Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Steinberg: My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, on his opening remarks, which covered a wide range of matters, including the resolution of the problem between Israel and the Palestinians. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is a matter of vital importance in the life of this Parliament.

At the recent London conference to help the Palestinians prepare for statehood and stability in the region, the Government highlighted the need for reform of the Palestinian Authority and the necessity to rebuild the PA as an effective governing body. The Government must now insist that the Palestinians fulfil promises on reform. To move forward, the Palestinian leadership must fulfil its primary road map obligation to dismantle the Palestinian terrorist network and end the endorsement of incitement against Jews and Israel. Only
 
19 May 2005 : Column 179
 
last Friday in a sermon broadcast by Palestinian Authority TV, the preacher, a paid employee of the PA, said:

Through the disengagement plan, Israel is preparing to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and from 300 square miles of the northern West Bank. This is a personally bold and politically courageous move by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the Government must continue to support Sharon's withdrawal plan. Disengagement is an important first step on the road to renewed negotiations with the Palestinians, and it shows Israel's willingness to make painful compromises for peace. Make no mistake; the decision will cause a lot of disturbance to the people living there. Compensation will have to be paid; local areas and communities will be destroyed; and, sadly, there may be some unfortunate incidents. In the past, Israel has given up territory to Egypt and Jordan in return for peace. Israel will make further concessions when the Palestinian Authority shows real commitment to the peace process.

Let us look at some of the contentious issues. The road map to peace is mentioned continuously as the way forward. Phase one of the road map obliges the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure and arrest terrorists, yet not one terrorist has yet been detained. It worries Israel that Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has not yet seemed to have the will or the ability to imprison known terrorists and confiscate illegal weapons.

Noble Lords might think that all violence has stopped in Israel, because they do not get all the up-to-date news. We were in Israel for 10 days over Passover. Do noble Lords know how many incidents there were? Not one, not two, not 10, not 20, not even 30. In fact, there were 52 separate incidents over a 10-day period, including attempted suicide bombings, shooting incidents and knife attacks. To the credit of Israeli security services, every one was thwarted.

In similar tactics to those used by IRA terrorists, teenagers were sent to execute attacks or smuggle weapons. The IRA did exactly the same when they had teenagers throwing stones and petrol bombs, and they stayed behind them sniping with their guns. Prime Minister Sharon has stated that there must be a complete cessation of violence before political progress can be made. The fragile ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians is violated almost daily with rockets and mortars showering Israeli towns.

I will deal with the fence. Some people have called it a wall; others have called it a barrier. In truth, the fence is a temporary, highly effective, non-violent security obstacle in the path of terrorists. Israel has no desire to keep this fence in being longer than is necessary. The security fence saves lives, and terrorist incursions have fallen by a dramatic 90 per cent. One noble Lord in this House called it a rapacious barrier—it is no such thing. Death caused by terrorism is permanent; inconvenience
 
19 May 2005 : Column 180
 
caused by a fence is temporary. In testament to Israel's democracy, the Supreme Court has passed judgments altering the course of the security fence to strike a balance between Israel's security and the humanitarian needs of the affected Palestinian people.

There is a little bit of a misnomer about settlements. Israel has agreed to vacate outposts that were basically little more than caravan sites on hills in the West Bank. However, as President Bush recognised, the facts on the ground have changed over the past 40 years and what may be described as a settlement is, in fact, a town, and there are a few of those on the borders of Jerusalem. Over 80 per cent of settlers live in towns close to the Green Line. In fact, settlements are consistent with UN Resolution 242 and the Geneva Convention, and settlement growth never violated the Oslo peace agreement. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 state that Israel should have secure and defensible borders. Remember, Israel has fought half a dozen defensive wars in response to attacks by its neighbours. Under international law, the capture of land in a defensive war is a legal means to acquire territory. It would be foolish and foolhardy to vacate the defensive towns around Jerusalem.

Perhaps the most emotive issue is Jerusalem, which is mentioned over 500 times in Jewish prayers but not mentioned once in the Koran. Israel runs it as a completely open city in which every religion can pray, and it is considered by me and by nearly every Jew as the undivided capital of Israel.

We must all bear in mind that two terrorist organisations, namely Hamas and Hezbollah, are both sworn to destroy Israel, and although Hamas has entered the Palestinian political arena and has made considerable gains, it is seen as a direct threat to the Palestinian authorities. There is a clear danger that Hamas may be recognised by Britain and the EU as a result of its electoral victories. Dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah would be destructive. In addition to the destruction of Israel, Hezbollah wants to set up an Islamic republic in Lebanon. Hezbollah is actively financing and training would-be Palestinian terrorists.

Particularly disconcerting is the British Association of University Teachers' decision to boycott the Israeli universities of Haifa and Bar-Ilan. That boycott is nothing other than a prejudiced assault on academic freedom of institutions independent of Israel's democratic government. In both universities, Jews and Arabs study together, while in Haifa there are a substantial number of Arab lecturers and students.

The boycott echoes the Nazi ban on Jewish academics and invokes the discrimination so common three generations ago. Israeli academics have been singled out for being Israeli. The Government need to clarify that only negotiations between Israel and a democratically elected Palestinian leadership, not token boycotts or sanctions against Israel, will result in a durable peace settlement.

I hope that some of this information enables noble Lords to understand the position better. All that Israel wants is to live in peace with its neighbours. It does not want confrontations, bombs or suicide bombers—all
 
19 May 2005 : Column 181
 
that it genuinely wants to do is to live in peace and security with its neighbours. In setting out these comments, I would trust that noble Lords will have a better understanding of where Israel stands and of how it approaches the problems faced. I thank your Lordships for your attention and hope that I have been fair in my comments, but I am certain that I have been realistic in setting out the position as it is on the ground.

