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Lord Biffen: My Lords, if we had injury time to be used in these time-limited debates, I would use it several times over to express my appreciation for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, to wish him a happy time in the Chamber and to tell him that I remember with great affection with what tenacity he opposed the Single European Act in his days in the House of Commons.
If I were in the House of Commons today, I would have voted against the invasion of Iraq. I say that so that the House may know from where I come. I would have done so primarily because I believed that, having invaded Iraq, we would find it immensely difficult, if not intractable, to extricate ourselves at some convenient and propitious moment. Well, I would be happy for the vanity of that judgment to be pricked. If the draft
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Security Council resolution is intended to start a process that will establish an effective Iraqi authority that will gainsay my fears, I will be only too happy. But at present, I travel with a great deal of anxiety.
I take at once the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, that we must understand that the United States' whole psyche was shattered by the Twin Towers episode. It destroyed a sense of security and confidence that it has not yet repossessed and has led to some quite extraordinary behaviour on the part of the American Government which will prove damaging for the West and the Alliance.
I shall make only three points. The first concerns the conduct of war. The great emphasis on technology, on aerial bombardment, added to the behaviour of the American infantry on the ground, is the conduct of war in such a fashion as to exclude totally the idea of winning hearts and minds.
Secondly, there is the desire to build a society and constitution based on substantially Western concepts of human rights, law-making, law enforcement and legislaturethe whole gamutwhich are difficult enough for Western societies, let alone to be imposed on countries that have little in their traditions that pay regard to the origins that we have. I say that in no sense as making a value judgment; it is just a practical judgment. At times, President Bush sounds as though he is a born again Woodrow Wilson. That is one more difficulty to add to the plenty that we already have.
My third point, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, to whom we are indebted for this debate, concerns the conduct of American policy on the Palestinian and Israeli dispute. The television screens, week in and week out, bring home to us the violence and near hopelessness of that dispute. I shall not here try to adjudicate blame, which would be a most fruitless task to entertain. But there is no doubt that what has happened across the Middle East, especially in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, is poisoning relations with the wider Arab world. We will not defeat Al'Qaeda by Western techniques, attitudes and weaponry. There is more to it than that. There is a battle for ideas in which, to take the point made by the right reverend Prelate, there is also an engagement of spiritual issues.
When we consider that, it is a long haul. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, reminded us that, so often, the great issues in public policy are for the long haul. When I think of the recent few months, I think of Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Rafah and Guantanamo. They are all without doubt dragon's teeth that are being sown that will have a rich harvest of well armed hoplites, making the future infinitely more difficult than would have been the case if we had constructed the response to Al'Qaeda rather differently than has been determined by the Americans.
I have no desire to enter into partisan political judgments on the matter but I will say this: I can feel friendlier towards old Labour than to the current Administration. Given how Harold Wilson dealt with Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnamese dispute, it seems that you could be good friends with America and still be a realist.
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Lord Weidenfeld: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, on his maiden speech. I have known and admired the noble Lord for many years for his contribution to national politics and the arts, and to inter-allied bridge-building and international co-operation, while displaying the self-ironising yet authoritative manner that he showed today.
We are all agreed that the resumption of negotiations in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is very urgent; that a two-stage solution is inescapable; and that the bloodshed must stop. But I submit that it is an illusion to think that this conflict is the cornerstone of the battle against extremism and terror. It must be tackled pari passu with serious efforts to bring about reform and a radically changed mindset on both sides.
On the Arab side, polemics about the Israel-Palestinian feud have served for far too long as an alibi for masterly inactivity in the domains of social, economic and political reform. The recent Arab League meeting in Tunis came up with no constructive solution. There is talk again of a renewed Saudi initiative. But how can we take that seriously, when Crown Prince Abdullah ascribed responsibility for the recent devastating terror acts in his kingdom to Zionist culprits? How seriously can we take Chairman Arafat's willingness to resume talks, when on 15 May he cursed the existence of the state of Israel and praised the martyrs of the intifada without condemning the terrorists? Were those just rhetorical flourishes destined for home consumption? In the glasshouse world of instant global communication there is no difference between internal and external pronouncements.
It has been often suggested, perhaps with a side-glance at our own experiences in Northern Ireland, that talks can go on amid waves of terror, and that there must be no, or only minimal, retaliation. But the comparison is not valid. Not even the most ferocious member of the IRA would aspire to a solution beyond a united Catholic Ireland. Hamas and Hezbollah go for the jugular: the total extinction of the Jewish state and massacres throughout the Jewish world community. You cannot tell the mother who has lost four children through a suicide operation or young clerics who are assembling the limbs and innards of people murdered deliberately and purposefullyand not collaterallythat talks must go on regardless of continual attacks.
On at least two occasions recently, I spent an evening with Israeli leaders, once with Premier Sharon and once with a prominent member of the left-wing Peace Now movement. Both meetings took place on the eve of a planned encounter with the Palestinian sides with the purpose of arranging an armistice. Yet on both occasions an aide rushed in during the meal and reported a major suicide attack. The intended meetings with the Palestinians were cancelled, and the public was crying out for strong action.
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I sincerely hope that Prime Minister Sharon will carry his cabinet next Sunday and succeed in pursuing his plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. I hope that he will do that without meaningful changes. I hope that he will also overcome resistance in his own party, and that petty party politics and career ambitions will not stand in the way. This plan deserves our support. The American President endorses it. Europeans and indeed some weighty Arab voices accept it, albeit with certain reservations. But it is a definite way of hoisting the road map from stony ground on to the conference table. Anyone who reads the Bush/Sharon correspondence very carefully and without bias will see that there is great scope for flexibility. Yes, it has a touch of the constructive ambiguity that so often in the history of diplomacy has allowed agreement to be reached with sacrifices on both sides.
Do not misread or underrate Sharon's wish for renewed negotiations and willingness for major concessions. When General de Gaulle, on his return to power, first visited Algeria, he cheered the supporters of l'Algérie franc"aise. But the same de Gaulle chided them a few years later for still clinging to "l'Algérie du papa". General Sharon believed at one time in Greater Israel and masterminded the building of many settlements on the West Bank. But I am convinced that today what might have been desirable to him is no longer possible, and that this determined and stubborn warrior could well be the main agent of change in a direction that would ultimately lead to peace. Even if it were not given to him by fate to reach the last stretch of the road, he wants to tread it. I submit that we should give him the benefit of the doubt.
In the remaining half minute, I wish to talk about a land where I have just been: the Ukraine. I remind noble Lords that that country will have vital elections on 31 October and an opportunity of electing a more democratic, decent and humane government. We should not, over our concern with the admission of Turkey to the European Unionwhich I consider to be vital in a geopolitical long-range contextforget the fate of a people of 50 million, drenched in European history and longing to be part of the European family of nations. If we could succeed in deepening our relations with Russia economically, culturally and through a military partnership with NATO, it should not be unrealistic to speak up for, and ultimately to achieve, the adhesion of a much tried and severely tested people.
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