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Then, of course, we have the Obama effect. Despite the innumerable problems on his plate, he no doubt will want to bring his considerable influence to bear on Israel and the PA, and that must be a very positive factor. It is conceivable that we may soon have a situation where strengthened leaders might be able to announce a deal and carry a majority with them against the resistance of extremists on both sides.

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No one, I imagine, underestimates the difficulties to be overcome, nor the time it may take, but a signed agreement would be a marvellous first step in showing everyone where the future could lie. I may be hopelessly optimistic and naive, but I would rather have that as an aim than a future without hope, and that is where I believe we in the UK should be focusing all our efforts.

Where does that leave Hamas? Its policy, unfortunately, remains the same as it always was and it is not likely to change soon; it is the total destruction of Israel and a reclaiming of Palestine for radical Islam. Israel is criticised for not negotiating with Hamas but, pace the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, it is Hamas that will not talk to Israel. It goes further and has made it clear that it regards Abu Mazen and Fatah as traitors for speaking to Israel about a two-state solution. Indeed, it has been busy eliminating Fatah sympathisers from Gaza. It wants a one-state, not a two-state, solution.

This has hitherto made it virtually impossible for the PA and Israel to forge a solution. Clearly, Hamas cannot be eliminated, but nor will it include itself in a peace process. So, for the moment at least, the only rational way forward is for it to be marginalised. If I sound bitter about Hamas, I hope noble Lords will recognise why I do. An organisation that is willing to train its five year-olds to hate and kill Jews wherever they are, even here, and to train them to become suicide bombers; an organisation that snatches up its children to stand alongside them as they fire at their enemy, as we have seen on video clips; which booby-traps schools and stashes its explosives in mosques, which incidentally is why so many of them blew up; which fires from among its civilian population; an organisation which kills and maims its fellow Palestinians cannot and should not receive sympathy or support.

It is Hamas which hijacked trucks carrying food and medical supplies from Israel during, and I am afraid since, the conflict, according to UN inspectors, and it is Hamas which has fired on the crossings preventing the movement of fuel and oil to its own population, simply to try to confirm how bad Israel is in allowing aid across. All this is now confirmed by UN and UNRWA inspectors.

While a peace agreement will at some point require Hamas to come on board, the desperate Palestinians on the West Bank can ill afford to be asked to wait for ever until Hamas changes its policies. They deserve much better. We must grasp any opportunity which might come out of this turmoil.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will say more about how we can help both sides, how we can press Egypt and help it really to clamp down on smuggling across the border and, rather than laying blame and criticism, which does nothing for the Palestinians, I hope that we are offering constructive proposals and aid, so that we might have some hope of a just and lasting peace.

12.16 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I care about humanity and I will speak out when I feel that injustice and cruelty are inflicted on people. I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on such subjects, including people trafficking, forced marriages, torture and the rights of Gurkhas.

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At the outset, I have no reservation in condemning the Hamas rockets that were directed into Israel’s sovereign territory; neither should we forget the deliberate targeting by the Israel Defence Forces to inflict collective and wholesale punishment on the people of Gaza.

At this stage, I reaffirm my belief in a two-state solution, with Israel’s right to exist and defend its territory. Alongside Israel’s right to exist, we must ensure that there is the creation of a viable Palestinian territory. No one could convince me that the conditions in which the Gaza Strip was held constituted a free sovereign territory. Those who lived in Gaza were detained in what amounted to little more than the largest open prison on the planet, with no control over their air space or their borders. That was not acceptable, and it is not sustainable.

The people of Gaza have, over a period of many months, lived in a cast-iron blockade. A lot has been said about the smuggling of weapons through the tunnels, but we must understand why the tunnels were dug in the first place. They have been used to bring in food, fuel, medical supplies and the basic necessities of life. If the blockade is lifted, the tunnels will disappear.

I regret that Israel chose to use its troops to inflict one of the most disproportionate and excessive deployments that we have seen in the world. The alleged use of white phosphorous and DIME weapons is disgusting and outrageous; to use this material against civilians is against international law. There have been other alleged abuses of international law, and I hope that the Minister can confirm that these will be investigated and that those responsible—if there is evidence to prove the allegations—will be pursued and prosecuted. They must be held to account for their decisions and their actions. Those allegations need to be investigated thoroughly, and I understand that the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Government of Israel will be leading that activity. The Government have confirmed that they are in contact with all three bodies, and I hope that the Minister will provide the House with an update on those investigations.

