immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire
leading to full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. It also denounces all acts of terrorism. It summarises well the British Governments agenda of action in the search for a ceasefire and sets out authoritatively what the international community expects to be implemented. The Prime Minister and I have been working on that over the weekend and will continue to focus on it this week.
First, relief is needed for the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza. Emergency aid is essential, and Britain has added $10 million to its aid contribution since the conflict began. We will continue to support the United Nations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent and other international agencies, which have the infrastructure and expertise to lead the humanitarian response in Gaza. But international aid agencies need the wholehearted support of the Israeli Government, and I urge the Israeli Government to provide it. However, in truth only a ceasefire and opening the crossings on the basis of the 2005 Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement can deliver sustained progress.
Secondly, there need to be security improvementsabove all a curb on the trafficking of illegal arms into Gaza. Those armaments are the source of fear for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, some of whom I talked to in Sderot in November. They are also a threat to any prospect of Palestinian reconciliation, designed as they are to entrench the power of Hamas in Gaza in defiance of President Abbass call for
One Authority, one source of security.
I spoke twice yesterday to Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit on the issue, and commend Egyptian efforts to develop further action on that front, and urge that the direct talks between Egypt and Israel are brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.
Finally, there is a political imperative to re-establish the unity of the Palestinian people under the leadership of the PA. I continue to be convinced that the division of Palestinian political authority needs to be addressed. Egypt and the Arab League continue to mediate between Fatah, Hamas, and the other Palestinian factions. The aim must be a strong Palestinian Authority, speaking for all Palestinians, committed to the two-state end and peaceful means upheld by the vast majority of Palestinians.
The United Nations resolution is clear, but so was the response. The passage of the resolution on Thursday night, New York time, was followed within hours by its rejection by both sides to the conflict. The resolution calls on all states in the region to support peace efforts. The Prime Minister and I have been in close touch with the Israeli Government since the onset of the crisis. The Israeli Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister argued strongly against any UN resolution. Their argument is that there can be no equivalence between a democratic state and a terrorist organisation.
There is and can be no equivalence. Hamas has shown itself over a number of years ready to be murderous in word and deed. Its motif is resistance and its method includes terrorism. Israel is, meanwhile, a thriving, democratic state with an independent judiciary. However, one consequence of the distinction between a democratic Government and a terrorist organisation is that democratic Governments are held to significantly higher standards, notably by their own people. That is one reason why we supported resolution 1860to uphold the standards on which Israel and the rest of us depend. As a beacon of democracy in the middle east, Israels best defence is to show leadership in finding a political solution to the crisis and comply with the standards of international humanitarian law.
A week before the onset of a new American presidency, immediate issues of life and death need to be addressed. We are working with Egypt, the US, European partners, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, all of which are playing a role in talking to various of the parties. The UN Secretary-General is in the region today. The focus of all our efforts is to implement the resolution.
Over the past 40 years in the middle east, the immediate has become the long term. Short-term conflict has become long-term division. So while the current hostilities require urgent attention and action, so too do the medium and long term, and war cannot address that. The Government stand four-square behind UN Security Council resolutions 1850 and 1860, which call for renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace.
Security and justice for a Palestinian state depend on a political settlement that defends its existence and cherishes its rights. Security and justice for Israel depend on the same political settlement that cherishes its existence and defends its rights. Our vision must be of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, with secure and recognised borders. As that vision comes under threat, it bears repeating.
The Arab peace initiative, which offers Israel recognition by, and normalisation of relations with, the 22 Arab League states, and to which Israels leaders had started at the end of last year to respond favourably, provides the right regional comprehensive vision for progress.
