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announce proposals for a strategy for Iraq providing for a phased withdrawal of United Kingdom armed forces
Our military capabilities have been stretched in the last few years, and particularly in the last few months as Britain has taken on its extra responsibilities in Afghanistan. Five years after the invasion to oust the Taliban, the need to support a free and democratic Afghanistanfree from international terroristsis unchanged, and for our own safety here at home we need to be successful. As has been said, huge progress has been made, not least thanks to the sustained efforts of our armed forces, diplomats and others, and also our European and NATO alliesbut the successes are in danger, and our mission has clearly changed. Over the past six months, we have had to face up to the consequences of the disastrous diversion in Iraq as the Taliban have re-emerged more violent and more focused than ever. That has meant British soldiers fighting a war rather than keeping the peace.
Our armed forces face enormous challenges and terrible dangers. They must have the weaponry, the equipment and the assets that they need, and along with our NATO allies we must have a coherent strategy with the resources to make it workbut that will not provide the whole solution. Hearts and minds will not be won by military action alone. Such action must be one part of a concerted approach, with adequate resources to create new livelihoods that do not depend on the export of death and misery from the poppy fields. Building a new country is essential if we are to avoid another failed state; otherwise we are in danger of failing that state, and reaping the consequences here at home.
That is also true of the middle east. The horrors of yesterdays events in Lebanon go beyond the terrible tragedy of Pierre Gemayels assassination. Whoever was responsible, and whoever lies behind whoever was responsible, has made the terrible calculation that to destabilise Lebanon further after the disastrous war with Israel earlier in the summer and the political manoeuvrings of recent weeks will advance their influence and cause. But to what end? If there is one recurring lesson in the middle east it is surely that violence generates violence and disaster for all the peoples of the region, and even by the bloody standards of the conflicts of the last few decades, this has been a truly appalling year.
In Israel, Lebanon and Gaza, too many continue to pay the highest price. Even now, the ceasefire in
southern Lebanon is fragile: the risks of a return to conflict are still high, and the provocations remain. The shelling of Israeli towns by Hezbollah and Hamas was undoubtedly the origin of the conflicts earlier this year, and in recent weeks the shelling of Israelis from Gaza has created more fear, injury and death. In such circumstances there can be no doubt that Israel has a right to defend itself, but there are constraints under international law. Once again in recent weeksas we saw earlier in the yearthe scale of Israels military response has been disproportionate. While this goes on, the prospects for peace remain limited. Nevertheless, the two-state solution must remain the basis for future peace, justice and security for Israel and the Palestinians. Israelis must enjoy the right to live securely within their borders, and Palestinians must have the prospect of a viable state that offers them security as well.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that the subdivision of the west bank by the wall, the barrier and the trenches, and also by access roads, rules out the establishment of the Palestinian state that the Palestinians have sought for so long?
A number of things will have to happen to put us back on the road to peace. We will need to see some success from the current desperate attempts to form a unity Government in the Palestinian territories. We support all who say that Hamas must recognise the state of Israel, must renounce violence, and must accept the existing peace accords as a basic premise for acceptance by the rest of the world. Those will remain the conditions for the development of long-term peace and the key to future assistance, beyond the basic humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed right now.
Jeremy Corbyn: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that one of the problems is the enforced poverty in Palestine resulting from the wests refusal to pay money directly to the Palestinian Authority, which has created mass unemployment, along with the inability of Palestinian producers to export any goods for a meaningful price? The cycle of poverty and deprivation continues, and the violence also continues as a result.
Mr. Moore: Those are important points. It is essential for the Palestinians to be able to export their goods, trade and earn money to keep the basics of life going. Equally, although the Government have taken credit for the temporary international mechanism, it is a tragedy that it took so long to put that in place. As has been made clear from interventions in our debate, the retention by the Israeli authorities of millions of dollars of tax receipts due to the Palestinian territories is a desperate way of undermining their viability and the basics of life there. I hope that in the reply to the debate we can be given some further information about how our Government are pressing the Israelis to make that money available, perhaps through the temporary international mechanism, or in another way.
