Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 362 - 379)



  Q362  Chairman: Lord Patten, we do not have to tell you anything about the way in which committees like this work but we are very glad that you have been able to come to see us and that your current work with the International Crisis Committee in other ways is certainly involving you very much in the issues which we are considering. We are of course a sub-committee of the European Union Committee and therefore we are particularly concerned about the role the European Union has been and is playing in the problems in the Middle East and could in the future. We had a very useful session in Brussels a month ago with Javier Solana and with people from the Commission and we were quite impressed by some of the initiatives which are now being taken but there are also some frustrations because of the current restrictions on some forms of action. You do not want, I think, to make an opening statement, so perhaps I might begin with a question. In view of the current discussions on new political horizons, I wonder whether you have any suggestions as to the steps the European Union should now take to reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process and how far you feel a road map still is the right approach or whether we ought instead to be seeing what more support could be given to the recent Arab initiative.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: There is a lot in that question. Perhaps I can unparcel it and just begin by making one point. Critics of the European Union very often walk on both sides of the street: they both argue that Europe is not doing enough and when Europe does try to get its act together that it has the pretensions of super-statehood. The truth is that Europe gets as much done collectively as individual nation states allow it to do. For example, we do have single policies with supranational institutions in some areas, like trade, like single market and there are other areas, foreign policy is the most obvious example, where we attempt to cooperate and attempt to put together a common, not a single, policy. I think that reflects the extent to which foreign and security policy go right to the heart of what it is to be a nation state. That has inevitably impeded the development of the common policy. After the humiliations in the early 1990s, we put together a common policy in the Balkans. I think we have failed badly in relation to Russia and we have failed pretty badly in relation to the Middle East. There is perhaps one principle cause for failure in the Middle East. While it is true that the United States matters far more in the Middle East than anybody else, and while it is true that without the American initiative we are unlikely to see a rejuvenation of the Peace Process, there is more that Europe can do independently than simply lash itself to American policy, taking the view that we should not allow a piece of tissue paper to come between us and the United States. If you lash yourself to a vacuum, your own policy becomes fairly negligible. Without totally downplaying some of the important initiatives that Europe has taken, I think there is no issue which has produced more hand-wringing and more anguished communiqués in Europe but not much in the way of the sort of actions one would have liked to have seen. It is true that Europe has, for example, taken the principle responsibility for the road map. It is important to correct the history on this. The road map did not emerge from Washington; the road map was produced principally by the Danish foreign ministry during the Danish presidency. We then took it to Washington, where the state department made one or two amendments, perfectly reasonably. We then, I recall, went to the White House to get the President's endorsement and the President—and I always wondered about the significance of the indefinite and articles at the time—committed himself to "a" road map for the Middle East. But it was within days of his appointment of Elliot Abrams as his principal advisor on Israel and Palestine, and we know Mr Abrams' feelings on these issues. So, from the outset, I think the main principle of the road map was not likely to be implemented unless there was more American involvement and commitment than proved to be the case or unless Europe raised the embarrassment bar for not pushing the road map hard enough. The great principle behind the road map was to forget about sequentialism, which had been the principle behind Oslo; the notion that you would work through confidence-building measures, that one party to the dispute would take certain action and then the other party would respond. It was very much: "After you, Yasser." "After you Ariel." The point about the road map was its proposed parallelism; that both parties should move down the road at the same speed to predetermined and timed rendezvous, and there has never been pressure to do that. During the first Bush administration the argument was that Arafat was the problem; that you could not negotiate with the Palestinians because of Arafat. I was always prepared to accept that Arafat was a problem but not the problem and I do despair of a situation in which whoever has political responsibility in the Palestinian Authority is deemed to be somebody you cannot deal with. We have, I hope not mortally, undermined Abu Mazen and undermined the present President, who was deemed sufficiently moderate to be invited to the White House but has not received the support that he deserves, at least until the Mecca Agreement, which I hugely welcome. I fear that while the European Union has dashed about trying to be helpful, while it has occasionally, for example on the war, taken positions which are slightly different from those of the United States, while it has played the principal role in providing humanitarian assistance recently in Palestine and before that in sustaining the Palestinian Authority, its policy has been too much in the last few years to have another meeting of the Quartet. The Quartet was described, I think not unreasonably, by the Secretary-General of the Arab League as the "Quartet sans trois" so there are lots of family photos and there are lots of communiqués but I am afraid we have gone through a period during which the number of fatalities in Israel and Palestine has far exceeded the number in the last five or six years of President Clinton, which makes a policy which was initially based on ABC (anything but Clinton) seem less than wholly successful. I think that is the background, which may be excessively critical of the European Union but I know of no subject on which we talked more when I was a Commissioner and no subject on which we failed more spectacularly. Russia should have been a lot easier, so the failure is perhaps even greater there.

  Chairman: Thank you.

