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I was fascinated by the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, about 1920 being a more relevant comparison with regard to the Middle East than 1998. I can see where he is coming from, as they say, but I do not want to get involved in a detailed discussion. It would make an excellent seminar to be held in another place, but cannot be included in speeches limited to a few minutes, as we have here.
I emphasise that we must be careful about drawing analogies and about reading over from one situation to another, but I see some points of similarity. Again, referring to comments that were made about respecting the parties and individuals, that ties up with the centrality in the Northern Ireland situation of the principle of consent. That was not fully followed in practice by successive British Governments in the early days, when they sought to impose their views, but in the latter stage, the existence of the respect for that principle was crucial in giving parties the confidence to enter into discussions, which might otherwise have been quite difficult, and to fashion their outcome.
Equally importantand this should help to clarify some of the issues with regard to participants in the situation in the Middle Eastwas the emphasis on having a democratic basis for involvement. That determined that parties should have a mandate, and that only those parties with a mandate could be involved. We were dealing with parties inside a state whereas in the Middle East there are competing states and non-state parties as well. There are differences and we should be cautious in terms of how we proceed.
I am with the noble Lord, Lord Bew, on the question of the conditionality of the process and in expressing scepticism about the suggestion that one should drop preconditions and engage in inclusive dialogue with everyone, no matter how unpleasant and nasty they appear to be. In Northern Ireland, the process was highly conditionalnot only on there being a complete cessation of violence, as the noble Lord suggested in a Question the other day; there were also the conditions summed up in the Mitchell principles and preshadowed in the Downing Street declaration of 1993. The endorsement of the Mitchell principles by the republican leadership led to a major split in that organisation and bound it into a democratic and peaceful process. As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, from the Downing Street declaration right through to the framework document, there was a degree of conditionality as to outcome. Stating the consent principle and requiring people to endorse it also conditioned the outcome because that meant there could be only one outcome to the basic underlying constitutional issue. But we have to be careful; this was a more conditional process than some people now recollect.
Reference was made to the paper published in, I believe, July of last year by Peter Hain. Some noble Lords may know that I responded to it in a paper published at the end of September entitled Misunderstanding Ulster, in which I went into detail on these matters. I refer noble Lords to that and if they have difficulty finding it they can obtain it on my website free of charge. In fact, it is free anywhere you get it, but that is by the way.
I note the proposal that is made regarding the development of talks in the Middle East but I am not sure that it will be helpful at present. We have a process which has been going on for a long time although it is episodic. It started at Oslo. To my mind the crucial thing that happened at Oslo was that a significant section of the Israeli body politic came to the conclusion that it had to divide the land and that there had to be a two-state solution rather than Israel continuing in occupation. As we know, that decision at Oslo was controversial at that stage within the Israeli body politic. But by the time of Camp David there was a clear majority within Israel for a compromise solution, and the conversion of Sharon to that view was hugely significant. While Likud might stand a little detached from the process at the moment, in view of what Sharon did I very much suspect that it will come back into it on the same terms that Sharon would have done. So I think there has been a sea change in politics in Israel.
It is not so clear whether there has been a similar sea change within Arab or Palestinian politics. I note the opinion poll that was referred to. We see the commitment of the Palestinian Authority leadership at the moment, but there must be huge reservations about whether Palestinian, let alone Arab, opinion is ready for a two-state solution at this stage. But there is a process even if, as I say, it has been episodic. It went from Oslo to Camp David, to the attempt a couple of years ago to start talks, to the talks that are now taking place. While one may regard the quartet as being outside it, or in some way supervising it, those are essentially talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But the talks will go wider. Reference was made to Saudi Arabia. Because the talks will necessarily have to deal with the Temple Mount, the Saudi Arabians, as the keepers of the holy places, will inevitably be involved, as they were involved at Camp David in giving approval to the regime for the governance and administration of the Temple Mount.