For the world to address these issues, we need to get back to the road map. At times it appears that parts of it have been shredded and the timetable is embarrassingly out of date, but it remains the only starting point for a peace plan that will be the key to stability, not only in Israel and Palestine, but across the middle east. Over the next few months that will be the key test for the Quartet, but especially for our Government.
At the Guildhall, the Prime Minister rightly said that there needs to be a whole middle east strategy, starting with Israel-Palestine and involving Iran and Syria, too. In many ways, that will be unpalatable. We rightly expend much effort on the nuclear crisis in Iranas the shadow Foreign Secretary did earlier in our debate. If it were to develop a nuclear weapon, that would be a catastrophe for us all. We cannot lose sight of those countries involvement with Hezbollah and Hamas but, regardless of how difficult the diplomatic footwork might be, we need to have engagement with those countriesrobust but proper engagement.
There is talk of a peace conference, and last week some of our partners in Europe took the lead with an initiative setting out a five-point plan. A peace conference that addresses those points might help us to find a way back to the Quartets road map, as the Foreign Secretary put it in her recent speech at the Royal United Services Institute. It is a mark of the desperation of recent months that the international community has so badly lost its bearings.
Beyond the middle east, we face a broad range of challenges. In Darfur, countless people die and suffer, and the regime carries on without any sensitivity to international concerns. As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition made clear today, there needs to be a recognition in Sudan that the international community must be involved to tackle the killings and the maiming and all the other crimes that are being committed. We must not let up the pressure on the regime to sort out a ceasefire, and we must make it plain that we will not relent, and that we will press for tougher measures at the United Nations if it does not comply, including sanctions.
Kate Hoey: I do not wish to minimise at all the terrible tragedies in Darfur and Iraq, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that, hidden away from the cameras and with no media coverage, more people die each week in Zimbabwe than in Darfur or Iraq? Given that neither the Foreign Secretary nor the shadow Foreign Secretary mentioned Zimbabwe, would the hon. Gentleman like to give his partys view of what should be happening in Zimbabwe?
The hon. Lady has been an effective campaigner on that issue in recent years, and it is important for her to put her comments on the record today. In fairness, the Front-Bench Members who have contributed made comprehensive speeches which I hope, in their broad sweep, would include concerns about Zimbabwe. The Liberal Democrats remain appalled at what goes on in Zimbabwe allegedly in the name of democracy, but in fact only for the benefit of President Mugabe and his kleptocracy. The Prime Minister once said that what is happening in Africa was
a scar on the conscience of the worldand what is happening in Zimbabwe is one of the biggest parts of that scar.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to another topic, I wish to raise a matter that connects Zimbabwe and Sudan: the role of the Chinese. China is the most influential nation in terms of putting pressure on Mugabe and the regime in Khartoumalthough it must be understood that the Khartoum regime is a coalition, and that not all the people in it are necessarily guilty of the problems in Darfur. As China could do more than any other nation to put pressure on those regimes, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is up to the British Government to talk continually to the Chinese so that they understand their world responsibilities?
Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and people might have been slightly alarmed by the recent international summit that China hosted for African leaders. The nature of Chinese diplomacy in Africa is very clear, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must hope that the Foreign Secretary and her Ministers make it abundantly clear at regular intervals to China that it has important influence with those countries, and must use it.
I wish to focus on one further issue in particular: cluster munitions. Earlier this summer up to 1 million bomblets were fired on Lebanon, and it is reported that only 50 per cent. detonated on impact. Of the cluster-bomb strikes, 90 per cent. occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict in Lebanon. That has left up to 500,000 devices that are still live, littering hillsides, villages, orchards and fields in civilian areas. Reports say that so far at least 21 Lebanese civilians, including children, have been killed and more than 100 have been injured by late-detonating bomblets.
