|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The charges of disproportionate were not made in relation to other wars that we have recently experienced; Kosovo, Georgia, Iraq or even Afghanistan, where people have died in their thousands. In fact, there has been some praise for the restraint that Israel has shown in trying to avoid civilian casualties. There is also a civil war in Gaza, which makes the prospects of peace unrealistic. The military dictatorship there did nothing to protect its own subjects, but took the opportunity of war to eliminate many of its Fatah political opponents. Other noble Lords have referred to the very cruel details of this. Even the Palestinian Authoritys President Abbas said:
Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas all share that same aim of destroying Israel entirely and, indeed, Hamas has thanked Iran for its support in the Gaza war. As others have mentioned, the result has been that Jews all over the world have suffered for this. The attacks on Jews that have taken place here in the UK and elsewhere illustrate my theme of a wider war. It is Jews and synagogues in London and Venezuela, in universities, to their shame, and streets, that are attacked, with Gaza as the excuse, not Israelis. It is not Jews who see all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism; it is some of
6 Feb 2009 : Column 914
Then there is the propaganda war. I urge noble Lords not to believe all that they read in the newspapers about damage and killings in Gaza. We do not have the evidence. I cite just one case. The tragic killing of the three daughters of the respected Gazan doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish now seems to have been by Gazan rockets, not Israeli fire, according to the post-mortem examination of the fragments of their bodies.
On the humanitarian front, of course, it is exacerbated, because Hamas wanted civilian deaths to increase its worldwide exposure and sympathy. Humanitarian aid is another area where the wrong and pessimistic view has been taken. I noted with interest and approval that the BBC refused to screen the advertisement for aid and that it was backed by its own NUJ branch of journalists. It is not so good to hear talk of a Zionist lobby and Jews mugging protests and stemming disquiet in the United States, when you consider the very small numbers that there are. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has a huge budget. We do not yet know what happened to the millions that Arafat salted away and took to his death. We note the failure of other Arab countries to come to the aid of their brothers. The oil revenue of the Gulf states in 2008 was $562 billion; in Saudi Arabia it was $260 billionone days oil revenue would work a miracle for the West Bank and Gaza, but this is not forthcoming.
On the humanitarian front, Israels Supreme Court in the past few days, a court known for its robustness, has examined the application of the Geneva conventions on humanitarian law and found them not to have been breached. Other Arab countries have not only not helped but have literally turned their backs on the Palestinians, as one can read regarding Syria in the report in the Times today.
What of the future? Gaza could have had a future. Every Israeli soldier and civilian was removed from there. Everything was ready for the Gazans a few years ago to start a new period of economic development. There was no blockade, and it remains true that Egypt could open its crossing if it wanted to. It does not, of course, because it no more wants an Iranian state on its borders than Israel does. Instead the rockets and the tunnels came, and the sad destruction of the very greenhouses where flowers and fruit were grown and could have continued to be grown.
What can the UK do? It can support Egypt, which is acting very well in this crisis, albeit for its own reasons of survival. It can help block Hamas from smuggling more arms by sea. It can press for the release of Gilad Shalit, who has been a hostage in Gaza for two and a half years with no access to the Red Cross or any other international agency. It can persuade Hamas to change the charter and remove mention of destruction. Above all, your Lordships should lend your voices to the end of the demonisation of Israel and to calm down the surging anti-Semitism. Your Lordships should recognise the need of Israel to exist and its legitimacy. It is no more arriviste in the Middle East than the other 22 Arab states to be found there. There can be no further removal of six million
6 Feb 2009 : Column 915
The firing of missiles by Hamas into Israel was wrong. It provoked the massive retaliation by Israel. For Hamas to target civilians indiscriminately in any form cannot be justified. The response by Israel was, nevertheless, out of all proportion. Indiscriminately to kill, maim and bereave such large numbers of innocent people and children was unforgivable, whatever the provocation. It was also counterproductive. It inevitably strengthened the political significance of Hamas.
However, it was not just the military action; it came on top of the prolonged and ruthless stranglehold by Israel on Gazas economy, with all its consequent hardship and suffering, not least acute food shortages and ruined agricultural production. The military action was also preceded by repeated attempts by Israel to destabilise and undermine the Administration of Gaza and to destroy its infrastructure. That came against the background of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, harsh imprisonments and allegations of torture.
