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There is much talk here of putting pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians, to make concessions, to cease disproportionate responses to acts of terrorism, to accept a two-state solution and in return Israel will be able to live in peace and security. But that is just what Israel has been desperate to achieve itself. It is just what Ehud Olmert repeated in his speech of a couple of weeks ago, including the prospect of two states living in peace side by side. No one should imagine that Israel wants to continue to live in a state of siege and under constant threat of terrorist attacks. Nor can anyone look at the desperate plight of the Palestinians and think that peace and security is anything but what they are desperate to achieve. So what is stopping them?

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I agree with much of what other noble Lords have said, but I would like to put a slightly different slant on things.

Israel is about the size of north-west England, from where I hail—about 30 miles wide and just over 200 miles long. It has more or less the same population as the north-west. If you look at the map of the Middle East it is a mere dot in an area the size of Europe made up of very hostile states stretching across Iran, Iraq and Syria. Israel not unnaturally feels extremely threatened by nations that have repeatedly tried to invade it since it was formed and are now promising its destruction even more vehemently.

You might ask whether withdrawing from Gaza has improved matters for either the Palestinians or the Israelis. And you might also ask whether there is any encouragement here for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank without the acceptance by Hamas and its leaders of Israel’s right to exist. Remember that missiles fired from Gaza currently have a range of about eight miles and an independent, Hamas-run West Bank firing missiles with a similar range would have Israel—30 miles wide—in a very uncomfortable position. Just imagine if the population of Lancashire, for example, had several hundred rockets fired at them each month from Yorkshire on one side and north Wales on the other. They might expect the UK Government to intervene, especially if the rockets were being supplied from, say, France or Germany.

Israel’s experience of withdrawal is not good, so what sort of reassurance can the UK Government or the UN give that its borders with the Palestinian state will be secure? Only a peace agreement, with all parties signed up, can give that reassurance, certainly not the UN or other external bodies. So when noble Lords talk of putting pressure on Israel to make concessions and negotiate, it is worth remembering that Israel was and is ready to do just that, but it needs someone to deal with. While it is clear that moderate Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership are ready and willing, it is far from certain what Hamas will do—or, rather, what its leadership in Damascus will allow it to do. The report this weekend that Hamas is unwilling to work with Abbas yet again dampens the prospect of negotiations achieving a great deal.

Let me turn to where we might focus our mind if we are to help the Palestinians and Israelis reach a solution desirable to both; because the most strident voices against any form of peace agreement are in Hezbollah and Hamas and they, in turn, are the agents of Syria and Iran. There is no room to doubt now that they are funded, trained and controlled by those states. It seems equally clear that they do not have at heart the interests of not just the Israelis but the Palestinians or the Lebanese, for that matter. Can anyone seriously believe that Iran and Syria are concerned about the Palestinians or Lebanese when they risk the lives of women and children by not only siting their missiles and militia among them but also recruiting them to run forward whenever Israel threatens retaliation? That is pure cynical manipulation of the local population, sacrificed on the altar of extremism emanating from elsewhere.

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The sources of the problem of the Middle East lie with Iran and Syria, and no amount of pressure on Israel will make any difference to Iran’s desire to destroy it. To suggest that it is simply the current extreme leader in Iran spouting off for local consumption flies in the face of the evidence of years of preparation of Hamas and Hezbollah for the moment when they can put into effect their desire to remove Israel from the face of the Earth.

Then we come to Iraq, and the part proposed for Iran and Syria in its reconstruction. It is fascinating to hear the word “reconstruction” in relation to those two countries whose recent histories focus more on destruction—unless, of course, you regard Syria’s actions in Lebanon as aiding reconstruction. When I hear that these states might be courted to help in Iraq, I reflect on how Iran, which has been at war with Iraq on and off for years, may have had just a little twinge of satisfaction at the invasion by the western powers, and now it is being asked to take it over, with hardly any effort on its part. What an excellent position to be in. Clearly I am not nearly so sanguine as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and some other noble Lords about Iran’s role in Iraq.

