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When the Committee visited two weeks ago, every emergency room in the west bank was closed and access to private hospitals in east Jerusalem was also
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restricted, because permits had passed their expiry dates and could not be renewed—there were few, if any, patients. We were told about the case of a 10-year-old boy who has cancer. He was allowed through the checkpoint into east Jerusalem, but his mother, who was accompanying him, was not. The Foreign Secretary referred to money promised through the temporary international mechanism, which is specifically for health emergency funding and which is administered by the European Commission, but the Committee was told that that money had not reached any of the hospitals that required it and that those hospitals were running out of resources, equipment and funding.

Restrictions on movement and access have compounded the situation. Gaza has effectively been sealed off, which has led to the near collapse of the economy and services. Movement not only in and out of the west bank, but more seriously, within the occupied territories has become so restricted as to undermine daily life. People cannot get to work, and they cannot access services or can do so only with extreme difficulty and delay.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does it not now seem that it is the direct intention of the Israeli authorities to make the presence of Palestinians who have historically worked in Jerusalem so impossible that they will cleanse the whole of that area of people who are indigenous to it?

Malcolm Bruce: I will address that point. It is now the policy of the Israeli Government entirely to eliminate migratory workers from Gaza and the west bank from the Israeli economy by the end of next year. That is apparently the stated policy.

The Committee stayed in a magnificent five-star hotel in Bethlehem, which should be full for Christmas. However, the hotel is operating at 2 per cent. occupancy in spite of very competitive rates, because the construction of the wall around Jerusalem has led people to perceive that it is impossible to travel safely.

When the Committee asked how the tightening of the situation had come about, we were initially told that it dated from the election of Hamas, but that is simply not true, because it has intensified since then. It must also be acknowledged that Israel has been terrorised by suicide bombers and rockets and missiles fired from Lebanon and Gaza, and the kidnapping of one Israeli soldier from Gaza and two from Lebanon led to activity by Israel. Regardless of the provocation, the activity by Israel is widely understood to be disproportionate. The security response, which long predates Hamas, has been to build the barrier on the west bank, which has effectively closed the border at Gaza. Israel also fires back at missile launch sites, which has resulted in tragic civilian casualties mainly to women and children.

In that context, there was widespread dismay, not least among those hon. Members who called for the recall of Parliament, that the UK Government did not call for an immediate ceasefire in August, which is still a matter of shame for this country. That failure has contributed to the strengthening, not the weakening, of
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Hezbollah and to the destabilisation of Lebanon towards a possible renewal of civil war, which is a consequent further threat to Israel’s long-term security. That approach has not served the interests of Israel.

As recently as a week last Friday, the UK abstained on the most recent Security Council motion, which condemned Israel for the latest civilian deaths. However, I believe that British diplomats worked hard to renegotiate a more balanced resolution, to which I am happy to pay tribute. The refusal of Hamas to recognise Israel or, more importantly, to renounce violence and honour previous agreements, does not help the Palestinian cause any more than the continual firing of missiles from Gaza. However, to answer the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), that does not justify the wholesale annexation of land not only behind the barrier, which is way beyond the green line, but across the west bank, where Israeli settlements are used to justify the existence of road blocks, bypass roads for the exclusive use of settlers and the confiscation of and restrictions on land around settlements in, it is said, the interests of the security of the state of Israel, whereas in reality it is for the security of illegal settlements within the occupied territories.

The military control of the Jordan valley, which is effectively treated as an administered part of Israel rather than part of the west bank, the proposal to build a new settlement, E1, which will cut off east Jerusalem from the west bank entirely, and the escalating restrictions on access and movement raise some direct questions. Israel argues that the election of Hamas and the continuing terrorist attacks mean that the Palestinians are not interested in peace, but the converse is also true. The strangulation of Gaza, the erection of a barrier deep inside the green line and the consolidation of a patchwork of settlements that chops the integrity of the west bank to pieces suggest that Israel is not interested in peace, either. Those actions are incompatible with any viable two-state solution—I defy anybody to explain the two-state solution on the current division of territory.