  Q363  Lord Lea of Crondall: Lord Patten, may I welcome you and thank you for that provoking overview. You mentioned that following on the coat tails of America was not very satisfactory and I think this is pretty much a part of our report, but I would like to bring Israel into this. We not only had a senior Israeli telling us that it was settled Israeli policy to make sure the United States had the political lead and to ensure it stayed that way (in other words, the EU was not going to have any comparable political role) but at the same time the view in Brussels has begun to be quite sharply different from that, along the lines you have been stating when you saw Mr Solana. I think he used the phrase "one or two steps ahead" or a few steps ahead of the United States. Leaving aside all your interesting remarks, that the EU is not a state, et cetera, et cetera, could you comment on the apparent contradiction. The Arab states generally want Europe to be more active and yet it is pretty settled Israeli policy to have no such thing, even though they recognise that Mecca and Riyadh meetings have been very constructive, maybe because of the threat of Iran or whatever motives, and yet we still have this contradiction. We are going to ask you a lot of questions about Palestine in a minute but what about Israel and the Israel/America special relationship. Will that block everything that Europe tries to do?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: It does not make it easier. There is a special relationship between Israel and the United States and it works in both directions. I think it sometimes shows up in the sort of behaviour that one friend should not demonstrate to another. I do not think, for example, that it was helpful for the US to egg on Israel in Lebanon against Hezbollah. I think that was like encouraging a friend of yours who has had too many drinks to drive home from the party. I think it has proved to be absolutely disastrous. I know many Americans, Rich Armitage and others who make exactly the same point today. I do not think it is true that all Israelis regard the Europeans as being beyond the pale. The European Union, for example, played an important role in funding the Geneva Peace Initiative, in providing some of the resources for that. One of the extraordinary disjunctures in Israel is that between public opinion and the public's attitude towards political movement and political accommodations and the leadership of the main political parties. But it is true, undoubtedly, that there are suspicions about Europe in Israel, partly because of history and the holocaust; partly because of the occasional and appalling manifestations of anti-Semitism in Europe—in France, for example—in recent years; partly because Europe has not been prepared to go along with whatever Israel has done—for example, in the security area. I would have wished that our relationship had been better than that. I would wish that our relationship with some of the Israeli leaders in the last few years had been as constructive as our relationship with people like Yossi Beilin and other leaders of the Peace Movement. It has to be said that, while some Israeli politicians have been very rude and critical about the European Union, they have wanted very badly to be part of the Barcelona Process and the Euro-Med partnership, and they have wanted Europe to pay for some of the consequences of the occupation of Palestinian territories. If it was not for the European Union putting money into humanitarian relief and into the attempts to sustain the Palestinian Authority in the past, it would have been extremely expensive for Israel. When I used to be criticised for the support we were giving through Salam Fayed to the Palestinian Authority, I was never criticised by an Israeli government minister because they knew perfectly well what would happen if the European Union was not putting in the money. I think the situation is more mixed than it should be but, plainly, it has been a difficulty that successive Israeli governments have not wanted to listen to Europe except on economic and trade issues. We had a very difficult issue in the past involving Israel's reluctance to declare products which were coming from the occupied territories when they were coming into the European Union and I can tell you there was an awful lot of diplomacy and negotiation about that, so there are some issues on which Israel is a little more active than others. But so long as there are at least some members of the US administration encouraging Israeli politicians to think that there is no political cost for vetoing any movement towards the Arabs, then I guess you are going to have people in the Israeli political system who will take the view of Europe that they do. But it is not helpful.

  Q364  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Do you think we should, therefore, as Europeans, (a) do more to bring more direct pressure on the Americans for more open disagreement and (b) should European politicians frankly get in more on the Hill to talk to American politicians? I find it staggering how strong their opinions are and frankly how completely ignorant they are about what is going on on the ground. Is there more we could do with our friends from the United States to try to influence opinion?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Yes, I think there is, and I do not think it is anti-American. I think it is critical of the present administration but I do not think it is anti-American to put forward our arguments when we think America is getting it badly wrong. I think America got it badly wrong over Lebanon—described, as I recall, by Condoleeza Rice as the birth pangs of a new Middle East as the bombs rained down. I think they were stopped when she visited Beirut, but, otherwise, people in Beirut were having a pretty miserable time. I think it was wholly wrong when President Bush encouraged the view that settlement activity represented facts on the ground to which we would have to adjust ourselves, for the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to give the impression that nothing new had been said, that nothing had changed, when what was being said was a fundamental shift in American policy of some considerable consequence. I have never believed you are likely to win an argument if you do not take part in it. Of course it is true that the American political establishment has a view of the Middle East which is very different from that of the political establishment here or in Europe as a whole. My colleagues may have noticed the other day that when Senator Obama referred to the suffering of Palestinians, he was obliged to make it clear very rapidly that he was not really sympathising with Palestinians, that he sympathised with everybody who suffered in the Middle East. There is a sort of political correctness on these issues which is pretty worrying. But that political correctness should not go unchallenged and we should argue our corner, because I feel passionately that not to do so is unfair to Israel, as well as unfair to Palestine and other countries in the region. The situation goes from worse to much worse. We now have probably the weakest government in Israel in anybody's recollection. The situation is on a knife-edge in the West Bank in Gaza with real problems of fragmentation politically between the two. If Hamas is driven back into the shadows, I do not think it will be possible to reach a settlement, but I hope we can come on to that later. I think it is a really worrying moment and a moment when it is in everybody's interest, not least the United States, to get much more involved in a hands-on way and try to get the Peace Process back on the road, because at the moment the Peace Process is a question of following funeral processions.