Let us look at what the result would be as and when the US and UK and other forces finally leave Iraq, as they must at some time. Iran is likely to ensure a Shia takeover after a war with the Sunnis; we will then have a huge and extraordinarily powerful block stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria and into Lebanon, with all the dangers that that entails for the rest of the world. I have heard that Israel is described by extremists as the little Satan and America as the big Satan. The UK and Europe are the medium-sized Satans. Examples of anti-western terrorist activities are pretty widespread across the world, and there is little comfort to be gained from hearing of Iran and Syria’s potential role in Iraq, to say nothing of the severe threat that that poses for little Jordan and Israel in the middle.

Let us talk to Iran and Syria, but for that we need a very long spoon indeed. If the idea of wooing them is simply to extricate our troops from Iraq, then it sounds like realpolitik at its most short-sighted and it could be extremely dangerous for us and the rest of the world.

We must try to convince Israel to exert as much self-control as it can when it responds to suicide bombers and missile attacks. We must try to support it and the Palestinians in an even-handed way in any negotiations they may be able to initiate. But unless we also understand that the solution lies not in Israeli or even Palestinian hands, we will be whistling in the wind.

So is there anything useful we in the UK could be doing? I think there is. First, we must do all we can to support Mahmoud Abbas; we must try to channel funds to aid him and his fellow moderates. The situation for the Palestinians is desperate, and we must help him in his desire to gain the support of his people. It is vital, of course, that the funds are not diverted into arms for Hamas.

Secondly, we must enlist the support of other states in the region, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but

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also the North African and Gulf states, Turkey and Jordan. If we in the UK are going to achieve anything at all, it will only be with the support and influence of these countries, which are not driven by a distorted, extreme religious fanaticism. We are unfortunate in having the recent distraction of the Serious Fraud Office investigation of aeroplane contracts with Saudi Arabia. We must solve that quickly; we cannot afford to be alienated from them at this critical time. We need all the friends in the Middle East we can get.

Thirdly, we should recognise that many inside Iran are very disturbed by the rhetoric and actions of their leaders. It is here that we might be able to see some internal changes, carried out not by external force but coming from within, through Iranians themselves. It is not easy, but many brave people there have been resisting the mullahs’ efforts to suppress them. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran is a non-violent resistance movement opposed to the current regime, and its members are suffering terribly because of their opposition. They are regularly tortured—and publicly killed—in Iran, yet despite that, their numbers are growing. They exist in large numbers outside Iran, here and in Europe. They also have a small town in Iraq called Ashraf, where for the moment they are safe, but the Iranian regime is seeking to destroy them. I fear that any deal struck with Iran over Iraq’s future will see the immediate destruction of that town and the slaughter of its unarmed citizens.

This non-violent group, the PMOI, is currently on the UK’s proscribed list of terrorist organisations. What a topsy-turvy world we live in when it is the current Iranian regime that should be on that list rather than those who oppose it. We must encourage a change in Iran, not by extreme actions by foreign nations but by the Iranians themselves. The first step might be the de-proscription of the PMOI.

I have tried to indicate that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to be resolved, it is no use simply focusing our pressures on Israel when the resolution depends to the same extent on Iran and Syria. It is there that we should focus our efforts. Incidentally, even if Israel and Palestine are finally settled, we will still have to face the problem posed by the Iranian brand of Islamic fundamentalism, so we may as well start there anyway.

5.59 pm

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I, too, was all for toppling Saddam because I had seen some of the damage that he had caused in Kuwait and the evil that he had perpetrated. But I am glad to say that I also warned against the possible dire consequences if we did not take the utmost care. It is quite clear, as so many speakers have said, that we and our American allies have committed a catalogue of errors.

As things stand, frankly, I know of no one who has a wholly acceptable, credible answer to the predicament that now afflicts the Americans and ourselves in Iraq. I put ourselves as second fiddle there, because that is plainly the role that we have played so far. The Baker-Hamilton commission reports to Congress tomorrow, but, if the leaks are

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anything to go by, it will not have a very satisfactory answer either. Our Prime Minister will be in Washington to contribute, I hope, to the President’s response to the commission’s recommendations. We hope that he does not echo the President’s response too slavishly, without full regard to British interests.

The truth is that we are in a very weak position in Iraq. That weakness is reflected to a varying extent in Afghanistan and other areas of the Middle East where we are involved. The soft centre of that weakness is that, overall, the policies pursued to date are patently discredited and tainted with failure. Our errors were noted by James Baker in his autobiographical synopsis published yesterday, and many of them were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Blaker earlier in this debate.

