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Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, it will not surprise noble Lords if I fail where my noble friend Lord Williamson of Horton claims to have succeeded, in becoming typecast by choosing again today to talk about Israel and Palestine, particularly since it threatens to become a forgotten issue in the welter of press coverage on Iraq, central Asia, the tsunami and Africa. Not long before he died, my former boss, Lord Callaghan, sent me a message warning me not to become a one-issue man. But I have chosen again to talk about this issue today because the future of Palestine has serious implications, not only for the peace, security and prosperity of Palestinians and Israelis, but also for our political and economic interests throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world. I therefore welcome the assurance in the gracious Speech that peace in the Middle East will remain one of the Government's highest priorities.
An article in the Times last week claimed that Israelis and Palestinians are now enjoying the lowest level of violence since the second intifada began in September 2000. Israeli helicopter gunships have suspended their targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants, some checkpoints have been removed and Hamas has begun participating in the democratic process in the West Bank and in the Gaza elections.
But the underlying tensions still persist. As the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, said with masterly understatement, the situation remains fragile. Many Israelis continue to live in fear of a resurgence of suicide bombings, and the Palestinians, many of whom are deeply resentful of the deprivation in which they live, are still waiting to see the benefits of the road map, in which Ministers in the previous Parliament placed so much hope and apparent optimism.So what is the
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real situation on the ground, and to what extent has it improved the life and respected the human rights of ordinary Palestinians? Prime Minister Sharon's decision to remove some 7,500 settlers from Gaza was an act of extraordinary political courage and I hope that the Government are right to see it as an opportunity. But it will have raised expectations, not only among the Palestinians, that he is ready for the much more difficult decisions that will have to be taken over the 425,000 or so remaining Israeli settlers on the West Bank
I can understand why there should be a consensus, perhaps even including some Palestinians, that withdrawal from Gaza must be tackled first. But it is vital, if there is to be any real progress towards the two-state solution which all of us believe to be in the long-term interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike, that Gaza first does not mean Gaza last. Still less should it become a source of increased settlement in the West Bank. Even the very limited agreement to freeze settlement activity and to dismantle the illegal outposts created since March 2001 has not been implemented. On the contrary, Israel has substantially expanded her West Bank settlements since that time. The organisation Peace Now has reported that between March and June of last year, settlement expansion was under way in 73 locations in the West Bank. Israel's own Central Bureau of Statistics accepts that there was a 33 per cent increase in the sale of new units in West Bank settlements during the first half of last year. And an Israeli official has admitted that construction plans, turned down for the past two years, have now been approved by the Israeli Defence Minister.
Questions are sometimes raised about HMG's repeated statements, which I hope the Minister will confirm when he winds up this debate, that all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and east Jerusalem are a breach of international law under the terms of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. But an Israeli Government report by former state prosecutor Talia Sassoon claims that the failure to dismantle the 105 outposts in the West Bank, ones which even the Israeli Government accept to be illegal, is a breach not so much of international law, as of Israeli law.
Not only do we see continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank, the so-called "security fence" continues its march across Palestinian land. When or if the wall is completed, it is estimated that
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approximately 91 per cent of all West Bank settlements, and 98 per cent of its settlers, will have been effectively annexed into Israel. Of course in theory the wall can be removed once there is a political solution, but even British Ministers admitted last year that the sheer cost of the wall must be a powerful disincentive to removing it, and that it will become more and more difficult to withdraw as settlements continue to grow behind the wall.
And what is the quartet doing? Here again I sense that everyone is waiting for Gaza withdrawal. But that is simply not good enough. Is it not high time that Her Majesty's Government and our European partners in the quartet tried to inject some positive momentum into the road map process? I hope that when he comes to wind up the debate, the Minister will assure us that HMG will use the British presidency of both the EU and the G8 to move the peace process forward and to urge our American allies to take practical steps to achieve a viable two-state solution which all of us agree to be in the joint interest of Israel and the Palestinians alike. The quality of life, opportunities for trade and employment, the respect of human rights on the Palestinian side of the wall and their freedom of movement become daily more restricted, while the prospect of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state becomes daily less credible. Failure to act now to correct these injustices will be a source of shame for all of us in the future, and potentially disastrous for the future security of Israel.
In conclusion, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on his appointment to what I still regard as the best department in Whitehall, and his association with a service which a former foreign Minister, with a touch of condescension, described as,
Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for the courteous, professional and helpful way in which she dealt with some very difficult issues in foreign affairs during her time on the Front Bench.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, these are the first-ever words I have uttered in public on the subject of the war in Iraq. In truth, I have also said rather few words in private, if only to preserve domestic peace and the amity of my closest friends. Those have required me to remain silent for a lot of the time. I want to come back to the subject today not to rake over the coals or to replay history, but because I think that some lessons have yet to be learnt from what we have been through over Iraq. They are lessons more about the style in which we conduct the kind of debate that occurred nationally over Iraq than about the content.
My reluctance to speak will, I am sure, be understandable to everyone who knows the depth of experience and knowledge of foreign affairs in this
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House and the depth of my ignorance. I owe the little I know to a brief year as political adviser to Tony Crosland in the Foreign Office where I had the good fortune to be taught by, among others, the noble Lords, Lord Wright and Lord Williamson, and others whom I see in the Chamber today. I felt that ignorance probably counselled silence.