Israel refused to permit the world media to go to Gaza. We could understand perhaps that the reason could be that they did not want the world to know what was happening. The media were allowed in during the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. Notwithstanding the ban, horrific pictures were relayed by Al Jazeera and other channels telling us the reality of what was happening. The Israeli propaganda machine was strong, but watching the people of Gaza suffer on the few TV channels relaying from Gaza caused a great deal of distress to many right-thinking people. Jewish organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Sir Gerald Kaufman in the other place have been very critical of the Israeli action. Countries such as Qatar and Turkey, which were friendly with Israel, are now very unfriendly towards it.

In total, around 1,200 Palestinians were killed during the recent onslaught. A significant number of these were women, children and innocent civilians. People who have been injured have been inflicted with serious burns and other horrific infirmities, and are in

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need of urgent care. We need to think about providing humanitarian aid to them from our facilities in Cyprus.

However, the damage goes well beyond the human cost, high though that is. There has been destruction of public services, infrastructure, power plants, hospitals, homes, mosques, universities and a number of other structures. The Israelis went on to damage the United Nations’ facilities and compound, causing deaths and injuries. The International Red Cross and the United Nations have condemned the Israeli actions. The Israelis failed to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the injured civilians and, in fact, hindered the Red Cross from doing so. This is contrary to international humanitarian conventions.

I should like to express my serious concern about the possible radicalisation and engendering of extremism among young people in this country and abroad as a result of the Israeli invasion. This should be a source of worry for us all. For my part, I will try to calm the situation.

Gaza's condition was less than ideal before the conflict, and things have become considerably worse. The humanitarian catastrophe will become worse unless we all work together to help our fellow human beings. I deplore the decision of the BBC to refuse to broadcast an appeal to provide assistance to these people. Its actions are a case, in my view, of poor judgment.

We need to move on from conflict and work more actively towards a resolution of the historical events that have caused such misery and pain. I want to see a viable and secure Palestinian state that is able to live alongside Israel in peace. It is the western vision that any such Palestinian state should be a democracy, but there is a problem when we refuse to allow those citizens the right to make their own choice. We need to think again whether or not we should talk to Hamas.

In our deliberation we must realise how peace was achieved in Northern Ireland, with Martin McGuinness as the Deputy First Minister, and how South Africa attained its independence under Nelson Mandela. We need to think about creating unity between Hamas and Fatah, leading to a Government of national consensus. This will require active participation by the United States, the quartet and a number of other countries.

The programme of aid to the Palestinians has been linked to progress with the peace process. I hope that the Minister can confirm to the House that we will do everything we can to reduce and eliminate the suffering and that we will not allow obstacles to get in the way of bringing about an end to the suffering in Gaza.

In conclusion, we need to recognise that this conflict has been the cause of a great deal of suffering to a large number of people for decades. The recent misery must not be allowed to be a catalyst for further horrors. I wish Senator George Mitchell well in his endeavours on behalf of the new American Administration, and urge the Government to do what they can to facilitate engagement from all sides to achieve the destination of conflict resolution. The priority, however, must be, in the first instance, to relieve the horrendous suffering that has been inflicted on the people of Gaza and to ensure that those responsible for this misery are held

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to account for their decisions. I hope that the Government will not inhibit either of those activities. I would appreciate the Minister’s reply to the points I have raised.

12.26 pm

Lord Dykes: My Lords, last week, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and I disagreed over the euro, but this week I heartily agree with his sagacious words in this debate. He is clearly a man of peace who brings communities and people together. I thank him for his suggestions. We were particularly grateful to the Conservative spokesman on the Front Bench for referring to the change of attitudes in Turkey, which the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, also mentioned. That is a significant factor.

Understandably, there has been repeated mention of terrorism; there is also the phenomenon of terrorism in uniform which, sadly, was practised by the British and American Armed Forces on hapless civilians in Iraq in the illegal invasion in 2003. As a party, we condemned that from our Benches. Terrorism in uniform was inflicted by the IDF on hapless and trapped Palestinian civilians. That may have been a turning point for Israel—I hope in a positive sense of achieving peace as a result of these terrible events. Z. Brezinski described what happened in Gaza as a “massacre”. That is the only word that one can use. The foolishness and recklessness meted out by Israeli leaders—partly, even presumably, to win votes in the forthcoming election next week, which is an astonishing suggestion—was a crime on the Palestinians as well as a huge tragedy for Israel, shortly after celebrating 60 years of dynamic history. What an immense tragedy at this time for that country

Shortsighted Israeli voters may well, according to the polls, be preparing to vote for an extreme right-wing leader and party who apparently believe in perpetual Israeli warfare with the enemy. However, the real thinking voters in Israel know in their ever-sinking hearts that this is the road to total ruin for this important country in the Middle East. As I have been a friend of Israel for many years and, I hope, a thinking and candid friend, I pay the strongest tribute to the huge, never-before seen, Jewish protests at home, in the world diaspora and in Britain against the recent aggression by Israeli armed forces and their political leaders.