No amount of spinning and happy hours of statistics can change that perception of failure. The American people have shown their dissatisfaction in the mid-term elections. A similar, deeply disappointed mood prevails among the electorate in this country. There is a clear demand for a change of course, but the path is fog-bound and not clearly visible. In the absence of a clear-cut alternative approach or a fresh, convincing strategy, eventual withdrawal from Iraq and decreased involvement elsewhere appear inevitable, which gives more than comfort to the insurgent forces that oppose us—it inspires them to greater effort.

While the situation in Afghanistan under NATO’s command may be less acute, the Taliban are certainly back at the gates of Kabul, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, indicated. One of their commanders recently told the Times:

Those are the people who created 4.6 million refugees, who are now happily returning—but for how long? I regard that statement by the commander as very telling when set alongside the disappointed attitudes prevailing in the West.

There is talk of negotiations with Syria and Iran to ease the tensions in the Shia areas where they are involved, from Lebanon to Afghanistan and Iraq. That in itself is a sign of weakness, as President Bush realises only too well. Iran was, after all, part of his “axis of evil”. As some of the speakers in this debate have said, such negotiations would be fraught with danger, including a greater role for those two states in neighbouring Shia territories. Their past record hardly inspires confidence. I understand that yesterday Mr Bush met the Shia leader, Mr al-Hakim, who heads the biggest block of MPs in the Iraqi Parliament. He is close to the Iranian leadership and, I am told, wants the Americans to stay in Iraq to deal with terrorists. He has his own militia of 25,000 men. He is opposed to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army. I do not know what to make of that, except that there is clearly no unity even in the Shia sect.

If Iran persists and succeeds in developing its nuclear capabilities, its power will extend far beyond the Shia limits to the “crescent” described by the noble Lord,

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Lord Turnberg. So far, Iran has not indicated a willingness to negotiate with the United States on the nuclear issue in spite of a conditional offer to do so from the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, which itself represented a reversal of US policy. If such negotiations were to occur, in a fresh and broader political context that appealed to Tehran as a way of extending its influence, due regard should be paid to Henry Kissinger’s recently expressed conclusion, in an article in the Sunday Times of 19 November, that,

The Sunni countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others—are already nervous at the prospect of the Shia accretion of power extending from Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon to Afghanistan. It is also difficult to see Israel standing idly by while her opponents mass themselves for a jihad against her. Israel might be tempted to make a pre-emptive strike.

Meanwhile, we are confronted daily with the atrocious situation in Iraq and the mounting toll of casualties caused by the seemingly senseless and murderous onslaught of the terrorist militias on the Shia-Sunni frontiers in Baghdad and elsewhere. Life, according to some—including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan—is worse than it was under Saddam Hussein.

Iraq has a democratically elected Government, of which we had high hopes, but its Prime Minister, Mr al-Maliki, has pleaded with the United States for more power to be given to him. Certainly, something must be done to clean up the police and other forces to ensure their undivided loyalty to the state in the battle to establish order and stability. If social order is not restored, we cannot decently and honourably hand over power to the Iraqi Government and withdraw. At the end of the day, the people of Iraq will vote for a strong Government and secure that by hook or by crook, and we may be back where we started—with another monstrous Saddam, or a fundamentalist regime ruthless in the execution of a merciless religious law.

The truth is that our choices are very limited. We are dealing with Islamic states and powers that have been aroused in a way and to an extent that we have not seen for centuries. They have an ancient faith-inspired strength that empowers individuals to alarming self-sacrificial actions, and counters the value and efficacy of modern weaponry. Our basic policy must be containment until we can safely disengage, but that disengagement is not currently in prospect. Precipitate disengagement could well have injurious repercussions here at home, if interpreted as a sign of weakness. It could encourage violent reactions. The only way to ensure peace and stability in Iraq is to convince the insurgents that they cannot win. I am afraid that, at this time, we are far from achieving that position.

