|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Some Israelis would prefer to bring in Fatah again, under the approval of Israeldisastrous for the future reputation of Fatah on the West Bank, and of Hamas, it seems to me. Others in Israel say, Gaza should be nothing to do with us in future. Open the Rafah crossing and push Gaza onto Egypt. The Mubarak regime is clear that that would threaten to destroy the Egyptian regime, with potentially disastrous results for Israel. Others accept that perhaps no one would end up running Gaza, and out of the chaos, an even more radical terrorist wing would emerge.
We on these Benches find the approach of Her Majestys Government deeply frustrating. They have been too close to the Bush Administration in their dying days, and too biased towards Israel after its disproportionate and self-defeating use of force. Having watched our Prime Minister at his press conference in Israelan image that undoubtedly has gone to Al-Jazeera and the whole of the Arab worldone worries about the hatred issue. There is, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, real concern about encouraging anti-Semitism in this country. However, encouraging hatred of the West across the Arab world must be deeply against Britains long-term interests, and we have to be concerned about that, as well.
Will the Minister tell us about the Sharm el-Sheikh summit? Under whose auspices was it held? What was the framework? Was it an EU summit or was it an ad hoc collection of heads of Government? Did it have any relationship with the quartet, or is the quartet no longer viable?
On the policy of excluding Hamas and talking only to Fatah, one of my Israeli interlocutors told me that, in effect, Israel is already talking to Hamas through the Egyptians. There is a great deal of hypocrisy about how we keep Hamas out of the loop.
The Statement refers to unity in Palestinian politics. However, we and others have been promoting disunity in Palestinian politics ever since the 2006 election and
19 Jan 2009 : Column 1507
A Palestinian state? We need the Palestinian state foreseen in the road map, within secure boundaries, which I suspect have to be close to the 1967 boundaries.
It is the same situation with talk about stopping the flow of arms to one side. Those of us who remember the Bosnian conflict recall that an arms embargo disadvantaged one side in a deep and bitter conflict. If we talk about the flow of arms, we must talk about the flow of British components to Israeli arms manufacturers.
When the Statement talks about opening the crossings, will the Minister reassure me that it means opening all the crossings and not just the Rafah crossing? It talks about the contribution that we and others will make to rebuilding Gaza again. Who else will be asked to pay? Will the Israeli Government, as well as Arab Governments, be asked this time to contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza, which must be part of rebuilding a viable economy in the Palestinian land, one of the necessary bases for the negotiated settlement for which we all desperately wish but from which we are now further than we were three weeks ago?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, both the noble Lords, Lord Astor of Hever and Lord Wallace, have essentially said, So far so good in terms of the ceasefire, but we need to go a lot further to build an enduring peace. We on these Benches agree completely with that viewthis is a start, but no more than that. We must move quickly to bolster what is obviously a fragile ceasefire.
I shall take the points in order. The issue of the tunnels and the boats is a critical early step to get right because it is a confidence-building step for at least one side. I do not pretend that we yet have all the answers. Egypt has always maintained that as the sovereign power at one end of the tunnels it should be responsible for security in that regard and has never expressed much enthusiasm for an international force in that function. With regard to the boatsthere is a big debate about how many of the arms come in by land and how many come in by seathat is an area where the international community can make more of a contribution, hence the Prime Ministers offer. It is certainly his expectation that it would not just be the UK but that a group of countries would provide boats if that were useful. Again, though, a whole series of questions need to be thought through about the right of interdiction at sea, the legal basis on which the boats would be operating, and many other issues. These are spontaneous initial responses to the situation and offers made in great seriousness to try to move this thing forward, but an effective regime of controlling arms smuggling, either underground or by sea, must be urgently developed. We will play whatever useful role we can in that, within the limitations of our military and naval capacities, as was pointed to by the noble Lord, Lord Astor.