However, the imperative for us all is to sustain the ceasefire and immediately to start working with Israeli and Palestinian people to find a sane way forward to enduring peace. We should salute the courageous people in Israel, not least those in the armed services, who steadfastly seek reconciliation and a constructive and positive road to peace, and who refuse to endorse the intransigent, confrontational and more violent approach.
In 1967, I was in Israel during the six-day war. As emotional messages of solidarity poured in from across the world, I shall never forget those Israelis who said to me then, Its all right for them, but we have to build a viable future here with our neighbours.
The UK has a special responsibility. The Balfour Declaration and our role in the formation of the State of Israel underline this. We should be second to none in our commitment to the security and well-being of the people of Israel, but genuine commitment and friendship demand that we all face facts. No people paid a higher price for the formation of the State of Israel than the Palestinian people. We will make little progress until we are seen to understand this and to feel the deeply rooted sense of hurt and injustice that resulted. We cannot undo history, but we must constantly keep in mind the cost of the so-called solution to the Palestinian people.
At the same time, we must nevereverforget the persecution of the Jews across the world for centuries. If the memory of the horror and the appalling significance of the Holocaust were ever to fade, it would be a sinister and threatening day for decent democracy. However, the cruelty and systematic brutality of the Holocaust were as terrible as they were not because those who suffered were Jews but because they were
6 Feb 2009 : Column 916
It is the absolute and universal principles of the rights of men and women that matter. We all of us need to recommit ourselves to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other conventions that relate closely to it. We must take these as the cornerstone of all that we seek to contribute in our work with the Israelis and Palestinians, just as they should be in our own administration of justice in the UK. The great post-Second World War statesmen and stateswomen spelt out powerfully and with vision the indispensability of human rights for lasting peace and stability; indeed, they had just witnessed the Holocaust. I will never forget as a youngster meeting and hearing Eleanor Roosevelt in the summer of 1948. That experience inspired me for life. As for countless others, that inspiration has been regenerated by the election of President Obama. I fervently hope that, in the midst of all the hazards and complexities, he will determinedly stick to his convictions in Middle East policy.
Enduring peace cannot be imposed. It has to be built on sound foundations. It certainly cannot be established by a selective approach to negotiations. Negotiations need to be inclusive, drawing in as wide as possible a cross-section of those engaged in conflict. We discovered this in Northern Ireland. There can be few preconditions to meaningful negotiations. The commitment to what emerge as the essential compromises has to be forged collectively in the negotiating process, generating a deepening sense of shared common ownership.
Right back to President Carters Camp David and since, we have obstinately failed to realise that. As a result of this failure, extremism has been strengthened, fuelled by a bitter sense of exclusion. In my view, it is positively dangerous to talk only with those whom we find acceptable. We simply have to include others with whom we may find talking very difficult. Hamas will obviously have to be at the table. In the essential regional dimension, so will Syria and, sooner or later, Iran. Anything less will have within it the seeds of its own failure.
In the immediate future, the humanitarian priorities must be to end the siege of the economy of Gaza by fully opening the crossings and by mobilising and ensuring access for the generous support that is so badly and urgently needed for the massive task of reconciliation.
I hope that I will not be condemned as having turned sentimental, because for me it is not sentimental, but when I hear our debates on this agonising subject and when I see the news coming from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and indeed many other situations in the world, I am constantly reminded, pace Christian Aid, of the words of Brian Wren:
Lord Bew: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I start by welcoming President Obamas decision to appoint former Senator George Mitchell as Middle East peace envoy. I, like the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Dubs, have experience of Senator Mitchells work in the talks leading to the successful negotiations of the Good Friday agreement in 1998 and, indeed, for the past several years he has been the Chancellor of my own university in Belfast.
It is important to note that not only does Senator Mitchell have the quality of enormous patienceand patience is required when one is dealing with these difficult problems of ethno-religious national sectarian ragebut he also has the quality of enormous political judgment. For example, in the last week of those talks, he was effectively a party to telling Presidents and Prime Ministers that things would not unfold precisely as they expected in accordance with the realities on the ground. Therefore, there can be no finer man than Senator Mitchell for this process at this moment.