  Q365  Lord Crickhowell: I am going to take you promptly to where you want to go on the question you said you wanted to come back on. It is not so much my King Charles's head, but it is now known in the Committee as "the Crickhowell question". You referred, (in the context of Arafat), of him being seen as someone you could not talk to. I have been expressing my feelings of discomfort at the fact that after you have an election. There are some you cannot talk to. Admittedly you and I come from a background based on the principle of collective responsibility and so on which is very different; but I do find it quite difficult to say you can deal with one group of people but cannot deal with others. On the other hand, it is clearly an issue about which Israel feels very strongly: that you cannot talk to people who do not accept the three basic principles. You have expressed in public some views on this; and I think we all want to hear just how far you feel one can go; and what you see as the obstacles in going too far in talking to part of the administration about what the whole of the administration ought to be concerned with.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Perhaps I can put this issue in a slightly broader context which touches on some of my own experience. It is an exaggeration but not much of one to say the world is full of governments, some of whose members used to be terrorists. We know perfectly well that in area after area we have found ourselves obliged to swallow hard and deal with people who spent part of their lives arguing that violence was the best way of accomplishing political objectives. I can remember us being pressed by the United States over getting involved with Sinn Fein IRA in order to get the peace process in Northern Ireland off the ground. I found myself in 1998/1999 having to deal with Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness—who was not called the butcher's boy because he worked at Dewhurst—and as a democratic politician I found that pretty unattractive, but it was part of the settlement, just as dealing with Irgun and the Stern Gang in Israel were part of a political settlement. So I say to myself: Why does anybody think we are going to get a peace in the Middle East if we do not talk with Hamas, with a group which was radicalised, after its Muslim brotherhood past in Jordan and Egypt, by the occupation and by the Intifada. I have a second point I want to make. Diplomacy is not about endlessly setting preconditions before you do anything. If you set preconditions which do not allow you to talk to Iran, Syria, Hamas or Hezbollah, then good luck when it comes to trying to construct a foreign policy in the Middle East and its various problems. This is not grown up behaviour and it is particularly worrying because it is the world's only superpower which seems to have fallen into this mode of political activity. If we were prepared to talk to the Russians when they could have ended civilised life, any life as we know it, in the 1970s and 1980s, I cannot for the life of me think why we are not prepared to talk to people today without, by doing so, implying that we share their set of values or what they are prepared to do. Let me turn to Hamas and the new horizon opened up by the Mecca Agreement. The Mecca Agreement, I think, at least for a time, ended the immediate prospect of civil war in Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza between Hamas and Fatah and it does give us an opportunity of re-establishing institutions of government in Palestine which are virtually non-existent at present. As far as dealing with Hamas is concerned, we have gone along with a set of conditions which make it more difficult for them to ease around the corner from violence to politics rather than easier. What should we be asking of Hamas in order to do serious business with them? First, we should judge them by what happens on the ground. Will they renounce themselves in principle? Will they, in principle, renounce any use of violence? Very unlikely. Should we judge them on whether they are trying with Fatah to stop rocket attacks by Islamic Jihad on Israel? Yes, we should. Should we judge them by whether or not they secure the release of Corporal Shalit? Yes, we should. Should we judge them by whether or not they are prepared to deal with Israel on day-to-day issues? Of course we should. Should we regard it as imperative that they sign up to the President negotiating or trying to negotiate a final settlement agreement with Israel, and that such an agreement they would accept if it was endorsed by a democratic process, either a referendum or through the Palestinian Liberation Organisation? Yes, we should. That seems to me to be a practical way of domesticating and politicising a movement which will otherwise, I fear, drift off into the shadows. What is the alternative? The alternative is that there will not be any agreement between Palestine and Israel; because, unless Hamas are part of an agreement, it is not going to happen. I am afraid there would not have been an agreement in Northern Ireland unless Sinn Fein had been part of it. I repeat: as much as sometimes it stuck in one's gorge to do some of the things which were necessary in order to accomplish that, there is now peace in Northern Ireland. I think we have to be more sensible and grown up in our relationship with Hamas. There are three other reasons why I think that is important, as well, to judge them by what they do not by these tests which we apply. First of all, one of the tests we apply is not a test which could be passed by some of our moderate friends in the Middle East. Which of our friends in the Middle East recognises the State of Israel? Does Morocco? Does the Kingdom? There are members of Israeli cabinets who have not been prepared to recognise the State of Israel because they are religious parties with all the hang-ups that the religious parties have about a Zionist state. So it is pretty ridiculous, I think, for us to find ourselves in that particular posture. Secondly, I have dealt a good deal with Salam Fayed, as Finance Minister a man of legendary propriety. In the last year and a bit Europe has put more money into the Palestinian territories (I think $140 million equivalent) through something called the temporary international mechanism. I look forward to seeing what the auditors think about the way that money can be checked, because what is for certain is that, if we go on simply trying to provide humanitarian assistance and relief through mechanisms outside the single treasury account which is under Fayed's control, we are going to find ourselves undermining the attempts to establish a decent government in Palestine rather than the reverse, and certainly undermining the most credible interlocutor we have in Palestine. For myself, I would be looking now for ways in which we can hold the National Unity Government to account for those practical things which I have mentioned and I would be looking at ways in which we can work again with Salam Fayed because, unless we do that, I fear that the institutions of government will continue to fray, that we will be conniving at the creation of anarchy in Palestine and that the money that goes into Palestine will be going in in suitcases from bits of the Middle East that we are rather suspicious about.