On Monday, Israel admitted that its use of cluster munitions broke its own army rules. General Halutz said that there were enough grounds from a preliminary inquiry to convene an official investigation into whether court-martial offences had been committed. Such admissions are welcome, and we hope that an official investigation will be undertaken, and that those responsible will be held to account. The point is, however, that such munitions should be banned; as the Secretary of State for International Development has said, they are equivalent to land mines.
What is being done to get them banned? Earlier today, the Prime Minister did not address that question when it was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie), who asked about Britains role at the conference in Geneva last week. Is it right that Britain obstructed progress at those talks? Also, can we be told a little more about the distinction that we understand is beginning to be made between dumb and smart cluster munitionsa distinction which, frankly, very few people outside the United Kingdom Government seem to accept? All such munitions should be banned, and Britain should be taking a lead in that.
Let me respond to the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. On the use of cluster
bombs in Lebanon, I hope that he is aware that we have called on the Government of Israel not only to make a public statement about their use, but to produce maps indicating where they were used. I also hope that he is aware that the Department for International Development has provided more than £200,000 to the Mines Advisory Group, and we have a commitment to provide £1 million to the United Nations Mines Action Service, particularly to address the issue in Lebanon.
The hon. Gentleman raised a different point about the initiative. Actually, we took the lead. It is nonsense to say that no nation other than the United Kingdom understands the distinction between dumb and not dumb cluster munitions. At a conference at the beginning of November, we took the lead in trying to get a mandate to discuss those issues between the states partiesthe convention on certain conventional weapons parties. We have obtained that. The Norwegian initiative, which I think the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) was referring to in his question today to the Prime Minister, would take the issue outside that forum. That means that it would be discussed by peoplevery well-meaning people, no doubtwho do not use or produce cluster weapons. We have taken the lead in getting the issue discussed among producers and users of cluster weapons, because we think that that is the most important step forward to take.
Mr. Moore: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for her intervention. On her first point, several months have now passed since those cluster munitions were dropped on southern Lebanon, and it is unacceptable still not to have maps or other assistance in identifying where they are. I hope that the pressure she mentioned is kept up at a very high level indeed.
On the second point, it has been very difficult to get information on the Governments stance on cluster munitions, and what the Foreign Secretary has said is perhaps the most extensive statement that we have thus far had. I suggest to her that she might wish to make a written statementor perhaps an oral statementto the House, so that we can quiz her, or other Ministers, about the Governments policy on that; that would be very welcome.
As we approach a new era in Britain with a new Prime Minister, the UK desperately needs to re-establish its credentials internationally by rebalancing its foreign policy. The relationship with America will always be of primary importance, but the world increasingly needs a European voice with British emphasis. Britain must and can be a key player in the common foreign and security policy. There are a growing number of issues in respect of which it is only right that Europe have a common position, even if, on occasion, that differentiates us from the United States of America. I am thinking of issues such as Russias increasing assertiveness and the middle east peace process, both of which impact directly on Europe and its borders, and on which Europe can and should have a significant influence.
That does not mean, however, that we will be competing with the USA; we must be complementary, if not always polite. In recent years, the relationship
with America has often been uncomfortable, but as US Administrations and British Governments come and go, these issues can be fixed without undermining our most important bilateral relationship. However, repositioning ourselves in the mainstream of Europe and the international multilateral system underpinned by international law is one of our biggest challenges. The need to do so is the saddest legacy of the present Prime Minister.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I want to welcome the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Pakistan, and to emphasise the important links between Pakistan and this country. I very much hope that these improved links will lead at long last to the resolution of the agonising problem of Kashmir, which has tormented that beautiful but tragic part of the world for so long.