Noble Lords should make no mistake about it, this was Israel’s Sharpeville, although, tragically, the killing, maiming for life and injuries were on a much bigger scale in the Gaza open-air prison that was created by western ineptitude as well Israeli misdeeds. It will never be forgotten, because footage by Al Jazeera television and other Arabian services have made sure that all this was seen on television by Arabian viewers and Palestinians in the West Bank.

Now we hear similar excuses for the killings uttered by shameless Israeli leaders, which make many Israelis feel utterly embarrassed. No wonder this situation is similar to what the apartheid rulers in South Africa used to say before apartheid was eventually abolished. Yet brave, fair-minded and decent Israelis in their thousands and hundreds of thousands, and many

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fellow Jews abroad, have protested as never before on a massive scale. We must all pay tribute, as has been said, to the tireless work of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, to rabbis who are in favour of Palestine being a state, to B’TSelem and the other outstanding human rights groups in Israel which do fantastic work, and to Peace Now which is a marvellous organisation whose UK committee is chaired by Paul Usiskin, one of the signatories to the recent protest letters. I have long supported those organisations. What a pity that Daniel Barenboim could not stand for the Knesset or do something in the Israeli election after the one next week. What work he has done to bring these two countries and communities together.

While Gaza 2008-09 can never be forgotten, the hope for the future lies in people such as those and the Palestinian moderates. In Israel, it lies with people whose family history of persecution and suffering has honed their sense of doing right for the Palestinians after 41 years of ever more brutal illegal occupation of what remains of Palestinian-owned land. I am thinking also of people such as Gerald Kaufman MP, who has already been mentioned. He is now being insulted by the hard-line IDF and its right-wing supporters for his brave speech in the House of Commons, which I heard. I visited the West Bank with him in November 2005 and saw the appalling—that is the only word for it—situation there, which has not significantly improved since then; in many ways, it has got worse for the ever patient Palestinians under the Palestinian Authority. It is right that such people, as well as this House in this debate, should be protesting about this matter.

This is not only about common sense; it is about generosity. The Palestinian Authority is officially asking for the return of only 22 per cent of the combined territory. Israel has so much and has created so much, but Palestinians are left with so little. Where is that traditional, legendary Jewish hospitality and generosity which we are used to seeing all over the world and which we have always strongly supported? I find it difficult to credit that people such as Olmert cannot properly negotiate after so many years of time-wasting and shoals of US vetoes allowing Israel to misbehave.

The only two countries in the world that now routinely and frequently bomb and kill civilians in other people’s lands are the USA and Israel. I hope and assume that Barack Obama will now change all that poison in America, so can we please ask the Israeli authorities to do the same? Although these terrible events cannot be forgotten, it would then be possible, patiently and slowly, to return to long-lasting friendship between Arabia, Palestine and Israel. The so far disappointingly myopic Israeli politicians should have the courage to grasp this opportunity.

I know that people in Israeli government circles are hoping that, as time passes, the international community will lose interest in the subject of war crimes trials and all the rest of it, but that will not happen; people in the UN and elsewhere will not let this go. Interesting suggestions have been made by the Malaysian Parliament and Government about how to invoke the ICC provisions, as has been mentioned. George Bush could be indicted for war crimes in Iraq under those procedures, while

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only the ordinary procedure would be needed for Tony Blair, as the UK supports the ICC, I am glad to say, although that may never happen either. If the US dared to use its veto in the future, there would be such disgust with its conduct after what has happened, and after so many of its vetoes over the years have meant that Israel has not had to behave according to international law, that people would say, “Enough is enough”.

It would be truly ironic if, after the election next week, the failure to respond by defiant and myopic Israeli leaders were to be the reason for the loss of their own Zionist state. No fair-minded person in the world wants to harm Israel. It is an excellent country that has achieved much in 60 years. However, that could be the end result, foolishly and unexpectedly, if the Palestinians decide to abandon the two-state solution and ask for citizenship in a single secular state in the combined areas.

There are other imperatives in this awful scenario of bitterness, pain and hatred over what has happened recently. First, Senator Mitchell must be allowed to succeed. There are no excuses left this time. The world is fed up to the back teeth with the endless saga of US Middle East peace envoys being hijacked and destroyed by US-Israeli joint manoeuvrings to prevent Israel from negotiating and obeying 242 and all the other resolutions after 41 years of occupation. We saw all the details of that in the remarkable book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt, published in 2007. Forty-two US vetoes preventing Israel from doing what was necessary have led to this impasse. What short-sighted behaviour by a country that, under President Eisenhower, was much wiser in dealing with imperial powers in the Middle East and with Israel. It is astonishing to me how many people in the US and the UK either do not know about the vetoes or think that they are not important.

