The people of Gaza are, in effect, faced with collective punishment, which in turn produces bitterness and resentment and pushes them further into the arms of
Hamas, thereby frustrating the efforts of the more moderate voices that I mentioned. Allowing Hamas to control supplies of many of the goods that are smuggled illegally has strengthened its hand, not weakened it. The basic human rights of the people of Gaza have been denied for too long. The economy of Gaza is in ruins, with an unemployment rate of nearly 40%. Any hope of sustaining economic growth through exports is strangled at birth by the blockade. Not being able to export from Gaza has given more power and control to Hamas.
The restrictions and the poverty that they engender leave the people of Gaza without hope and drive them into the waiting arms of Hamas, whose only counsel is a path of confrontation and an endless cycle of violence and revenge. I welcome the work that the middle east envoy, Tony Blair, is doing to ensure that supplies will, we hope, go into Gaza, that the security concerns of the Israelis are respected and that weapons are not allowed into Gaza.
The proactive stance of the Obama Administration and their insistence that the Israeli Government should halt settlement construction is welcome. For too long the Bush Administration inflamed rather than helped the situation. Israel needs critical, not uncritical, friends. I urge the Government to do everything they can to strengthen the voices of moderation on both sides of this tragic conflict. Despite all that has happened, there are such voices, and our Government should put pressure on the Israeli Government, through the Quartet or bilaterally, to extend the freeze on settlement building beyond September.
The talks going on are, unfortunately, indirect talks. If the confidence-building measures of which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South spoke are adopted, I hope they will lead to direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Does the hon. Lady recognise that equally the Government should apply pressure to Hamas to ensure that the force that it uses is not successful, that the repressive approach that it takes is counter-productive, and that the authoritative way in which it goes forward is self-defeating?
Emma Reynolds: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I regret the fact that there have not been elections in Gaza, as there should have been, last year. They were also put off this year. The lack of democracy in Gaza reinforces the position of Hamas. We in the international community should do all we can to fight against the increase of its power.
Only if the indirect talks become direct talks will there be a chance of a lasting and viable two-state solution in the middle east. I look forward to all that the Government can do. We on the Opposition Benches will help them, where we agree with them, to bring that about.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his post, which I know he will undertake as well as he has undertaken every other post in which I have worked with him in the past. I congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), on his excellent maiden speech. The whole House knows that the finest things come in small packages.
In this first debate of the new Parliament on the middle east, and the first debate in which I have had a chance to take part, I did not want to get lost in the thicket of the detail of the current negotiation and the rights and wrongs of every issue. I wanted to take a little time to step back and tell the House why, ultimately, I count myself a friend of Israel, first and foremost, in the middle east. That is because I think of some fundamental truths.
In my maiden speech last week, I talked of the achievements of the Labour Government in establishing full equality for all people in the United Kingdom. Let us look at the middle east and ask ourselves, where in the middle east is it best to be a woman, or where in the middle east is it best to be gay? In Egypt, personal status laws discriminate harshly against women on marriage, custody of children and inheritance. In Jordan, a country which I consider to be a positive force and one where the current ruler is trying to take it forward, more than 20 women per annum, according to Amnesty International, are killed for breaking social taboos. Israel had a female Prime Minister before any party in Britain had even thought of it, and it nearly had another one last year-I rather wish it had-in Tzipi Livni.
Think about a gay person in the middle east. In Syria, it is not so bad-three years in prison. In Iran, a gay person would get the death penalty. In Israel, a gay person can rise to be a general in the armed forces, and just last Friday 100,000 people marched in Tel Aviv to celebrate the equality of gay people in Israel.
So then I ask myself, where in the middle east is it best to criticise the Government in public? In Syria, it is simply not possible, because the state controls every single aspect of the media. Reporters Without Borders calls Iran,
"the Middle East's biggest prison for journalists",
Finally, I ask myself, where is it best in the middle east to belong to a religious or ethnic minority? In Syria, Kurds and Jews are not allowed to take any part at all in political life. In Iran, one cannot even go to university without passing an exam on Islamic ideology, and one cannot get a senior post in any organisation unless one belongs to the majority Shi'a group. In Israel, Israeli Arabs have always had all rights-the same as Israeli Jews-except for one: they do not have to serve in the armed forces, because the state of Israel recognises that it would be unfair to set them against their Arab brothers. However, they can vote and be elected, and many have been. There is even an Arab-Israeli serving on the supreme court in Israel.