It may be that any credibility that the United Kingdom had as a potential peace broker evaporated on the day when we invaded Iraq. For there to be peace, Israel needs security and Palestine needs a viable, economically productive state. There can never be absolute security, and confidence building and a reduction in tension is required if there is to be a long-term, peaceful future. The Quartet and Israel appear to believe that starving Hamas of funds will lead to its collapse. I suggest that that approach is more likely to strengthen Hamas as the Palestinian people suffer even greater deprivation.

Even if Hamas is not funded, surely somebody should talk to it. If a technocratic Government of national unity, who have been much talked about but who have not been formed, were to come about, it has not been agreed that funds would be made available to them. If funds were not made available in that circumstance, then the good will towards and faith in the international community that remarkably still exists among many Palestinians could be extinguished for good. The irony is that we invaded Iraq, we are told, to impose democracy, while we undermine the potential for an emerging democracy in Palestine. Since 9/11 we
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have pursued a foreign policy much of which has been counterproductive and damaging to British national interests.

The reason why I, as Chair of the International Development Committee, feel so strongly about this is that massive resources from the British aid budget are being diverted into Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, all of which could be viable economic states not requiring aid, at the expense of poor communities in other parts of the world. We have to attack the scourge of AIDS—something that the British Government are giving a lead on and setting a standard for—and we could put more resources into that. We could put more resources into Africa—the Prime Minister claims that he has a passion to solve the problems of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa—but we have diverted too many of our resources to one area. We have undermined our influence and credibility as a peacemaker and denied poor people in other parts of the world resources that they could reasonably have expected from the British aid budget, which has been diverted into other areas.

I hope that our efforts to bring peace to Darfur and the pressure that is required to do that will have a real effect. It has been remarked that we should plead with China to recognise that it has a long-term interest in the rule of law. We should recognise, too, that if we are to secure a trade agreement in the Doha round, we in the United Kingdom have to give a lead in showing where concessions can be made, where fair trade can be delivered, and where poor countries can have the economic space to be able to achieve poverty reduction and to reduce their dependence on aid.

We created the Department for International Development to separate aid and development from foreign policy, yet resources are being diverted from the aid budget to support a foreign policy that has failed conspicuously and which no Member has supported during this debate.

3.50 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): I was saddened the other week that more of my hon. Friends did not join me and others to call for a proper inquiry into the Iraq situation. It is a scandal that our Prime Minister can give evidence to an American organisation but not to one set up in this country.

I always think that the real reason why we are in Iraq can be summed up in one word—oil. The dangers that we are seeing now were forecast by many of us. In fact, in the week before the invasion of Iraq I spoke at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party where the Prime Minister was present. I said, “Invade Iraq, and you might as well put a banner over the front of the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall with the words, ‘Recruiting agency for al-Qaeda’”. There is no doubt that al-Qaeda did not previously exist in Iraq. When I was in Iraq and in Palestine, on the west bank, in 2002, I know where I felt safest, and it was not on the west bank. I can confirm everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said about the situation in those occupied territories. I am convinced that we will not solve the problem of Palestine and Israel until the
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occupation ceases. That is not the finishing point, but the starting point, in that part of the world.

In 2002 and 2003, Front Benchers were always telling us about weapons of mass destruction. That was the reason for being in Iraq that was given at the time. We refused to allow Hans Blix to carry on with his investigations. If they had been carried through to the end, perhaps the estimated 650,000 Iraqis, more than 100 British soldiers and nearly 3,000 American soldiers who have died would still be alive today—but the British Government, subservient as they have been all along to President Bush, bowed to the necessity of invading Iraq.