  Q366  Lord Crickhowell: That is very comprehensive answer. I have just one supplementary. When you talked about governments, you said governments include terrorists. You talked about Hamas in a collective way but I suspect there are different sorts of Hamas. There are those who will always be terrorists on the ground and there are some who are Hamas but pretend they are something else. Do you see that there are distinctions and that it may be easier to talk to some than to others?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Yes. Unfortunately, because of what American politicians would call the "difficulties of scheduling", I missed an opportunity of meeting the head of Hamas, Meshal, in Damascus. I saw the President of Syria there but not the head of Hamas. I am told he gave every impression of being committed to a political process, but it is a political process which should, in my view, be another condition for European or British or anybody's preparedness to assist a Palestinian Authority. All the conditions we apply are ones we see through the prism of our relationship with Israel—understood—but what about the conditions that should be applied because of what is happening on the ground in Palestine? There are worries about the extent to which Hamas will try to Islamise education, social activities and other similar things in Palestine and I think that should be concerning us. For example, there were recent efforts to censor books used or a book used in Palestinian schools. I think that is the sort of issue, as well as the other ones, on which Europe and outside friends should take a very tough line with Hamas. When I was there last we raised the issue pretty vigorously with, as it were, the Hamas Education Minister (as I recall it, a DPhil graduate of Manchester University), and they moved very rapidly to rescind a decision which they claimed had been taken by Fatah civil servants rather than Hamas ministers, but, anyway, it is an issue on which we should be very tough and on which we should be very vigilant.

  Q367  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: This is critical really to making any headway. There is some suggestion that the National Unity Government is a bit fragile in anybody's language but really Hamas seems to hold many more of the cards than Fatah do. Would you negotiate with Hamas and not with Fatah at times? Obviously it all has to come together in the end, but would you initiate a series of talks with Hamas to start off with and see if we could square them first, and slightly finesse the question of dealing with the Unity Government?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: No, I would try to deal with the Unity Government. I agree it is weak, though stronger than its predecessor. The Foreign Minister, the Finance Minister and the Security Minister all have a good deal of credibility. Not to deal with the government as a whole, I think, undermines Abu Mazen. I met him in Ramala last month and after Mecca he looked and sounded a lot more positive and cheerful about life than he had before. I would deal with the National Unity Government, even though it is comprised of difficult political influences and individual members have their own problems, something which I am told even happens occasionally when you have parties of governments of one party.