So let us be clear: for all its errors and excesses, which I and the whole House see, Israel is an oasis in a desert-an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights in the middle east. We therefore have to ask
ourselves, why does Israel do those things that shock, pain and worry us all? Why does it feel driven to inflict on the people of Gaza what we all recognise, whether in law or not, as seemingly like collective punishment? The answer is very simple: it is not just faced but encircled by an enemy that wishes to destroy it.
So before the House pulls on its breeches and starts saddling up the high horse, let us remind ourselves of how we-this place, this ancient democracy, this ancient birthplace of freedom-reacted when we faced an existential threat. We interned or deported long-time residents of German and Italian origin and refugees from Nazi Germany-to our everlasting shame. However, we did it, and with the approval of this House. The Americans did the same with Japanese Americans and German Americans, so we should be very careful before we start lecturing a nation that was built by the survivors of a genocide, which took less than five years to kill more than the current population of Jews in Israel.
Rather than lecturing and sitting on that high horse, we should ask ourselves, what practical things can we do instead of the huffing, the puffing and the futile outrage? I, too, welcome the role of Tony Blair in the middle east and in Palestine at the moment, so, first, we should do everything that we can to support the Palestinian Authority in the west bank and, in particular, Prime Minister Fayyad, so that Palestinian people can see an alternative to Hamas which delivers security, jobs and a normal life. That is all that they want. Secondly, we must do everything we can to encourage Turkey to remain aligned with Europe and the west, and not to feel that we do not want it in the European Union or as part of the western alliance. Turkey is key to us and to Israel, and we must ensure that Turkey knows it.
Finally, we must confront Iran. I am very glad that the Government played such a pivotal role in achieving the sanctions that the UN agreed last week. The middle east is a terrible area of the world, with so many problems, but in ending I share the optimism that some Members have expressed. Yes, the situation seems full of despair, but let us look at the progress that has been made. There is a peace treaty with Egypt, and I should point out that Israel has never attacked a nation with which it has a full peace treaty. There is a peace treaty also with Jordan, and across the Israeli political system it is commonly accepted that a two-state solution with an independent state for Palestinians is the right solution. I feel that progress is being made, and further progress can be made if we quit the lectures and just get down to supporting our friends and helping them to come to an agreement.
Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab):
I was going to say something very different when I started listening to the debate, but after hearing the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) talk about different countries' rules, regulations and societies, I must say that that is no basis for invading, for killing or for destroying other people. One cannot say, "I'm a friend of Israel because it is a democracy." We can be friends with Israel; I have no problem with the state of Israel. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) said about the way to deal with the situation in the middle east. He said that the Palestinian people should receive land in proportion to their population.
There should be an end to illegal settlements, and we should end the war, which has created so much misery for the Palestinian people.
We have to go back in history. In the 19th century, only 5% of the population in Palestine were Jewish; 95% were Muslims and Christians. In 1931, 18% of the people in Palestine were Jewish, resulting from the persecution of the Jewish people in Europe. Between 1947 and 1948, 78% of Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, and now Jewish people hold 75% of the land, whereas the Palestinians, who are larger in number, have only 25%. That is the dispute under discussion; that is the issue that the House must not forget. People have been expelled from their homes and blockaded, but some Members say, "We can't see why people are being critical of the Israelis and why people feel that they should fight for the rights of the Palestinians." I agree that there should be two states, but they should be created on the basis of equality-on the basis that 20% of the population own 75% of the land. When does that become fair? When is that right? Until we put those wrongs right, we will never have peace in Palestine.
I am surprised that people seem to have forgotten the history. Jewish people were massacred and genocide was committed against them, but it was carried out by western democratic countries-Germany, Austria and Poland; nobody in the middle east carried out genocide against the Jewish people. If the Palestinians are given their proper rights, I do not think that the state of Israel will have any problem with any of its neighbours. It would certainly finish Hamas, because Hamas exists only because such inequities exist. If we gave the Palestinian people their rightful homeland, if we gave them a proper share of the land and if we gave them security, Hamas would disappear just like that.