However, at a time of war on the current scale, those words can seem worthless. It is the war that pushes them out of reach; and that is one further reason why the current war needs to be brought to an end, before further loss of life renders the vision unattainable, as those committed to necessary compromise are marginalised.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will let me conclude on the following point. Peace benefits Israelis and Palestinians; war kills both. They are destined to live next door to each other. They can do so either as combatants or as neighbours. We are committed to help them do the latter. That is what Israelis need and what Palestinians need; it is also what we need, before it is too late.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): May I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement? In common with him, we on the Conservative Benches deeply regret the loss of life on both sides in Gaza, in particular among civilian populations. The situation for Gazas civilians is clearly desperate, particularly for the 3,000 injured, for the families of the 257 children who have lost their lives, to whom the Foreign Secretary referred, and for the many people in Gaza who may not even support Hamas and who simply want to live in peace, but who find that rockets are being launched from inside their neighbourhoods, which are then targeted by Israeli military operations. We therefore concur with the Foreign Secretarys description of the situation for them and with his calls for action.
It is also a fearful time, we must not forget, for many Israeli civilians, who live under the threat of ever-longer-range rocket attacks that are expressly intended to kill them. We as the Opposition support the international communitys demands and the Governments demands for a ceasefire on both sides. We welcome the passage of UN Security Council resolution 1860, Britains sponsorship of that resolution and the $10 million in aid that Britain has promised for Gaza.
The immediate trigger for this crisis, as the Foreign Secretary has described, was the barrage of hundreds of rocket attacks against Israel on the expiry of the ceasefire or truce. Does that not underline the utter tragedy of Gaza in recent years, which has slid further into isolation and poverty, just when the first steps towards greater stability and economic activity are being witnessed on the west bank? I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree that whenever we discuss Hamas we should remind ourselves that it has made no progress towards the Quartet principles of recognising Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous peace agreements, and that it must do so before it can be accepted as a negotiating partner.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is nevertheless not in Israels interests that this conflict should continue for a long time, because it risks escalating the situation on other borders, such as that with Lebanon, because it may allow Hamas to declare victory simply by surviving the onslaught, and because it risks damaging the whole middle east peace process? Bringing the conflict to an end clearly requires a ceasefire on both sides. It is surely right that Egypt is looking in its mediation for a ceasefire that involves not only an end to military operations, but the effective prevention of arms smuggling into Gaza, in particular if the crossings are to be reopened.
Given that the Security Council resolution has failed to bring a stop to the violence, despite all the international efforts, and that the Foreign Secretary rightly urged that
talks between Egypt and Israel come to a conclusion as soon as possible, does he have any indication that that might happen in the coming hours or days? Will he say a little more about the initiatives taken by Turkey and whether he expects those to bear fruit in the coming days?
The Foreign Secretary spoke of acute shortages of medicine. Can he tell us whether any international aid is getting into Gazas hospitals at all? Can he also say what assessment has been made by the UN of the damage in Gaza and of the steps needed to restore its electricity and water supply, and supply shelter for those whose homes have been destroyed? Can he say more about the potential for a mechanism to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza? What exactly might that involve, and what role could be envisaged for Britain in that mechanism?
Does the Foreign Secretary expect any ceasefire agreement to provide for the opening of Gazas borders? This is a question not simply of aid but of trade and of the movement of people, so that the people of Gaza can hope for a better life. Can he say whether steps are being considered to resume the EUs border monitoring mission at the Rafah crossing into Gaza, and under what conditions that might happen?
The immediate priority must be to achieve a ceasefire and to address the humanitarian crisis, but we must not lose sight of the need to push the middle east peace process forward urgently when those things are in place, in order to break the vicious cycle of ceasefires and violence, and to achieve a peace settlement that will deliver a Palestinian state. We all look to a new US Administration to provide the sustained leadership and impetus needed if all sides are to make the necessary compromises, including on the part of Israel with regard to settlements on the west bank.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the long-term security of Israel will depend on its readiness to be as bold in seeking peace as it has been in using military force? We hope that the Government will take every opportunity to urge the new US Administration, supported by their allies, to place the middle east peace process among their top foreign policy priorities, so that, out of the terrible bloodshed of the past two and a half weeks, some hope for the future might at last emerge.