  Q368  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Could I go back to the question of the road map and final status issues. I was slightly surprised that you regarded the road map as non sequential. I can accept entirely it is less sequential than Oslo but it is the sequencing which has broken down in the implementation of the road map because there has been the failure of both sides to do the first stage, the violence and the settlements. On the question of what is now called political horizons—which is polite diplomat speak for final status issues—there does seem now to be a rather broader consensus, including the United States and certainly including the Arabs in their latest pronouncements and Abu Mazen, that there really must be some addressing in substance of the political horizons if you are to deal with what happens on the road to get there. I want to ask you whether you agree with that—because of course in the road map the political horizons are concerned to a happy future after you have done all the other things—and, if that is so, do you think the European Union should be trying to define some ideas on the final status issues or do you think that is just too dangerous? Do you think, for example, they should be trying to say in their discussions with the Arabs, "You cannot have the return of every single Palestinian who has ever lived in the piece of territory that is going to be occupied by the two states. You cannot have that; there will have to be some compromise"? Saying to the Israelis, "You cannot have the fact that you possess the whole of Jerusalem." Should the European Union be trying to define positions on these highly sensitive but absolutely crucial issues or should we simply be saying, "Well, they have to be talked about but somebody else had better do the talking" and that probably means the Americans?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: First of all, we are both right about parallelism and sequentialism. Of course it is true that it was proposed that you should do a series of steps, that when you had taken those steps you should then go on, as it were, from a bachelor's to a master's degree, but the steps you took before each stage were to be taken in parallel rather than each thing depending on the other party acting in a certain way. I do not think it makes very much sense to try to find where we left the road map—which certainly has not been on the driver's seat for some time. I think there is a great deal to be said, not least because of the weakness of the parties, in trying to cut to the quick and for Europe to argue with the United States and with the Arab League and with the parties to the dispute on the ground that we need to go to some form of conference in which we try to define the final status issues. I put my name to an advertisement in the papers which was sponsored by the International Crisis Group saying that a few months ago, and I do feel that, unless the members of the Quartet and Arab League work together with the parties and try to push them into agreement—incidentally, not just on Israel/Palestine, but Syria/Lebanon as well—we are not likely to get anywhere. We all know what the outlines of an agreement will be. They were there at Tabah, they were there at Camp David, they are there in the Geneva Initiative. We all know it is absolutely clear that no final agreement would be acceptable to Israel which completely changed the demography of Israel. It is a point which the Israeli Foreign Minister feels very strongly about and I greatly sympathise. I do not mind saying that in public and indeed have done in the past. It is equally the case that you cannot possibly have the sort of settlement activity which is now taking place east of Jerusalem without it making a viable Palestinian state simply impossible. When you look at how close to the Dead Sea the planned settlement activity goes, it makes that plain as a pikestaff. I do not think it is unhelpful for Europeans and Americans to make these points, otherwise the "facts on the ground" are going to continue to dictate that we do not make any progress anyway. I am sure that Javier Solana, who has worked so hard on these issues, and his team in Brussels could write on the back of an envelope what are going to be the main issues to which both sides will have to agree sooner or later. I would not propose turning the Beirut Declaration, as repeated recently, into a negotiating document. I do not think it is that. I think it describes the world after a settlement; nevertheless, it offers a political horizon and a very important one.

  Q369  Lord Anderson of Swansea: We have had contradictory signals from different parts of Hamas over the past few days in respect of the ending of the ceasefire. Does that tell us anything about the possibility of reaching a consensus within Hamas itself?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Yes, it does. I think that probably reflects the recent activities of the IDF in Gaza and elsewhere. As Lord Crickhowell said, just as there were different elements, some more military than others, in Sinn Fein IRA, so I think there are in Hamas too. A lot of Palestinian casualties play to those who say that there is not going to be a political settlement.

  Q370  Lord Anderson of Swansea: You had a fairly unique position in trying to understand the different national viewpoints within the European Union in seeking to bring a consensus. Are the EU national positions so different that it will be very difficult to reach a consensus, for example in what you are now describing on the policy towards Hamas?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I think it will be difficult. I have always regarded Russia as the biggest failure in European common policies because it should not be difficult to establish a common position on Russia rather than to allow oneself endlessly to be beaten at the card table by somebody playing low sixes and sevens. In the case of the Middle East, I think it is much more difficult to shape a common policy because of the different histories of European countries, not least in Germany, because of this country's relationship with the United States, because of the French and British relations with countries in the region, some of which we created at Versaille and in the aftermath for reasons which have very little to do with nation statehood. So I think it is difficult to pull things together and one must always be careful that you do not just pull together the lowest common denominator all the time.

  Q371  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Is there any prospect, then, of a highest common factor in respect of dealing with Hamas?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I would hope that European foreign ministers would see the awful damage which will be done if we undermine the National Unity Government, not least to our moderate friends in the Arab world. Here we are, we have encouraged the Saudis and the Jordanians and the Egyptians to get more involved in resolving the issue and to do so on the side of moderation rather than the reverse. If, after they have done that, we still will not deal with the government that has resulted then I think it would weaken our position and weaken our relationship with them.