Meanwhile, the pathetic road map quartet, especially the cringingly embarrassing EU portion of it, must resolve to reform itself or, indeed, abolish itself if it cannot carry on properly and if it is not up to the task of insisting, at long last, on real, rapid negotiations between the parties. Russia, too, should pull its socks up and insist on all this when it hosts the March quartet summit.

Foreign peacekeeping forces will have to be stationed along these provocative frontiers pending the eventual full peace accord and a deal to set up a fully sovereign and genuine Palestinian state. Hamas must keep to the ceasefire offered, despite any provocations. It must renounce the use of violence and stop the rockets that give such an easy excuse for the Israeli military to go berserk. Then, it must be offered a full place in the negotiations right away. Fatah needs to recognise the legitimacy of Hamas, which in effect is much stronger than its own, and not only in Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas should maybe step down, as he is thinking of doing, and a much more realistic negotiator should be put in place as presidential candidate—perhaps someone such as Barghouti, Erekat or even Ashrawi. Meanwhile, the EU needs seriously to consider trade and other sanctions if Israel is not seen to be complying with the demands of the international community.

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The whole of Arabia is watching meticulously and sharply to see that Europe and the USA behave properly, openly and fairly with both sides. Any more blunders or kowtowing to the extreme Zionist lobby—in itself, a grossly exaggerated excuse anyway—and legions of new young Arab terrorist volunteers will be spawned automatically for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad in their many forms. If Israel wants 100 years of war, it will surely have it in full measure, but I do not believe that it does; I believe that sensible people in Israel will avoid that by doing what is necessary. Mr Obama needs to use his Chief of Staff to explain carefully the new realities. Britain, France and Holland were initially foolishly slow to give freedom to their colonies, but they eventually cottoned on and acted pretty rapidly. Now it is the turn of Israel to show modern Judaeo-Christian common sense and wisdom.

12.37 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I believe that this debate, at least in its better moments, is enlarging our horizons by placing Gaza in the context where it belongs. Gaza presents just one facet of related conflicts stemming from the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the later creation of the state of Israel. There are, for example, the unresolved conflicts of Lebanon, the uncertain condition of Iraq and the hardships of more than 25 million Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iraq. The dry Middle East has further potential for disputes over water supplies.

Fortunately, a new consensus has emerged on Palestine. Ephraim Halevy, Colin Powell, General Zinni, Martin Indyk, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Chris Patten and, rather belatedly, Mr Blair all say that we must now engage with Hamas and promote Palestinian unity. We should distinguish between the Change and Reform platform, which won the 2006 elections, and the al-Qassam Brigades, which have many rockets. Political progress, helped by releasing prisoners, should come first. Decommissioning of weapons and economic progress will then follow.

I regret very much that there has been no multilateral process designed to resolve brutal wars and to prevent new conflicts since the Madrid conference of 1991. That made a promising start but, alas, there has been no follow-up. The lack of effective collective focus partly explains why western policy in the region has been such a failure since the time of the Oslo agreements and the second intifada of 2000. This failure has occurred despite the helpful proposals of the Arab League. Since January 2006, western policies have become disastrous. They set impossible preconditions. They failed entirely to prevent two appalling wars, in South Lebanon in August 2006 and in Gaza in recent weeks. The policies failed to influence Israel and totally alienated Hamas and much Islamic opinion throughout the world.

Given these failures, many people will warmly welcome the Cost of Conflict in the Middle East, a report just produced by the Strategic Foresight Group of Mumbai with wide international backing. This charts spending on wars, plus the vast annual costs of military, police, security, relief and aid. Despite such spending, I am informed that 91 per cent of Israelis still feel insecure.

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The report points out that the overall standard of living in the Middle East would have doubled had comprehensive peace been available from 1991. It assesses the cost of lost opportunities and the potential of new, linked-up economies. I trust that this report will lead to changed policies in East and West, and will stimulate co-operative behaviour.

It seems to me that the Middle East situation today is not unlike that of Europe in 1945, except of course that there are no absolute winners or losers. In this situation, I agree very much with the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wallace, that it is important to revive multilateral approaches to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Iran, calling on the help of Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. This, surely, was the wisdom of the Baker-Hamilton report to the American President. It is so important to transcend the obsessive nature of individual conflicts. We should remember how the small Benelux and the wider European Coal and Steel Community paved the way to the now large European Union. Modest surrenders of national sovereignty can lead to huge gains for the people as a whole.

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