David Miliband: Let me address some of the right hon. Gentlemans questions. First, in respect of Hamas, it is important to recognise that talks did take place, sponsored by Egypt, on a so-called reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority, led by President Abbas, and the Hamas leadership in Gaza. Those talks were due to conclude in November at a meeting which Hamas decided not to attend or to participate in. The hopes for a so-called technocratic governmentor even a national unity governmentfor 2009 were therefore dashed. That is obviously a significant part of the split that currently exists, and does no good at all to the Palestinian cause or, I would argue, to Israels search for a proper partner to negotiate a peace process.
The right hon. Gentleman wondered whether the current conflict was in Israels interest. It is obvious from the fact that we have been calling for an immediate ceasefire, as has he, that we think that it is in Israels interest as well as in the interest of the Palestinians who are under fire that the war needs to end as soon as
possibleimmediately. I think that he asked for a prediction on whether it would end in a matter of hours or days, but I am sure that he will understand if I say that it would be foolish to make such a prediction. I can tell him, however, that the two conversations that I had yesterday with the Egyptian Foreign Minister suggested that, while there is a degree of urgencyrepresentatives of Hamas were in Egypt yesterdaythere are also fundamental issues that need to be overcome if the two sides, which are currently saying that they do not want a ceasefire, are to embrace one.
In regard to the situation on the ground in Gaza, some aid and medical equipment are getting in. In my meeting with the non-governmental organisations today, it was important to note that they are fully focused on the need to get aid in while the crisis continues as well as on planning for the post-conflict efforts. At some level, it must seem absurd to be talking about humanitarian aid in a condition of war, but of course, for some people, that can mean the difference between life and death. It is therefore important that we support it, and that is also why I believe that the Israeli Government should co-operate with the NGOs. In regard to a UN assessment, I think that we shall have to wait, in the short term, for the Secretary-Generals report after his visit this week. However, it will take longer for more people to be able to get in and make a proper assessment.
In respect of the smuggling of arms, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the estimate of the number of tunnels is now above 200. Their presence is incentivised not least by the fact that the closure of the crossings means that even non-arms trade has to go through the tunnels. That is why the issues of smuggling and of the tunnels go together. Action needs to be taken on the smuggling simultaneously with the opening of the crossings. Unless the crossings are open, we will not be able to crack down on the smuggling, which is getting flour, never mind arms, into Gaza.
There is technical support that can be offered to the Egyptian Government, however, and that is being done. Also, under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, a multinational force of observers is posted in Sinai, providing some international presence. The right hon. Gentleman will know that, as well as the issue of tunnelling from Egypt into Gaza, there is the matter of traffic through Sinai and Negev and working with the Bedouin on that.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the European presence. European observers ready to man or provide a European presence at the crossings are in the middle east now, but they have not been able to deploy because the crossings are closed. The presence is ready to deploy as soon as the crossings are open, and it is certainly our view that they should be opened as part of a ceasefire deal.
The right hon. Gentleman talked in passing about the west bank. I want to say a word about this, as many people will have been deeply concerned at the prospect of a call by Hamas for a third intifada on the west bank creating a further source and scene of carnage in the middle of this crisis. It is hugely to the credit of the Palestinian Authorityof President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad and their security forcesthat no such intifada has taken place. That is partly a product of security, but it is also a product of the economic and political leadership that has been significant over the past year.
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, right that if a final settlement is to create the viable Palestinian state that we believe is necessary not just for the Palestinians but for the security of Israel, it needs to be based on the 1967 borders.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Foreign Secretarys measured and comprehensive statement and pay tribute to the role that he and our diplomats in New York played in the adoption of Security Council resolution 1860. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that it is not just regrettable but deplorable that both Hamas and the Government of Israel summarily rejected that resolution? Is it not also deplorable that the United States Administration, having said that they supported the resolution, could not bring themselves to vote for it? Did that not send the wrong signal from the US Government to hard-line elements in the coalition in Israel, and thus produce the wrong result?
The Foreign Secretary said that the Arab League and Egypt are engaged in dialogue with Hamas. In the process of getting a conclusion to this conflict and the beginnings of the necessary settlement, is it not time that the Quartet allowed its representative, Tony Blair, and other representatives to engage directly with Hamas, too, in order to move them to the Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel and abiding by previous agreements?
