Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-313)
7 FEBRUARY 2006
Q300 Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister, I can
understand that, but is it right for the international community
to sit and watch the deteriorating humanitarian situation under
a Hamas-led government?
Mr Blair: No, I think what is
important is that we find a way of ensuring that we can help the
people, whatever happens, but it is very difficult for us to help
the government, as such, if the government is committed to the
abolition of the State of Israel. If the leadership of Hamasand,
obviously, there will be a debate going on within that leadership
as to what to dohave the imagination I have no doubt at
all that America and the world community want to take this process
forward. If Hamas were to change is policy on the abolition of
the State of Israel and embrace the democratic way forward, I
have no doubt at all that America and the rest of the international
community would stand ready to help them achieve what the Palestinian
people want, but it has got to be on that clear basis. Otherwise
the danger is here are we sayingand it is a consensus now"We
want a two-state solution", and you have got one of the partners
to that saying: "But actually we don't; we want a one-state
solution". I believe that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian
people (and I think there is some evidence to indicate this) whatever
reasons they had for supporting Hamas, did not actually support
them in order to get rid of the State of Israelthey may
have supported them for all sorts of different reasons. Therefore,
I think if Hamas have a real political leadership and imagination
they can make the change and they should understand if they do
make that change the international community stands ready to partner
Q301 Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister there
is an old saying that opposition parties do not win the elections;
governments lose them. It might be the case that the failure of
Fatah to root out corruption from society has helped Hamas to
win the election. But if we do not engage ourselves with the Government
of Palestine and do not respect the democratic will of the people
then what kind of messages will we be sending to the Muslim and
Arab world about our commitment to democracy?
Mr Blair: I totally agree, Mohammed.
It is a very, very difficult question this, because we have to
respect the mandate; they have voted, quite possibly for the reasons
you say, in the way that they have; we cannot ignore that, that
is a democratically-established mandate. The problem is what do
we then do? Now, my point is this: that if they want our help,
both financially and to take the peace process forward, we have
to have a clear understanding of the basis of that, and the basis
is a two-state solution, the existence of Israel respected and
an independent, viable Palestinian state. We are prepared and
President Bush is preparedI have talked this through with
him very closely indeedto move this whole process forward,
and wants to move it forward, but it is hard to do that if one
of the main two parties to the process is saying: "Actually,
we want rid of the other party". I hope and believe that
they can exercise the political leadership to change that but
otherwise it is going to be very difficult. It is difficult for
Europe, and Europe puts £500 million a year into the Palestinian
Authority; it is hard for us to put that money in to the actual
Authority itself in circumstances where the Authority is saying:
"We neither renounce violence nor the desire to get rid of
Israel". So I think what has got to happen is that the pressure
is put on, in part, as you rightly imply, from the Arab and Muslim
world, to say to them: "This is your chance. You have got
your democratic mandate, people respect that, but if you want
our helpin other words, we have got to step up to the markwe
can only do that on these terms."
Q302 Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister, the participation
of Hamas in the democratic process may be a step further towards
disengagement from the violence. Of course, I want to see Hamas
renounce violence and accept the existence of the State of Israel
but, according to The Financial Times, more than 50% of
the Israelis believe that their government should talk to the
Hamas-led government. Do you not think it is incumbent on the
international community to follow, and that greater isolation
of a Hamas-led government might further radicalise the situation?
Mr Blair: You are expressing what
is the conundrum when you are dealing with a situation like this.
The real point I would make is this: that I think everyone wants
to engage with Hamas because they recognise they have established
a democratic mandate. The problem is quite simply this: that if
you engage with them in circumstances where there is some ambiguity
about the terms upon which we can take this forward, I think that
does no one any favours. I agree there is a battle over what some
parts of Arab and Muslim opinion may say is: "You are not
respecting the democratic mandate" but I am making it very
clear, and I want to repeat this publicly here, we entirely respect
their democratic mandate, we stand absolutely ready, willing and
able to take this process forward with Hamas, provided that it
is clear what this process is about. It is about a two-state solution
and you cannot have a two-state solution if one partner in that
process wants to get rid of the other state. If we can shift that
so that they embrace (which I think everyone else understands
has to happen) the recognition of Israel and embrace democratic
and non-violent means to achieve it, we stand ready to do it.
