 191 United Nations member states

If we truly want to live up to those principles, we have a duty to make it clear and transparent when any party to this dispute has acted disproportionately, and to call for an immediate ceasefire. There have been reports of a week’s delay until someone does something, but that is not the way to live up to our responsibilities. More than ever, we need to be seen to be an objective party in relation to the dispute. We need to make the civilian populations our first priority. More than ever, we need to show our real support for the moderate voices on all sides of the dispute, whether they are in Israel, Lebanon or the Palestinian community.

5.15 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I want to make three brief points.

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First, everyone has talked about the calm and measured speeches from those on the Front Benches, and I endorse that. However, on Monday, the Minister who will respond to the debate made an excellent appearance in the House, and I put it to him that it would be a good idea if the ambassadors of Syria, Iran and, indeed, Israel, were summoned to the Foreign Office, so that that calm, measured language could be conveyed to them, and they could be told how the Government felt about these matters. He responded disarmingly and frankly to say that he had not really thought of that, but that it was a good idea. I would like to know whether that idea has been put into practice. It is a time-honoured practice that, when a country seeks to exert influence, and when other countries behave in a less than entirely admirable way, their ambassadors are summoned. I think that that would be good in this instance.

Secondly, I entirely endorse what has been said on both sides of the House about the actions of the Syrian and Iranian Governments, which are utterly indefensible. No one in the House can begin to condone terrorism. On the other hand, at the moment, Israel needs friends who are, above all, candid. It needs people who will say, “Of course we believe absolutely in your right to exist. Of course we are totally dedicated and committed to that. But it is possible that in your response, disproportionate as I believe that it is in some respects, you are actually making your own position much more difficult.” In that sense, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) made an eloquent speech, and I endorse what he said. I hope that the Government will talk to Israeli Ministers in that regard.

Thirdly, the people who are rubbing their hands at the moment are those who support terrorism, in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever it is practised. The people who are delighted at the disproportionate response of Israel are the terrorists—the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the terrorists who are raining rockets on Israel and who precipitated this crisis by seizing that soldier a few weeks ago. The House cannot, because of our commitments over the last few years, fail to recognise that fact. That is why I so disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who calls for a withdrawal from Iraq. At the moment, that would send out all the worst signals, whatever one may think of the background.

In the remaining seconds available to me, I appeal to the Minister to respond to my points, and to do everything possible—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

5.18 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): I begin by saying that I speak as a friend of Israel and a friend to the Palestinians. There are many things that I would like to say, but I will restrict myself to one set of comments.

The crisis in the middle east is a tremendous challenge to the international community, and I fear that we will not rise to it. We have not risen to it up to now. We have allowed a situation to continue to develop in the middle east that generates a huge
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amount of trouble, not only for those in the middle east but for those in the streets of London, those who travel on the buses in London and those who travel on the tube—my constituents. We need to be able to resolve the issue of the middle east because it continues to a generate a feeling of enormous resentment and of justification for the sort of terrorism that we are now suffering across the world.

If we cannot, as an international community, develop international organisations that can resolve such situations, where are we heading? How can we just stand on the sidelines and say, “The neo-cons are dominating American foreign policy, and therefore we have to behave as though we have been cut off at the knees, and we can do nothing about it,”? How can it be that so little is done about the continuing open sore that is Palestine at the moment? How can the Israelis be allowed to build walls on Palestinian land and the road map be allowed simply to drift? How can that be? Now we see the bombing that is taking place across the middle east and the terrible suffering of civilians, and we seem to be able to do nothing.

We must do something. We must rise to the challenge. We must work together as a whole community, because the world is small and getting smaller. It is our duty to play our part and to be brave, to speak to our friends and to ensure that we behave responsibly.

5.19 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): I shall make five points in three minutes, if I can manage that.

First, I think that the Foreign Secretary was very wise to resist pressure to say whether she considered Israel’s response to be proportionate or disproportionate. I am sorry that others were not quite so statesmanlike. It is extraordinarily difficult to say what is a proportionate and what is a disproportionate response in such circumstances. Is it proportionate not to take out stores of missiles because Hezbollah chooses to locate them in populated areas? That is scandalous in itself, and is of course the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon, although no one has wanted to say that in the House today. The Government of Lebanon have simply acquiesced in the state of affairs for a very long time. They have made no attempt to enforce Security Council resolution 1559, and I am afraid that a great deal of responsibility now lies on their shoulders.

Secondly, there is no doubt in the House and in the world about who is responsible for this. The middle east has been pretty calm for the past couple of years, and certainly during the past few months. There can be no doubt that it was an entirely gratuitous and deliberate decision by Hamas and Hezbollah—perhaps acting in concert, perhaps not—to attack Israeli soldiers, and to capture some Israeli soldiers and hold them hostage, that started the crisis. We do not do a service to the facts, and we certainly do not do a service to peace, if we do not recognise that, and if we try to put the attacker and the attacked and the innocent and the guilty on the same footing.

Thirdly, many people are now saying that because there is great conflict and loss of life on all sides, the
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answer is for the international community to put pressure on the parties. That is understandable, but it has not been thought through properly. It is not possible to put pressure on Hezbollah or Hamas. It is not even possible to put pressure on their supporters, Syria and Iran. If we could put pressure on Iran we could solve the nuclear weapons problem, but we all know that we cannot do that. Putting pressure on the parties basically means putting pressure on Israel.

What a perverse and absurd situation that would be. What a terrible, dangerous message to send around the world, and the middle east in particular: that if a country launches rocket attacks on Israel or attack Israeli soldiers, the international community will put pressure not on that country but on Israel. That really would be extremely perverse and extremely dangerous, and we should not do it.