Both speakers said that we cannot stop there. Equally important in this first phase is ensuring that the crossings are opened. Here there may well ultimately be a role
19 Jan 2009 : Column 1508
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, expressed concern that the Arab peace initiative will not be there for ever. It seems like a long time ago, but before this dreadful conflict in Gaza started the Foreign Secretary toured the region, trying to build support for the Arab peace initiative. That was the main thrust of David Milibands Middle East visit, now six or seven weeks ago. He and the Government believe that it remains as important now as then, but it is right to say that it will not remain on the table for ever. A cost of this conflict is a polarisation and radicalisation of opinion in the Arab world as well as other places, which means that moderates have difficulty in holding on to their ground. If we are to move forward with the initiative, we must do so quickly.
That takes us to the question of who runs Gaza and the role of Hamas in the political process. It is primarily, as the Statement said, for Palestinians to determine who runs Gaza; there must be a political process that will resolve the differences between the two Palestinian groups, Fatah and Hamas. There remain several ways that the Palestinians could choose to move that forward. One is to reunite again under the banner of the Palestinian Authority, which recognises the state of Israel and has sought a peaceful means to resolve these conflicts. If the authority became a unifying Government for the two halves of the Palestinian community, that would be a way forward. There is speculation among Palestinians that it may be easier to move to elections and elect fresh leadership. Ultimately, though, the Palestinians must resolve how to come together in a united way and negotiate not just with Israel but with the international community as well.
If I may, I shall defend the Government and our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. Perhaps I am looking at this from the other end of the measuring stick, in a sense, but it seems that the Government have tried to show even-handedness in this conflict and we have not fallen into the trap of blind support for one side. The negotiation of the UN Security Council resolution, in which we played such a leading role, reflects that, and Israels anger at that resolution demonstrates that if offending both sides is the measure of neutralityor if not neutrality, at least some balancethen it was a much better performance than that of several years ago, when the charge that there was not balance quickly enough in British policy in 2006 perhaps had more truth to it.
On the arms issue, we want to stop a conflict that began because the Israelis were reacting to rocket attacks on their cities. We therefore want to prevent a revival of those rocket attacks, so preventing the resupply
19 Jan 2009 : Column 1509
I turn to the final point that was raised, the reconstruction and who will pay for it. I was pleased to hear today that the Saudi Government are contributing $1 billion to reconstruction, and I hope the Gulf countries will play a leading role in that. However, as I have said before in this House, and I think this is a widely shared sentiment, how many more times do we have to rebuild Gaza? There is an obligation on the parties to this conflict to bring this to an end and stop the shameless cycle of reconstruction and destruction.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful for much of what was said in the Statement and for some of the Ministers replies to questions. I have three brief points. First, will the Government make it clear that the taxpayers of the world cannot be expected to repair and replace the wanton damage caused by Israel to civilian and United Nations premises? Israel, surely, should initiate a worldwide Marshall plan for both Gaza and the West Bank. Secondly, given that the present ceasefire is not necessarily permanent, and that there is still no agreement about crossing points, will the Government insist on access by sea to Gaza for relief and emergency supplies? Ships carrying such supplies should, if necessary, be escorted by NATO and other allied navies. Finally, will the Government ensure that tankers carrying pure drinking water by sea to Gaza, to prevent widespread kidney disease and other diseases caused by polluted supplies, can get there?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I sympathise deeply with the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that it is not fair to turn to the international community time after time for this kind of reconstruction. Israel, too, has a responsibility in this. That is absolutely correct. However, equally, we cannot make the reconstruction a political football when people are in need and their lives are at risk today. We have to start this and, once more, it will be those with a reputation for generosity in such humanitarian activities who, I fear, will get a large portion of the bill. It is worth it; lives that have been so deeply jeopardised by recent events will be saved.