If there is a prospect of agreement, Syria will want to come in because it will want Golan, but there cannot be a resolution of the situation with Syria unless the Lebanon is sorted out because while the frontier on the Golan is quiet, that is mainly because Syria is conducting a proxy war through the Lebanon, so it involves sorting out the Lebanon as well. It comes back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made about the importance of the Israel/Palestine issue. It has general symbolic status but trying to resolve it involves going broader and wider, and that will inevitably happen.
I do not want to spend too much time commenting on the particular situation. The position of the Conservative Party is clear. We believe that the peace process ought to be based, and concluded, on the basis
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The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, quoted Martin McGuinness in a recent meeting at which he said the republican movement eventually came to the conclusion that it would have to engage with others. Decoded, that means that the republican movement came to the conclusion that it could not achieve a victory over others and that it would have to settle for the continued existence of the other and, therefore, accommodate itself. The republican movement came to that conclusion because its violence had failed; not only had it failed but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, it had become so thoroughly penetrated by intelligence that it faced defeat. It is not polite to say that, because we had a negotiated outcome with which I am very content, but the reality lying behind that is that the republican movement came into that process with a degree of reluctance, because it had nowhere else to go. We have had so many difficulties with the implementation of that process since 1998 because of that same degree of reluctance. That is true not just of the republican movement but of the Democratic Unionist Party. We now see two parties that perhaps would have preferred something else ending up together because they had nowhere else to go.
We may find a similar situation in Israel and Palestine, because, at the end of the day, Israelis and Palestinians have to accept that the other is not going to go away and they have to find an accommodation, which will be a two-state solution. When we see the full account of what happened at Camp David, we will discover how very close it came to a successful outcome and how, when we get a successful outcome between Israel and Palestinewhich may happen this year, but may not be until some subsequent pointit will turn out to be very close to the arrangements and final offers made to the Palestinians at Camp David regarding the borders of the state. Those offers have not been fully disclosed, but enough broad hints have been dropped to enable one to work out what they are.
At the end of the day it will come down to both those parties being prepared to accept the other and then to work out a modus vivendi. That will take time, particularly in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, on the degree of antipathy that exists in that situation. But there is no other place for the parties to go. We should do what we can to assist them in doing it, but we will not do anyone any favours by glossing over the need for one to accept the other and to move away from an attempt to achieve a total victory.
At present, there are some groups in some states that want that situation. We do not do them any
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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for initiating the debate. I suspect that I share with all those who have spoken who are neither Northern Irish nor Arab or Israeli the view that we have been allowed to sit in on a very special discussion between three fine Northern Irishmen. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, that this was not the time for a seminar, every now and again I wanted to close my eyes, lean back and think that I was back in the best kind of graduate seminar where we had three extraordinarily well informed points of view on what were or were not the lessons of Ulster for the Palestinian-Israeli problem of today.
For those of us not wise enough to be able to conclude who was right and who was wrong on the lessons drawn, there was nevertheless one common conclusion: that, for those of us who remember both conflicts, in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, and the frustration that we all felt in seeing so many of the worlds other conflicts resolved, these two intractable stubborn ones just sat out there, refusing, it seemed, to bend to reason or solution. We were all struck by the statesmanship and vision of those men and women of Northern Ireland who brought that conflict successfully to port and to peace. We can draw the general conclusion: if Northern Ireland, why not Palestine and Israel? This discussion gives us cause for hope. There should be no conflict from which we cannot find a peaceful way forward. We all support the peace process in the Middle East. But we are also awareas we heard from three noble Lords tonightthat it is the parties themselves that make the key decisions. There was a discussion about which side drew their conclusions for peace when and where. But in some ways the British, while vital to this process, nevertheless were secondary to the decisions of the immediate parties in Northern Ireland. The lesson here is that without the buy-in of Arab neighbours, of different Palestinian groups and of Israelis, no approach can be effective. The international community must stand ready to help where it can, but ultimate responsibility for the details of the negotiations must be taken by the parties themselves.