Perhaps more relevant to what I want to pursue this afternoon is the fact that I found it amazingly difficult to make up my mind on what I thought about the war. The arguments on all sides were extremely compelling, but the shortage of information on which to base the view one took was severe, and I found it jolly difficult. I can remember what my position was on the day that the decision was taken. It was 51:49 as follows: I thought that the Americans were making a mistake by going in without a second UN resolution, but on the whole I was inclined to think that it would be best for us to go with them in the hope of exercising some limited moderating influence. That was my position, although I could have taken any number of others. But there was great doubt in my mind.
Like all Members of the House, I try to follow public affairs, but the "Not Very Sure, Don't Know" party went totally unrepresented in the debate we held as a country. I blame that on our polarised national politics, where people take partisan positions and are reluctant to diverge from them. I also blame it on developments in my own profession; namely, the media. Someone cannot take part in a phone-in programme and say, "I am not sure what to think about Iraq" or "There is something to be said for the Prime Minister's position and something to be said for the other side". One has to go in with an absolutely hard attitude, however little it may be based in research and fact.
Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, in his place has reminded me of a remark made by another distinguished editor of the Times. When approached in the newsroom by a junior reporter who wished to explain what would be the correct line for the paper to take on one of the great issues of the day, the editor drew himself up to his not very full height and said, "Listen, laddie, when I want yer opinion I'll give it to ye". To some extent, we have found it hard as a society to accept a position where we take the lead from those who have greater knowledge and somehow the worship of demosin particular by the mediahas gone too far. That concludes the first point I want to make.
My second point is that there were two bases for the warweapons of mass destruction and getting rid of Saddam. As regards the first of those, the fact that a decision turns out to be wrong does not make it a wrong decision. Decisions have to be made without the benefit of hindsight and on the facts as they are known at the time.
As I came to the position that I took, it seemed to me that Saddam almost certainly had weapons of mass destruction. That was not because I had seen the intelligenceit would not much have affected me if I had because my one year in the Foreign Office taught me to apply due scepticism to intelligencebut because I
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thought that, if he did not have weapons of mass destruction, why was he pursuing a course that looked certain to lead to the destruction of his regime? And that is what happened. He ended up being dragged out of a hole in the ground to face probable execution. I obviously had an insufficient understanding of the mind of dictatorsSaddam was prepared to continue on his course of action despite thatbut it did not seem a bad shout at the time to think that he would not do that unless he had some weapons of mass destruction. That also applied to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who had to make the judgment. It seemed a strong reason for supposing that the intelligence was not faulty.
My next point is perhaps more controversial, but I shall make it nevertheless. As I say, these are difficult matters and difficult judgments, and it is very distressingI felt this strongly over the past few weeks of the election campaignwhen the debate gets dragged down in language to the point where one side is casting doubt, not on the correctness of the judgment made by the other side but on its bona fides in making it. I was deeply sorry, therefore, that the Leader of the Opposition chose to apply to the Prime Minister during the debate the word "liar". I was glad that the Liberal Democrat leader avoided that trap.
I am prepared to believe that the Prime Minister made all kinds of mistakes, including gilding the lily on various aspects of the case for war. I am not prepared to believethere are very few people of whom I would believe itthat he would send the country to war deliberately on the basis of an untruth on a false prospectus dreamt up in his own mind.
Very occasionally in foreign affairs lying is necessaryfor instance, you lie about your intentions if you are about to go to war, otherwise you would endanger your troops. Even in this country, very occasionally lies have been told in foreign affairsI think of the Suez case, which has left its image on us. But it would be sad if that term, which, rightly, in another place, is an unparliamentary term, becomes part of the abuse of democratic politics. We need to show continence.
I do not believe that it did the Conservative Party any good. Such evidence as I have seen has suggested that it put people off voting Conservative rather than helping. But more, it did no good to politics in this country because it dragged it down to the level of dialogue below that to which it should aspire.
So there were no weapons of mass destruction, but can you do what the Prime Minister sometimes does without quite doing it and say, "Well, it is all right because we have got rid of Saddam. That was enough of a reason to go to war"? People who say, "It was all right to go to war to get rid of Saddam; the trouble was that we did not have a plan" are going down a false route. I am not sure that that is factually correct. I have
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heard of 15 volumes of American plans for a post-war, post-Saddam Iraq, but I do not know what has happened to them.
But none of us believes now that even such a simple thing as an economy can be planned centrally or that you can know all the facts you need to know to plan an economy centrally. That is why we have moved to a market economy. If you are talking about highly complex societies of which, because they are dictatorships, our knowledge is of necessity insufficient and about which our emotional intelligence may be inadequate, the idea that we can plan a future for such countries and have a blueprint that will take wings when we get in there and deal with the succession problems is nonsense. Such operations are by their nature uncertain and hazardous.
I draw a final conclusion from that in regard to intervening for reasons of regime change in general. There may be in the futureI hope notsuch a case in respect of Iran. Clearly, you should never say that you will never intervene militarily against a regime that is behaving unbearably. You should not do so because, in a very limited number of cases, it would be right to intervene, particularly when that regime is extremely weak in its own country and you can be fairly sure, even without having a detailed plan, that you can put things right. You should not do so because, once you take away the threat of military intervention, you reduce the chance of better behaviour by whoever it is you want to change. You should not ever rule it outbut, by God, you should be incredibly careful before going in. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Garden, is nodding; I find that military people are most aware of the case against intervention. Before you intervene, you must think about it. If you think the answer is "Yes", you must think about it some more. If you still think the answer is "Yes", half the time you had still better not do it.
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