As to access from the sea for humanitarian supplies, the UN Secretary-General has sent a humanitarian assessment mission to the region and a DfID Minister, Mike Foster, is also there looking at the humanitarian issues. We will need to wait and see what is the best way to achieve the supply that we all want to see on an urgent basis.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I welcome the ceasefire with no reservations whatever. Many of us want to put on record our appreciation of the very constructive part played by the Secretary of State and indeed by the Minister of State himself and other members of our Government. Does my noble friend accept that this is only a very fragile ceasefire? As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has said so well, getting on with the job of renewing the peace process is urgent. If that peace process is to be meaningful and to have any chance of fulfilment, is it not essential from the outset that those involved are drawn from as wide a spectrum as possible, and that we avoid the mistakerepeatedly made in the pastof limiting negotiations to those with whom it is convenient to negotiate? Is it not essential to be prepared to talk to those with whom it may be very difficult to talk? Meanwhile, does my noble friend agree that there is very little that is more urgent in humanitarian terms than to lift the siege of the Gaza economy?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I think the answer to my noble friends questions is yes. The peace process does need to be expanded. In the Statement the Foreign Secretary used the phrase 23-state solution. That reflects the idea that we need to get the whole Arab worldfriends and not such friends alikeinvolved if we are to get a durable peace that will hold for all. Equally, I confirm my noble friends second point about the urgency of access.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, we are all grateful for the Statement and, of course, for the ceasefire itself. Clearly, immediate humanitarian aid should have priority. Does the Minister agree that rebuilding the economy of Gaza is vital and urgent? I do not only mean rebuilding it to its position before the bombardment, when around 50 per cent or more of Gazans were unemployed, but rebuilding it to a much more normal position. The Statement seemed to say that we will work for full political agreement before trying to rebuild the economy. That is almost the wrong way around. We need a Marshall plan of an enormous kind for the economy of Gaza. As the Minister said, Saudi Arabia is promising $1 billion and is hoping to raise another $1 billion from the other Arab states quite shortly. We should back them up to get the economy moving, almost regardless of politics. That means opening the crossingsparticularly into Egyptand sea wharves in full for trade, and, as soon as it can be arranged, the airport, to which the Minister referred the other day. Freeing the economy and allowing the people to work and earn will make the politics much easier. The effect of Israeli actions in beggaring its neighbour has made the situation infinitely more difficult.
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, like the noble Lord, I have always been attracted to the idea of a Marshall plan for Gaza and the West Bank. He and I are not alone; our own Prime Minister proposed such an idea when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Shimon Peres, that grand elder statesman of Israel, has frequently proposed a Marshall plan. I must say that I have come to the reluctant conclusion not that the politics has to follow the economics, but thatat
19 Jan 2009 : Column 1511
Baroness Northover: My Lords, the Minister spoke of the radicalising effect of this conflict and we have seen the emphasis that has been placed, certainly in the United Kingdom, on this conflict. How does the Minister think that we can continue to keep the international spotlight on this? Does he not see this as a very dangerous moment? Is this not a much more dangerous conflict even than previous ones? If we do not keep that international spotlight on the Middle East, we will be in a very serious situation. Following what was said earlier, how do we ensure that the Gazans are not simply imprisoned again, that a port and an airport are open and that the Gazans are able to trade freely? On accountability, although it may seem politically difficult, will the investigation of war crimes be pursued?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, on the first point, urgency is everything. At the end of the Lebanon conflict in 2006 a Security Council resolution was adopted with a much fuller set of stages for building the peace than Resolution 1860. It laid out a whole series of territorial and disarmament objectives, which were meant to be reached in sequence. Most of that sequence has been honoured in the breach rather than the achievement because once a kind of peace settled back down, monitored by UN peacekeepers, the pressure on the two sides to resolve these difficult issues dissipated and fell away. We must make sure that the same does not happen to Gaza. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is absolutely correct. We have to ensure that we push through and get these political arrangements locked in and agreed to as quickly as possible. I hope that a new American Administration will become part of dealing with that.