This Government work hard to help the peace process become sufficiently robust to survive any setbacks. The bedrock of our approach to the Middle East peace process remains our unstinting support for the principle of a two-state solution. We give every support to those who are committed to peaceful progress in the region, and we support economic and social development across the Occupied Palestinian Territories. First under Jim Wolfensohn and now under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, we have been proud to support efforts to build that economic self-interest that was referred to earlier in the context of the European Unionwhere driving self-interest allowed political institutions to be built on top of it, and conflict could be contained within peaceful
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Although we remain open to initiatives and certainly to the ideas that were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in terms of the table, we want to make sure that we do not displace or confuse the existing initiatives that are working towards a two-state solution. We have great hopes for what began at Annapolis. To those who have pointed out that the peace process in Northern Ireland was heavily conditioned, I say that we still look for the commitment of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah to peaceful progress in the region. We continue to call on Hamas to adhere to the quartets principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map. We still consider that these principles are not unreasonable and remain the fundamental conditions for a viable peace process. A political dialogue is impossible so long as one party is dedicated to violence and the destruction of the other. The option for engagement is in the hands of Hamas and Hezbollah. In saying that, we in no way condone Israels blockade of assistance to Gaza and its continued building of settlements that we consider illegal. In that sense, we appeal to both sides to hold back in order to create the space for peace and to learn the lesson of Northern Ireland that peace talks must be built on acceptance by both sides of the principle of the others right to exist. There is no way round the fact that they share a geographic space and must learn to live with each other.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, raised the question of the quartets representativenessa point echoed by othersand asked whether there should at least be room for it to become a quintet with the addition of the Arab League. Obviously, in its original conception the quartet was exactly thatoutside. The idea was to provide a group of outside friends to try to encourage the local parties and neighbours to move forward in a peace process. They were the external guarantors, and it was deliberately intended that the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN should not be privy to the conflict.
However, the Annapolis process, which is much wider but therefore much more inclusive because it contains essentially everyone with an interest in the conflict, wherever they are geographically located, is an attempt to create a more inclusive situation while allowing the United States, as the country that everyone looks to as being critical in the whole situation, a lead role, even beyond the one that it has played in the quartet.
Going forward, the question is: how do we find a balance between the external guarantors and drivers of the process while allowing space not just for the Israelis and Palestinians but for the neighbours in the Arab region to play an adequate role and, indeed, for the peace process to touch not just on the Palestinian/Israeli issue but at least on Syria and Lebanon as well?
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In that regard, I am very grateful for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, on the Arab Human Development Reports. In commissioning those reports, it was my hope that they would spur the Governments of the region to take the quality of governance and human rights and the political and economic progress of their region into their own hands. The message of the reports was, rightly, that you cannot blame everything on the Arab/Israeli conflict. Indeed, you need to look wider and understand that history is passing you by because you have chosen to allow yourself to be caught in the rut of ancient conflicts as the rest of the world moves on.
Prime Minister Fayyad was in London earlier today and met my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. It is through leaders such as him and President Abbas on the one side and Prime Minister Olmert, Foreign Minister Livni and Minister Barak on the other that we have seen in the past few months a real glimpse of progress. We hope that what began at Annapolis will follow through to real peace. In that regard, I devoutly hope that the unexpected optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, around an American diplomatic initiative is well placed and that it will lead to progress this year. None of us can doubt the real commitment of President Bush and Secretary of State Rice to try to notch up a success in this area before they leave office at the end of the year.
As I have said, the role that our Northern Ireland colleagues and Peers have played tonight reminds us of both what is possible and how high a mountain we have to climb. Nor is it a static mountain, as my noble friend Lord Judd and others have pointed out. This is a time when the humanitarian situation in Gaza only worsens. The level of deprivation for the people of that stricken area only grows. This is not a situation that can wait for ever for peace.
Therefore, we need to take inspiration from the three Peers of Northern Ireland who have spoken tonight. Perhaps I may quote one other great leader of that province. As John Hume said in his Nobel lecture in 1998, before any of us knew that peace would conclude successfully, at a moment when, perhaps, it looked almost as distant as peace in the Middle East looks today:
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