Fourthly, Israel must learn the lessons of its mistakes. In no circumstances should it carry out a prisoner exchange. It is, to some extent, paying a terrible price for having done that in the past.

My final point is that the only solution is an international force. That is the only alternative to an indefinite buffer zone in southern Lebanon—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

5.23 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The events of recent weeks are part of an ongoing tragedy for all peoples of the middle east. Israel has suffered an unprovoked attack on its cities from Hezbollah in Lebanon after withdrawing from Lebanon, which is in contravention of international agreements and assurances given through the United Nations at the time. Similarly, since Israel withdrew from Gaza its cities have been subject to shelling from Gaza.

Israel is entitled to defend itself, and it is rational for Israel, when subject to shelling and rocket attacks from Lebanon, to go to the source of that shelling and the source of those rockets. It is the responsibility of Hezbollah and the Lebanese that they have, disgracefully, put so many civilians in the line of fire, and that is absolutely to be deplored.

It is important for the nature of Hezbollah to be recognised. Hezbollah is just one of the rejectionist terrorist organisations that are determined to prevent there ever being peace between the Israeli and the Palestinians. It is linked with Iran, which has described Israel as a cancerous tumour that should be removed. It is a terrorist organisation. It murdered more than 200 people in the Argentinian Jewish Centre in 1992. It was implicated with Yasser Arafat in bringing arms to the Palestinian Authority in violation of the Oslo agreement in 2002. It murdered Israeli civilians at the Matsuba kibbutz in 2002.

What is the solution? The immediate solution is a ceasefire, yes, but it must include securing Israel’s northern border so that its civilians are not subject to indiscriminate attacks, financed and supplied by Iran
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and issued through Hezbollah. The long-term solution must be a return to the road map, a negotiated agreement on a two-state solution of a Palestine and Israel based on the 1967 boundaries and with Jerusalem shared between those two states. Current events make that even more difficult to obtain and I hope that our Government will, through their diplomacy and negotiations, help to bring that situation about.

5.25 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I welcome the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who both made it clear that they believed that Israel’s response was not proportionate. As to what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) said, we would have been much better off if Israel had exercised restraint. Indeed, Israel itself would have been a great deal better off. We have been down this road before, in 1982, and Hezbollah grew and sustained its strength out of the consequences of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that year. The consequences of the present invasion of Lebanon will be far more damaging to the Government of Lebanon than to Hezbollah, which is not in the best interests of all.

In the very few moments available, I want to reflect on the dangerous overlap with our policy towards Iran—a source of considerable danger for the liberal west, as its values are so different. The situation is somewhat analogous to that of the Soviet Union, which was also a powerful force that was very different from us ideologically. My proposal is that we need to understand the country a little better and try to develop contacts with it, as I am attempting to do myself. However, Israel continues to accept the appalling injustice that has been meted out historically to the Palestinians and does not appear to be pursuing a policy that recognises that injustice. Until the Palestinians start to feel that Israel has a made, at the very least, a serious attempt to address it and to find a two-state solution, all these issues are going to get horribly mixed up—and with all the consequences for the strategic position of ourselves and our allies.

We have been quite close to a two-state established solution. The Geneva accord was negotiated between Palestinians and Israelis of good will. The negotiations at Taba and then at Camp David came close. I would reject the interpretation that the Palestinians missed an important opportunity, as they could not realistically have accepted what was on offer. What the Government of Israel and the Israelis need to understand is that until the Palestinian issue is addressed, Israel will never have peace. Until that is done, we are going to get into these horrible complications of living in a world split between Islamic and our own ideologies, in which the state of Israel is going to be a horrible—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The letter of the three-minute limit expires at this point, but perhaps its spirit could survive for a few more minutes.

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5.28 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I want to focus my comments on the impact of the conflict on Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, particularly women and children, and the need for the international community to work to bring an end to the fighting and return to negotiations.

As we see, the media show us harrowing pictures from both sides of the conflict every day. Last night, two Israeli children, who were brothers, were killed after Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets hit the Arab-Israeli town of Nazareth. We know that more than 200 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in Lebanon. That reality is echoed in the calls of the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace between Palestine and Israel. The IWC is an international body of Palestinian, Israeli and international women, established in 2005 under the auspices of the United Nations Development Fund for Women. At a recent emergency meeting, IWC members requested the Quartet to intervene to stop fighting and expressed their deep concern at the current crisis in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, which they see as threatening the region as a whole. They called for an immediate return to the political process, led by the international community.

Groupings of women in the middle east have for many years kept the discussions going across the political divide as continued dialogue is the only way to return to the political process. Before coming to the Chamber today, I spoke to two representatives from the IWC in a conference call. They were Professor Galia Golan, an Israeli member, and Miss Samia Bamia, a Palestinian member. I shall give the House a brief account of some of their thoughts and suggestions on the situation.

The two representatives felt that the public internationally are ignoring the war in Gaza, but there is still a large toll of civilian deaths in that conflict. The Israeli representative said that while there was public support in Israel for the action described by the military as weakening Hezbollah, that support is lessening as the conflict deepens. Among women, there is a growing feeling that the response is not commensurate with the incursions that cause the military action. Both the women stressed the need for the international community to intervene to achieve a negotiated withdrawal, a ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners, and they are looking to the Quartet to assist that return to negotiations.

The Israeli representative, Professor Galia Golan, also spoke about stopping the boycott of funds to the Palestinian Government. While she had little sympathy for Hamas, she felt that it was wrong to ignore the levels of hardship caused by the boycott and that it was now starting to weaken the voice of moderates. Both representatives repeatedly stressed the importance of the need for intervention by the UK, the Quartet and the international community. In fact, from Palestine, Samia Bamia said that there was anger growing at the feeling that the international community was watching, but not acting to help a return to the political process.

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