6.10 pm

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, it seems that there is now widespread agreement in this House that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is a key to peace,

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and not just in the Middle East. The International Crisis Group’s Gareth Evans and Robert Malley recently wrote that,

In my own limited experience, in places as far away as Sudan and Bangladesh, I have heard politicians and ordinary citizens link the Palestinian cause to terrorism—and, indeed, to al-Qaeda. We may hesitate there, but at the very least Palestine is used as a propaganda weapon in many countries, against both the USA and our country, because of our support for Israel. Nothing is more urgent than addressing that problem.

Ten days ago, a ceasefire was declared in Gaza. Does that mean an end to the suffering of the Palestinians? Indeed, does it mean an end to the fear of attack endured by Israelis who live in what I have previously described as a “gilded cage”? I will not dwell here on the humiliation of the Palestinians and the destruction of their lives, for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester described it graphically. But for people who do not know about it, it is well recorded in our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights report published this autumn. Although the report neglected to mention the action in Lebanon—a grave omission, in some people’s view—it nevertheless gives a graphic account of Palestinian suffering. If your Lordships have any more doubt, look at the Independent today. Insult has been added to injury by withdrawing revenue and aid, and by refusing to talk to a democratically elected Government in Palestine. Thousands of Iraqis and many of our own citizens—and American citizens—are dying for democracy in the Iraq war. What hypocrites we are.

The treatment of the Palestinians by Israel defies international law and the Geneva Convention; it abuses their human rights. Over 60 United Nations resolutions have been ignored by Israel. Why do we allow that to go on? Why can Israel continue its actions when other countries have sanctions imposed, or are invaded, for less? Why do we carry on trading arms with a country that uses them for external aggression or for internal oppression? Depending on how your Lordships see Palestine, it is certainly one or the other, but they are both forbidden under our arms control laws. What is the future for Israel, which we all want to survive? It makes no friends in all of this; the recent Nation Brands Index survey, as reported in no less than the Jewish Chronicle last Friday, showed Israel gaining bottom ranking in nearly every question—and bottom overall in a table of 35 countries. How can Israel go on like that? She must realise that the hegemony of the USA will not last for ever, and what happens then?

My recent contention that a factor in all this is the activity of the pro-Israel lobby operating in the West has got me into big trouble, and led to accusations of anti-Semitism. I would like to sincerely apologise to colleagues in my party and elsewhere, and to Jewish people all over the country, who may have misunderstood my remarks. I beg leave to try to explain them. “The Israel Lobby” is the title of a

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paper written by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt of Chicago and Harvard universities. It is not the only paper on the subject. It is well researched and authoritative. The authors conclude that the lobby exerts a huge influence on US politicians and foreign policy. That is their conclusion and anyone can draw their own.

Let us remember that the lobby to which they refer is not composed simply of Zionists. There are many neo-conservatives and right-wing Christian evangelists in that lobby’s huge, wide coalition of people. Criticism of the lobby therefore cannot be called anti-Semitic. It is not anti-Semitic to criticise either the lobby or the actions of the Israeli Government. It may be said that to do so is simply used as an excuse to be anti-Semitic, which I accept; I have heard that said many times. Yet the reverse is also true. Accusations of anti-Semitism can be used as a smokescreen to shield the actions of Israel from censure and to silence her opponents. I am not anti-Semitic—I will challenge anyone who accuses me of that disgusting sentiment—but I am horrified by decades of inaction by the international community in dealing with the occupation of Palestine, and the damage that that is doing to the Jewish diaspora, who contribute so much to all our lives.

I wish to refer here to the late Yehoshafat Harkabi and his book Israel’s Fateful Hour, which was published in 1988. Noble Lords may know that he was chief of Israel’s military intelligence from 1955 to 1959. He said:

as I mentioned earlier. He went on to say:

That was said in 1988 by an Israeli minister.

In defending Israel’s right to exist—and its right to defend itself, which I do—I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, on his speech this evening. It was extremely thought-provoking; he gave a very interesting and delicate view of the other side, for which I thank him. Yet we must also now insist that Israel obeys international law, withdraws from the Occupied Territories, dismantles the settlements and, as one of my beloved grandchildren—eight year-old George—likes to say, “Give those people their land back”. I say to my noble friend Lord Jacobs that while the need for a protective wall can be justified—and I have said that openly—its construction did not have to take even more Palestinian land. The wall, if it was needed, could have been built on Israeli land.

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