However, there is a distinction between Senator Mitchells role, which I wish every possible success, and the Northern Ireland analogy to the Middle East that now operates in many quarters. It is with deep regret that I differ somewhat from some of the earlier observations made by noble Lords. That analogy is, I fear, becoming almost an intellectual toxic asset, a giant Ponzi scheme of illusion, and more and more are buying into it, but I am afraid that their disappointment will be equally harsh.
It is not true that the Northern Ireland process was unconditional. The quartets Middle East envoy, Mr Tony Blair, has reminded us only in the past few days that the Mitchell principles of peace and non-violence, to which Sinn Fein had to sign up, were among many types of condition on which that process was carried. I understand the seductive hope of many noble Lords that somehow or other, over time, the Hamas charter, as a result of engagement, can come to be seen in a similar light to the IRAs Green Book, which we now regard as an irrelevant and sentimental piece of nostalgic rhetoric.
However, it is very important to understand that the Northern Ireland process was characterised by a condition of dialogue. I do not dispute in any way that we always have to keep open the question of whom we have dialogue with, and it is always an open question under examination. I also remind noble Lords that the communal anger and recrimination in the Middle East is far greater than was the case in Northern Ireland. Above all, one of the conditions of the success of the Northern Ireland process was the way in which the British and Irish Governments effectively forswore a selfish strategic interest. However, the Middle East is awash with selfish strategic interest, and in the case of Hamas and the relationship with Iran, in particular, we have a difficult problem.
I say with reluctance that the case for dialogue with Hamas is not strengthened by the argument that somehow Hamas is not obligated to Iran, no matter how distinguished the source for such a statement. We may choose to disregard those Fatah women who in spring 2007, according to the London Times, demonstrated outside Hamass headquarters shouting Shia, Shia in order to draw attention to Hamass links with Iran. We may choose to disregard those who write in AlJazeera Magazine and talk about the vast sums of money that Hamas has received from Iran, but we cannot deny the evidence before our eyes and disregard what happened this week, when Khalid Mashaal went to Tehran and explicitly thanked the Iranian leadership for its big role in supporting Hamas.
The case for dialogue has to be kept under review. It is very difficult to analyse these movements. The case has not been strengthened by some of the claims that are currently being made for such a dialogue, which clearly cannot be sustained. It is extraordinarily difficult to analyse movements like IRA and Hamas. I taught many of the people who were in the IRA, it was close to me, and they spoke the same language. Although I donated many hours and days to thinking about it, much of the time I was wrong about what they may or may not do. We need a certain humility when we talk about Hamas because these problems of analysis are redoubled in so many respects when we analyse that organisation.
We now say that we regard Gerry Adamss speech at Bodenstown in 1977 and the peace feelers that were sent out to the British Government in 1978 as perhaps the beginning of a new turn in the IRA, which led eventually to the Good Friday agreement. Few saw that at the time, but it has to be acknowledged. It does not follow that the British Governments refusal of those feelers was wrong; it does not follow that the Callaghan Government made a mistake. They thought about what they were doing and the decision taken by the Callaghan Government may well have been part of a number of steps taken by the British Government which eventually induced war weariness in the IRA, so that eventually, when negotiations began, they began on a realistic basis.
The analysis of movements such as Hamas is difficult but the brutal coup in Gaza against Fatah in 2007 changed things. We have seen tensions in the Hamas leadership, even in the past few days, but that coup seemed to tip the balance towards those who are more hardline and more of a pro-Iranian disposition. We have to take that into account. Iran is crucial.