I think the most frustrating thing about the whole Middle East
peace process is it is obvious from what is happening in Israel
that actually Israeli opinion does want a two-state solution.
However, you can imagine Israel is not going to feel confident
of its security if the state that is created next door is saying:
"We want rid of you". That is the problem. Therefore,
in the end, what is this? We all of us are familiar with the shibboleths
within our own parties. I cannot really believe that the Hamas
leadership is foolish enough to think that anyone is ever going
to get rid of the State of Israel. So the best thing for them
to do, as actually with much of the Arab world, is simply to accept
the reality; there is going to be a State of Israel. Accept it,
agree that the Israelis can be confident of that and then we can
all get on with what we want to see. After all, the international
community now has a consensus for the first time of a two-state
Sir George Young: Can we come back to
the subject I touched on a moment ago, about Parliamentary involvement
in the broader Middle East debate?
Q303 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, in 2003
we had a vote on March 18 before the military action in Iraq,
and before then there was a process of involvement of the Members
of Parliament which was unprecedented before any military action.
Can I have your assurance that if we get to a question of possible
military action with regard to Iran that we will have a similar
process and that Members of Parliament will be able to make that
Mr Blair: Before I answer that
I had better make it clear that in respect of any military actionand
I am certainly not saying there is going to be military action
in respect of Iranthe reality is, which is why, I think,
with great respect to other political parties, you can overdo
all this stuff about the Royal Prerogative. The fact of the matter
is that I cannot conceive of a situation in which a government
(and I think I have said this before, even here) is going to go
to warexcept in circumstances where militarily for the
security of the country it needs to act immediatelywithout
a full Parliamentary debate. Actually, as I say, the irony is,
although people keep talking about this as a result of the Iraq
conflict, I think the one thing you could not say is that we did
not have a full Parliamentary debate or that we did not have a
votebecause we did. I think the reality is that that is
the way it will happen in practice, unless you have a circumstance
where you need to act urgently.
Q304 Mike Gapes: Do you, therefore, accept
that because of what happened in 2003 and the importance to keep
public support, that the days when a British Government could
do what we did, for example, over the Falklands have definitely
gone for all time, and from now on Parliament will have a say
on these issues?
Mr Blair: I think, to be fair
again, Parliament probablythis was a Saturday
Q305 Mike Gapes: After the event.
Mr Blair: I thought they met on
the Saturday. I cannot really remember.
Sir George Young: We were recalled on
Q306 Mike Gapes: Parliament at that time
Mr Blair: As I say, I think one
of the ironies of the situation is despite us, as a political
class, continually saying that Parliament is bypassed, etcetera,
etcetera, etcetera, we have discussed two things, namely the renewal
of our nuclear deterrent and potential military action, in which
I would suggest there is a higher probability of extensive Parliamentary
debate now, today, than there ever would have been 30, 40 or 50
Q307 Mr Arbuthnot: I was just going to
come on to that. You almost committed yourself there to a vote
because of the reality of the situation would be that any action
on Iran would be
Mr Blair: I am not talking about
Iran specificallyI just want to make that clear. I do not
want to be suddenlynot that I am sure I would be misinterpreted
in any way at all by those sitting behind you.
Q308 Mr Arbuthnot: Yet you expressly
refused to commit yourself to a vote on the issue of the nuclear
deterrent. Do you not find that rather odd?