On war crimes, the UN has now seen this tragic attack on an UNRWA school, following the attack on the main UNRWA compound. It is in a good place, through its own processes, to make that case to the right international authorities if it believes that the evidence is there.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, on the relationship between
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think it is the turn of the Cross Benches.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I am grateful. May I join all noble Lords who have so sincerely tendered their congratulations to the Government and
19 Jan 2009 : Column 1512
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I reconfirm that while the noble Lord is right to say that it is only one element, the interdiction as regards the resupply of these rockets is a key part in building the confidence between the two sides which will allow for a long-term peace. The offer as regards interdiction at sea did not come out of the blue but emerged from discussions with a number of parties, including the Israelis, the Americans and others. I think that it will enjoy widespread support. I hope that it will happen under an international flag and that a number of us will combine to make it effective.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, as regards the relationship between Hamas and Fatah and talking to the Palestinians, can my noble friend enlarge a little further on his reply to my noble friend Lord Judd? If we talk to only one of these two parties, it begs the question whether they are both more or less representative in the West Bank and Gaza respectively. In so far as I understand where the Government are going, they both ought to be at any round table meeting and we cannot require prior agreement between them. Can he explore further with European Union colleagues how that could be arranged, and then discuss it with President Obama?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend knows that he is stepping on a very sensitive issue, but one that I think all of us in this House agree needs to be advanced and progressed. We have to find a way for the Palestinians to come together in a way that allows them to engage with the international community as well as to negotiate with Israel. I laid out two possibilities for that: to reunite under the flag of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas in a way that created a united Government to whom the international community could talk and who met broadly the conditions of the quartet principles; or, as an alternative way of arriving at this point, to offer the potential prospect of elections. Both options are being discussed among the Palestinians. However, I cannot assure the House that it is as straightforward as my noble friend has suggested and that we shall instantly be able to sit down around a seminar table with the two Palestinian leaderships equally represented. That kind of statement would be highly inflammatory in this context. We have to understand that we need to work to arrive at a point where we can deal with the whole Palestinian community,
19 Jan 2009 : Column 1513
Lord Steinberg: My Lords, I wish to ask a few questions which I hope may help to resolve our thinking on the way forward. First, I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Cope that the economic aspect must come first, even before the political one, although I understand that the political discussions are ongoing. Secondly, does the Minister agree that if Hamas could be persuaded to drop from its charter the desire to destroy Israel completely, that would very much help the thinking of the Israeli public and Government? If and when the border crossings are opened, I should be very much in favourI hope that the Minister agrees with meof them being policed by a joint force to ensure that Israel acts properly and that the people coming out of Gaza, and goods going into Gaza, are properly handled.
My final point is slightly off the wall. We have been talking a lot about the tunnels and the arms smuggling. Is it not a worthwhile idea to sink a deep trench along the Philadelphia corridor, with the permission of Egypt, and flood all the tunnels from the Mediterranean Sea?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, while I consider the answer to the noble Lords final point, I shall reply to the first two. I have already said that the economic and political aspects need to proceed in parallel, but we certainly need to accord enormous importance to the economic aspects. As regards Hamas dropping the destruction of Israel from its charter, the quartet principles, which also call for the renunciation of violence, are the principles we have always required of Hamas before it participates in negotiations, or we participate in negotiations with it. As has been discussed, we need to find a way to move forward and not fall back into the previous arid stand-off. We must find a way of bringing Hamas forward, ultimately as part of a united Palestinian delegation, into negotiations on a final peace.
On the border crossings, it is clear that two issues require to be addressed. The first is the need for some kind of international presence to ensure access. There is also the issue of how the Palestinians manage their side of these border accesses.
On the noble Lords final point, we may need a new Ferdinand de Lesseps to come back and do a few of his magnificent tricks digging big drains in the region. However, I shall certainly pass the point on to those more qualified to deal with it than myself.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|