Alistair Burt: It is a pleasure to welcome you to your seat, Madam Deputy Speaker, on this, my first opportunity to do so. I thank all Members for participating in the debate. Time necessitates that I cannot deal with each submission. Suffice it to say that tomorrow in Westminster Hall there is a debate on Gaza, which will provide me with a longer opportunity to put forward the Government's position and to respond to a few other issues.
Before I make some general remarks, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for his contribution, which we all much enjoyed. He takes on a seat that Douglas Hogg held with that combination of mischief and brilliance of which he was such a unique exponent. Douglas will be sadly missed, but the gap is clearly going to be very ably filled, indeed. My hon. Friend spoke about a difficult subject with a lightness and self-deprecation that clearly masks a keen intellect. We sensed that when he touched on the seriousness of the issue. I am sure that we all enjoyed his contribution. We will certainly hear from him again, and we will welcome that.
On the debate itself, the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) began with some thoughtful and reflective comments that illustrate why as a Minister he was so well regarded in both the House and his private office, which I have been fortunate enough to inherit. Freedom has allowed an even richer seam of belief and rhetoric to emerge. His sensitivity, through his faith, to those on
all sides of the conflict caught up in incidents of death and misery, reflected the concerns of so many of us who agonise over the steps needed to achieve the realisation of a peace the architecture of which is seemingly so well known to so many people and has been for so long.
The later contributions of many colleagues on both sides of the House illustrated the complexities of the politics of the region and how easily the confidence-building measures of one run the risk of being a threat to another. It was inevitable that the House would concentrate on Gaza. With due deference to balance in many contributions, a number of colleagues examined the events of the other week from a deeply held conviction on one or other side of the divide.
I shall deal with some of the issues in more detail tomorrow, but I welcome the contributions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), my hon. Friends the Members for Sleaford and North Hykeham, for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and the hon. Members for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman).
The remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) were more about Iran than anything else, but in general the debate concentrated on Gaza. Hon. Members anxious about Gaza and angry at the activities and actions of Israel demonstrate why the Government urge a credible inquiry and change in Gaza to relieve the humanitarian situation while recognising Israel's need for security. We need to create the environment so necessary for a viable, non-dependent economy and a people with reason to hope.
Friends of Israel, in the House and beyond, will no doubt reflect on the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), a long-standing friend and colleague. As much from experience and deep conviction as from his unquestioned support for the state of Israel, he posed a series of questions that will make uncomfortable but necessary reading in Israel.
At the beginning of the debate, I said that the middle east was a realm of culture, diverse history, faith and heritage. Despite that, we concentrated on places and circumstances that illustrate the other side of the middle east and show that history can be a burden as well as a blessing. If I have anything to offer in this context, it will be my determination to work with the House and the expertise of so many Members who care about this issue, to reflect the House's passions and above all to champion its eternal determination to bring hope into the most difficult of situations.
The hon. Member for Bury South was not wrong to list the series of events that he and I have experienced and witnessed throughout our time in this House, a number of which have been personally shared by colleagues here. They range from standing amid the tear gas in apartheid South Africa in the ruins of Crossroads to opening ballot boxes in a free East Germany and cheering home President Obama-not so much for his party, but for what he represented in respect of change for the world and his country. How the House longs to add the middle east to that list.
The way will be long, tough, tortuous and unromantic. The House can and will play its part in offering balance and sharp inquiry-and, I hope, encouragement-to the many partners who will be playing key roles in securing the peace and stability that we long for in the middle east. We will return to these issues many times. I trust that in darker times to come, the light of hope, which the best of history can provide, will remain unextinguished by events, no matter how frail that flame may be from time to time.
That this House has considered the matter of UK policy on the middle east.
That this House has considered the matter of emerging economies.
I am delighted to have this first opportunity to speak from the Government Benches, and even more delighted to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I trust that the high-preference vote that I gave you in the ballot will mean that you will look favourably on me if I go astray.
I welcome this opportunity to debate the new Government's policy on the emerging economies. Strengthening the UK's relations with the fastest-growing areas of the world economy is one of the key foreign policy objectives of the coalition programme for the next five years. That was explicitly stated by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he opened the foreign affairs debate on the Queen's Speech and observed that