  Q372  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: You mentioned the need to bring Syria and Lebanon into any attempt to get a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East and that does seem to be a genuinely shared view now in the EU, but what sort of role could the EU play in bringing that about and what sort of policies should it be pursuing; for example, with respect to the internal Lebanese situation and the implications for that of the UN process of following up the Hariri murder, and to what extent should the Syrians be pressed to enter into direct negotiations with the Israelis at an early stage? A highly sensitive issue, of course, which the Syrians appear to want to pretend at least they wish to do, and the Israelis certainly not pretending and fending them off.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I think the Syrians want to negotiate with Israel and I think they are absolutely genuine about that. There is, of course, some feeling, I suppose, in Damascus that all they can do is wait out the presidencies of President Chirac and President Bush and hope for better in the future. But they are not in a very strong position. The economy is extremely weak and I think that for the allies to be seen to have lost both Lebanon and not regained the Golan would be quite a political failure and one difficult for them to sustain for very long. First of all, I do not think that engaging Syria means that we give up on the Hariri inquiry. I think the important thing about the Hariri inquiry is that it should be seen as a judicial process, not as an attempt to secure regime change. Secondly, unless we negotiate with Syria as well as promote negotiations between Israel and Palestine, the danger is that Syria pulls some of the strings attached to Palestinian groups and makes it very difficult to secure any progress with Palestine. Thirdly, just as the outlines of an agreement for Israel/Palestine are clear, so are the outlines of an agreement for the Golan. But I suspect that the Golan would be more difficult for an Israeli government to deliver, because of the settlement activity, than it was to deliver the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. What is plain is that you cannot, I repeat myself, have a policy on the Middle East which involves trying to freeze out the Syrians. I suspect that at the moment one of the reasons why no progress is being made with the Syrian track is because the Americans are discouraging the Israelis from responding to Syrian overtures. I think there is a view in America, in parts of Washington, that if you do not talk to Syria you isolate them, and sooner or later that promotes regime change. I just do not think it is true. It is true that Syria would remain economically weak but if you want to strengthen a weak autocratic government in the Middle East then the best thing to do is, from the outside, say you want to overthrow it and then it gets all sorts of popular support which would not otherwise be the case. Some people may think I am a bit naive about Bashar Assad. I think he is genuine in wanting to secure a peace agreement on the Golan and I think he is genuine in wanting to open up the economy. I almost managed to negotiate a Euro-Med agreement with Syria, got very close to the end and then it was scuppered by events, not least in the Lebanon.

  Q373  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I too have negotiated on the Euro-Med Agreement and I agree with what you say about Bashar Assad. The times I have dealt with him, I thought that was what he wanted. We tend to have coupled Syria and Iran together in the Middle East Peace Process, not least because of the terrorist activity which is widely perceived to have roots in both countries. Would you deal with Syria and Iran differently? The Iranians do have a stake in this, but they are not Arab League and the point about Syria is that Syria is an Arab country. It is one of their own. Although economically weak and in a precarious position, one has a very strong feeling that the rest of the Arab League wants Syria back in that fold hook, line and sinker. Looking at the two countries, would you encourage the United States to engage directly now with Syria and Iran? They seem to be more keen on talking to Iran than talking to Syria. It is the direct discussions with those countries. You spoke about it in relation to Israel, what about the United States? Secondly, what stage would you give Iran in any process of negotiation? Would you have it in the fold or outside the fold?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I would talk to both. As I have said, I do not think you can have a policy in the Middle East if you do not talk to Syria and you do not talk to Iran. If you do not recognise, for example, how badly things have gone when the Sunni world supports Shi'ite military activity through Hezbollah or whatever. That was an extraordinary moment and I think should give us some indication of just how we have cocked things up in the last few years. I would not deal with Syria and Iran as though they were hyphenated. I would deal with them on their own terms and I would not regard dealing with them as a sign of feebleness. I do not know how we are going to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue unless we try to bring Iranians in from the cold. I do not know how we will find any even passingly acceptable political settlement in Iraq unless we talk to its neighbours. I do not think we will get a peace in the Middle East unless we involve Syria. I think we have to talk to the Iranians and the Syrians. It is a negation of leadership diplomacy not to do so. We got quite a long way with dealing with the crazies in North Korea in the 1990s by talking to them. They ratted on the agreement. They ratted on the agreement partly, I think, for the same reasons that teenagers trash houses when their parents are away. I think they were trying to bring attention back to themselves. But it did not work when for four or five years we simply did not deal with them. We have the makings of an agreement now by working with them, and they are a pretty nasty, very nasty regime. So we have to talk to these people.

  Q374  Lord Crickhowell: There has been a good deal of agreement from our witnesses about the fact that we have to involve Syria in the settlement. Whereas they spoke about the weakness of the Israeli government, the Israeli Ambassador to the Commission—who has been engaged in this almost longer than anyone—expressed himself extremely strongly, and has clearly been advising the Israeli Government to the same effect: that you cannot run the Syria and Palestine things in parallel because of the timetable of dealing with Syria in Israeli terms. By the time you have taken the case and done all the things that have to be done, and had referendums and so on, it would put the Israeli Government in an impossible position which would destroy it. This was his argument to us, expressed from that seat with great force. Would you comment about the difficulties of it from an Israeli point of view? We have seen all the arguments in general terms and I agree with you; but it was very interesting how powerful he was in putting this view. If you ran the Syrian Golan Heights issue and so on at the same time as you were doing the other things probably no Israeli government could survive. That was really what he was saying.