3.31 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, last Sunday was Whitsun or Pentecost, an occasion for all Christians to look outwards and live the Gospel through tongues of fire and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, I accept the evangelical tradition by which human beings of all religions—not only Christians—seek to influence one another, and up to a point I support our Government's use of that tradition to propagate best practice in good governance throughout the world.

I welcome the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Drayson, as the new Front-Bench spokesmen. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, with particular enthusiasm as I found the organisation One World Action on top of the list of his favourite charities. Its website says that it is different because it,

I support that, being a Cambridge man of the same generation and coming from a similar tradition, so I much look forward to the words of our One World Action man.

But what I cannot accept is political evangelism—the new tendency of our evangelical political leaders to push democracy down the throat of sovereign governments who have centuries of other traditions and systems behind them. Ever since the "axis of evil" speech, the Bush/Blair attitude to some authoritarian societies in the Middle East implies to many people that Islam has failed and, by association, that Christianity has got things right. That is how it is perceived.

Democracy is a fine aspiration but there is, unfortunately, a new arrogance about the blueprint of our own democratic institutions that we need to correct or face the consequences, which are already apparent. Although the FCO at one level has considerable expertise in the Middle East—applied, for example, through its "Engaging with the Islamic World" programme—at another it has to fall in with the new dogma of anti-terrorism. Uzbekistan is a case in point, already mentioned. Which side are we actually on?

To take the more pressing example, we operate a two-tier system of occupation in Iraq. Although British troops believe that they are temporarily peacekeeping in the south, US soldiers will remain at war in central Iraq so long as the killings continue. This is not the war for which the Prime Minister signed up. It is a conflict post-conflict, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, pointed out. There is no UK strategy to deal with that, yet we go on holding the hand of America without more international legitimacy than we had two years ago. One reason why we are there is to protect our own trading routes and future oil supplies. Another is or was
 
19 May 2005 : Column 182
 
to create an environment in which reconstruction could take place, so that we could withdraw. However, the most important reason was to provide security to the Iraqi people, which is now surely beyond our control.

At the same time, there is a lot of propaganda about our aid programme. The Minister mentioned progress and success, but are we getting all the information? Is DfID giving us too rosy a picture of reconstruction? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, will tell us. Aid to Iraq is not exactly a gift, because it is paid for by the Iraqis. Although USAID is busy restoring power and water, US construction firms have been handsomely paid from Iraq's own revenues. We have certainly helped to restore services, but even in Basra we are not even giving people the sense of personal freedom and security that they expected from us after the fall of Saddam. Our aid agencies are still targets and cannot operate in most of the country, and we will have no serious UN presence until we have a genuinely recognised international force, if not another UN mandate.

What happened to all those ideas of civil society? Again, I hope that the Minister will give us a balanced picture, not only a positive one. My understanding is that, until security comes, there can be no hope of establishing normal civil society. The more that we outsiders sponsor imported models, the more targets there will be for suicide bombers. The costs of training the police force alone have been enormous, and "sacrifice" is the only word for them. I understand the argument that support for civil society can be a powerful force for stability. Indeed, that is happening in many areas of the world—I have seen it—but Iraq is not the arena for that kind of experiment. Iraqis already have considerable experience of running institutions. It is not the time for that sort of aid.

The Iraqi people would like us to leave Iraq. Surely that is becoming clear now, even if we believed otherwise a year ago. The continuing occupation is undoubtedly a factor in attracting foreign fighters and suicide bombers. There is no guarantee that they would stop under Iraqi command or that the civil war would end, but the presence of US and UK troops has not achieved the objective intended in most of Iraq. We should recognise that now and—as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said—start to plan for the end of occupation and an orderly withdrawal.

Better still, we should recognise that the action is not internationally approved, and begin to create a genuine UN peacekeeping force that will take on some of the tasks currently carried out by US troops. There will have to be another strong man in Iraq if the country is to be genuinely reunited. The autonomy of Kurdistan must be one of the key links in the chain; it may well be a Kurd who can hold the future balance of power between Sunni and Shia. But the Kurds do not even feel Iraqi. Already we have heard Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party, say that "any Iraqi army entry" into Kurdistan would require permission from its regional parliament.

The alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo is simply another illustration of the resentment all over the Arab world. Of course it will be said that Herat
 
19 May 2005 : Column 183
 
students or Taliban sympathisers in Jalalabad are bound to stir up trouble, but the Newsweek incident shows how deeply Muslims everywhere feel about the undoubted human rights abuse involved in Guantanamo and the whole anti-terrorism campaign since 2001. No wonder that Afghans whose families and friends have been subjected to torture by the Americans reacted to the report. Would not all of us react?

Aid workers in Afghanistan are now being associated directly with anti-terrorism, not with their humanitarian work. The news from Afghanistan this week is not good. We in the UK and Europe must continue to speak out against injustice so long as it is ignored by the US Administration.

I have looked at the Government's lukewarm response to the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the treatment of detainees. I find phrases such as "It might not always be practical" or "It may not always be possible", which imply that we simply have no influence on the Americans.

I repeat my comments made here, that I supported the original coalition in Afghanistan—and I still support it—which truly expressed the will of many Muslim countries. The failure in Iraq, which the Government still do not acknowledge, is the failure of the West to involve Arab states, the rest of Europe and the wider world community in a legitimate war against terrorism.

3.40 pm


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page