I remind the House of something that I mentioned during Prime Minister’s Question Time in October 2004. One month before the invasion of Iraq, the Prime Minister was saying that Saddam Hussein could stay in power—oh yes, he detested him, but he could stay in power—if he complied with all the United Nations resolutions. Let us not have any of this nonsense that those of us who opposed the British-American policy in Iraq have ever in any way been in favour of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, many of us were opposing the sale of arms to Saddam Hussein when many of our Front Benchers were ignoring the 12 early-day motions on the subject that were put before the House between 1986 and 1990. Only one member of the current Cabinet was a signatory to one of those 12 early-day motions.

On 25 May 1994, the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs reported that America had been exporting chemical and biological agents to Iraq. As late as 1988—two years before the Gulf war—Britain exported £200,000 worth of a component that could be used in producing mustard gas to Iraq.

What is the position now? Every day, more Iraqis are killed by all sorts of insurgent groups, by al-Qaeda, which is now present in Iraq, and by coalition forces. We are told that we will leave Iraq as soon as we have trained the police and the army. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) pointed out, one cannot regard those who are being trained to be police as existing in a vacuum, away from the divisions of Sunni and Shi’a because, after all, they are Sunnis and Shi’as. Indeed, many of the recent atrocities have been committed by people wearing police uniforms that the US provided. The division exists and will continue, whether we are present or not.

The big question that we must ask ourselves is whether we go now—or soon—or allow ourselves to be embroiled in the inevitable civil war that will happen in Iraq. We have a choice and I believe that we should make it in favour of a phased withdrawal, leading to the complete withdrawal of British troops by next summer.

The Prime Minister and other Ministers are in constant denial about the failure of the Iraq policy, although we think that the Prime Minister recently admitted that it is a disaster. In that, he is with the majority of people in this country. That is also true of the American people, if we consider the mid-term elections in the US. It is wrong to believe that attacking American policy means that one is anti-American. I have sometimes attacked British policy. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I marched against
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the invasion of Suez. Was I anti-British for doing that? Of course not. I have decent American friends and I know that many in the US want an end to its imperialist policy.

I should like an end to our subservience to the US. I do not know whether hon. Members felt the same way as me when I learned about the overheard conversation between Bush and our Prime Minister. He treated our Prime Minister like a little boy. Our Prime Minister wanted to go to the middle east—to give him his due, he has always been in favour of the peace process to end the conflict between Palestine and Israel. He has a genuine and sincere feeling about that. However, what was he told? “Don’t go to the middle east; I’m sending Condi.”

Who on earth does that foreign leader think he is? How does he have the right to tell a British Prime Minister what he may do? Can hon. Members imagine Winston Churchill or Harold Wilson—Harold Wilson kept us out of the Vietnam war—responding in the weak way in which our Prime Minister did? He should have said that Britain would carry out its own foreign policy—of course, in co-operation with other countries, although not only the US. We should look more towards co-operating with our partners in the European Union. Our main partners, France and Germany, did not get involved in the disaster of Iraq.

I shall speak briefly about Palestine, as I was there in 2002, and I can confirm everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton said. The centres of Jenin and Nablus are deserts, caused by the destruction brought about by Israeli bombers, Israeli tanks and Israeli bulldozers. Indeed, in Jenin, people were referring to “Jeniningrad”, making a comparison between their lot and what happened in the siege of Leningrad.

A distinctive British foreign policy is necessary and our priority now should be to ensure that we do not stay in Iraq any longer than at all necessary. We should bring our forces home by the summer of next year.

4 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): In March 2005, I visited Iraq, going to Basra and Baghdad. The visit was arranged by the Foreign Office, and I met many groups, including local politicians and women’s groups in Basra and trade unionists and national politicians in Baghdad. One thing was quite clear: they were pleased that Saddam’s regime had come to a head, but they were desperately unhappy about the manner in which that came about. The damage to infrastructure was immense: Basra had electricity only for a couple of hours a day at that time and clean water was at a premium, with open sewers posing a health hazard after their destruction.