  Lord Patten of Barnes: We have a government in Israel at the moment which is not talking to anybody and is barely surviving, so I do not think that is a knockdown argument. I think myself that if you had to choose at which end to start you would probably start on the Syrian end. I think that unlocks a lot more and is a much simpler issue to deal with. You are talking about 20,000 settlers, I think on the Golan. You are talking about proposals for national park around the lake which would help deal with people's security worries and the ability to drive all around the lake. There are a lot of very practical ways that have been put forward with dealing with that issue. I do not believe it is really a security issue for Israel because anybody trying to come down from the Heights in tanks would get them blown off the face of the earth very rapidly. I think that what some Israelis find very difficult is explaining to the world how they will not now negotiate with the Syrians, even though the Syrians want to negotiate with them, after years in which the Syrians said "We can't possibly talk directly to the Israelis." The situation has changed now. I think Syrians, like Mr Muallem the Foreign Minister, are sophisticated and pretty open-minded interlocutors.

  Q375  Lord Lea of Crondall: We have debated on and off on the Committee how far Iran is a totally separate question, as it were, from our inquiry but when we took evidence from the Israeli Ambassador to the European Union, Dr Eran, he said Iran is a serious threat of a different nature. There is a big debate whether the policies all of us are pursuing are aimed at the end of the nuclear programme or are we also looking at regime change in Iran. The two are necessarily linked and connected. Obviously there are two timetables involved because if we do not know when the regime change is going to occur we cannot wait for that because the nuclear clock is ticking and ticking very quickly. You do not need much imagination to see a scenario there where everything can be hijacked by a kind of new crisis to do with Iran/Israel relationships. Could you comment on how far that should be seen as a big part of the picture. We have mentioned Mecca and Riyadh and how far it is influencing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and so on. Would you comment on how far the Iranian question is right there, somehow mixed up with what we call the Middle East Peace Process?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: It is right there because at the root of all these issues is a profound worry about security which is held across the region. If you were starting with a blank sheet of paper, I think you would be wanting to engage in the sort of diplomacy which produced regional security pacts in the years after the war. Unless there is some sort of UN Security Council backed stabilisation pact for the region, I think a lot of these issues are going to be very difficult to resolve, particularly in circumstances where the non proliferation treaty is starting to fray at the edges. The implication—perhaps I am reading too much into it—of what the Israel ambassador was saying, was, "Look, unless diplomacy gets somewhere in dealing with Iranian civil war military nuclear ambitions, then we will have to take things into our own hands and we would expect the Americans to look the other way while doing so." I think that would be an unmitigated disaster. Among other things, I think it would blow apart any prospects for the indefinite future of peace in the region. I also think it would blow apart the sort of global economic growth that we have started to take for granted. I think one thing which could end that would be a war in the Gulf, in the Middle East. I have a rather unfashionable view about how to deal with Iran but you might not want to pursue that. I think we are getting the worst of all worlds at the moment because I think Iran will simply continue with its nuclear activities without any verification or any intrusive international regime keeping an eye on what it is doing. If you fetch up at the end of the day with our diplomacy not working and Iran having a nuclear weapon, then the impact on other countries in the region will be huge.

  Q376  Lord Lea of Crondall: Some of us have raised several times in the House the question of what you call the security guarantee in the Middle East, which translated into English I always assumed meant that the two nuclear states, Israel and—rapidly becoming so, at any rate—Iran, would be parties to some guarantee of no first-use of nuclear weapons or whatever. Is that what you call a security guarantee? What do you call a security guarantee or who has put something on the table to that effect?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: Nobody has. I do not regard that as the security guarantee. I regard the security guarantee as the members of the Security Council guaranteeing the borders of all the existing states and making it clear that they themselves would be prepared to intervene militarily if there was any attempt to change those borders. I do not think you could base a security guarantee on no first-use pledges by the Israelis and the Iranians. I happen to believe—which some people may think is spectacularly naive—that it is not proven that the Iranians want nuclear weapons themselves. I think what they want is what the Japanese have, which is a basement capability. Whether it is easier to draw the line at the ceiling of the basement rather than where we are trying to draw it at the moment is the real issue. In other words, if we cannot get them to pull back from completing the fuel cycle, whether we should be looking at an agreement with them which involves delaying their nuclear activities, involves a very intrusive inspection and verification regime, and involves trying to draw a line with much tougher sanctions between civil and military use. I think that is the real debate and there is a lot more interest in that idea in parts of the American foreign policy and security establishment that people here think. I do, on the whole, share the view of people like Graham Allison that we should be looking at the three noes: no loose nukes, no nuclear states, no proliferation of nuclear weapons, but I fear we may be trying to draw a line in Iran in a place where it is not going to work.