As noble Lords will be aware, the position of the Iranian leadership is that Israel should be wiped from the face of the earth. That is a very important question because we have rightly raised the issue of proportionality in this debate and it cannot be evaded, but proportional to what? What challenge does Israel face? We have to take that into account as well. It is not possible for Israel to take the view, which I and other noble Lords might take, that Irans threats need to be taken with a pinch of salt. We in this House should acknowledge that Iran is well on its way to being the regional hegemon that it seeks to be and, if we are realistic, it is most unlikely that it will not successfully complete its
6 Feb 2009 : Column 919
I have one observation: in the House we have seen how the elites in this country are critical of Israel, in many cases for good reasons. It is certainly disturbing that Mr Lieberman and the forces represented by him may do very well in the forthcoming Israeli elections. However, we should consider where people have been during this conflict, both in Britain and in the United States. The YouGov poll shows that most British people believe, naturally enough, that the two sides are equally to blame, but if asked who is more to blame, they will say 24 per cent Hamas and 18 per cent Israel. In the United States, opinion is even more marked. I make that point because of references that have been made to the Israeli lobby in the United States. The opinion of the ordinary people is 2:1 in favour of Israel. That cannot be achieved by the activities of any kind of lobby and it is important to realise that that is because of public perception of Irans role in this conflict.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, the longer I am in your Lordships' House, the more I realise that I am probably regarded as something of the runt of the Conservative litter, because I am always put on to speak at the end, when everything that I would want to say has already been said, but I always believe that we should declare interests.
I found it difficult that interests were not declared in this debate today. I sat down with my list to try to work out who was Conservative, Labour, and Cross-Bench. Then I did something very sinful. I tried to write down their faith on the right-hand side, because I was not sure whether we would have prejudice. We have had a debate of prejudice. Perhaps I should stand between my noble friends, because one feels one way and one the other. There is no ill feeling, but, suddenly, out of all this prejudice come a few interesting thoughts.
I declare my interests. I am a Scot; I am very proud of that. I am a member of the Church of Scotland. My sister and I were brought up in the United States; she is now an American citizen and has become a catholic. Two of her children are married to Jewish ladies and are trying to argue about the resonance and complications of all that. My brother-in-law was a militant member of the IRA, and Irish. Somehow, I feel that people with strong religions and faith are terrorists. Not we Scots. Your Lordships will know that there are approximately 25 million Scots in the world. There are only 5 million in Scotland; the Scots are everywhere else and they are traders trying to make money. We will deal with anybody. I believe that there are only 22,637,000 Jews in the world: 6 million in Israel, a large chunk in America, some in Sao Paulo and a lot in Dakar, because they were traders too.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Stone, speak today. He will recall some of my past interests as chairman of the committee for Middle East trade when, for six years, I had responsibility for trading with the Arab world and Marcus Sieff, as he then was, was responsible for Israel. His budget for one country, Israel, was bigger than mine. I argued that there was not much trade with Israel: it was all diamonds that were sent over here and sent back. Then I met the noble Lord, Lord Stone. While we were in Egypt, we thought that we could help the Egyptians after the war. True to form, he was not prejudicial, but they sent two men from Marks & Spencer. One we called Never mind what it tastes like, look at what it looks like. He turned a potato into a meal by putting some cream and chives on top and multiplied the value of that potato ad nauseam.
The other one we called Never mind the quality, feel the width. He was the textile man. In no time, the team from Marks & Spencer had taught the Egyptians, who had produced some of the best cotton in the world, to do that. They put the buttons in the wrong place. We had a little problem with the label. The Egyptians wanted to have the words Egyptian cotton on the back. Marks & Spencer, or their team, thought that was inappropriate; could it be on the sleeve? Perhaps it should be where they sometimes stitch them, under the armpit, but that was not good because we might have smelly armpits. Finally, it was considered that it might go on the tail of the shirt but, to be profitable, the tails had to be short. You could not have those long tails. The real thing was trade.
When we got involved with Jordan, there was no need for me as a Christian. They sat down and worked it all out together. They were traders. One problem we face in this world is economic situations. We can all say that he who forgives from a position of strength is more honourable than he who forgives from a position of weakness, which I think comes from the Koran, or that he who kills shall surely himself be killed, but it is not a question of multilateralism. It is all very well to speak about the international community. The international community is like sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. It does nothing.
I always represent someone else's views, because I have never had views of my own. I have the honour to represent the 52 former senior British diplomats who, on 27 April 2004, wrote to Tony Blair. I will quote only small parts of the letter, because otherwise it will take too much time, but it is very appropriate. They wrote:
We the undersigned former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|