We also visited training camps where the new security forces were put through their paces. I was absolutely alarmed to be told by a senior member of the Iraqi military that the life expectancy of the recruits, once their occupation was known, could be counted in terms of weeks. That was ominous and dreadful, and we were constantly told the official line by the Government that in so many weeks there would
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be so many thousand trained-up soldiers. Even if the estimates were overestimates, they were hardly viable or reliable, given the number of recruits being killed.

I was against the war, but I went to Iraq with an open mind to see what was happening. I came back believing sincerely that a troop withdrawal would have to be events led, but in no doubt about the difficulties of putting those events in train in light of the slaughter of these recruits and the obvious inability to rebuild and repair the infrastructure in a situation where security was bad. That tended to fuel a great deal of animosity, in turn, among the people whom we met. Some even went as far as to say that, in respect of everyday utilities and everyday life, things were worse than they had been under the old regime.

When I look at the situation today, I find that it is no better. Undoubtedly, the battle for hearts and minds is not being won, with the presence of US and UK troops universally seen as being part of the problem, not the solution. There are on average 40 deaths in Iraq every day. The militias are fully armed and, as we all know, the conflict rages. Perhaps it is little wonder that many ordinary Iraqis are dependent on their own militias to offer them real day-to-day protection, but the situation has deteriorated substantially since my visit. US and British troops on the ground are a catalyst for daily murder and mayhem. They should not have to face that sort of danger day in, day out. That is why I believe that the UK Government should now tell Parliament what their current policy towards Iraq really is and what kind of exit strategy is being developed. Merely trotting out the “as long as it takes” policy is unsustainable when there are military deaths and casualties almost daily and the presence of forces escalates into tribal rivalry and conflicts.

The Prime Minister acknowledged on 19 October that the continued presence of the UK military could be a “provocation”, but went on to say that he thought that the Iraqi security forces could be in control within 16 months. Many believe that to be a hugely optimistic assessment. General Sir Richard Dannatt took the view that withdrawal should be sooner rather than later. While the Prime Minister is willing to engage with a congressional committee on these matters, he does not give the House an opportunity to discuss them. That is plainly wrong, since the House, albeit misled, was given an opportunity to vote on the Iraq war at the time.

We now need to debate properly, in an informed manner, what kind of exit strategy is being discussed. That is why I and other hon. Members, from several parties and none, have tabled a cross-party amendment to the Queen’s Speech requesting that the Government lay out their policy, so that the House can fully debate that policy.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I am proud to be a signatory to the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but would it be better not only if we had that debate, but if the Prime Minister came to explain himself to the House?

Mr. Llwyd: Absolutely so. That is what one hopes will happen in due course, although perhaps we are hoping against hope there.

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The “as long as it takes” mantra is absolute nonsense. The longer Parliament is kept in the dark, the more the Government bring this place into disrepute and, crucially, the more they alienate those who elect us.

Mr. Gummer: Will the hon. Gentleman repeat what a disgrace it is that the Prime Minister of Great Britain finds it possible to appear before an American congressional meeting, but not to appear before the House to give account of the worst foreign policy decision made since the war?

Mr. Llwyd: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is disgraceful and insulting to this place and, more importantly, to our constituents, to the families of the bereaved and to those who are serving out there, not to be told why on earth they are there and what strategy exists. It is probably also true that there will never be a convenient time to withdraw. There is no easy answer and I do not claim that there is, but that is no reason to deny us a proper, legitimate and informed debate about the issue.

The Prime Minister recently told the Iraq study group, quite rightly, that a settlement of the Palestinian question was central to sorting out the wider problems of Iraq and Afghanistan. He described the issue as the biggest factor in getting support from moderate Muslim countries as well. That is right. We in my party believe—as I believe do many others, in all parts of the House—that it is time to establish a full, proper peace conference on the entire middle east question, which should address all the questions in the region, with a view to securing a lasting peace. Paragraph 14 of United Nations resolution 687, from 1991, refers to

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