  Q377  Lord Swinfen: Do you think that the EU should do more than it is already doing to engage with the other states' organisations in the area: the neighbouring states of Israel, the Arab Quartet and the Gulf Cooperation Council?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: I do not think one should underestimate the amount that in terms of trade, diplomacy, development, cooperation and other forms of diplomacy, the European Union is dealing with both the countries of the Mediterranean southern literal and the Gulf Cooperation Council states as well. I do think we have not been sufficiently aggressive in pushing the free trade area which was supposed to be constructed around the Mediterranean by 2010 and I think there are still some serious agricultural issues which have held that back. It is completely absurd that you see products being grown in, for example, the south of Spain on plastic sheets, with water brought down from the north of Spain, with crops being picked by illegal Moroccan migrants, when if you go across the water to Morocco you see them without the plastic and without the movement of water, growing the same things but not able to ship them into Europe, with the result that instead we get illegal migrants. It is a completely mad world: if we do not take their tomatoes, we get their illegals instead. I think we should do more to push the elements in the Euro-Med. When I look back at my own time as a Commissioner, I wish I had spent more time on that issue; although, to some extent, as a Commissioner you can only go as far as the elastic band will allow. There is an issue here which has worried me over the years, which is our attempt to knit together commercial and political issues. Any agreement which you sign now in the European Union has to involve human rights clauses and clauses about terrorism and nuclear weapons. You will find yourself, as I do, negotiating with some difficulty the precise terms of an agreement on human rights with some of these countries, only to discover a little later that your country and others have been looking the other way when extraordinary rendition has been dumping people into these countries so that they could be tortured in exactly the same ways you have tried to prevent happening in the negotiations. So I think we have to be a bit more sophisticated in the way that we pursue our political objectives as well as our economic objectives. The attempt to reach agreement on a free trade pact with the Gulf Cooperation Council was held back, as I recall, by endless debates about the Sharia law. I remember one late night session in Brussels when we discussed stoning, at the end of which I wondered whether the way I could best secure the agreement was by rushing down to the Grand Place in Brussels and seeking one or two adulteresses to stone. I mean, I obviously engage in a rather cynical observation, but it does sometimes make it difficult to secure one lot of objectives to write into it another set of objectives. Are we tough in policing the sort of human rights and other clauses that we write into the agreements? No, we are not. If President Chirac regards the President of Tunis as somebody to support, then you will not make any progress if you try as a Commissioner to raise the question of human rights abuses in Tunisia. I am sorry, that was a slight digression.

  Q378  Lord Anderson of Swansea: President Chirac restrained you from pursuing the human rights theme in Tunisia. President Chirac has personal ventures into Lebanon and elsewhere. Our Prime Minister equally goes to the Middle East. Where is the dividing line between what national governments have traditionally done in their foreign policy in the Middle East and the value-added which comes from the European Union? Given your vast experience in the British Cabinet and the EU, where is the appropriate dividing line as you see it?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: First of all, I repeat what I said earlier. We will never be in the business of having a single European foreign policy. It will be common. For example, you are never, in my judgment, going to be able to persuade people that they should allow decisions on whether or not to send their children off to risk being killed to be taken by a European Commissioner. Nobody would ever agree that that decision should be taken by a European Commissioner. It seems curious that in some ways they seem less worried when that decision is taken by an American president, but I put that on one side. I would hope member states would see how much more impact Europe has when France, Britain, Germany and others do act together. I mean no disrespect to the other 24 Member States of the European Union when I say there is not a European policy unless France, Germany and Britain agree on it. I think we should recognise much more how we have a greater impact when we work in common. I have been very struck in recent years by the extent to which a lot of our American friends wish we did more in common. They do not like very much dealing with a fractured European response to tough international questions. The value-added is not just the value-added of 27 countries working together, which is clearly a huge value-added when it comes to trade policy; the value-added is also that you pool together in external relations, in a much easier way than is possible in government, all sorts of instruments which have a bearing on political issues: development policy, trade policy, harmonisation of regulation, migration policies, all sorts of policies which are increasingly what the foreign policy agenda consists of. I was struck in my years as a Commissioner by the way the foreign policy agenda was moving and the way in which foCeign ministers found themselves discussing the sorts of issues which in the past they would have expected to be somebody else's responsibility. So I think that is a second way in which you can strengthen the instruments of foreign policy by deploying some of the other aspects, where Europe has agreed not just to be intergovernmental but to a degree of supranational activity too.

  Chairman: Lady Symons has asked to come in on this.

  Q379  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Lord Patten has been making a highly persuasive argument about the levels of engagement, how we engage as Europeans and the fact that you never find an answer unless you talk to people. But the recent past demonstrates that by talking to some people you take yourselves out of the conversation with others. The real problem we had over this is that, as you know, when people spoke to Yasser Arafat they were simply not allowed to engage with Israeli ministers. We are now in a position where certainly this country has at least a level of engagement, a small level of leverage—I would not overplay it—with the Israelis. It concerns me—and one might as well surface the argument—that if we pursue a policy, which on the whole I agree with, is there not a danger of simply talking to only one side of the argument and never really having the ability to speak frankly then to the Israelis, both as Europeans, in the way you have been describing, but also as individual countries?

  Lord Patten of Barnes: That can be a danger but I am not sure that it is one that lasts for very long.

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