I also appreciate the reference in the Gracious Speech to the situation in Palestine, which remains one of the worst injustices in the world. The fact that there are other tragedies does not detract from the nature of that tragedy. What is more, it is a running sore that will poison the middle east until a solution has been arrived at. Members in all parts of the House have condemned the assassination of Mr. Gemayel in Lebanon, but it has to be pointed out that the Israeli Government carry out targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders regularly and frequently, often killing innocent people in doing so. The Israelis complainjustifiablyabout the impact on their country and its morale of rockets fired from the Gaza strip on to, for example, the home town of the Israeli Defence Minister, Amir Peretz. But they now admit that they have used cluster bombs illegally in their invasion of Lebanon.
Let us remember that, although this was called a war between Israel and Lebanon, it was not: it was a war between Israel and Hezbollah, which was accompanied by an Israeli invasion of, and appalling damage and casualties to, Lebanon. That invasion, which achieved none of its objectivesthe two kidnapped soldiers remain kidnapped, and the threat from Hezbollah remains and will continueattracted international attention. However, it must be pointed out that, although that invasion was deeply culpable, it is not the only Israeli invasion and aggression that has taken place in the middle east. Israeli soldiers have been kidnapped by Hezbollah and by Hamas, but the Israelis themselves kidnap peopleincluding many members of the Palestinian Governmentbut of course, they call it arrest, not kidnapping, so that is all right.
Gaza remains the hidden tragedy in which Israelis indiscriminately slaughter innocent civilians, including many children. When 13 members of one family, including children and a baby, were killed by the Israelis a short while ago, the Israeli Prime Minister called it a technical error. Just imagine what he, other Israelis and militant Jewish organisations would have said if Jews and Israelis had been killed and it had simply been dismissed as a technical error.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: This Government and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have played an extremely active role in trying to bring about a peace process, and they were largely responsible for the formation of the Quartet, an issue with which I shall deal before I sit down.
The people who were killed as a result of that technical error are still just as dead as if they had been killed deliberately. Corporal Shalit, who was kidnapped in the summer and whose kidnapping is the stated reason for Israeli aggression in Gaza, remains unfree. So the situation remains: the Israelis kill and maim, their own citizens are killed and murderedby rockets, for exampleand their soldiers die. They achieve none of their objectives, and they will achieve none until a peace process is arrived at.
Meanwhile, every single Palestinian is in grinding poverty, and there is widespread unemployment. Palestinian unemployment, poverty and deprivation, which are at third-world levels, are made even more unacceptable by the fact that the Palestinians live minutes away from Israelis who possess first-world standards of living. Such living standards are often a result of subsidy by the United States Government, who also subsidise Israeli armaments.
The Palestinians are not only forced into grinding poverty; they are humiliated at the 300 or more checkpoints that the Israelis have erected, and which impede Palestinians freedom of movement. I led our House of Commons and House of Lords official Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to the Palestinian territories just under a year ago, and we were treated abominably by Israeli soldiers, who threatened us at gunpoint. But we experienced that for only a few days; for the Palestinians, that is their life, every single day, with no let-up. That is totally unacceptable to any civilised society, including the civilised society upon which Israel was founded, and according to which it conducted itself for so long under enlightened leadership. Such leadership is distinct from this ineffable Israeli Prime Minister, whose rating has fallen in the Israeli polls to 7 per cent., andI am very sorry to sayfrom the Defence Minister and leader of the Israeli Labour party, who has tarnished that partys wonderful record as the founding party of Israel.
The wallthe illegal wall, which was condemned by the International Court of Justiceis still being built, as has been pointed out. However, none of what the Israelis are doing is doing them any good whatsoever. The wall is not only being built in Palestinian territory and creating deprivation and separation, but is turning Israel into a self-created ghetto. My family came to this country from the ghettos of eastern Europe. Israel was created to ensure that no Jews ever again would have to live in a ghetto. So the Israelis have now created their own ghetto, in which their own Jewish and Arab citizens have to live, and in which they have no freedom of movement whatsoever. Therefore, the situation is not only appalling for the Palestinians, but for the Israelis. They are still getting away with murder, and there is no point in pretending otherwise. They kill large numbers of people, whether through technical errors, as they call them, or in other ways, and destroy families, none of which does the Israelis any good, let alone anyone else.
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