David Miliband: In respect of the US abstention, we would of course have much preferred to see US support for the resolution, as the middle east depends on strong United States engagement and leadership. However, the fact that Condoleezza Rice should say in the explanation of vote that she supported the objectives and contents of the resolution is significant. My hon. Friend is none the less right that the middle east needs strong American leadership if progress is to be made.
It is important to say that a lot of people are talking to Hamas. Egypt is talking to Hamasmandated by the Arab League to speak on its behalf. Turkey, Syria and Qatar are speaking to Hamas, and Norway has made it clear that it speaks to Hamas as well. So there is no shortage of people speaking to Hamas. In respect of the ceasefire, it is vital that they do speak to Hamas. In respect of any negotiation on a Palestinian state, it is important to take our lead from the elected leader of the Palestinian people, President Abbas, who is seeking unification of the Palestinians under legitimate leadership that is committed to peaceful ends and, in negotiations on a two-state solution, to recognising the state of Israel, which seems to me to be a precondition for effective negotiations.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and welcome the fact that the UK Government have shown some leadership on this issue by drafting Security Council resolution 1860, calling for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. I welcome his criticism of the Bush Administration for their abstention. In our view, that was a diplomatic disaster.
The Foreign Secretary must be aware that many in this House and across Britain believe that the UK and the international community have failed the people of
Gaza over the past two weeks. In trying to be balanced and rightly condemning Hamas for the rocket attacks, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have at times seemed unbalanced in the face of a truly unacceptable level of Israeli military might. Indeed, in trying to be balanced the British Government have at times fallen off the tightrope of truthwhen the Foreign Secretary initially refused, unlike the French President, to call this Israeli action disproportionate.
I welcome the Foreign Secretarys statement that serious allegations about the conduct of both sides should be investigated. Will he press at the UN Security Council for an independent fact-finding mission to lead that investigation into all allegations of breaches of international law by all sides? He is aware of the danger of the Gazan conflicts creating tensions between communities here in the UK. Surely a call for such an investigation would help to calm that situation.
As for actions to persuade the Israelis and Hamas to desist the fighting and rocket attacks, why have neither the UK nor the EU implemented an arms embargo against Israel, just as the Conservative Government did in 1982 in response to Lebanon? No one in 1982 expected an arms embargo to stop the Israeli tanks in their tracks, but it was a powerful international symbol and we need that now. The Foreign Secretarys predecessor, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), assured this House that the Government would keep a close eye on the use of British arms by Israel. Government policy is that
no weapons, equipment or components which could be deployed aggressively in the Occupied Territories would be licensed
for export. Can he assure the House that none of the weapons or weapons components used by the Israel defence forces in Gaza came from Britain, and if he cannot, have the Government changed their policy on arms to Israel?
As for Hamas, has the Foreign Secretary used his newly improved relations with Damascus to get Syria to urge Hamas to end their rocket attacks? What help has been offered to the Egyptians to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza?
One of the many tragedies is that the Israeli attack was never and is never going to bring the peace and security that Israel rightly should have. The truth is that this Israeli action may hurt Hamas militarily, but it will strengthen them politically. I fear that Israel is driving moderate Palestinians into the arms of the extremists, and that will be a disastrous strategic defeat for Israel, whatever the ceasefire terms eventually agreed.
David Miliband: I am sorry about some of the things that the hon. Gentleman said, given that we actually agree that the only way for Israel to guarantee its security and to provide justice for its own peoplenever mind for the Palestinians to provide security and justice for themselvesis to negotiate a political solution and to empower precisely the moderate forces in Palestine that are so important. I am sorry, for example, that he insists on saying that we did not support the European Union statement that the Israeli action was disproportionate. We did, when it was proposed, and out it has come and I have repeated that today. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry; the hon. Gentleman says not initially, and that is not true. If we had not supported it, it would not have gone out, because it requires the support of all sides.