Mr Blair: I have not committed
myself to it. I understand the argument. All I am saying, though,
is, James, on any basis we debate these things a lot more extensively
in public than actually we did 40, 50 years ago. Which is why
I actually think, when we are talking about Parliament and so
onand, incidentally, of course, this is the first time
Prime Ministers appear in front of the Liaison Committeethere
is a myth about bypassing Parliament which is to do with bypassing
Parliament because of politicians and what we are not actually
looking at is the real reasons why there is a problem in Parliament
today, which in my view is somewhat different. Anyway, that is
another argument which we can come to at another time, maybe.
Q309 Mr Arbuthnot: So do you really agree
with Ken Livingstone's view that if voting changed anything they
would abolish it?
Mr Blair: You gave me a bit of
a shock there. Come again? What was that? I am sorry, James. Go
on. What was it Ken Livingstone said?
Q310 Mr Arbuthnot: I said Ken Livingstone's
view was that if voting changed anything they would abolish it.
I wonder if that is a view that
Mr Blair: I think that was before
he ran for re-election.
Sir George Young: Can I bring in Edward
Leigh on something you mentioned a few moments ago, which were
Q311 Mr Leigh: You have taken me to task
when I have criticised you over the invasion of Iraq. You said
that there are people who hate our way of life so much that whether
we had invaded Iraq it would have made no difference. So what
are we going to do about what happened in London last week? There
is a feeling in the country that if other groups of people had
gone around central London talking about beheading people and
dressing as suicide bombers, that the police would have gone straight
in under public order legislationexisting legislation,
so they obviously have the powersbut somehow they were
treating people with kid gloves. Maybe there were double standards;
maybe they were frightened of being accused of being racist or
attacking Muslims. There is a feeling in the country, is there
not, that this was an intolerable situation.
Mr Blair: There is a feeling,
I think, entirely justifiably, of outrage when people see some
of the placards that were there. I am very pleased that leading
members of the Muslim community have expressed their abhorrence
along with everyone else in the country. The police had a difficult
situation to manage on the day. I think it is perfectly sensible
for them to say: "Look, we want to study the evidence and
come to conclusions", but let me make it absolutely clear,
the police will have our full support in any prosecutions they
mount, but that is for them to decide. You are right; I think
there is a real sense of outrage. I think what is more healthy
about the situation, though, (and I think it is very, very important
that we emphasise this the whole time) is that that sense of outrage
stretches across all communities. In my view there is a real issue
about how the sensible, moderate Muslim leaders go into their
community and confront this type of extremism, and that is something
we discuss with them continually. However, it is very important
for our overall good relations in this country that people understand
there is no political correctness that should keep the police
from taking whatever action they think is necessary. That is my
position one hundred per cent.
Sir George Young: Unless other colleagues
wish to come in, Chairman, we have finished our session.
Q312 Chairman: Thank you. Prime Minister,
it is interesting to reflect way back into history when I was
last here enjoying the joys of office in government, and in the
late-1970s I sat on a Cabinet Committee looking at proliferation.
At that time we were trying to work out how to frustrate the aspirations
of the then Shah who was going to get in on the early days of
nuclear capability. So it may not just be a regime factor. Our
next session is due to be towards the end of the year. Can I just
put up a flag? I will not ask you to commit yourself now but I
ask you to take this away and think about it. This is the only
Parliamentary Committee to which the Prime Minister comes, and
we are grateful to you for the fact you have introduced this innovation.
Can I ask you (and, hopefully, it will not arise) if between now
and the time of the next session there were to be a dramatic deterioration
in the situation in Iran, would you consider having an interim,
briefer meetingsay, an hour to an hour-and-a-halfwith
this Committee, where we could have the same sort of exchanges
as we have had today in reflection of this international situation?
I do not want you to commit yourself, but go away and think about
Mr Blair: I am very happy to think
about it, but I do want to emphasise there is nothing that should
make people anticipate that something is about to
Q313 Chairman: When the US says: "We
will not rule out the use of military force" one has to note
that it was not gunboat diplomacy the last time they said it!
Thank you, Prime Minister. It has been a very interesting exchange.
Thank you very much.
Mr Blair: Thank you.